L.A.'s bike-unfriendly festival

Touring the Festival of Lights in Griffith Park is an exercise in irony. Entering the mile-long display, staged every year by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the first thing visitors see is a sign announcing that the festival is “going green.” If you’re driving the south-to-north route, that is. Maybe if you’re walking southbound it would be the last thing you see. But who won’t see the sign at all? Bicyclists.

The DWP gave cyclists the run of the light show for one measly night, Nov. 19, technically two days before the “festival” began. And of course it wasn’t during the prime Thanksgiving-to-Christmas window when most people have their holiday groove on. During the rest of the festival, bicycles are banned, even though the light displays line Crystal Springs Drive, a public street with a striped bike lane.

Displaying some dim awareness of the folly of barring cyclists from a public roadway, the DWP, in a meager attempt at appeasement, added the solitary night for bikers. (The festival was given over to pedestrians, by contrast, Nov. 21-25.) One stingy night of right, however, doesn’t cancel out a month of wrong.

Only the Scroogiest environmentalist nag would waste time griping about the energy consumed by the festival’s charmingly corny twinkling light displays: the elves in the cherry-picker decorating a tree, the Santa on a steamboat, the DWP dinosaur. The electricity is generated by fuel cells, after all.

But it’s hard to defend the logic of banning bicycles from an event that loudly -- or rather, brightly -- boasts about its environmental friendliness while creating traffic jams throughout the surrounding area. More than 150,000 cars inched their way through the Festival of Lights last year.

Most of the festival’s displays represent well-loved local landmarks: City Hall, the Hollywood sign, the LAX Theme Building, the beach, Griffith Observatory. By restricting biking, the DWP puts another venerable Los Angeles tradition on display -- our city’s tendency to assume that cyclists and motorists can’t safely coexist, even on a street where speeds top out at 10 mph.

By pointing out that its Christmas display is “going green,” the DWP obviously is trying to pass on a lesson that visitors can consider year-round. But the unintentional message is one illustrated in this city day after day: In Los Angeles, the car is king, and everyone else should keep out of the way.

L.J. Williamson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.