Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the category “transportational bicycling”

Advice for a new bike commuter

One of my friends, a former student, asked me for some advice on social media for getting started bike commuting to the Gold Line commuter rail here in L.A.:

“What’s the best way to get started taking public transportation? The gold line is great, but I currently live 8 mi away from the closest station and another 1.5 miles from my work. I have so much gear that I bring to work (purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.) so that’s a huge concern of mine with biking to and from stations. Any thoughts on how to get started? What equipment do you suggest?”

It’s great question, of course, and one that a lot of people have probably considered at one time or another. I wanted to use this opportunity to provide some thoughts on getting started and on equipment that would be useful to anyone thinking about bike commuting with transit.

The main concern my friend has is transporting gear on her bike, in this case “purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.”). I’m assuming that softball gear includes a uniform, glove, and pair of cleats. She also might have undergarments, towel, water bottle, and batting gloves, in addition to a purse and a small lunch bag. These items will pack into a couple of utility panniers (one for each side of your rack). My personal favorite is the Banjo Brothers market pannier, which holds quite a bit and comes with handles and a shoulder strap, so you can carry your gear from your bike to the softball diamond. There are other similar products out there, and they really are versatile. A water bottle cage mounted to your bike frame will hold your water bottle.

Banjo Brothers market pannier (photo: Banjo Brothers).

 

My Trek XM700 e-bike with my swim gear in a Banjo Brothers market pannier.

Now, if you also need to carry a batting helmet and bat, that does create a little more of a logistical challenge. Your softball duffel bag can probably be bungee-corded to your rear rack, but you’ve got to make sure it’s secure, so several bungee-cords or a bungee net may be necessary.  I’ve rigged a carrier made from PVC pipe for my trekking poles for hiking in the local mountains (see photo), which could also work for a bat.

I rigged a holster for my trekking poles that can be attached to the rack via zip ties and/or bungees. Pannier holds my hiking gear. Something similar might also work for softball bat.

Another possibility for gear and a softball bat is a trailer. Most bike cargo trailers are too big for the Metro, but one product that would work is the Burley Travoy trailer, which would hold all your softball gear, and detatches quickly and would be no bigger than a luggage carrier when on the train. I’ve not used the Travoy, but reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Baskets are also good for carrying bulky items. Some of them fit on the back and others on the front.

What kind of bike? Well, that’s a loaded question. You see, bikes aren’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Different tire sizes, different frame styles and materials, different frame geometry, different drivetrains, different brakes. The list goes on. Generally speaking, commuter bikes tend to be a bit sturdier (and just a little heavier) than a lightweight racer. Some people modify mountain bikes, but this is only a good idea if the bike has eyelets on the frame to mount a rack and fenders.

For commuting, the essentials are (in no particular order): lights, white light up front and red light in the rear. I recommend a rack, usually mounted on the rear of the bike, but some bikes can be outfitted with front racks and baskets, too.

Gears: if you’re going to be riding in a hilly area or carrying stuff (especially uphill), you’ll want a bike with a wide range of gears. On the other hand, some people like the simplicity of lightweight single speed bikes.

Fenders are definitely a good idea if you’re going to ride in wet weather, since they keep you dry when the pavement’s wet. Take an extra bungee cord to help secure your bike on the Metro, especially if you’re going to be on the train for a while. Otherwise, you can just stand with your bike.

Helmet? By law only riders under 18 are required to wear one. I almost always wear one, but I don’t scold people who don’t.  Exceptions: if I’m going for a slow, short ride in my immediate neighborhood, or the bike path at the beach or an open streets event like CicLAvia. Otherwise, I wear one.

Try different bikes. If you go to a local bike shop and they have a bike you like, sit on it, try it out for size and comfort. They should let you take it for a test ride. Try changing the gears while you ride and get the feel for the bike.

The important thing to remember is this: you should feel comfortable on the bike. The advantage to  buying your bike from a bike shop (as opposed to a general sporting goods store or online) is that they are trained to find the right fit for you.

The other thing to remember is that bikes are to a surprising degree adjustable and customizable. The saddle, handlebars, and pedals are very important, as these are your “touch points” on the bike. You want these to be comfortable and practical for the type of riding you’re going to do. Handlebars uncomfortable? they can usually be raised, lowered, or swapped for a different kind of handlebar. I find that relatively upright, swept back bars are most comfortable for me. They give me an upright riding position, which reduces neck strain and gives me a good view of the road. Saddle uncomfortable? They can be raised, lowered, moved forward and back, tilted up or down.  You can also find a wide variety of after market saddles that suit a variety of riding positions and body types. Don’t be afraid to ask your bike shop to try different kinds. Pedals? There are a wide variety. I use platform-style pedals that don’t require special shoes. Cycling is a part of my regular daily routine transportation, so I don’t want to have to buy special shoes to ride my bike.

Bike security. Let’s face it, bike theft is a problem. If you need to leave your bike at the Metro station or outside while you’re at work, you’ll need a good lock. When I take my bike on the bus, I lock one of my wheels, so the bike won’t roll if somebody tries to steal it off the front rack on the bus (it’s a very rare occurrence, but it sometimes happens). Never use a cable lock as your main bike lock–they’re too easy for thieves to cut. You can use a cable to secure your seat or a wheel, but your frame should be locked to something stationary (here’s a good article on proper locking technique). I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock.  They’re a bit heavy, and not cheap, but worth it if you value your bike. If you leave your bike outside and out of sight for any length of time, use a mini cable lock to secure your seat to the frame. This will make it harder for thieves to steal your seat.

