Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “bicycle lifestyle”

Car-Free Weekend

Santa Barbara Open Streets

Saturday, my family and I went on a road trip to Santa Barbara for my wife’s birthday.  Instead of driving, we did a multimodal trip with trains and bikes, and rode our bikes along a car-free Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara’s first “Open Streets / Calles Vivas” event.  It’s a great low-stress way to visit Santa Barbara, and since there are a number of bike shops in SB that rent bikes, a shoreline bike path, and some (relatively) new and improved bike lanes in town, it’s a great way to visit this charming beach city.

Our multimodal commute started with the Gold Line in Pasadena, where we boarded the light rail train Saturday morning and headed to LA Union Station.  Gold Line trains have plenty of space for bikes in the space between the rail cars or in specially designated areas where seats have been removed.  The train ride is a little jerky at times, so it’s a good idea to pack a bungee cord or nylon cargo strap if you have more than one bike to keep them from falling over.  This also allows you to sit and relax instead of standing next to your bike.


We got to Union Station with plenty of time to pick up the Amtrak train to Santa Barbara, and easily loaded our bikes onto the baggage car, which had space for about 8 bikes on it.  Amtrak allows you to take your bike on board, but you must make reservations ahead of time to ensure that the train will have enough space for your bike.  On the return trip, Amtrak expected more bikes, so the train was equipped with a larger baggage car with space to accommodate many more bikes.  On both legs of the trip Amtrak conductors were extremely helpful.  There is no extra charge for taking a standard bike on the Amtrak, though some larger bikes, such as cargo bikes, tandems, and recumbents will have to be disassembled and packed in a cargo box and Amtrak charges a baggage fee for these.  However, for most people, taking your bike on board is no problem if you have a reservation.

During the approximately 2-hour ride to Santa Barbara, we enjoyed the scenery, chatted with each other, got snacks from the snack car, and, with free wi-fi, surfed the web.  There was plenty of legroom and I enjoy being able to get up and walk around on the train (something you can’t do in your car).  The upper deck of the train allows for some magnificent views of the coast along the way, and we saw sights we’d never seen before on the many car trips we’ve taken to SB over the years.

When we got to the Santa Barbara station, we rode our bikes down the new State Street bike lanes to Cabrillo and joined the Open Streets event in progress.  Cabrillo is usually choked with traffic, but we were able to enjoy the scenery, stop along the beach wherever we wanted to, and see Cabrillo as we never had before.  There was a sense of freedom and relaxation that comes over you when you don’t have to worry about cars.  Oh, and despite the thousands of people along the route, it was quiet without the noise of cars.  You could actually hear the soft murmur of the surf as you rode along the boulevard.  It was a wonderful family experience.

How surprising then, when I read some negative comments a few people posted in an online article about the event in a local Santa Barbara newspaper.  These people disapproved of closing Cabrillo to automobile traffic, claiming, among other things, that it hurt local businesses.  These comments were not only short-sighted, they were flat-out wrong as far as I could tell.  We ate at a restaurant on the Santa Barbara pier that was doing a booming business from people walking and bicycling.  Arts and crafts vendors along the route also seemed to be doing a good business as well (I should know, my wife bought some jewelry, too).  We saw people from all walks of life and all ages, smiling, laughing, getting exercise in the beautiful weather, and creating a sense of fun and community that you don’t get when everybody’s in cars.  As for myself, this was the most fun I’ve ever had in Santa Barbara.  Usually I’m stressed after a 2-hour drive from LA, stressed from dealing with traffic in town (caused, needless to say, by too many cars—not too many bikes), and stressed from trying to find a parking space on a weekend.  This time, however, it was a much more enjoyable experience.  Not having to deal with the car and traffic was liberating.

I guess some people are threatened by anything that suggests there’s another way to get around town besides cars.  Every community has people my mother used to call “crabapples” and the internet seems to bring them out of the woodwork.  I hope Santa Barbara doesn’t give in to the cynicism of such narrow thinking and continues to support, and even expand, this wonderful Open Streets event.


Why I Didn’t Go To CicLAvia

I think CicLAvia is one of the best things to happen to L.A. since, well, maybe ever.  The open streets event is now completing its third year and shows that people in L.A. hunger for car-free space in which to walk, ride bikes, socialize, and play.  The good news is this popular event has plenty of political support and is destined to become a welcome fixture in L.A.’s cultural scene.  It’s wonderful to see the concept spreading to other cities across the U.S. as well (see, for example, CicloSDias in San Diego).

