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January 22, 2007

Los Angeles Voice of a Two-Wheeled Future

In early August I visited a small, cramped, 8th floor office in an old, refurbished building in downtown Los Angeles....

The home of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

I had a reason for the trip, and met a couple of really cool folks holding down the Fort.

One was Monica Howe, the Outreach Manager.

Her nice note, a couple of days later, made my day. ;-D

Now the rest of LA, outside the Pols, and her fellow Cyclists, have met her too, thanks to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

It scares her to ride her bicycle to work. A vague prickle of apprehension follows her along Sunset Boulevard and down Spring Street on her way into the teeming core of the city. But she rides anyway. Her faith in the future of the bicycle overpowers her dread of the cars that rule these impatient streets.

Indeed, it's Monica Howe's job to argue the case for the bicycle as everyday transportation in Los Angeles.

The bicycle is central to her social life in the city, her romantic life too. It's the source of her idealism. If you've known her for a while, you understand that the very thought of the bicycle in Los Angeles makes her smile.

She had only been in her job for a couple of months when I met her, but it seems she's been active in the LA Cycling Scene for a few years before that.

As I wrote in September, the LACBC is Building a More Bikeable LA County, and she is playing an important part in that activity. 

Being around Bicycle Kitchen, Whirly Girls ( A.k.a. the City of Angels Ladies' Bicycling Association ), and Midnight Ridazz, had a profound influence on her, apparently.

Right away she turned up the volume for this small advocacy organization that is dedicated to "improving the bicycle environment in the county." The traditionally conservative and cautious cycling establishment found itself with a genuine urban insurgent in its midst, and cyclists around the city could detect a fresh spurt of determination.


Hee, hee, hee, um, oh, sorry, but my 1st reaction was that I wanna know what this reporter was smokin'!

The only Cycling Activists in LA, that I ever encountered, were far from Conservative, aside from maybe some folks in the LA Wheelmen Cycling Club, and I thought THEY were the Establishment, hee, hee. ;-D

Shows what little I know. ;-D

There are plenty of excuses to have fun on a bicycle in Los Angeles. For Howe, it's time to turn the party into something more ambitious....

"What has to happen now — and what I think will happen in five years — is we'll see new advocacy groups joining in the work of making room here for the bicycle. Los Angeles is really the last big city to realize that bicycling is a good idea.

"In Los Angeles, people are sick of driving, sick of looking for parking. And most trips are under five miles. But people don't want to ride in a city that feels dangerous."

She has thrown herself into the campaign to demand the stenciling of "sharrows" on city streets. A sharrow is a bicycle symbol with two chevrons that is meant to remind motorists to share the road and also to promote better lane positioning for those on bikes. Howe has rallied cyclists to demand safer streets. She has led efforts to support cyclists hit by cars. She has promoted group rides that bring residents in touch with unfamiliar neighborhoods. She hammers away on the idea that bicycles are the only zero-emission transit machines.

"It's a Catch-22," Howe said. "Officials in this city won't take the moves to make it safe until there are more bicyclists. Until they see bicycles all over the road, they will continue to regard us as freaks. Yet, those who commute by bicycle today are taking huge risks.

"I've had to visit friends in the hospital this year."

Good for her. ;-D

Her description of the attitude of Officials is one seen in far too many cities.

Even when the Officials support cycling innitiatives they sometimes mess the effort up somehow.

The current Trail proposal, under discussion in Costa Mesa, seems to be one such instance, if my on site explorations the last few days are any guide ( More later ).

A list of attributes of bicycling in Los Angeles begins with the self-evident: economy, exercise, efficiency and, if you regard congestion as a wrongheaded way to live, even rightness.

These are good reason to bicycle regardless of where you live.

Howe represents a school of thinking that holds there is more to it still. Bicycling is an expression of curiosity, Howe said: "the need to scrutinize and question the world around us."

I agree.

Getting out, and about, on your bike brings you into close contact with your environment, and community.

You see things differently than from in your car, and you see MORE.

For instance, there is a story I will be sharing, soon, about someting I have been seeing on my commute, since July, and that motorists, on the street nearby, have absolutely no clue about.

I take my Camera on rides for a reason. ;-D

Los Angeles on a bicycle is both a more intimate and a vaster place. Because the rider is exposed, and vulnerable, it is a more engaging landscape.

"To ride a bike in L.A. is to examine the accepted ways of doing things," she continued. "It's a way of stepping out and seeing things in a different way."

To ride a bike ANYWHERE is a way to see things differently.

The article excerpted here is by John Balzar, of the Times, and can be read here:

She's L.A.'s pedal pusher: Monica Howe sees herself as the voice of a two-wheeled future, dedicated to the notion that an urban bicycle culture will make this a better place to live.

A Tip of the Hat to Robert Daeley, of the new Outdoors Blog called End Pavement, where he blogged the story for his Cycling Archives.

The LACBC website is a great place to find out about cycling activism in LA COUNTY.

I'd like to join them in spreading the word about 2 stories they are promoting as ACTION ITEMS at the moment:

Introduced by Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes and seconded by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, two documents are now working their way through committee:

MOTION: Consideration of Bicyclists and Pedestrians in Transportation Projects in the City of Los Angeles – submitted to the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee. View the Motion.

RESOLUTION: Amendment of California Vehicle Code to Assign Responsibility of Collision Between Vehicle and Bicycle to Motorist – submitted to the Intergovernmental Relations committee. View the Resolution

I am not ready to say "that all vehicle collisions with bicyclists are the fault of the motorists", not by a long shot, because it is far from true to say so.

This just seems like another one of those cases where well meaning Cycling enthusiasts, in Officialdom, think they are doing something useful, when they may actually not be.

In 2006 there was a rash of such accidents all across Orange County, and some of them were the fault of the cyclist, or, in at least 1 case, the cyclist was doing something they should not have been doing anyway at the time of their misfortune.

If you want to "increase the awareness of bicycling", among motorists, it seems to me that the 1st thing you don't want to do is throw all the blame for injurious/deadly encounters between you, and THEM, in THEIR front seat. 

It will be interesting to see how far such a notion gets.

January 22, 2007 in Pedaling Advocacy, Share the Road, and Trail: Safety Matters! | Permalink


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