Tips for riding your first time.  Unfortunately, the relative scarcity of good bike infrastructure (i.e., bike lanes) means you need to do some research first. The route you take in your car may not be the best route for cycling. Pick a day when you’re not in a hurry to test a route to the Gold Line station. Google maps has a “bicycling” route finder that works pretty well most, but not all the time. For example, to get from my house to the Gold Line, Google tells me to go down Santa Anita Ave, because it has bike lanes part way. However, The bike lanes end and dump you into heavy traffic and a freeway onramp. No thanks. Instead I use an alternate route with less traffic about 2 blocks east that takes me right to the station. It may take some experimentation to find lesser known routes that are pleasant and less stressful to ride. But that’s part of the fun! And, better yet, you’ll learn about your neighborhood and community much better than in your car. Start riding one day a week until you get the hang of your new commute routine. Then, as you get more comfortable, go for two days a week, then three, then…? Actually, once you’re doing two days a week, it’s very likely you’ll notice the way the endorphins from your ride put you in a good mood during the day and you’ll be hooked on the fun and freedom of riding your bike and you’ll look for more opportunities to ride.

Riding safe. Here’s a great quick safety guide for safe bicycling. In addition, I highly recommend taking a bike safety course at some point. They are usually free and offered by local bike advocacy groups. The LA County Bicycle Coalition and Bike San Gabriel Valley are both great resources for such classes. Taking one of these classes will improve your confidence on the road and your knowledge of the laws, both of which are important.

It’s very important to remember that bicycles are considered “vehicles” under the California Vehicle Code (CVC), and people on bikes have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. In other words, you’re not legally considered a second-class road user (even if some motorists assume you are) and you’re expected to follow the same traffic laws. The rules for positioning on the road are, unfortunately, not as clear as they could be and bike advocates like the California Bicycle Coalition are working to change that.  The key section of the CVC dealing with riding on the road is CVC 21202. It says that you must ride as far to the right as “practicable,” which is not the same as “possible,” and there are exceptions, when you may “take the lane” for your own safety. In short, you are not required to ride in the gutter. I usually ride at least 3 feet from the curb for visibility and to avoid debris and about 3.5 feet from any parked cars (i.e., the “door zone”). When there’s room, I always try to ride out of the way of moving vehicles, along the right side of the road, but not in the gutter. Ride predictably, and don’t weave in and out of parked cars. If you need to merge or turn look first and signal with hand signals. When the lane width is “substandard” (i.e., not wide enough for a car to pass safely), you are allowed an exception, and may ride in the lane to prevent an unsafe pass.

In California, drivers are required by law to give cyclists a minimum 3 feet of space when passing (CVC 21760). Some motorists seem to be confused by this rule. It’s really quite simple: slow down, then pass with at least 3 feet of room when it’s safe. See? It’s not hard! If you have a bike lane to ride in, great! If there are road hazards in the bike lane, however, it is legal to exit the bike lane when it’s safe and ride in the roadway. Obey traffic signals at intersections and I always watch motorists’ eyes if possible to make sure they see me.

What about riding on the sidewalk? Some people assume it’s illegal, but that is not always true. The law varies by city, so in some places it’s legal, others not. It’s also not necessarily safer than riding in the road, as drivers coming in and out of driveways and shopping centers aren’t looking for cyclists on the sidewalk. However, even with my experience, I sometimes will ride a short distance on a sidewalk if I don’t feel that a particular street is safe for me. If you feel you must ride on the sidewalk for part of your ride, go slow, yield to pedestrians, and be especially careful around intersections and driveways. Most of the time, using safe cycling techniques on the road is the best way to go, but use your good judgment. To me, sidewalk riding is always a sign that the road doesn’t feel safe for cyclists. Instead of criticizing sidewalk riding, I wish cities would use it as a sign they need to install bike lanes (preferably protected if the traffic is over 40 mph).

I’d also recommend joining a local bike advocacy group, going on local group rides, and speaking in favor of more bike-friendly streets in your community.  Things are getting better for cycling in Southern California, but we still have a long way to go and it won’t happen without advocates.

Finally, smile! You’ve made a choice to be part of the solution. You’re doing something super healthy, economicalgood for the planet, oh, and the best part, it’s fun, too!

Ride on!

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Bike Share!

Red roses for Bastille Day … and Pasadena!

 

July 14—Bastille Day—Bike Share came to Pasadena, with a grand opening celebration in front of Pasadena City Hall.  It was a cause for celebration and a step forward in Pasadena’s efforts to be bike and transit friendly.

Bike share can be a game-changer, insofar as it helps solve the “first mile/last mile” connection to transit and encourages more people to ride.

Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition in the house!

 

The more people ride, the more it normalizes bicycling and helps people shift their thinking about bikes as a mode of everyday transportation.

MetroBike rolling the streets of ‘Dena.

 

Bikeshare allows more people to discover how biking saves money, reduces traffic and pollution, and helps people stay healthier. It also spreads the joys of cycling in the city: the way the bike helps people move through the city at a pace that enables them to see and experience so much more than they can from inside a car.

Bikeshare riders head up Marengo Ave.

