Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “bike-friendly businesses”

Fixing A Broken System

It’s not news to say our transportation system in Southern California is reliant on cars.  Such a system is incomplete, unsafe, and incredibly unhealthy for our communities and for the planet.  What is difficult is getting people to realize this transportation system is broken and convincing them they need to change it.  Sometimes I feel hopeful about our prospects, other times, not so much.  The victories seem small, and so few and far between.  The setbacks are not permanent, but with so far to go these delays prolong the time it takes to fix our broken system.

Nope, no room for bike lanes here.

Nope, no room for bike lanes here.

Last week, the City Council of Temple City voted not to adopt a “complete street” redesign of Las Tunas, a commercial street in the heart of that city.  The redesign proposal included bike lanes and would have made the street safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The redesigned street would have made downtown Temple City a destination, not just a thoroughfare.

I thought the signs looked good, but I was wrong.  A couple of months ago I attended a community meeting on the Las Tunas redesign and, though there was some opposition from local NIMBYs (one old codger at the meeting said bike lanes were a “sign of mental illness”), the city council voted unanimously to move forward and place it on the agenda for the next meeting.  At last week’s city council meeting (which I could not attend because of work commitments), opponents were apparently out in force, and the “streets-are-for-cars” crowd won the day.  The opposition—mostly older residents—pressured the city council to abandon even a modest proposal for bike lanes.

It was a setback for the region, and leaves Las Tunas a dangerous commuter arterial instead of a vibrant center for local people and businesses.  I have no doubt that the people of Temple City will eventually see the light, but in the meantime the design of Las Tunas remains stuck in the past, serving only a part of the community’s needs, forcing everyone else into a steel box.

Another example of the broken system is that there is still no real usable network of bike lanes that would allow people to get around without a car.  Who would want to do such a thing?  Consider a family friend of ours, a student at Whittier College.  Like many college students, she doesn’t have a lot of money or a car, and she recently got a part-time job down the road from her college.  She wants to ride her bike to work, but she’s not particularly experienced, and the route includes some busy arterials  like Lambert Rd., where automobile speeds can reach 40mph.  There are a few streets with bike lanes (shown in solid green lines on the Google map, below), but there are large gaps including a long stretch of Lambert that would leave her stranded halfway to work on a busy street with no bike lane.

Whittier, CA: some bike lanes, but mostly incomplete streets.

Whittier, CA: some bike lanes, but mostly incomplete streets.

Bike lanes—let alone protected bike lanes—are still a rarity in this part of the San Gabriel Valley.  As with many suburban areas, there are few transit options, either.  Her parents face the choice of allowing her to ride her bike on incomplete car-streets or shelling out thousands of dollars for a car (adding another car to already-congested roads, adding more pollution and GHGs to our air, depriving a young person of healthy exercise, etc).  Here is a person who wants to ride to work, yet our transportation system makes this choice so daunting that one feels almost forced to choose a car.  This is the opposite of freedom, the opposite of a complete transportation system.

When we create a transportation system that only works for cars, we create a partial system that excludes and marginalizes people who can’t afford cars, don’t want a car, or who are unable to drive.  We essentially force all but the most experienced and confident (or desperate) to buy into the car system.  Once people buy into that system they expect cities to design infrastructure for their convenience, which further reinforces the incompleteness of this unsafe, inequitable, unsustainable, people-unfriendly system.

We must create a transportation system that works for everyone and prioritizes more sustainable, healthy, and socially-equitable modes of transportation.  We must have the courage to change a car monoculture that impoverishes our public spaces, marginalizes those who can’t afford a car, contributes to our climate crisis, and kills tens of thousands (and injures or maims hundreds of thousands) of Americans every year.  We owe it to our children to create a better system.  At times the enormity of the task seems overwhelming.

But the work continues and I am not free to abandon it.

Talmud

Portlandia

Cyclists on Portland's waterfront parkway, until the 1970s, this space was occupied by a highway.

Cyclists on Portland’s waterfront parkway. Until the 1970s, this space was occupied by a highway.

