Today’s post, in which I consider my attitude

March 12, 2009

Let’s talk about negativity. Mine, in particular.

You see, during the panel I was on at last week’s Bike Summit, I mentioned that one of the many reasons I’d started this blog was that I was concerned — okay, pissed off — about the state of cycling in Los Angeles. And said that this is, with the possible exception of 1980’s era Louisiana, the worst city in which I’ve ridden.

Then someone asked if I thought that cycling had gotten better or worse in my 30 years of riding — and here in L.A. over my near two-decades of residence, in particular.

My response was, worse. Much, much worse, in fact.

And it’s true.

Once I learned to avoid busy streets unsuitable for cycling — and to never, ever ride after an LSU home game, when the risk of being intentionally run off the road by drunken frat boys increased exponentially — Louisiana really wasn’t that bad. There were lots of quiet side streets perfect for cycling, and the River Road along the levee was wide, flat and virtually car free. And cyclists were enough of an anomaly in those days that drivers usually gave us a wide berth.

Every other city I’ve passed through or called home, for whatever reason or length of time, had a system of cycling infrastructure far superior to present day L.A. Even San Diego, circa mid-‘80s, had a better system of Class 1 and Class 2 bikeways (off-road paths and on-road lanes) than L.A. does today.

And in many ways, L.A.’s bikeways are in worse shape than they were 10 years ago, as crumbling asphalt, increased traffic and lax enforcement of bikeway restrictions take their toll.

Another thing that’s changed over the last 10 years is the willingness of local drivers to share the road. And in case you’re unsure where this is going, I’m not suggesting that it’s gotten better.

Maybe it’s the fact that traffic here on the Westside is significantly heavier than it once was. Maybe it’s the added stress everyone is under these days. It could be the distractions to drivers offered by the proliferation of cell phones, iPods and PDAs.

Or it could be the simple fact that L.A.’s understaffed police force, combined with an increasing population and shifting departmental priorities, means there aren’t enough officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws. As a result, local drivers seem to feel free to do whatever strikes their fancy, legal — or safe — or not.

And whether or not there’s a cyclist in their way.

So if that sounds negative, I’m sorry. That’s just my experience, from my perspective.

On the other hand, it’s not all bad.

Things actually seem to have gotten better over the past year. There seems to be less tension on the roads today than there was just a year ago. Maybe the Mandeville Canyon incident has made drivers rethink their attitudes.

Or maybe we’re all just trying a little harder to get along.

Then there’s the fact that even a bad day on the bike is better than just about anything else I might be doing. And for every negative moment on the road, there are a thousand moments that make it all worth while.

Some people at the forum thought that it was wrong to focus on the negatives. They felt that too much negativity might discourage people from riding.

And they have a point.

This sport needs its evangelists. We need people who will encourage beginners, and help them get the skills they need to start on a long, safe and rewarding riding career.

But we also need to talk about the wrongs we see and experience on the road. The things that can, and should, be changed, so that the people who start riding today will experience a better, safer and more bike friendly city than we did yesterday.

Because we owe them that.

 

One of my fellow panelists says it’s time to become a more considerate cyclist. According to Streetsblog, cyclists may finally be getting some respect in Washington. An economics professor at Oregon State University says instead of taxing cyclists, they should pay us to ride. An off-duty police officer in Tucson was killed when his bike was struck from behind in broad daylight; as usual, the driver was not cited. And also as usual, it doesn’t take long for the anti-cyclist rants to start. Another cyclist, also run down by a pickup truck, credits his survival to wearing a helmet; while this site suggest that learning how not to get hit in the first place is an even smarter option. Evidently, I’m not the only rider who complains about iPods on the bike paths. And finally, L.A. Magazine has added a postscript to their description of Los Angeles’ Bike Culture, discussing the role we cyclists may have played in influencing the outcome of last week’s primary election.

 


Selling bike safety, culture and infrastructure to a suspicious public

March 9, 2009

The single most powerful political manifesto I’ve ever read was written by Dale Carnegie.

I don’t think he intended to write a revolutionary treatise. But over the years, I’ve found the suggestions contained in his 70-year old book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, are more effective in creating political and societal change than any sit-in, march or demonstration.

One in particular has been proven over and over to be a brilliant political tool: “Always talk in terms of the other man’s interest.” That is, look at it from their perspective, and think about they’re interested in, rather than what’s in it for you.

I been thinking about that since I attended a session on advanced bike traffic planning tools, hosted by Ryan Snyder of Ryan Snyder Associates, at the L.A. Bike Summit on Saturday. He talked about a number of innovative bike traffic solutions, from sharrows and bike boxes, to painted bike lanes and improved signage.

But what really caught my attention were two things:

First was the concept of Road Diets. Simply put, it’s the idea that traffic flow and neighborhoods can both be improved by reducing the number of lanes.

For instance, a typical four-lane street that carries 20,000 vehicles or less a day can often be reconfigured into two through lanes, with a center left turn lane so that turning cars don’t block traffic, while leaving room for bike lanes on either side. This reduction can actually improve vehicle flow, while calming traffic speeds and permitting a dramatic increase in bike usage — and improve safety for both drivers and riders, while revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.

