It's Bike Month in Los Angeles — but no one told that to the strip of chewed up asphalt along my morning commute that passes for a bike line in northeast L.A. It remains as perilous as ever.
There's much to celebrate bike-wise and, more broadly, non-auto transportation-wise in Los Angeles. Over the past several years, miles of bike lanes have been striped on previously inhospitable urban expressways. In Silver Lake, a pedestrian's death on Rowena Avenue in 2012 resulted in a swift reconfiguration of the street known as a road diet, slowing vehicle traffic and boosting pedestrian and cyclist safety. Last August, the Los Angeles City Council adopted Mobility Plan 2035, a long-term vision for transportation infrastructure that balances the needs of cyclists, walkers and transit riders in addition to motorists.
These are politically risky, previously unheard-of ventures that deserve recognition. If we had a choice between Bike Month or no Bike Month, I'd pick the former.
But not enthusiastically. L.A.'s efforts of late on bikes deserve praise like an alcoholic who almost drank himself to death over a lifetime deserves praise for his first week of sobriety. But let's not go over the top. And yes, it has to do with a single comically dangerous bike lane in northeast L.A., and how Los Angeles' vision of itself as a bike-friendly city differs from actual experience.
In February 2014, I wrote about this stretch of pavement's crumminess as exemplifying Los Angeles' not-quite-there-yet thinking on cycling infrastructure. It wasn't enough for the city to stripe new bike lanes, corral cyclists onto corners of the road officially deemed ideal for them and declare mission accomplished. The sorry state of the Mission Road bike lane adjacent to Lincoln Park — part of my commute to and from Alhambra — was Exhibit A.
Or so I thought. More than two years later, riding over that part of Mission near where it turns into Huntington Drive still sometimes loosens the bolts on my (thankfully sturdy) hybrid commuter bike. Any new rider trying to commute to work for the first time would surely reach for his keys, put off by a bike lane whose only purpose seems to protect motorists from driving over potholes.
In the meantime, what was previously Bike Week has metastasized into Bike Month. Today — officially Bike to Work Day —there will be pit stops sprinkled throughout much of Los Angeles County providing cyclists with water, food and other freebies. Workshops and group rides throughout the month will introduce potential new riders to the streets and bike paths of Los Angeles, capitalizing on the long-term downward trend in newly licensed drivers, especially among young people.
Welcome as these efforts are, the city could do something far more impactful but less media-friendly: taking care of the cycling infrastructure it already has and doing the little things that improve safety for bike riders. Los Angeles can congratulate itself for its new-found big-picture thinking on transportation, but as with other areas of public policy in the city, the execution is often where things go awry. Grand gestures like the Mobility Plan get obscured when, for example, City Councilman Paul Koretz calls for moving a planned bike lane off Westwood Boulevard or ex-Councilman Tom LaBonge, in one of his final acts as an elected official, rams through a proposal to rework the famously dangerous Glendale Boulevard-Hyperion Avenue bridge in a way that disregards the serious safety objections raised by cyclists and pedestrians. (To his credit, LaBonge backed the Rowena road diet.)
As with other city services, when it comes to cycling in Los Angeles, the day-to-day tangential things matter more than the grand gestures. Just as transportation policy for a megalopolis like Los Angeles can turn on a broken elbow suffered during a bike ride by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2010, a single moment of precariousness, a sudden swerve closer to speeding traffic, while riding through a pothole-ridden bike lane can turn off a cycling newcomer for good.
For obvious reasons, pavement that makes driving in a car mildly uncomfortable poses potentially grave risks for cyclists. So yeah, the city and county can go ahead and celebrate Bike Month, but I still want that asphalt on Mission fixed.