The phrase “To Live and Die in L.A.”, the title of William Friedkin’s popular 1985 film (single, and book) later resuscitated by 2Pac in his own 1996 single, took on a whole new meaning for me this week. Not in a thriller format or in any gang-related activity, but in my heart and mind as I imagine the risks taken by all cyclists riding through the streets of Los Angeles.
As you may know by looking through my blog, common themes that run through many of my posts are transit, transportation, car culture and cycling. So, I guess you can say that I’m a bit of a transit/cycling enthusiast, whose enthusiasm was quite literally curbed last time I rode my bike in L.A. This was an approximate 16-mile round-trip ride taking me from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. And after two trial days, I’m seriously saddened by the state of affairs for L.A. cyclists. It felt like Armageddon!
On Wednesday, I got up at about 6:45am or so and was out the door by about 7:15. I was at work and at my desk by around 8:10. The ride home at about 5:30pm was not as bad as I expected with the additional later afternoon traffic. On Friday, I left a little bit later, at about 8:00am or so. Still, I was at work by about 8:40am. The way back, however, led me down dangerous roads and took longer. In any case, 40 minutes plus, is about as long as it takes to commute by car on a normal day, also including a small walk from the parking lot to my actual workplace.
The problem is certainly not the time or effort involved in cycling, but overall safety. I am completely astounded at how bike unfriendly Los Angeles is. I know I shouldn’t be surprised and to be fair, on day 1, I felt it wasn’t too bad, but day 2 was a fear-inducing nightmare that made me reconsider my decision to try and commute via bike two days weekly. In fact, it made me question my sanity; I started to think I was completely out of my mind for even thinking this was viable since biking in L.A. is a lot more dangerous than it should be.
The bike paths in Santa Monica are clearly demarcated and for the most part, once on these, things seem safer. But, other parts of L.A. are insane. Drivers cut me off left and right, and speed past alarmingly fast, furious, and far too close for comfort. There is a strip on Santa Monica Blvd. (from about Westwood Blvd. to Avenue of the Stars) that is practically like a highway, however, and surprisingly safe. Though the cars are flying past, there is enough space for everyone and it seems to work fine. But, other areas in Beverly Hills (off Santa Monica south and even Burton Way) and other streets in L.A. (like Wilshire and Sepulveda) pose dangers for various reasons like not having bike lanes at all, of course, but also traffic and other infrastructure matters.
I sincerely worry that biking to work may be too much of risk for me to take. I admit I don’t know much about the statistics, but I did come across this blog post that goes over some of the 2011 numbers and causes of death for cyclists. (BikinginLA seems like a useful resource, with very little funding.) A recent post there also references intentionally killings (and more recent statistics), which though apparently nothing new for L.A., are absolutely maddening. Some journalists even refer to this phenomenon as a hit-and-run epidemic often induced by luxury car drivers, and immigrant drivers. Though I think the latter part may be speculative and even inaccurate, I can also see the reasoning behind the allegations.
I am not surprised to learn that most cyclist deaths occur due to someone hitting them from behind. This is exactly how I felt, especially on Friday. I’ve spoken to co-workers, friends and family about my experience cycling thus far, and have to say that I will only continue biking if I can figure out the safest routes and hours to do so. And after this week, yes, after experiencing it firsthand, I’ve become much more convinced of that, and motivated to become active and informed on this front. Bicycle safety is no laughing matter, and something Los Angeles really needs to tackle now (decades ago, in fact) for a better future.
So, what can we Angelenos do? Well I didn’t even realize this until Friday, but May is, in fact, National Bike Month. And apparently next week is Bike to work week! I guess a good start for anyone is to get involved with, and support, events like these and CicLAvia, that raise awareness about biking in cities. I’m also looking to join the Bike Coalition of Los Angeles. Again, I encourage other Angelenos to get involved, and like me, to become better-informed about how to both cycle, and drive, as safely as possible. Here are some quick tips I pulled up from Metro’s invaluable The Source, that also launched a bike safety campaign recently (see below). And here is a link to a full bike map, also found on the Metro website.
On a more positive note, today I went on a very pleasant hike / run up around Coldwater Canyon Park. This was my second time out there and I definitely want to go back for more hiking ad running, though earlier in the morning to the avoid the heat. I also want to check out the many green features they’ve incorporated into the facilities of there, like a massive 216,000 gallon cistern or rainwater collection system.
As if that hike was not enough exercise for the day, I drove down south and sprinted up the Culver City stairs to the Baldwin Hills overlook. I am amazed and inspired by all the great and easily accessible hiking in Los Angeles. We are doing somethings right in L.A. by preserving some of our most beautiful and breathtaking surroundings and views.
After all that, I was hungry and headed to a place I’d been wanting to try– Post & Beam in Baldwin Hills. It was a nice treat after all that hard work. And, thankfully, I was in good company. Note: It’s hard to keep up with all the great restaurants in L.A., but I’m working on coming up with a list of my favorite discoveries since moving back.