Nobody Bikes in L.A.

Discussion in 'Australia and New Zealand' started by cfsmtb, Nov 29, 2005.

  1. cfsmtb

    cfsmtb New Member

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    Another fascinating article about biking around car-centric Los Angeles from a conventional perspective of a newspaper senior editor. If people like Andy can entertain the thought, and then act upon it, to change their mode of transport in such a sh!t environment, what’s really stopping us here in Australia?

    ****

    Nobody Bikes in L.A. ... But they'd be a lot happier if they did.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2130978/


    A few months ago, I decided to try the absurd: I would start commuting the four miles to my office on a bike. In Los Angeles! I'd like to say it was environmental awareness or the high price of gas or even the desperate need to get more exercise that coaxed me onto Raymond Chandler's mean streets without my protective steel cocoon. I suppose each of those played a small role. But what really pushed me over the line and onto the bike was an August dispatch from Amsterdam written by my Slate colleague Seth Stevenson.

    Seth described watching a crowd of Dutch theatergoers in their 50s and 60s leaving a play, hopping onto their bikes, and riding off into the night. I couldn't help picturing that lovely scene through an Angeleno's eyes: Wow, I thought, an event without valet parking! Seth went on to quote a friend: "There's something about riding a bike that makes you feel like you're 5 years old." Since that's a feeling I wouldn't mind more of in my life, I decided to get out of my Honda and onto the bike.


    I am a fourth-generation Southern Californian. I was weaned on exhaust fumes and the eye-searing smog of the 1970s. I grew up in a hilly area of the city where it was impossible to ride my bike to school or a store without risking real harm. For my entire childhood I never went anywhere without being chauffeured by my parents. My 16th birthday was Liberation Day. My first driver's license picture, taken on my birthday, shows me looking completely bleary-eyed—I had slept in the used VW Beetle my parents bought me for the occasion and presented myself at the DMV an hour before it opened. Driving in L.A. feels as natural to me as walking in Manhattan.


    Although I had actually been a bike commuter in other cities (most notably during three years in London), it never occurred to me to try it when I returned to L.A. (this despite the fact that there may be no major city in the world with a climate as perfect for bike commuting as ours—warm winters; moderate, dry summers; alarmingly little rain). Since cycling to work is such an aberration here, I found the idea both exhilarating and pleasingly subversive.


    Instead of the major thoroughfares I use when driving, I cycled quiet back streets—the kind that infuriate me in a car because of all the stop signs and the impossibility of crossing major streets without a signal. I found my commute so easy that I soon started looking for other short trips I could make on the bike—picking up a few groceries, going to the gym, returning library books—then longer ones. I plotted new stealth routes no driver would ever take. (Tip: The satellite photos on Google Earth are much better for doing this than a road map, because you can see exactly what the streets look like.)


    One day, I found myself biking down an empty little access road next to the notorious 405 freeway during the evening commute. The freeway, as usual, was paralyzed, and I noticed I was actually moving faster than the cars. That's when the revelation hit: Over the past few months, I had discovered a different Los Angeles.


    It's very easy for an L.A. driver to think that our city is as choked with humanity as Manhattan. From the driver's point of view, that's increasingly true—there are more and more evenings when every major street is stopped dead, and going a few miles can take hours. At work the next day, people grimly shake their heads and lament what's becoming of the city.


    Not only has riding my bike enabled me to glide past all this gridlock (in fact, I'm often not even aware it's happening), but it has made me realize that it's an illusion. The city itself is not gridlocked—merely the narrow asphalt ribbons onto which we squeeze all our single-occupant cars. On the back streets I now take, everything is quiet and serene. The main roads may mimic Times Square on New Year's Eve, but the areas between L.A.'s clogged arteries comprise mile after square mile of low-density, low-stress residential bliss (the same is true, I suspect, of most American cities).