 

Initially, bike share stations are mostly clustered in Old town and Downtown Pasadena, with an easternmost kiosk at PCC, and none north of the 210 freeway.  As an initial rollout, this makes sense, but I’d like to see Metro expand this program northward and eastward, and I also think it makes it imperative that the city expand its network of bike lanes and use traffic calming measures on more streets to make this program successful.  As I’ve written about before, too many of Pasadena’s streets are still not friendly for cyclists and too many drivers treat the streets as speedways.

Let’s ride!

 

Bike share can help people discover there is a world beyond the automobile, it expands the realm of the possible for those who want to go car free for a day–or more. From the looks of the smiles on the faces of people riding the Metro Bikes, I’d say the city is on its way.

Turn the Page

The new year provides an opportunity to look back on 2015 and ahead to 2016.  As always, it’s a blend of  disappointment that much-needed changes have been so slow in coming, gratification for the accomplishments, and hope for a continued shift in our transportation priorities in the future.  What is offered here is a highly personal, mostly local, list of the best of 2015 and some of my aspirations for bikes and alternative transportation in 2016.

The best of 2015:

  1. A shift in the conversation about climate change.  2015 may well be seen as the year the global community got serious about recognizing the necessity of radical action on climate change.  The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change, “Laudato Si,” provided a powerful moral argument for reducing carbon emissions while addressing the combined social and environmental injustices of the current economic model.  Then, in December, leaders of over 190 nation-states met at the Paris Climate Summit and agreed to commit their nations to voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure from citizen activists from around the world and from vulnerable nations elicited an “aspirational” goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial averages.  While the agreement lacks any binding enforcement mechanism, it is an important starting point from which continued climate justice activism can and must proceed.  In order for these goals to have any chance of success, transportation sustainability (and equity) are going to play a role.  That means transit and bikes.
  2. Construction of Phase 1 Extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa was completed.  The extension opens up possibilities for more transit choices in the San Gabriel Valley, and eliminates one more excuse for people who live nearby to go car free or car light.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

  3. CicLAvia came to Pasadena!  The fun of cruising down a car-free Colorado Blvd. with thousands of other people still brings a smile to my face and reminds us why we must continue to push for more car-free space (temporarily or permanently) in our cities.  The car-free movement continued to spread in 2015, as iconic Paris opened its streets to people for a day in September. CicLAviaPas3
  4. New Bike Co-Op opened in El Monte.  BikeSGV’s new bike co-op, the Bike Education Center, provides a space for people from the local community to build or fix their own bikes.
  5. Metro’s Bike Hub at El Monte Bus Station. An important amenity for transit users who want a secure storage space for their bikes and a place for quick bike repairs right on the premises of the transit station.
  6. Pro-Bike Mayor elected in Pasadena.  The election of Terry Tornek as Mayor of Pasadena means that City Hall will continue to provide strong leadership for transit, walking, and bicycling in the city.
  7. Mobility 2035.  LA City Council passed an ambitious mobility plan that, if implemented, will provide more sustainable mobility choices for people in LA.
  8. Local bike infrastructure.  This is the weakest of 2015’s accomplishments.  But it is important to applaud any improvement.  For me, the bike lanes on First St. in Arcadia, near the new Gold Line station, even though they only stretch for about half a mile, are a sign that the city is trying to accommodate bicycle commuters.  Here’s hoping they are extended in 2016.

What I’m anticipating/hoping/wishing/working for in 2016:

  1. Gold Line extension opening, March 5, 2016.  This is a red-letter day for sure.  Looking forward to that first ride out to Azusa.
  2. Monrovia’s new bike plan.  Monrovia, at the behest of it’s local active transportation advocacy group Move Monrovia, has contracted with Alta Planning to produce a bike plan for the city.  I’m anxious to see the new plan and work with local advocates to make sure it gets approved and funded.
  3. Golden Streets 626: The San Gabriel Valley’s big open streets event, June 26, 2016 (i.e., 6.26)
  4. More bike lanes … everywhere.  Bike lanes are good.  Buffered bike lanes are better, and protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “Cycle Tracks”) are best.  I’m especially hoping to see some progress in Pasadena, Temple City, Arcadia, Monrovia. Et tu, El Monte?

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

  5. More bike racks (not the crappy, wheel-bender kind) … everywhere.
  6. Commitment from university administrators for a transit center on Cal Poly Pomona’s campus.  Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach, currently has no transit stop on campus.  Bus riders are forced to walk a long distance to sit on a splintered bench on Temple Ave.  Yet the University is building a multimillion-dollar parking garage and raising student parking fees.  Time for this otherwise “green” campus to make its transportation system green, too.

    What passes for a "transit center" at Cal Poly Pomona.

    What passes for a “transit center” at Cal Poly Pomona.

  7. Buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd.  This has long been on my wish list.  There’s no reason it can’t be done.  The street is wide enough, the traffic speeds warrant it.  Hasn’t happened yet.  Still, I’ll keep asking ….

Happy car-light 2016 to all, and remember, there’s no such thing as a “green” car.  Whenever possible, leave your tin polluter box at home.  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Walk, bike, take the bus or train.  It makes a difference!