Last week a professional conference brought me to Portland, OR.  It had been about five years since I’d been there, and I fondly remembered its great bike infrastructure and transit.  I wasn’t blogging back then, so this trip offered a belated opportunity to explore a little more of downtown Portland by bike and to document my thoughts about its bike and alternative transportation infrastructure.

What’s offered here is neither a comprehensive nor a systematic review.  I admit that my 3-day sojourn does not offer the same perspective as that of a day-to-day commuter.  Instead I approached it from the perspective of how Portland compares to Southern California in terms of getting around car-free.  I know that some in Portland’s bike advocacy community are frustrated with what they see as the lack of progress on new bike infrastructure, but Portland still ranks as one of the best bicycling cities in North America, though it is starting to get some competition.  And, compared to SoCal, well, let’s just say we have a long way to go to catch up.  Despite the recent slowdown in Portland’s bike improvements, the city’s most recent plan calls for a majority of Portlanders to get around by means other than the private automobile by 2030.

Portland's newest bridge bans cars, prioritizing transit, bicycling and walking.

Portland’s newest bridge, Tilikum Crossing, bans cars, prioritizing transit, bicycling and walking.

One example of Portland’s commitment to car-free living is its soon-to-be-opened “bridge of the people,” Tilikum Crossing.  This new bridge across the Willamette River, connecting SE and SW Portland, is designed for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit (streetcar and bus) traffic only.  No cars.  By contrast here in LA, bike advocates have been forced to fight tooth-and-nail for the simple addition of bike lanes on the new Hyperion Bridge.  In LA, it always feels like we’re stuck with an ideology of automobile prioritization in which bicyclists might be thrown a scrap of “leftover” roadway space if it can be shown not to inconvenience a single Prius driver.

 

Light rail and bike integration at PDX airport.

Light rail and bike integration at PDX airport.

From the moment I stepped off the airplane, I noticed bikes and transit are integrated.  There is a covered bike area right next to the Airport’s MAX light rail line.  All MAX trains have space for bikes, and all Tri-Met buses have bike racks (though the bus bike racks are limited to a capacity of 2 bikes–as in LA, an insufficient number).  It was an easy MAX or bus ride to Portland State University, where I rented a bike from PSU’s awesome Bike Hub, run by students.  I was able to reserve a Linus 3-Speed city bike online and I used it to get around town all 3 days I was there.  My rental bike came with fenders, rack, lights, lock, and helmet, all for a very reasonable price of $45 for the weekend.  Most hotels have bike racks where guests can lock up their bikes overnight, but I was able to keep mine in my hotel room which saved me the hassle of having to lock it up overnight.  My first-floor room location also allowed me to come and go with the bike as I pleased without having to go up or down crowded elevators with a bike.

Portland has added green paint to improve the visibility of bike routes on several of its streets.  Green bike boxes are also common at major intersections.

Portland has added green paint to improve the visibility of bike routes on several of its streets. Green bike boxes are also common at major intersections.

Here’s the big thing about Portland: the comfort and convenience of riding downtown is far superior to anywhere in Southern California, except maybe certain sections of Long Beach.  Southern California has made some limited progress toward wresting street space away from the ubiquitous death boxes that dominate its roads, but it has been timid, exceedingly slow, and sporadic.  Portland, by contrast, has designed its downtown streets as if it expects people to walk, bike, or use transit.  It’s seen as the norm.  As a result, everywhere I went I saw other people bicycling.  Most riders were wearing regular clothes and rode practical bikes with fenders, lights and racks for carrying things.  In short, bicycling has been normalized as a form of practical transportation because the street design encourages it.