I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration I felt at the first CicLAvia (10/10/10), rolling through downtown with tens of thousands of others laughing, smiling, talking; the noise, pollution, and pervasive fear of cars having been banished for a few hours.  It was a revelation to really see the city for the first time, and to see how easy and relatively fast it was to get from East LA to West LA on a bicycle when one didn’t have to worry about cars.  Another revelation was the way people of all backgrounds and social strata came together once you got them out of their metal cocoons.  CicLAvia and other events like it are, without exaggeration, a radical re-envisioning of street space for people, not cars.

So why didn’t I go to Sunday’s event, held in picture-perfect October weather?

Well, for one thing, I was getting over a cold that had dogged me all week at work, and I was looking forward to a quiet weekend of rest.  Also, when one commutes by bike daily, as I’ve been doing, the urge to go on a 15-20 mile jaunt on the weekend is not as strong as it would otherwise be if I had been stuck in my car all week.

But another, more significant reason is that I’ve noticed quite a bit of backsliding on the part of the LA City Council and the new  mayoral administration of Eric Garcetti on the goal of making L.A. more bike-friendly.  Since the last CicLAvia, LA has buckled to pressure from a film industry lobbying group and removed the green paint and buffers from the Spring Street bike lane, undoing one of the best examples of safe space for bikes on downtown streets.  Spring Street’s green, buffered bike lane made me feel safe riding in downtown traffic, and now it’s gone, thanks to baseless complaints from Hollywood location scouts who didn’t like its aesthetics.  Another innovative project, the plan for cycle tracks on Figueroa, seems to have been sidetracked indefinitely by the unfounded complaints of a car dealership owner.  Most recently, the approved design for a new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge lacked any room for bike lanes, despite being designated for bike lanes under LA’s bike plan.  In each of these cases, there has been a lack of leadership at City Hall, and the safety of cyclists has been too easily sacrificed to special interests.  When the city is taking away bike lanes and stalling on cycle tracks, I’m in less of a mood to partake in a Sunday event that supposedly celebrates car-free LA.

In the midst of these failures to provide for the safety of all the people who actually bike for transportation the other 6 days a week, I’m tempted to tell LA not to do me any favors.   I love CicLAvia, but the minute it’s over, the streets are turned back over to cars and nothing’s changed.  If one of the main ideas of CicLAvia is not to rethink the purpose of streets and show that bikes can be a viable way to move millions of people around LA, then what is it?

Here’s another irony: CicLAvia could be a golden opportunity to stage creative protests against those LA politicians like Eric Garcetti who took cyclists’ votes and now are kicking them in the teeth.  Yet LA’s cycling advocacy community is so enamored of the symbolism of CicLAvia that it allows these pols literally a free photo op at CicLAvia.  They get to use CicLAvia to appear “bike-friendly,” on CicLAvia Sunday while they ignore cyclists’ safety and bow to any lobbyist who doesn’t like bike lanes the rest of the year.  Shouldn’t we at least call them to account at CicLAvia?  I mean, the “heart of LA” route goes right down Spring Street, for crying out loud.  Souldn’t Garcetti at least get an earful when he rides that street?  How about a creative protest, like hundreds of people in green t-shirts lying down on Spring Street in protest as Garcetti rides by?  How about something more ambitious like a DIY guerrilla bike lane installation?  Now I might attend something that made the point that safe streets are needed more than 3-4 Sundays a year.

This is not a rant against CicLAvia.  CicLAvia was an important symbolic step in LA’s still-nascent shift from a car-centered city, and I still encourage everyone I know to go to this wonderful event, but I need to feel safe riding the rest of LA’s streets the other 362 days a year.  This time, I decided to pass on the symbolism, and have decided to call on my fellow cyclists to push the political system for more tangible improvements in the city’s bike infrastructure, instead.

Bike to Work Day 5.16.13


Today was “bike to work day” in L.A. and, while I’ve been biking to work all year this year, I have been working in the Pasadena area this month, which allowed me to pay a visit to the Bike to Work Day “Pit Stop” at Pasadena City Hall this morning.  It was a great opportunity to meet other bike commuters, talk to some city staff about making the city more bike-friendly, and have some muffins and coffee before getting on your way.