New Bike Co-Op in El Monte

Ribbon cutting at the new bike co-op

Ribbon cutting at the new bike co-op

A new bike co-op opened its doors yesterday at the Seymour Family Center (formerly Mulhall elementary school) in El Monte.  Sponsored by BikeSGV, the local bike advocacy organization, the “Bike Education Center” (BEC) provides the members of the community a space (for a nominal fee) to work on their own bikes, learn bike repair, and even rent bikes.  There will also be regular bike safety classes taught by local LCIs (League Certified Instructors).  I’ve been calling for more bike co-ops for years, and it is especially gratifying to see this one finally come to fruition.  Aside from the CalTech Bike Lab (open only to students, faculty and staff at CalTech), it is only the second bike co-op in the San Gabriel Valley.  Bike co-ops can be great spaces not only for wrenching and education, but for bike community organizing, advocacy, and activism.

Wrenching at the new BEC

Wrenching at the new BEC

The BEC fills a very great need in El Monte, a working-class community that has a large proportion of people who depend on bikes for transportation.  Riding the bus or my bike in and around El Monte, I’m constantly struck by the fact that it really is “bike city USA” if you look at all of the people riding utilitarian bikes for transportation, carrying their groceries or work gear with them.  Many of these individuals are immigrants or people of color and their bikes are their means of transport.  Further, with El Monte’s main transit hub, the El Monte bus station, nearby, the bike/transit transportation connection is very strong in this city.  Sadly, El Monte has very few (read: almost none) streets with bike lanes.  As a result, you’ll see a lot of people sidewalk riding.  I sometimes do likewise for a stressful portion of my commute on Lower Azusa Ave. near the Rio Hondo bike path.

I hope the BEC becomes a place where this often “invisible” segment of the bicycling community can begin to make its voice heard in City Hall to demand better bike infrastructure in and around El Monte.   I think BikeSGV is doing a great job of outreach to youth and families in the area.  In addition, I expect to see some bike wrenching workshops and safety classes offered in Spanish, and I’d love to see them offered (and run) by women, too.  Perhaps BikeSGV can set up a monthly wrenching event run by its WoW (Women on Wheels) group.  Bike repair and maintenance in most bike shops is too male-dominated, but the bike itself  can be a tool of empowerment for women.  Making the BEC a place where women feel comfortable working on their own bikes can be a very liberating function.  With outreach efforts in these directions, the BEC could become a place of community engagement and empowerment.

There was fairly good media coverage of the BEC grand opening on the local ABC news and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  And, while it may be petty to quibble about media coverage, I was disappointed that the editors at the Tribune filed Brian Day’s story under “Sports.”  This isn’t the first time Tribune editors have been tone deaf when it comes to transportational bicycling.  It’s ill-conceived “summer of cycling” series a couple of years ago seemed designed to highlight the editors’ assumptions that bikes weren’t a viable mode of transportation more than anything else.  Ironically, this very same weekend, the California Bicycle Coalition is holding its annual statewide bike summit, where the theme is “equity” in the bike movement.  The connection between bicycling and social and environmental justice are now coming to the forefront for many of us who advocate for bikes as transportation.

A question for Tribune editors: why wasn’t this categorized as local news or transportation?  Categorizing a story about a community bike co-op as a “sports” story reflects the middle-class bias of the paper’s editors and misses one of the main reasons for the bike co-op.  Look at the location of the event, in El Monte, less than a mile from the El Monte bus station, where the overwhelming majority of people on bikes on a daily basis are not lycra-clad racers.  There were a few folks in lycra at the grand opening, but overwhelmingly these were just regular folks who want to ride their bikes for a variety of reasons.  Categorizing the story as “sports” ignores the fact that speakers at the event referenced the need for more bike lanes in the area, and more riparian bike paths for, as Bike SGV’s Wes Reutimann put it, “getting around the San Gabriel Valley by bike.”  Indeed, one of the main sponsors of the BEC is Dahon Bikes, a company that specializes in folding bicycles, particularly useful in conjunction with transit (a point explicitly made by the Dahon representative at the event).  It ignores the fact that the vast majority of old bikes donated to the BEC are utilitarian bikes, not racing bikes.

I hate it when the media’s myopic view of cycling pushes us all into the “recreation/sports” stereotype.  The Tribune should know better.  Cities all over the SGV are gradually waking up to the importance of connecting people to the Gold Line by bike.  Pasadena itself will soon be getting new bike infrastructure as part of its updated MOBILITY plan (not, “sports” plan).

Yours truly with a trailer full of donated bike parts. As you can see, I'm all lycra'd out, riding purely for "sport."

Yours truly donating a trailer full of bike parts. As you can see, I’m all lycra’d out, riding purely for “sport.” (photo: W. Reutimann)

Wake up, Tribune.  The bicycle is much more than just a recreational toy.  Quit treating it like it’s no different than a surfboard or a pair of skis.  It is a means of transportation, one that, especially in conjunction with transit, can replace a lot of car trips, reduce congestion, air pollution, society’s carbon footprint, and make our cities more livable and people healthier.  It’s cheap, equitable, healthy, sustainable, liberating, and empowering.

That’s the real beauty of bikes—and of El Monte’s new Bike Education Center.

 

The Pope and Sustainable Transportation

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis caught my attention a while back, when I saw reports that, as Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he got around town by bus instead of a limo, and encouraged young seminarians to get about town by bicycle.  Thus, I was very interested to read his Encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si.”  The Encyclical ties together a number of important issues related to climate change and its threat to human society and the earth, our “common home.”  I recommend reading it for yourself, but for those without the time to wade through its 180-odd pages, here’s a good synopsis.