The other one was the idea of Bike Boulevards — something a number of local riders have advocated lately.

At its most basic, a bike boulevard is a street, often parallel to a major thoroughfare, that has been optimized to encourage bike traffic. At the same time, it employs various barriers, roundabouts and signal changes to discourage vehicle through traffic.

You don’t have to sell cyclists on the concept of a bike boulevard. Build it, and we will come.

But as Ryan pointed out, the problem for both of these ideas — especially bike boulevards — comes when it’s time to sell local residents and business owners on the idea. With today’s over-congested traffic, very few people are open to the idea of actually reducing traffic lanes.

And no one wants to live on a bike boulevard.

People who live there tend to envision a thundering horde of two-wheeled thugs invading their street, reducing their property values and making them second-class citizens in their own neighborhoods.

Yet the reality is just the opposite. By eliminating through traffic, a bike boulevard will dramatically reduce vehicle traffic, making their street quieter, more peaceful and significantly safer, while local traffic is still able move in and out with ease.

Streets become more walkable, as well as bike-able, encouraging residents to get out and meet their neighbors. And the enhanced landscaping and beautification projects that often are part of a bike boulevard project — in part to get buy-in from the locals — results in a more attractive streetscape.

All that adds up to a better, more livable neighborhood. And means that property values could actually go up, not down.

The same holds true for a business district. Reduced traffic flow means less through traffic, resulting in quieter streets less congestion and easier access for drivers who do want to stop and shop. Parking can be improved and streets beautified, creating a neighborhood ideal for strolling or sidewalk cafes, while the extra bike traffic could actually bring more customers to the area.

Everyone wins.

So we have to do a much better job of marketing — whatever we’re selling. Because the key to getting bike boulevards and the other biking infrastructure, safety improvements, better educated, less biased and more effective police, and acceptance of bike culture, is not to demand our rights, but to look at it from their perspective.

We have to show local authorities, as well as home and business owners, exactly how and why it works to their benefit.

And let them demand it, instead.

***

Streetsblog offers some great biking links this morning, as well as a good overview of the keynote speakers at the Bike Summit. Gary, Brayj and Drew also offer reviews, though in the latter case, I fear I have once again failed to make a good impression. Will offers links to photos, as well as photos and video of his close encounter with Lance following the Summit. Los Angeles Rides quotes from a New York Times article about riding in the city, and how we make ourselves look bad — and not just by wearing spandex. Bicycle Fixation demonstrates that once again, cycling offers better stress relief than any prescription drug. The Biking Lawyer relates the history of the Stop As Yield Law. And Los Angeles Cyclist offers parts 3, 4 & 5 in his five part story of the Ridiculous Pink Fixie.


See you at the Bike Summit

March 6, 2009

I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I’d be attending this weekend’s Bike Summit.

Not that I didn’t want to, you understand. But my weekends are reserved for spending time with my lovely wife (who I just happened to meet exactly 16 years ago today). Which is why you don’t see me on weekend rides, however much I might want to be there.

But then Damien asked me to be part of this panel.

Suddenly, I had a perfect excus…uh, valid reason to attend — one that even a non-riding spouse couldn’t find fault with. Besides, I’ll make it up to her. Honest.

But frankly, this is important.

This city has long had a large number of cyclists, myself included for the last few decades. And a large number of cycling groups and organizations, from La Grange and the Wheelmen (I’ve really got to get around to adding them to my links over there) to the LACBC and C.I.C.L.E. Not to mention the Ridazz and Socal Bike Forums.

Just to name a few.

But it’s only over the last year or so that these disparate voices have started to coalesce into a political movement. And that riders — or ridazz, if you prefer — have come to realize that if we want things to get better for SoCal cyclists, we’re going to have to do something about it.

And we can do a lot more by working together than we can just bitching about it on our bikes. Or on our blogs.

So I’m really looking forward to it. And plan on doing a lot more listening than talking, because there’s a lot to learn.

I’m also looking forward to meeting some of the people attached to all those links over there. Along with some of the people who visit this site on a semi-regular basis, for reasons I will never understand. But for which I am eternally grateful.

Which brings up a question.

What would you like me to discuss during my part of the presentation? Is there anything that you been dying to know about biking or blogging, L.A. politics — or surviving beachfront bee and massive hematomas, for that matter.

Because I’d much rather discuss something you find fascinating than just blather on in my own inimitable manner.

 

Nate covers yesterday’s Pre-Bike Summit meeting. An Iowa cyclist takes other riders to task for opposing the state’s Bike Safety Bill. Isn’t it time we got one of those, too? Cyclists in Toronto deliver nearly 6,000 signatures to city hall demanding a new cross-town bikeway. Our own Rearview Rider echoes that in calling for a 4th St. Bikeway right here in L.A. Arizona bucks the trend towards common-sense revisions of bike safety laws by refusing to allow rolling stops in their state. Looks like almost everyone is getting into the bike sharing, even if our own city can’t figure out how to do it. Finally, Gary barely dodges after-dark joggers in the bike lane.


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