As a veteran bike commuter, I don’t need the prod of a “Bike to Work Day” to get me on my bicycle, but still I think events like Bike to Work Day are a wonderful way to get people to try it and realize they can get to work without a car.  This morning, for example, I was talking to two women who were riding to work for the first time.  One hadn’t been on her bike since, “like forever,” as she told me, but it was great to see their sense of accomplishment at having done it successfully.  The first step away from total auto-dependency has to begin somewhere, so the more events like this, the better.

I also think such events are a wonderful way to nurture a sense of camaraderie among bike commuters, since we’re still in the very low single digits in terms of percentage of transportation mode share in Southern California.  In other words, it reminds us that we’re not alone and we’re part of something that seeks to make our cities and our streets healthier, safer, and more livable for everyone.  Best of all, unlike many organized bike rides, Bike to Work Day consciously gets people to substitute their bike for their car, if even for a day.  It gets at the heart of what a transformative potential the bicycle has as a legitimate mode of transportation.

This week is also “Bike Week Pasadena,” an annual event organized by a local bicycle transportation advocacy group, as part of the local Bike Month festivities.  This is a great group of grassroots volunteers who host family-friendly fun rides and what they call “urban expeditions,” which are casually-paced rides that explore parts of the city by bike.  Sometimes the rides have fun themes, but the idea is to get people of all levels of fitness out on bikes and experience the city in a more fun, healthy, and open way than can be done in a car.  When I’ve attended these rides, it not only gave me a wonderful new perspective on my city, it gave me a sense of belonging within the bicycle advocacy community.  This year’s events included a  food-themed ride, a ladies’ night ride, and a kids’ costume ride.  The LA County Bicycle Coalition and Metro also play a major role promoting these bike week events.

Sure, Bike Week Pasadena and Bike to Work Day might be seen by cynics as a bit gimmicky, but these events are excellent ways for the”bike curious” to experience bicycling in a safe, fun environment and a welcome reminder for the more experienced that we’re part of a growing movement.

Bike Month Woes

May is “Bike Month,” according to the League of American Bicyclists (not to mention the one year anniversary of this blog).  I expected I’d be posting a lot more.

Yet, I’ve been away from the blog for longer than I’d intended, partly because I’ve been busy with another writing project and partly because I’ve been in something of a funk about the glacial pace of change in our deeply-rooted car culture (come to think of it, in light of the rapidity with which glaciers are melting due to climate change, we humans seem to be moving slower than glaciers).

Speaking of climate change, the signs are ominous, to say the least.  Last week, scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory measured atmospheric CO2 at 400 parts per million (ppm), the highest level recorded in, like, literally a million years.  The level of atmospheric CO2 was about 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the middle of the 19th century, and had not exceeded 300 ppm for the previous 800,000 years.  In 1958, when modern measurement began, the level was 316 ppm.  The scientists didn’t mince words about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activity (like, um, driving our millions of cars everywhere like there’s no tomorrow).  As one of the scientists told the Los Angeles Times:

“The 400-ppm threshold is a sobering milestone, and should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to support clean-energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, there’s evidence of a backlash against bike lanes in L.A., even though we need more of them (as well as a substantial expansion of public transit) so people have realistic alternatives to the car.  First, the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce has been orchestrating a campaign to stop the installation of bike lanes on Colorado Blvd. in Eagle Rock, painting pictures of apocalyptic traffic jams and blaming bike lanes instead of cars.  Next, the L.A. Times editorialized against the green bike lanes on Spring Street downtown, repeating the discredited argument of location managers for film production companies that green bike lanes “ruin” L.A. as a film location.  I’ve used those green bike lanes and they provide a safe space for bicycles on that busy downtown street.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ve had a series of extremely frustrating arguments with some of my friends and members of my family about the need to break out of the automobile-centered culture.  They agree in principle but they refuse to act on this principle.

All of which reinforces for me the seriousness of the death grip that the automobile has on this culture … indeed, on this planet and its future.  It also makes it harder to stay optimistic, which I try to do in this space.  Hence, my absence.

Time for a bike ride.  It always makes me feel better.