Laudato Si shows a good grasp of the scientific consensus on climate change and the threat it poses to humanity, and makes the case that we (i.e., global society) must end our dependence on fossil fuels sooner rather than later.  It is a courageous document, addressed to the entire human family, that urges people to rethink the current throwaway culture that wastes natural resources, pollutes the air and water, and results in profound alienation from nature and from one another.  More than this, it also calls on those in the global north (i.e., U.S. and Europe) to reduce our overall consumption of resources and work for a more equitable distribution of wealth within our own societies and between rich and poor parts of the world.

In this sense, I found the Pope’s message consonant with Naomi Klein’s powerful book, This Changes Everything, in that it looks at the climate crisis as part of a larger interconnected crisis of unrestrained capitalism, runaway consumerism, and inequality.  I may take issue with the Pope’s stance on reproductive rights, but I think he appropriately focuses on the outsized per capita consumption pattern and carbon footprint of people in so-called “advanced” societies like the US.

Exhibit “A” is the idea that everyone should drive around in a 2,000-lb climate-controlled easy chair with a personal entertainment system and that we must sacrifice our cities and our open spaces to promote the continued widespread use of these machines regardless of the ecological, economic, and social damage they do.  The US has the highest per capita carbon footprint of any nation in the world, and the Encyclical points out that it is simply unsustainable to export this model of consumption to the rest of the world. The US EPA calculates that more than a quarter of our national carbon footprint comes from transportation, and this is magnified by the automobile-induced sprawl that exacerbates the problem of distance and dependence on the car.

As part of this larger argument, the Encyclical makes a powerful case for a shift in social consciousness about the way we live and includes specific references to transit and more livable (i.e., walkable and bikeable) cities.  In every world city where public transportation is prioritized, bicycles play a significant role in the sustainable transportation network that helps people get to their destinations.  The reasons for this shift are not only environmental, Francis argues, they are social, as the shift from the automobile/consumerist system enhances human relationships and fosters greater social equity in our communities.

In Ch. IV, Sec. III. of the Encyclical, he calls for “substantial” investment in public transit and critiques the automobile-based transportation model in terms that could have been said by any contemporary new urbanist planner:

  1. “The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.”

header-bikesThe shift away from the single occupancy vehicle (SOV) mode of transportation he calls for in Ch. VI, Sec. II. is part of a broader change that prioritizes frugality over consumerist excess:

  1. “. . . . A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.”

The bicycle represents so many of the values Francis emphasizes in the Encyclical:  it is inexpensive to own and operate, making it accessible to all; it consumes relatively few resources to manufacture or use; its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the automobile; it’s utilitarian instead of luxurious; it promotes health, happiness, and well-being; and it connects us to our communities in ways that the automobile does not.  When combined with transit, it can reduce automobile use significantly.

The Encyclical speaks powerfully of the ethical dimension of our personal choices—the “little daily actions” we take.  When we ride a bike, take transit, or carpool, we act in such a way that directly affects the world around us.  During a recent forum on the Encyclical Brian Treanor, Professor of Environmental Ethics at LMU and bicycle commuter, noted that while one person bicycling isn’t going to end climate change, it is the larger ethic of the act that carries value, and when combined with efforts to organize for broader social change, makes a big difference.  When we become the change we wish to see, we send a powerful message of hope to all around us.

MetroGHG_graphic2

It is refreshing to see an influential global religious leader who understands the role alternative transportation choices play in reducing our carbon emissions and promoting community, equity, and health at the same time.  I hope other leaders, religious and secular, begin to send the same message.

Being an Advocate

A friend recently asked me how I got into bike advocacy.  Well, actually, she asked me how I got into “advocacy,” and I assume she meant bike advocacy, though I think I’ve been an advocate for social justice most of my life.  It’s just part of who I am, I guess.  I see something that needs changing and I research the issue and often join with others who are working on that issue.  We call such people “advocates” or “activists” or sometimes “troublemakers,” but, really, when you get right down to it, isn’t that just citizenship?  We’ve created these labels for active citizenship in part because we live in an era when our role as citizens is supposed to be passively consumed on TV or social media, not in real life.   Those who get out and organize for change are thus labeled as an aberration—a “special interest”—when in fact that’s what every citizen should probably be doing.

Back to the main question.  I got into bike advocacy because the moment I started riding my bike for transportation I started to realize most of our streets had been misdesigned.  It was only as I studied the issue further that I realized how badly misdesigned they were and how it was connected to other misuses of social space and resources.  About the time I began substituting my bike for some of my short car trips (around 2008 or so) a colleague at work showed me an article on bicycle infrastructure in Europe—focused on either Copenhagen or Amsterdam, I can’t recall which—and it fired my imagination for what could be, what might be, and what is possible.  Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the history of how our society constructed a car-based infrastructure that limits how we live, interact with each other, and get from place to place.  It has underscored the importance of radically changing our infrastructure to adapt to more socially and environmentally sustainable transportation modes.

