Building On Bedrock
Why L.A. Needs More Bike Lanes and Bike Safety Instruction
2020 has been a tough one. Coronavirus has basically put the world on hold, devastated families, and bashed in the front teeth of the worldwide economy. Weather patterns have been unusually volatile, and wildfires are ravaging the West Coast (again).
In the face of a particularly difficult year, there is one thing that has improved for me and many other Angelenos.
I’m not driving a car for an hour or more everyday.
That may not seem like something to rejoice about, but for a region infamous for two hour commutes and deadlocked freeways, it’s a refreshing respite.
When I lived in Portland, I bike-commuted almost everywhere. It is such a cyclist-friendly city that there’s practically nowhere you can’t go on two wheels and pedal force. There are bike lanes aplenty and many green-painted areas at stoplights that are specifically for cyclists so that they stay visible to drivers. And because the city has so embraced bike culture, the drivers know how to interact with cyclists, and vice-versa.
There are very few bike lanes in Los Angeles, and even fewer bike-commuters. Last year (before the quarantine), I started riding my bike to work. This brought no end of derisive laughter from my students and my co-workers, who thought it hilarious that I had ‘funny looking’ bike shoes that clicked when I walked. The concept of not driving a car to work was completely unfamiliar to most of them.
Everyone from my loved ones to my close co-workers were deeply concerned about this decision, one that they saw as unsafe. Which, let’s be honest, they were probably right about. But, I planned a route on the least busy streets available to me, and am pleased to say that three months of biking before the pandemic resulted in no accidents.
Now, when so many Angelenos are not driving daily, there have been various city-wide polls about what people would like to preserve in a post-pandemic world. In one Los Angeles Times article it says that “More than 500 readers mentioned prioritizing action on climate change after the pandemic, a topic that dovetails with traffic, mentioned by more than 400 respondents.” (1)
Given that many Los Angeles residents are concerned about climate change, concerned about traffic, and probably enjoy not driving as much, now seems an excellent time to begin supporting an infrastructure change in the City of Angels.
What if the city began building more bike-friendly roadways? Streets with bike lanes or even a bike superhighway like these in and around Copenhagen: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/world/europe/in-denmark-pedaling-to-work-on-a-superhighway.html
Investment in this sort of infrastructure would greatly benefit a city paralyzed by congestion and an overabundance of car traffic.
Alongside these changes (and improvements!), bike safety instruction would be crucial. There are not many cyclists in L.A., but those that I’ve seen usually don’t ride very safely. (If you’ve read my previous posts, this is where I start talking about education.) Cyclists will ride on sidewalks because the roadway is too packed with cars, endangering themselves and pedestrians. They will ride at night without safety lights. They don’t stop at stop signs or stoplights, and they certainly don’t signal to keep drivers aware of where they’re going.
Some basic community education could greatly benefit the people who do choose handlebars over a steering wheel. And introducing the idea of sharing the road to drivers would help keep everyone safer.
Creating alternative transportation options like cycling would help people stay out of their cars more often. It would improve the health of all those who choose to bike-commute. It would also reduce the vast number of cars on L.A. roadways, thereby improving air quality. This is what is commonly referred to in conflict resolution circles as ‘win-win.’