CicLAvia to the Sea

Bike love

Sunday 4.21.13 was the sixth CicLAvia (not sixth annual as many corporate media outlets erroneously reported), this time along a new route from downtown to Venice beach.  The route was a bit longer this time, 15 miles one way as opposed to 10-12 miles in the past, and offered CicLAvia’s first direct connection with the west side.  What follows are some reflections as CicLAvia continues to mature and grow as an L.A. event.

First, the good.  CicLAvia continues to introduce people to a new way of thinking about experiencing the city.  Yesterday, I met two first-timers on the Gold Line to downtown.  Neither had ever been downtown on their bikes and neither had ever been on the Gold Line.  I could see the excitement in their eyes and told them they’d be in for an unforgettable experience.  CicLAvia to the Sea also allowed me to see parts of L.A. I was unfamiliar with, and connected downtown with the beach, which seems a natural connection to me (DTLA to Long Beach, anyone?).  First-timer JustAdventures shared her sense of wonder and totally gets CicLAvia.

I’ve been to all six of the CicLAvias, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all.  Moreover, I’m not going to rant on the organizers who have a herculean task of managing this growing beast.  However, I have a small critique along the same lines as blogger Asymptotia.  I’ve always had time to bike the entire route and back, but this time the route was longer (which was fine with me) and the delays along the route much longer (which was problematic for a number of reasons).  The crowd, conservatively estimated by organizers at 150,000, but probably closer to 200,000, was simply too large for the amount of road space we had.  For much of Venice Blvd., LADOT gave us only half of the roadway, which led to major bottlenecks and long waits in the hot sun at traffic lights.  At least twice riders had to wait for four red light cycles before being able to proceed.  With these delays, the ride simply took too long.


I started my CicLAvia at La PLacita downtown at 10:00 am, and estimated riding at a moderate pace I’d be in Venice by 11:30, 12 noon at the latest.  I had arranged to meet a Venice friend at the hub there.  Unfortunately, because of the long delays at traffic lights I did not get to Venice until about 1:00 pm.  Three hours to complete a 15-mile course is an average speed of 5 miles an hour.  Once I got to Venice, I had to cancel with my friend because I did not think I would have had enough time to get back to Union Station before the route closed at 3:00 pm unless I immediately turned around and started back.  I grabbed a quick bite to eat, watching the clock the whole time and began my return.  As it was, I rode the bike lane on the eastbound side of Venice Blvd. much of the way back to Culver City rather than get stuck at traffic lights on the CicLAvia side of Venice Blvd.  I felt like I had to  ride fast to beat the clock, and that is not the spirit in which CicLAvia should be experienced.  I decided to take the Expo Line from Culver City back to downtown, which I’d never ridden, but I really would have preferred to ride my bike all the way back.

I trust this isn’t what organizers had in mind when they planned this new route, and I also hope some changes will be made next time.  I would start the event an hour earlier (or end it an hour later) to give people more time to explore the longer route and work with LADOT to reduce the number of traffic stops along the way.  I think the overwhelming popularity of the event and its purpose (to get us out of our cars and connect us with our city and each other) provide ample reason for these changes.

Despite these glitches, I’m still a huge CicLAvia supporter.  It really has changed the way I perceive my city.  Perhaps it is a measure of the fundamental shift in consciousness that CicLAvia has wrought that I am no longer blown away by 15 miles of L.A. streets open for people instead of cars.  Experiencing city streets without cars seems almost normal now.  I’m no longer surprised when nearly a quarter of a million (a quarter of a million!) Angelinos of all races and colors and ages show up to enjoy these open streets.  A quarter of a million of us showed up and voted with our feet, with out bodies, with our bikes.  We want safe, car-free space to ride our bikes for everyday transportation, for health, and for fun.  The era when the automobile held unquestioned sway over our public space in the most car-centric city in America is coming to an end.  Elected leaders, are you listening?

Bikes and Suburbia


Recently, I read an article by D.J. Waldie, the bard of suburban living and author of the critically-acclaimed memoir of Lakewood Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.  As the product of suburbia myself, Waldie’s essay got me thinking about the ways in which the form of the suburb has shaped our thinking about the automobile and personal mobility in general.

Waldie’s memoir is a defense of the postwar suburb against those who argue that they are essentially places without memory, without individuality, making up in materialism what they lack in culture.  For Waldie, Lakewood was his place of memory, the place that shaped his individuality, and his almost poetic defense of it let you know that it wasn’t without its deeper cultural significance.