Shortly thereafter I started finding and joining bicycle advocacy (there’s that word again) organizations like the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and CICLE that connected me with others who had a similar vision.  I went on the LA River Ride sponsored by LACBC and several other group rides sponsored by CICLE.  Around 2010, I went on a CICLE-sponsored “tweed ride” in downtown LA.  In many ways I really saw LA for the first time.  Oh, I’d driven through LA many times, usually on my way to someplace, but being on my bike revealed the rich texture of the city for the first time.  It was a revelation that you could feel safe riding city streets if there were enough other people riding too.  I also met Joe Linton on this ride, and he inspired me to continue my effort to be the change I wished to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi would say.  I wanted to write about my experiences, share them with others to show that another world is possible, but I was reluctant.  Joe provided the encouraging words that helped me to start this blog, too.  I think that the experience of CicLAvia really reinforced how different—how much better—our human interactions could be in car-free spaces.  CicLAvia sort of turned me into an evangelist for creating car-free space in our communities and giving people realistic alternatives to the car.

This hasn’t been easy.  Recognizing how badly we’ve gone wrong when others don’t even recognize the problem exists can be a lonely and frustrating experience.  Reading writers like Jane Jacobs, Jane Holtz Kay, Jeff Mapes, Charles Montgomery, Jeff Speck, Peter Norton, Christopher Wells, and others, made me realize I wasn’t alone and helped me deepen my sense that these changes were not only possible but highly desirable.  Reading deeply about the existential crisis of climate change has reinforced that the status quo is unsustainable and that radical change is essential.

Change is never easy, but without a movement of organized people pushing for change it will not happen by itself.  When I see the need for safer streets for myself, I know that they’ll benefit others, too.  I also know that it won’t happen if we don’t shake people out of their complacency.  No individual can do it alone—it takes a group of people to get anything accomplished and the bigger and more diverse the group, the stronger it is.  It’s only working in concert with others that my choices make a larger difference.  And really, we build on the work of those who came before and we’re dependent on others joining the struggle after us, too.

My experience as an historian leads me to understand that going against the automobile-fossil fuel-industrial complex and changing people’s living habits will not be easy, but neither was the abolition of slavery, the struggle for workers’ rights, women’s rights, or civil rights.  Indeed, as Naomi Klein has suggested in her latest book This Changes Everything, these movements for human rights must be seen as part of the larger struggle for peace, civil rights, economic justice, a livable planet, and livable social space.   Making our streets and communities safer and more convenient for alternative modes of transportation (walking, bicycling, and transit) doesn’t solve all of these issues, but, properly understood, it is part of the solution that addresses each of them in part.

Change is happening, a movement is emerging.  Why am I an advocate?  I want to be a part of it—even if only a small part.  I don’t know exactly where the movement will lead, but that is what makes it exciting.

New Headquarters for BikeSGV

BikeSGV director Javier Hernandez reports on the need for a regional bike plan at BikeSGV's new headquarters in El Monte.

Javier Hernandez reports on the regional bike plan at BikeSGV’s new headquarters in El Monte.

Friday evening, BikeSGV, the local bike advocacy organization in the San Gabriel Valley, celebrated the grand opening of its new headquarters in El Monte and gave an update on the area’s regional bike master plan.  About 60 people attended the event despite Friday’s heavy rain.  The event offered an opportunity to celebrate progress on the SGV’s regional bike master plan and provide the community with an opportunity to hear about the ambitious plans for the new headquarters.

BikeSGV members bid on silent auction items.

BikeSGV members bid on silent auction items.

The open house included food, music, and a silent auction to raise money for the new headquarters.  BikeSGV director Javier Hernandez touted plans for the new headquarters, housed at the former site of Mulhall elementary in El Monte, for bike safety classes, bike maintenance workshops, a new bike co-op at Fletcher Park, as well as the continuation of BikeSGV’s regular Bike Train community rides and its Women on Wheels (WoW) group rides.   The superintendent of the El Monte school district was on hand, as well as staff representatives from the office of County Supervisor Hilda Solis.  The new headquarters, located less than a block from the Rio Hondo Bikeway, has the potential to be a center of bike culture in the region.

Phase 1 of SGV regional bike master plan.

Phase 1 of SGV regional bike master plan.

Hernandez also reported on the progress of the regional bike master plan for the San Gabriel Valley.  The bike master plan is absolutely crucial to the efforts to build safer streets in the region and make bicycle transportation a more realistic possibility for more people.  Central to this effort has been a push by BikeSGV to get city governments to support the first phase of this plan.  I attended the Baldwin Park city council meeting where the bike plan was approved last month and I was impressed with BikeSGV’s ability to bring people from the community—especially youth—to attend the meeting and speak on behalf of the plan.  Four of the five cities involved in phase 1 of the plan have officially signed on (Baldwin Park, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, and El Monte), and the remaining city (South El Monte) will vote on whether to support the plan in early 2015.  I hope they do.

Daniella Alcedo (L) of the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition, and Cuong Phu Trinh look over BikeSGV's plans at the open house.

Daniella Alcedo (L) of the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition, and Cuong Phu Trinh look over BikeSGV’s plans at the open house.

There are also plans for a “Phase 2” of the regional bike plan that includes five cities along the corridor of the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa.  In addition, BikeSGV is working with Metro to schedule two CicLAvia-style open streets events for 2015 and 2016 in the San Gabriel Valley.