Portlanders who bike will tell you there is still much to be done, and I hope they continue to make improvements, but from where I sat, it was like living in a different world. For one thing, there is a network of bike lanes, and just about everywhere you’ll find convenient places to lock up your bike.  I’m talking good bike racks, not signposts, railings, or crappy wheel-bender racks that you have to make do with, like I see so much of down here.  It may not seem like a big deal, but knowing you’ll be able to lock your frame to a good rack just about anywhere in town is a huge thing to encourage people to ride.  These bike racks are not only placed at regular intervals along sidewalks and in front of businesses, but there are numerous bike corrals around town.  The only time I had to lock my bike to a railing due to a lack of good bike racks was in the parking garage of the Downtown Hilton (I mean, really Hilton?).  Everywhere else, bike racks were plentiful.

Bike corrals and bike lanes are commonplace on Portland streets.

Bike corrals and bike lanes are commonplace on Portland streets.

The bike infrastructure downtown gives bicyclists in Portland a tolerable level of comfort, which induces more people to bike for transportation.  It also increases safety.  Last year, Portland recorded zero fatalities among bicyclists.  Zero, despite a roughly 6% mode share citywide.  Some of the bike routes are painted green, increasing visibility (In LA, the Spring Street green lane paint was removed by LADOT after complaints by Hollywood location scouts) and there are plans to extend the city’s Cycletrack on Broadway.  Meanwhile, here in LA, Councilmember Gil Cedillo recently vetoed bike lanes on North Figueroa based on the utterly spurious claim that they would make the road less safe.

Broadway's cycletrack uses parked cars as a physical barrier between bicyclists and traffic. The city has plans to extend it in 2015.

Broadway Ave. cycletrack uses parked cars as a physical barrier between bicyclists and traffic. The city plans to extend it in 2015.

The beautiful part of visiting a real bike-friendly city like Portland is the realization that American cities can be made much more livable, sustainable, healthy and safe with a good integrated transit and bicycle system and by de-emphasizing the car.  It felt easier to get around the city by bike and transit than by car.  That’s not a personal preference, that is the residue of design.  The hard part of my visit was coming back to the reality that my own city is still struggling to emerge from the dark ages.

LA, I can dream, can't I?

LA, I can dream, can’t I?

Caltech Bike Lab

photo-1

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.

photo

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?

Topanga Creek Bicycles

TCB entry

Recently, I got some new handlebars for one of my bikes, which also gave me an opportunity to visit one of my favorite bike shops: Topanga Creek Bicycles (TCB) in Topanga Canyon.

It’s a special bike shop, unlike any other I’ve been in outside of Portland or San Francisco.  The shop is actually an old house nestled deep in a shady recess of Topanga Canyon, right next to whispering Topanga creek.  It’s been converted into a bike shop by owner Chris Kelly, who moved the shop from Hollywood a few years ago, and kept the charm of the house as part of its homey appeal.  But the delightful setting isn’t the primary reason I like the shop.  They make my favorites list, because they’re extremely knowledgeable and they carry lots of hard-to-find, quality stuff I like, such as Surly and Salsa bikes, Brooks saddles, Schwalbe tires, and Arkel bags.

Chris and the rest of the gang at TCB are dedicated to first-rate customer service while preserving a laid-back, friendly atmosphere.  Stop by on any given afternoon and don’t be surprised if they offer you some coffee or fresh-baked banana bread from their kitchen or maybe a hamburger if they’re grilling out back.  The interior of the shop almost feels more like sitting in a bike-lover’s living room than a retail establishment.  If the weather’s cold outside, Chris might have a fire going in the wood-burning stove that sits in the corner of the living room—uh, I mean showroom.  If mountain biking is your thing, they lead a regular Saturday morning ride in the Santa Monica mountains for riders of various ability levels and they’ve built quite a loyal following of mountain bikers.

My initial reason for finding this shop back in 2009 was that I had been looking for a good quality, versatile cro-moly steel bicycle frame to use as a serious urban utility bike and wanted a shop that would take the time to make sure I was properly fitted and, because I wanted to make some changes to the stock components, would customize the bike for me.  I also didn’t want a shop that was trying to push the latest carbon fiber fad or make me feel like I needed to buy clipless pedals and wear spandex if I wanted to be a “real” bicyclist.  I wound up purchasing a Surly LHT from them which they fitted with Soma Oxford bars, racks, and fenders.  Later I had them build a front wheel with a Shimano Dynamo hub that uses the energy of the wheel to power my lights without need for batteries or recharging (dynamo hubs are widely used in Europe where people use bikes for everyday transportation).