In his recent essay, Waldie wrote about giving a tour of Lakewood to Gwendolyn Wright, professor of Architecture at Columbia University, and offered his insight on ways suburban form shapes the consciousness of the individual and, by extension, the community.  “The tour is, by necessity,” he writes,

an argument with illustrations. It’s an argument about the place of everydayness and about the purpose of the habits of ordinariness that are built into any human-made landscape. Inescapably, the built molds the personal. It works even in inattentiveness, engraving patterns of the familiar.

Waldie allows that this landscape is perhaps best understood on foot, for it is only at the slower pace that one sees the small details that give texture to a place.

Walkers see modest (even humble) vistas opening at a pace that lets contemplation occur unbidden. You can be woefully distracted by daydreams or sorrow while walking a suburban sidewalk, but then a birdcall, the rattle of the wind in the leafless trees, the unconscious expectation fulfilled in seeing again some sight will momentarily lighten the darkness of self-absorption. A sense of place is made.

As anyone who has bicycled or walked a neighborhood knows, one sees, hears, senses so much more of a place on foot or on a bike than in a car.  In fact, one of the things that has struck me so powerfully since I began riding my bike for transportation four years ago is the richer sense of place one gets when not in a car.  It’s not just the speed, it’s also the way we are literally insulated from “the world” in our cars.  It is a testament to the blindness of many developers that some postwar suburban streets even lack sidewalks as well as safe places to ride bikes.

At least Waldie considers a walking tour, but ultimately succumbs to the imperative of the automobile.  “It’s not possible,” he says, to walk the tour.

My town is relatively dense but not very compact, and we have to drive to its places of memory.

“We have to drive.”  How often, living in suburbia, do we hear those words?  How often have we said them without thinking?  Nestled in the middle of his sentence is one of the shortcomings of suburbia writ large.  Aside from the suburban home mortgage, the car is likely the largest personal expense incurred by the suburban family.  Thus it requires an enormous personal investment in a car to be a fully functioning member of the suburb.  This is one reason that suburban teenagers dream of the freedom of the drivers’ license and the car.  Without it, “it is not possible” to participate fully in the life of suburbia, and thus, to be fully human.  The car becomes an imperative and raises the cost of admission to suburbia.

Consider the social cost of this investment.  It impoverishes public transportation as working people struggle to pay for private motorized transportation (an average of $8,000 per car per year, according to 2012 figures from AAA).  That is an average of $8,000 per car per year invested in private modes of transportation instead of public transit.  Add to this the taxes and fees that go toward the building and maintenance of freeways and it’s no wonder suburbanites are often reluctant to support funding of public transit.  After shelling out thousands to car companies, finance banks, insurance companies, and auto repair shops, how much do they have left over?  The car also impoverishes public space, necessitating acres of parking lots for their storage, acreage that is bereft of any real human purpose.

There are, of course, the environmental consequences of the “we have to drive” mentality, not the least of which is climate change, and it is due time that we who live in suburbia address the way our mode of transport affects our world.  It’s not that any single person in suburbia is responsible for traffic congestion, air pollution, and climate change, but collectively we in suburbia are a big part of the problem when we assume driving is the way things have to be.

The real shame of the “we have to drive” mentality is that a city like Lakewood is eminently bikeable.  With a relatively flat topography and a little more than 3.5 miles across at its widest point, it would be easy to bike around Lakewood, enjoying the benefits the walker enjoys without adding to pollution, traffic, and the social isolation that the car causes.  Indeed, on Lakewood’s eastern edge sits the San Gabriel River bike path, which offers a dedicated bike route to the seashore in less time than it takes to get your car’s oil changed at the nearest Jiffy Lube.  Of course, I think some of Lakewood’s arterial streets need to be made more bike-friendly, as do most of suburbia’s, but distance and geography are not barriers to bicycling Lakewood.

None of this is meant to single out Lakewood as uniquely car-centric in its thinking.  It is a problem confronting all of suburbia.  Indeed, Lakewood has a relatively bikeable grid pattern of streets, instead of the awful meandering cul-de-sac model favored by some suburban developers (curving cul-de-sacs emptying onto high-speed arterials are much less bikeable and walkable).  It raises the importance of infrastructure in providing alternatives to the car-centered lifestyle, and some suburban streetscapes are more amenable to bikeability and walkability than others.  Nevertheless, we need to start thinking, as more communities are, about using the streets we’ve got in ways that encourage alternative transportation, even in suburbia.

