Dear motorists of Los Angeles,
On Sunday, six miles of Wilshire Boulevard will be closed to drivers so that pedestrians and cyclists can gather for another installment of CicLAvia. If previous events are any indication, the event will draw large crowds.
It’s understandable, I suppose. Angelenos get excited at the prospect of wandering freely along car-free streets. But many will return to their cars the next day. Not me, though.
Since I started grad school at USC a couple of years ago, my bike and I leave my room in Northeast L.A. each morning and join the ranks of commuters pulsing through the streets of downtown. It’s a pretty fun way to get to work.
But the prospect of daily cycling in Los Angeles is garnering popularity at a rather glacial pace. I know a few folks from out of town have made hobbies out of conjuring up images of the “scary Los Angeles driver.” When I was starting grad school, a number of these people would say things like, “You’re going to ride a bike to work in Los Angeles? With all the crazy drivers?” At the time I had a nervous and seemingly unfounded reply. Today, I can safely make the same assertion I did before, but with unashamed confidence: Drivers in Los Angeles are fantastic.
This may be because of the relaxed culture here, or it may be because you get a lot of practice driving when living in this city. There could be any number of reasons. But I am convinced that, excluding the inevitable statistical anomalies, L.A. drivers are alert, accommodating, courteous and mostly accepting of the rising community of cyclists with whom they must share the road. And unlike our neighbors in Glendale, La Crescenta and La Canada, you demonstrate an outstanding ability to use turn signals, at least in my experience.
That’s right, motorists of Los Angeles. I am truly thankful to you every day, and honored to share the road with you.
Most of the close calls I’ve had with cars in L.A. can probably be chalked up to misjudgments or lapses on my part. And let’s be real: I am not an immaculately pious cyclist. I make an effort to respect the traffic world, but I’ve been known to fudge a stop sign once in a while. In this respect, I understand your pain. I might get irritated when one of you employs your horn merely to inform me that I exist. Occasionally one of you cuts your right turn a little close in front of me. But nobody is infinitely patient or unwaveringly perfect, and that most certainly includes me as well.
I’m also not going to pretend that we’re instantly best friends forever just because I wrote a thank-you note. While I remain hopeful that motorists and cyclists can someday exist in perfect harmony, I am well aware of the bitterness that resides on both sides of the road. This is merely my attempt to chip away at that bitterness.
Because I know that this Sunday, thousands of people, from the usual motorists to die-hard cyclists, will put aside their judgments and their cynicism for a few hours and just go play together in the street. And fantastic as that may seem, it shouldn’t be particularly remarkable. I know that you, L.A. drivers, are doing your part every other day of the year.
Once more, please accept my deepest thanks for making every day a great day to bike in this city. And for giving me something to fire back at the naysayers and holier-than-thou types from out of town.
Eric Kleinsasser is working on his doctorate in earth sciences at USC.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times