    Even if I do need to use a major road for any portion of my ride, I can always veer onto L.A.'s famously empty sidewalks to bypass the seething queues of road-rage incubators. (Before you write in to protest, L.A.'s municipal code allows bikers on the sidewalk as long as they yield to pedestrians.)


    Don't get me wrong—Los Angeles is an almost pathologically bike-unfriendly city. It has pathetically few marked bike lanes, and those it has often peter out for no reason and at the worst possible place. Its drivers go ballistic when a cyclist slows them down, even for a few seconds. And of course, it's so sprawling that some commutes would simply be impossible by bike (although I suspect more than we realize would actually be faster on two thin wheels).


    So, for now I'll just enjoy my secret Los Angeles secretly, feeling my blood pressure fall as I sail past all the six-cylinder, leather-upholstered pressure cookers around me. My bigger concern is what would happen to L.A. if all the people who currently define themselves by their cars were to turn their sights on bicycles instead. Imagine Beijing-like throngs of wealthy Angelenos careening down Wilshire Boulevard, yakking obliviously on cell phones, demanding valet bike racks, and competing over whose Italian or French import is more expensive. Frankly, if that happens, I might just buy a surplus Hummer.


    Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor.
     
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  2. Rhubarb

    Rhubarb Guest

    "cfsmtb" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]
    >
    > Another fascinating article about biking around car-centric Los Angeles
    > from a conventional perspective of a newspaper senior editor. If people
    > like Andy can entertain the thought, and then act upon it, to change
    > their mode of transport in such a sh!t environment, what's really
    > stopping us here in Australia?
    >
    > ****
    >
    > Nobody Bikes in L.A. ... But they'd be a lot happier if they did.
    > http://www.slate.com/id/2130978/
    >

    <Snip>

    That's a great read, thanks for posting.

    As to what is stopping us in Australia? An incorrect perception of risk and
    laziness. Probably not all that dissimilar to LA.
     
  3. DaveB

    DaveB Guest

    My most enjoyable bike ride each week is the Saturday morning ride to
    the local shops, usually with my daughter on the trailer bike. It's a
    small set of shops (Thompson's Rd for anyone around Bulleen) but is the
    scene of complete carnage on Saturday mornings because of a woeful lack
    of car parking spots. We ride down, get some fresh air, park outside the
    shops and do our shopping in what would be peace except for the car
    horns and abuse going on outside, and then ride home again totally
    relaxed. It's the most concentrated section of road rage I've ever come
    across and I can't stop smiling the whole time I'm down there.

    DaveB
     
  4. cfsmtb

    cfsmtb New Member

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    Sounds positively surreal, bit like Victoria Street in Abbotsford. So pleased we moved up to Beer Can Hill. My quads think otherwise, but they'll learn. ;)
     
  5. TimC

    TimC Guest

    On 2005-11-30, cfsmtb (aka Bruce)
    was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea:
    >
    > DaveB Wrote:
    >> It's the most concentrated section of road rage I've ever come
    >> across and I can't stop smiling the whole time I'm down there.
    >>
    >> DaveB

    >
    > Sounds positively surreal, bit like Victoria Street in Abbotsford. So
    > pleased we moved up to Beer Can Hill. My quads think otherwise, but
    > they'll learn. ;)


    That's quite a hill when you are feeling flat as a tack. It doesn't
    look steep, nor long, going up (at least, in the dark, with the beer
    goggles on, it didn't), but coming down, phewey! It just keeps on
    going and going and going! Barely had to pedal all the way down to
    Richmond Station. That, and the fact the people living north of the
    city get permanent tailwinds, morning and night.

    --
    TimC
    CAUTION: The Mass of This Product Contains the Energy Equivalent of 85
    Million Tons of TNT per Net Ounce of Weight. -- unk
     
  6. rooman

    rooman New Member

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    Can we get Andy to talk to the editorial staff at the HUN ?


    hmmmmm......watch out for flying oinks
     
  7. cfsmtb

    cfsmtb New Member

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