Perhaps the best part of bicycling suburbia, where possible, is that it opens an alternative to the unthinking “we have to drive” reflex.  I look forward to the day when walking or riding a bicycle for short trips around one’s hometown becomes part of the “habits of ordinariness” in the suburban landscape.  When that happens, the suburban “sense of place” will be that much richer.

Caltech Bike Lab


I finally got the chance to visit the Caltech Bike Lab last Saturday when I attended their free bike repair workshop.  The Bike Lab is a small bike workspace tucked away on the Caltech campus, run mostly by students, and membership is open to anyone affiliated with Cal Tech or JPL.  I’ve been aware of the Bike Lab for about a year, since I saw them sponsor an online petition in 2012 urging the City of Pasadena to make the streets around Caltech more bike friendly.  Hey, anybody who’s pushing cities to make their streets more bike-friendly gets an “A+” in my book.  When I recently saw they were hosting a free bike repair workshop open to the public, I jumped at the chance learn a little more about bike repair and meet this great group of people.

When I arrived on campus, I had a little trouble finding the lab.  It’s not on any campus map, and several students were not aware of it, but I finally found a student who directed me to it.  (Note to Caltech administrators: the Bike Lab is a great resource, and bikes are a “green” technology that can combat climate change and a whole host of other problems.  Put the Bike Lab on your campus map—literally.)  The Lab itself is located in a modest utility room, but the members (who help fund the shop’s operation with their dues) have access to an array of tools, bike stands, and space to work on their bikes.  Students or faculty who pay the small membership dues can come in and use the shop at any time.  Non-members may work on their bikes at the shop during certain hours when the shop is staffed by a volunteer (hours are listed on the Lab’s web page), but during such hours, understandably, priority is given to Caltech students and faculty.


At the workshop, I was among the seven or so “students” who got some hands-on experience working on their bikes.  Three friendly Bike Lab members (Davin, Jeff, and John) led the workshop, which consisted of lessons on fixing flats, adjusting brakes, replacing brake cables, and chain maintenance.  Workshop leaders patiently answered questions, and there was a feeling of collaboration that made it comfortable to ask questions.  It made me feel like I was wrenching with friends in a welcoming atmosphere where no one judged you if your bike knowledge was rudimentary (or non-existent).  While I have plenty of experience changing flats, as a result of the workshop, I now have more confidence to try adjusting my own brakes and derailleurs in the future.  It also whetted my appetite to try bigger wrenching projects on my bikes.

Later that afternoon, the Lab hosted a more advanced workshop on wheel hubs, and I think I have enough knowledge to try an advanced workshop in the future.  I hope the Lab will host more such public workshops in the future that focus on specific repair jobs.  As important, perhaps, I had fun learning about bike repair and I’ve been introduced to this bike space with its vibrant group of students.

While the Bike Lab is a great place for the campus community to work on their bikes, it’s membership is understandably limited to members of the Caltech/JPL community.  I must admit, I was a bit disappointed to learn that I could not join the Bike Lab.  There are similar bike clubs and groups on other college campuses, such as CSUN’s Bike Collective or Cal Poly Pomona’s “Bike Shop,” but insofar as campus-based co-ops and clubs are primarily run for their respective institutions, the access to such venues is somewhat limited.  I’d love to have a place close by where I could work on my bikes, hang out, and meet other bike-minded people.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that there really is a need for a community bike co-op in the San Gabriel Valley in general, and the Pasadena area in particular.  There are two excellent community bike co-ops I’m aware of in Los Angeles (Bicycle Kitchen and Bike Oven), and others in the San Fernando Valley and Long Beach, but there are none that I am aware of in the Pasadena/west San Gabriel Valley area.

Community bike co-ops are usually located in a small commercial space, run primarily by volunteers, and are open to the public.  They usually charge a small fee to use the space to work on one’s own bike under the supervision of the volunteer mechanics.  These spaces become a resource for bicyclists and bicycle activists and often do outreach to underserved members of the local bicycling community.  By teaching people to fix their own bikes and providing a safe space to do so, bike co-ops of all kinds enhance bicycling as an economical, self-sufficient mode of transportation.  Equally as important, by creating a space for advocacy and activism, they help expand the movement for bicycle transportation.

