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November 26, 2005

Slate writer discovers joy of Cycling Los Angeles

A new article in the Hey, Wait a Minute!  (The conventional wisdom debunked! ) column of Slate has the odd title "Nobody Bikes in L.A.".

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, reads this piece and wonders:

Actually, I'd think that L.A. would be good bike territory: It's mostly flat, it seldom rains, and it's usually not dreadfully hot.

Los Angeles is a great place to ride a bike, for recreation, and for commuting, and many people do both, frequently, and safely, helped by a knowledge of where to ride, and how to navigate the landscape safely.

Slate Senior Editor, Andy Bowers, discovered all that, and a sense of BLISS, too, apparently. ;-D


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...

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.

So he became a rebel...

and took to the streets!

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.

Over a period of several months he 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.

He discovered what the majority, stuck in their cars, don't realize: Los Angeles is not gridlocked!

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).

I found that true of the suburbs, to the east, that I grew up in ( The Pomona Valley, and Inland Empire ) even as the region grew, and expanded in the last 20 years.

I am beginning to discover this here in Orange County, the home of some of the most congested freeways in Southern California, and the famous Orange Crush, near my home, as well.

He ends on a partial note of doom, and gloom ( before hilariously imagining everyone deciding to get out of their cars, and turning L.A. into BEIJING 24/7 ):

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).

Los Angeles has slowly become LESS pathetic thanks to the fact that all the Mass Transit Agencies have Bicycle Access, and thanks to the advocacy of not only state organizations such as the Ca. Ass. of Bicycling Orgs. (CABO),  the Ca. Bicycle Coalition (CBC) , and California Bike Commute/Bike to Work Day,  but most importantly the efforts of  local advocates such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and local clubs such as the historic  LA Wheelmen.

Books have been written over the past 20 years telling those that are interested where to find the best places to ride, and explore, from city trips to the Beach Trail, and the Los Angeles, and San Gabriel River Trails.

There are also many websites as a look at my Links section will show.

Like here in the OC there is also a, mostly unseen, Bike Commuting workforce that is all around you, if you know how to spot them, especially at night.

Legal, and illegal, this mostly Hispanic ridership can be seen on bikes, large, and small, crappy to quite well taken care of, especially at night with headlights ( store bought, or makeshift, including even a simple handheld flashlight ), some with backpacks on their backs, traveling anywhere from just a couple of miles to maybe 10, to and/or from their jobs every day.

A lot of other, more well-off folks, also commute to work by bike entirely, or in combo with Mass Transit, every day.

I know of at least a couple of guys who ride 40+ miles a day by bicycle, round trip.

I frequently will do 20 myself.

All that being said I don't think we have to worry that Andy's vision 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"

will come true in our, or our kids, or grandkids, lifetimes. ;-D

SLATE ( 11/23/05 )-- Nobody Bikes in L.A.: But they'd be a lot happier if they did by Andy Bowers.

ALSO ON SLATE: Same day, different, but just as interesting, essay on Cycling in America:

THE BICYCLE DIARIES: Is it possible to live in America without a car? Uh, sort of. By Bill Gifford.

A Tip of the Hat to Instapundit!

November 26, 2005 in The Well Read Cyclist | Permalink


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I was a former avid cyclist who has biked all over Southern California.

Orange county has excellent wide Parkways with well marked bike lanes.

LA county roads generally bike-unfriendly.

Biking along the 3 SCal river bikepaths is quick way to go across LA-OC metro areas and then lateral to quiet-traffic free roads thru safe urban terrain to your destination.

Best recreational bike paths are the two beach trails(torrance to Malibu) and (Long beach to laguna beach).

It would be nice if they would extend the first path all way thru malibu to oxnard -ventura but it peters out near topanga canyon road.

The Santa Ana bikepath is the best SCal rivertrail and connects to huntington beach portion of beachpath.

The Brea road from Brea to Diamond Bar seems to be a good path running along the 57 freeway.

Or how about La Palma Ave running parallel to the 91 freeway in East Anaheim?

My current bike is a modified Raleigh road racer which can whip around traffic and up hills, suitable for most types of pavement.

I have biked frequently in heavy traffic conditions, same rules as driving:it helps to have 8-way vision.

I ride with bike footgear which locks to my pedals which is efficient for pedalling but is hell on stop and goes.

I do admire your commitment to bike commuting and cycling as way of getting around So. Cal.

Posted by: peter m | Nov 27, 2005 8:51:29 PM

Welcome to the Dude, and thanks for the insights!

Posted by: Kiril Kundurazieff | Dec 1, 2005 4:27:58 AM

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