TCB shop

Recently, I had the shop order some new Jones Loop H-bar handlebars for my Salsa Fargo.  I got the Fargo a couple of years ago as an on/off road bike for riding fire roads in the mountains above my home, but I’ve lately been using it more as a cargo hauler and commuter.  The stock handlebars placed me in a riding position that was too stretched-out for me and was hard on my back, especially on longer rides.  Once they arrived, I made an appointment to bring my bike in for the installation of the new bars.

Jones loop H-bars

The Jones bar allows me to ride in a more upright, comfortable position, while still affording me multiple hand positions for longer rides and is suitable for on or off-road riding.  My initial review of these bars is that they are much more comfortable for me than the old bars, and as far as I can tell, sacrifice nothing in terms of ride quality.  The Jones bar’s unique shape provides a way to get in an “aero” position when going into a headwind, for example.  Overall, I’m extremely happy with these new bars (a longer review of the setup will be forthcoming).

TCB interior

An added plus was that I got to hang out and chat with the shop staff while my new bars were being installed.  Tanner, the young mechanic who worked on my bike, also showed me how to remove a worn-out chain and replace it, offering a number of helpful tips on chain maintenance.  I got my new handlebars, learned a thing or two about bike maintenance, looked at all the new bikes and gear in the shop, and talked bikes with Chris, Ryan, and Tanner, three really cool guys.  All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon.

I know this post sounds a bit like an advertisement for the shop.  Well, in a way, it is—but not because I received any compensation or was asked to.  Think of it as a way to share one of my favorite bike places with my readers.  I wish there were more shops like it (I mean, where else would you find a bike shop with a kitchen?).  But, then again, if there were, I wouldn’t have an excuse to see my friends at TCB.

Bikes Good for Local Business

Portland bike corral

A new study by Portland State University shows that walkable and bikeable neighborhoods are good for local businesses.  The study showed that, while drivers spent more at supermarkets, walkers and bicyclists spent more at other local businesses.  The study, which surveyed about 20,000 Portlanders in neighborhoods where there is good bike and pedestrian infrastructure, concluded that, Drivers spent more per visit, but bicyclists and walkers made more frequent visits and tended to spend more per month.

It also reinforces the findings of a recent New York City Department of Transportation study that found significant sales increases for businesses on streets with protected bike lanes.  The conclusions of these studies confirm what most bicyclists know intuitively.  You’re more likely to stop by a pizza shop, coffee shop, or bakery when you’re walking or riding by than if you’re driving by at 35 MPH.  Moreover, this makes sense from a macro-economic perspective, too.  Consumers who spend less money on gas every month because they’re not driving as much have more disposable income to spend at local stores.

Such data is important to counteract the resistance some business owners have to, say, remove on-street parking to make room for a bike lane, cycle track, or bike corral (shown above).  It also reinforces the economic benefits of reallocating public space from cars to alternative transportation, such as walking, biking, and public transit.

Just one more reason rethinking our public space for walkability and bikeability makes good sense.

Stan’s Monrovia Bike Shop

Stan's Bike Shop openingI’ve long been a supporter of local bike shops.  They are part of the backbone of any healthy community.  A place to get your bike fixed, pick up that new light, lock, spare tube, or other accessory.  A place for riders to hang out.  And, of course, a place to buy that shiny new bike you’ve been wanting.  Local bike shop owners also contribute to their community in important ways: sponsoring rides, clubs, and other activities.  So, when a new bike shop opens, or an old one takes on a new life, as in the case of Stan’s, I think it’s cause for rejoicing.