The Caltech Bike Lab does a wonderful job of serving the Caltech/JPL community and I look forward to watching it grow and attending more of their workshops, but we need a thousand more flowers to bloom.  More bike co-ops anyone?

The Tally

Riding w_trailer

After nearly seven months of going “car-lite” (that is, virtually car-free), I decided to do a year-end tally of the costs and benefits.

For the last 7 months, I have done almost all my commuting to work by a combination of bike and bus.  It takes longer, but fortunately I have a job that allows me to do some of my work while I’m riding the bus (checking email, doing routine paperwork, etc), and thus the time on the bus is not wasted time, as it is in the car.  I found that once I adjusted to the bus schedule, I actually arrived at work less stressed because I already had accomplished several tasks on the bus and I didn’t have to hassle with traffic and parking.  For part of my commute home, I ride my bike, which is necessary because the second leg of my two-bus ride stops running after 7 pm, and I must ride home (the absurdity of stopping bus service after 7 pm is the subject for another day).  The upside is that this bike ride home has become the most enjoyable part of my day.  I have figured out a route for this 10-mile ride that is relatively low stress because part of it is on a dedicated bike path and I’m able to take side streets for the remainder, on which traffic is relatively light during the time I’m riding.  It is a great way to unwind, de-stress, and get my cardio exercise.  This means I no longer have to go to the gym 3 days a week, which not only further reduces my driving but also combines my commute time and my exercise time.

As many of my readers know, I also run most of my errands by bike, and I’ve been using the cargo trailer to do most of my grocery shopping (see photo, above).  Again, once I figured out my route and my routine, it became as easy as taking the car and has the added benefits of reducing my automobile usage and providing me with more exercise.

I’m not superman.  I sometimes have used my car, like the day in October it was raining heavily and I was struggling to get over a nasty head cold.  I drove to work that day.  My arthritic knee gives me problems sometimes, and I might forego a big haul with the trailer on those days.  My wife still uses her car as she always has, and she takes my daughter to school most weekday mornings, and picks her up in the afternoon.  For family outings, we’ll usually all get in my wife’s minivan.  But my son, who goes to the local community college, has been using the bus to get to school, and my daughter and I ride our bikes to her middle school one day a week.  I’m not ready or willing to sell my car … yet.  Last weekend I finally had to fill my tank, but the fact is I’ve cut way down on my driving and I can actually imagine life without a car—something most of my fellow Americans cannot do.

So, what is my tally after 6 months of car-lite living?

Health:  When I embarked on this experiment, I used to work out about 3 days a week at the gym.  Since then, I have biked just about every day.  Sometimes it has been for a short ride to the post office or coffee shop, other days riding home from work, and still others pulling a cargo trailer loaded with groceries or other household supplies.  In that time I have not changed my diet (in fact, I think I eat a little more, because I’m always burning calories), and I’ve dropped 10 lbs, and about an inch in my waist.  Better yet, I feel great.  I no longer get winded as easily as I did before.  All-in-all, in addition to the physical well-being, my cycling has improved my mood, and I’m a much happier person when I ride my bike.

Money:  The last time I put gas into my car was June 7, 2012.  When I used to drive everywhere, I would need to fill my tank an average of about once every  9 days (less in the summer, when my work schedule slows down).  According to my estimation, adjusting for summer, this has saved me about 20 trips to the gas station since June.  The gas tank in my Corrolla holds about 10 gallons.  That means I’ve avoided burning about 200 gallons of gas since June.  If I estimate an average price of about $3.90 per gallon over that time period, that means I have saved about $780 in gas since June 7.  That’s almost $800 that stays in my pocket instead of going to pad the obscene profit margins of the likes of Exxon and BP.  The pleasure of sticking it to the oil companies: priceless.  My Corolla gets approximately 30 mpg, so that means I haven’t driven about 6,000 miles.  That’s an oil change for every 3,000 miles that I haven’t had to pay for.  At about $40.00 each at my local mechanic, that saves me about another $80.  Figure another $20 saved in parking.  My total estimated savings since June: about $880.