Let’s face it, the San Gabriel Valley has been a backwater when it comes to bike-friendly infrastructure.  As someone who lives and bikes in this mostly bike-unfriendly zone, I look with envy on what other SoCal communities are doing.  Despite opposition from anti-bike troglodytes like LA council member Gil Cedillo, LA is making strides toward multimodal transportation, Santa Monica has seen its bike mode share grow by leaps and bounds, and Long Beach aspires to be America’s most bike-friendly city with its impressive network of bike lanes.  By comparison, it has been frustrating to see the San Gabriel Valley, with a few small exceptions, lag behind these other areas of the Southland in making the streets safer for people on bikes.  But Friday’s event is an indication that things may be changing.

I’ll admit I’m impatient for change.  We need more bike infrastructure, better bike infrastructure, and we needed it yesterday.  But it’s gratifying to see that after so many years of inaction, the San Gabriel Valley may finally become more accommodating for people on bikes.  Getting the various cities to sign on to a regional bike plan has been no small feat, and BikeSGV activists are to be congratulated for their hard work.  I’m hopeful that this new headquarters will enable the group to build on this foundation and grow the bike culture of the region.  Is it too much to hold out hope that we may be on the cusp of real infrastructure changes in the San Gabriel Valley?  As far as I’m concerned, these positive steps BikeSGV is taking to make the region a better, safer place to ride are very good news, indeed.

Bikes and Sustainability

Turns out, the UN likes bikes.  Well, not explicitly, but pretty darn close.

The most recent report from the UN’s Working Group on Sustainable Development (WGSD) affirms 17 ambitious and interrelated goals for sustainable development it hopes will be attained by 2030 (that’s just 16 years away).  The WGSD urges governments to address these goals together, what they call “holistic and integrated approaches that will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and will lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem.”  The report lists a wide variety of goals for sustainable and equitable development that are laudable and avoid isolating environmental and social issues in separate silos:

1. End poverty everywhere

2. End hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3. Attain healthy lives for all

4. Provide quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all

5. Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere

6. Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all

7. Ensure sustainable energy for all

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

9. Promote sustainable infrastructure and industrialization and foster innovation

10. Reduce inequality within and between countries

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable

12. Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns

13. Tackle climate change and its impacts

14. Conserve and promote sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources

15. Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss

16. Achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and effective and capable institutions

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development

Category 11, “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, and sustainable,” is particularly relevant to bicycle transportation, calling on societies to prioritize “access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all, and expand public transport.”

Take a look at each of these categories.  Which form of transportation is safe?  Bicycles, or the one that kills approximately 35,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands more around the world every year?  How about goal no. 3 “attain healthy lives for all”?  What’s more likely to achieve that, sitting in traffic for hours a day or riding a bicycle to get to work and school?  Affordable and accessible?  Bikes win hands down.  Sustainable?  As we’ve discussed before, there’s no such thing as a “green” car, notwithstanding the auto industry’s attempts to paint itself green to make first world consumers feel better.  And goal no. 13 “tackle climate change and its impacts.”  Think cars for the world’s 7.5 billion people are going to bring us closer to addressing climate change?

The group calls on societies to “reduce urban sprawl” and “ensure universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible public spaces, particularly for women and children and people with disabilities.”  Designing cities primarily around automobile access runs contrary to this goal.  Cars are synonymous with sprawl, even if they’re electric, and they are the major hogs of space in cities, destroying safe public space in the name of parking lots, freeways, highways, and other urban “dead zones” suitable for nothing but the car.  Cars create danger for pedestrians, especially the young, old, and persons with disabilities.  In fact, if you wanted to create an extremely inequitable and unsustainable form of transportation, you’d invent the automobile and design your cities around it.

I realize these sustainable development goals are a long way from being met, but when you think about the larger issues human society faces, the UN has the right idea, and though it doesn’t explicitly endorse bikes, the handwriting is on the wall:  we can keep driving, or we can get on the simple bicycle and live sustainably.

Just Keep Trying

Jim Shanman of Walk n' Rollers leads a bike safety lesson at Sierra Madre Middle School. At right, volunteer instructor Andrew Fung Yip of BikeSGV looks on.

Jim Shanman of Walk n’ Rollers leads a bike safety lesson at Sierra Madre Middle School. At right, volunteer instructor Andrew Fung Yip of BikeSGV looks on.

I haven’t posted on this blog for a while and it’s time to get back to it.  Partly, my absence has been to the usual things: work, family obligations, the busyness of life.  On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago I’d penned an angry rant about the average suburbanite’s laziness and unwillingness to get their fat asses out of their cars—even for their kids’ sake, but ultimately decided not to post it.  I wrote it at a low point, mostly as therapy.

My frustration stemmed from the low turnout at a bike festival I had put together to provide a free bike skills class at the local middle school.  After busting my tail to put this thing together, the turnout was anemic, and I couldn’t get any parents from the middle school to step up and help boost turnout.  A parent advisor for one of the student clubs who’d agreed to have some students paint a banner to publicize the event completely flaked out on me, and I wound up paying for flyers out of my own pocket.  Other parents to whom I’d appealed to bring their kids were no-shows.  I felt angry.

I’ve decided to look at the bright side, however.  The bike safety event at least provided an opportunity for a small number of students to learn safe bike skills and, while we had more instructors than students, it was still a fun event.  Jim Shanman of Walk n’ Rollers, a Culver City-based organization that puts on such events, and volunteers like Jackson, Nikki, Andrew, and Chris from Bike San Gabriel Valley, a local advocacy organization, put together a great program. The students who did participate really got a lot out of the experience, and I enjoyed watching them gain confidence handling their bikes, learning some basic maintenance and riding safely.  The compliments I got from the local Rotary Club that funded most of the event, the local PD, and  the school principal helped ease the frustration of dealing with apathetic parents.  And, at least there are a couple more kids in town who know how to ride safely and have more confidence doing so.  A follow up email from Jim Shanman lifted my spirits, too.  Really, if anybody wants to put together a youth-oriented bike event, contact Walk n’ Rollers.  They’re terrific.