Saturday, December 1, Stan’s Bike Shop held its grand opening under new ownership, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a crowd of about 50 who gathered for the occasion.  Stan’s, a local institution on 880 N. Myrtle Ave in Monrovia, has changed owners, but didn’t change character.  New owner Carlos Morales hopes to maintain the shop’s traditional focus on local road riders, and expand the focus to include casual riders as well.   Morales promises to continue the service the shop’s old clients have come to expect, and expand his inventory to include a wider range of bikes for people of all ages.  He’s expanded the shop’s service department and added clothing, bikes, and other inventory for women.  Especially exciting to me is his commitment to reaching out to local youth, through bike safety workshops, bike rodeos, and other community events the shop will be involved in.  In short, he hopes to reach out and get more of the community on bikes.

I’m delighted to see Carlos taking ownership of Stan’s Monrovia Bike Shop.  His energy and vision have helped him start the Eastside Bike Club and helped him become an activist for the American Diabetes Association’s “Tour de Cure.”  These talents will help him in his new role as a bike shop owner.  If you’re in the Monrovia area, need a new bike, an old bike repaired, or want to find out about local bike events, stop by Stan’s on Myrtle Ave, or check out their facebook page.

Dodgertown Bike Ride

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in what I hope will be the first of many bike rides to Dodger Stadium.  The inaugural Dodgertown Bike Ride was a wonderful, easy-paced 4-1/2 mile ride from Lincoln Park in East L.A. to Dodger Stadium, where our group of about 50 bicyclists enjoyed free bike parking and (perhaps best of all for Dodger fans) watched the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1.  To get to Lincoln Park, my son and I took the Gold Line from Pasadena to the Lincoln/Cypress station and rode through the Lincoln Heights area, which gave us a nice tour of a part of the city I had not visited in many years.  There is an Old L.A. charm to the neighborhoods on the Eastside, and the bike is a wonderful way to experience it.  After the game, the group took a leisurely route back through downtown L.A., taking in the sights and sounds of the city on a pleasant summer evening.

The ride was the brainchild of Carlos Morales, president of the Eastside Bicycle Club, and an inspiring advocate for cycling as a way to improve physical fitness, especially for youth in communities of color.  Morales is himself an example of the regenerative power of bicycling to improve health and well-being, having used his bicycle riding to overcome obesity in his own life.  He and the other club members have created a wonderful community organization that encourages people to get on their bikes and have fun.  It is an inclusive, friendly group that is open to all, and makes everyone feel welcome.  I think the group has a deep pride in its community and a warmth that exemplifies the best of East L.A.  You don’t have to be a racer, don’t need the latest bike gear, or the fancy lycra outfit.  Their philosophy is to ride, have fun, get exercise, and be safe.

The Dodgertown Bike Ride is a great way to show Angelinos that they need not rely on the car to get to Dodger Stadium, and the first time in the 50-year history of the stadium that such a large group of fans has bicycled to the stadium for a game.  The Dodgers organization made everyone feel welcome and stadium staff provided us with a parking area right next to the stadium entrance.  With bicycling becoming increasingly popular as a form of transportation in L.A., I have a feeling this ride is a harbinger of more good things to come from the Eastside Bicycle Club.

Support Your Local Bike Shop

According to AAA, Americans spend an average of more than $8,000 per year on automobile ownership.  4/5 of that money (gas, insurance, financing) leaves the local economy.  As Elly Blue has argued in her series “Bikenomics: how bicycling will save the economy (if we let it),”

Support your local bike shop.

bikes are a great way to boost the local economy.  Not only does bicycling support the bike-related economy (like the local bike shop) that employs local people, but when people use their bikes to shop, the dollars tend to stay in the local economy, as bicyclists are more likely to stop and shop at smaller, locally-owned stores, not big-box behemoths surrounded by acres of parking lots.

The revenue generated by bike-related economic activity is surprisingly large.  A 2008 study in Portland, OR, found that bike-related industries contributed $90 million to the local economy each year.  In Wisconsin, the contribution to the state economy is estimated to be more than $1.5 billion annually.

So, ride your bike.  Shop locally when you can.  And, support your local bike shop.

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