Environment:   According to the US EPA, each gallon of gasoline adds about 8887 grams (or a little over 19 lbs) of CO2 to the earth’s atmosphere.  This does not include the greenhouse gas produced by extraction and transportation of the fuel, so this is simply the CO2 coming from my tailpipe.  By not burning 200 gallons since June, I’ve avoided adding approximately 3,800 lbs of CO2 to the atmosphere—nearly 2 tons.  In addition, I’ve also avoided adding a significant amount of smog-producing crap like Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Ozone, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (including brake and rubber dust) to the air we breathe as well.

Costs:  Of course, I had to buy a bike to commute with (about $1,200, when racks, fenders, lights, and pannier are factored in), and my croozer cargo trailer (about $120).  There are cheaper alternatives on the bicycle market, not to mention used bikes, but I am hard to fit and was looking for a particular bike setup, so I paid a bit more than one might expect for a commuter bike.  I have not bought any cycling-specific clothing, though I did buy a good rain shell ($100 on sale), helmet ($80), and cycling gloves ($20).  Total amount spent on commuter bike setup: about $1,500.

From a purely short-term economic standpoint, my bicycle commuting has cost me a little over $600 in 2012.  However, if I continue to commute by bike in 2013 (that is my intention), I should recoup the rest of those costs some time in the spring, depending on how often I drive this winter.  Longer-term, I think the benefits to my health and well-being (not to mention the environment) far outweigh the costs.

It has not been easy, but not because bicycling itself is hard.  The hardest part of my experience has been the time and effort dealing with an infrastructure designed around the automobile.  This necessitates taking time to scout out routes that are safe for bikes when traveling to a new place (nothing like finding yourself on an arterial road with cars whizzing by you at 45 mph and no bike lane) and the frustration of dealing with the lack of something as simple as a secure place to lock your bike at your destination.  Despite these difficulties, I am convinced that it is not only possible, but enjoyable, for the average suburban American to use a bike for at least some basic transportation needs. Even in the short term, it’s worth it.

Christmas by Bike


It’s been perfect weather for bicycling here in Southern California lately, and I’ve done almost all of my Christmas shopping by bike this year (with the exception of a few things I’ve ordered online or by catalogue).  For the most part, it is an enjoyable experience.  The shopping center shown in the picture of my Salsa Fargo and Croozer cargo trailer (above) has a number of well-placed bike racks, which allows bike riders to lock up directly in front of most stores and makes it safer and more convenient for people on bikes.  I wish more merchants and municipalities understood the value of good quality bike racks and bike access to add to their bottom line.  In the absence of a bike rack, the shopper is forced to look for a sign pole or railing on which to lock up her bike, and these aren’t always located in the most convenient or safe places.  The presence of a good bike rack says to the bicycling customer, “you are welcome here and your business matters.”  Moreover, designing or retrofitting businesses with bike access costs far less than providing access and parking for cars.


As for locks, I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock (shown above).  You should use the lock to secure the frame of your bicycle to a rack or other immovable object.  If possible, place the U-lock around your wheel and your frame for extra security, as shown in the photo.  Don’t lock your bike to a post unless it is high enough and there is a sign on top of it which would prevent someone from lifting your bike over it.  Avoid cable locks (except perhaps to wrap around wheels and secure to a U-lock).  Most cable locks are relatively easy to cut with bolt cutters, and I wouldn’t use a cable lock if I was going to leave my bike unattended for more than a minute. Good locks aren’t cheap, but unlike many overpriced bike accessories, they’re definitely worth the expense.  Locking your bike properly will avoid giving a bike thief a Christmas present.

Wishing all my readers a joyous holiday, goodwill, and a safe journey on your bike!


Yesterday I took the Croozer cargo trailer to the store to pick up our organic free range turkey (with apologies to my vegan friends) and other goodies for Thanksgiving.  It’s the second year that I’ve shopped for Thanksgiving by bike, and it not only allowed me to burn off some of the calories I’ll undoubtedly put on, but the weather was absolutely perfect for riding.  I find that the bike rides to pick up this or that holiday item help elevate my mood and reduce the stress that sometimes comes with the holidays, reminding me of the simple things in life I am thankful for.  It’s a great way to get around and see friends and neighbors, too.

Best wishes to all my readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and ride your bike!

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