The morning of the event, when I saw how few kids had brought their bikes to school, I swore I’d never do it again, but I’m at the point where I’m willing to consider trying again.  Maybe getting an earlier start with the local PTA and the student body leaders at the school.  Maybe I’ll take a different approach and make it a community event next year.  At any rate, I’ve decided I’m not going to give up.

It’s going to take a long time to break the stranglehold of the automobile on our suburban culture, but the change is necessary for so many reasons and youth are integral to changing the culture.  Next year, I’ll build on what I’ve learned and the event will be better.  It’s like learning to ride a bike.  If at first you don’t succeed ….

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.  I mean, I’ve always figured if you’re going to do something, why wait for the new year to do it?  That said, the new year does enable us to look back on the previous year and set some goals for the coming year.  Here are some thoughts as 2013 turns into 2014.

2013 was a year full of hope and frustration.  Nationwide, bicycling for transportation has continued its upward trend.  Just to name a few examples, San Francisco saw a 96% increase in bicycling mode share between 2006 and 2013, Chicago installed the first miles of protected bike lanes, and New York City launched its tremendously successful bike share program.  In California, Gov. Jerry Brown finally signed a law mandating a 3-foot buffer when motorists pass bicyclists on the street, which is a good start.  In Los Angeles, progress has been much slower, though new bike lanes have been installed from San Pedro to Eagle Rock and just last month LA installed its first protected bike lane in the 2nd Street tunnel.   LA County, in consultation with Bike SGV (one of the area’s growing bike advocacy organizations), is drafting an ambitious new regional bike plan for the San Gabriel Valley that focuses on connecting bike access to transit hubs.

Unfortunately, the news was not all good in 2013.  Motorists continued to kill pedestrians and cyclists at an alarming rate, and two of those deaths hit especially close to home for me.  Last February, Cal Poly Pomona student Ivan Aguilar was struck and killed by an allegedly distracted driver while cycling on a campus road.  Last summer 25-year-old Philip O’Neill was struck and killed on Del Mar Blvd. in Pasadena while riding together with a friend on what turned out to have been their first date.  However both of these tragic, unnecessary deaths may yet spur positive change at Cal Poly and in Pasadena.  Cal Poly has now installed its first bike path on campus, and a new student organization, the University Cycling Coalition, has been formed, for which I serve as a faculty advisor along with my colleague Dr. Gwen Urey.  This new student group has lots of youthful, positive energy among its student members and I see good things happening in the future.

There’s also a new advocacy organization in Pasadena, the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, formed in response to the outrage that followed the death of Philip O’Neill, and the group has already worked with the City Council to call for a stronger bike plan in that city.  Another local advocacy group, Move Monrovia, was also formed in 2013 to encourage bicycling, walking, and transit in that city.  Among Move Monrovia’s first priorities is working with city staff and elected officials to improve bike and pedestrian access to the planned Monrovia Gold Line station, set to open in 2015.  Both of these organizations show a lot of potential to reshape how people get around in their cities.

So much remains to be done, and the car-centered mentality of most Americans (especially those over 40) remains unchanged, but there are enough hopeful signs, especially among young people, to prevent the paralysis of despair.  When all else fails, I found hope and joy gliding along on my bicycle, alive to the sights and sounds of my world.  I found fellowship with the many others out there who are leaving the automobile behind and enriching their lives as a result.  I find such wonderful people online and in person.  We’re flying under the radar, but we’re out there and we’re growing.

As we round the corner to 2014, here are some of my goals for the new year:

  • Get Organized:  Any positive change comes through organizing.  This means continuing to work with local bicycle advocacy groups and build on our modest successes of 2013.  We need better infrastructure and better laws.  There are more streets that can be made safer for pedestrians and people on bikes.  Three words: protected bike lanes.  We must also redesign our roadways to slow traffic speeds and significantly toughen the penalties on drivers who injure or kill vulnerable road users.  And, while we’re at it, let’s stop calling these preventable collisions “accidents.”  Organizing for effective transit advocacy will also be a major goal.
  • Get Hot:  One of the reasons alternative transportation is so vitally necessary is the looming crisis of climate change and the need to radically change our habits and behaviors to reduce carbon emissions.  This won’t be done by fluorescent lightbulbs and EVs alone.  It’s going to require changes to the way we live and how we get around.  This will require driving less and flying less.  This will also require rethinking the sprawl-and-freeway model of development.  This means rail, transit, bicycling, and walking.  This doesn’t mean cars cease to be used, it means that we need to design our infrastructure around people, not cars.  We don’t have time to wait.  The sooner people get wise to this fact the better.  I vow not to waste my precious time and energy on people who aren’t hip to this.
  • Get Moving:  I’ll continue to ride my bike and take transit where I need to go.  With apologies to friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers, I’ll be a pain in the ass and gently encourage you to do the same whenever possible (and it’s more possible than you think).

Best wishes to all in the new year.  And remember, when the world gets you down, ride your bike.

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