Opinion: This 11-year-old wants L.A.’s streets to be safe for everyone — not just cars

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On Wednesday evenings, I have orchestra class three miles from my house. I’m only 11, so I have two ways to get there. If my Mom drives me, at that time of day, in traffic, it takes 35 minutes. If I ride my bike, it takes 15 minutes.

On my ride to orchestra I see so much more than I do in a car. I get to say hi to my next-door neighbors out with their baby. I see my other neighbor walking her two white poodles. I wave to my old teacher who lives down the street. Seeing these people connects me to my neighborhood in a way that sitting in a car never could.

(Audio produced by Erica Zora Wrightson)

Unfortunately, on too many of my rides, I also get yelled or honked at by angry motorists. At stoplights I sometimes see drivers in traffic yelling at each other from within their cars. I’ve seen the occasional inappropriate hand gesture too. Drivers often take their frustration out on me and the other cyclists on the road.

A lot of grownups have probably forgotten how much fun it is to ride your bike. Maybe people are too scared or think it’s going to be too hard, but CicLAvia has taught L.A. how much fun cycling can be.

At CicLAvia, there are bicycle traffic jams. But instead of yelling, I see people talking to each other, enjoying themselves. In bike traffic all the cyclists are in it together, like a big party! People don’t realize you can have that kind of fun all the time — not just the two or three times a year when CicLAvia happens.

In a car, however, you are in your own personal bubble, isolated and alone, and are probably frustrated with the traffic. This is why I support L.A.’s Mobility Plan 2035. And it’s why, even though some people in L.A. don’t like it, I can’t wait for L.A.’s streets to better include of all modes of transportation.

The most important goal of the plan is to slow down traffic just a little bit. This also has the side benefit of making room for bike lanes. A lot of people think that a lower speed limit makes more traffic. But, actually, at slower speeds you can fit more cars on the same amount of street. A lower speed limit is much safer too. If a car is traveling at 40 miles per hour and hits a pedestrian or bicyclist there is a 90% chance that that person will die. At a much lower speed of 20 miles per hour there is a 10% death risk.

That sounds a lot safer, right?

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My vision of a livable city is one where kids like me can ride our bikes to school, or to orchestra practice, or wherever, and our parents don’t have to worry about our safety. Streets where cars can only go 20 to 30 miles per hour would be a great start. People driving would still be able to get where they are going in the same amount of time, but the roads would be much safer for everyone — young and old, rich and poor, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

I know most of you out there won’t switch to bike riding just because I want you to. But after attending a mobility plan meeting at the Autry, I learned that it only takes 5% to 10% of car riders to use different types of transportation to cut traffic way down. Even if we can make things safe enough to get more kids to get out of their parents’ cars and onto their bikes, traffic will start to get better for everyone.

By the time L.A.’s mobility plan is supposed to be in place in 2035, I will be 31. I don’t want my children to have to write newspaper articles to make it easier for them to ride their bikes to orchestra class. Safe streets belong to everyone.

Matlock Grossman is a sixth-grader with interests ranging from astrophysics to Lego to playing the trumpet. Just not all at the same time. He hopes to inspire other kids to speak up about causes that they are interested in.

Audio produced by L.A.-based oral historian Erica Zora Wrighton. Follow her on Twitter @ericazora.

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