I’ve lived in many parts of New York City, never more than a six-minute walk from a subway stop. I’ve loved the subway since I was a child because I can read on it and be around my fellow humans, and because I can leave the driving to someone else. So when I first moved to Los Angeles a decade ago, I commuted by Metro from the station closest to my house — Wilshire and Western — to the Civic Center stop downtown. But after a few months I gave it up, because, let’s face it, the walk to Wilshire and Western took me 20 minutes, bringing my total commuting time to about 40 minutes — while driving took only 20 minutes. I haven’t been on the Metro since.
Transportation planners know about people like me and are familiar with my dilemma, which they refer to as “the first-mile/last-mile problem”: Public transit by definition doesn’t serve commuters from door to door; they need to get to the station from their “point of origin” and they need to get from the station to their final destination. Yet most people won’t walk more than a quarter or a third of a mile to reach a transit stop.
The first-mile/last-mile problem is exacerbated in a big city like Los Angeles that doesn’t have many Metro stops. Most people simply aren’t going to be within a third of a mile of a stop. So if planners want to encourage mass transit, they have to make it easier for people to get to and from their stops.
One of the ways to do that is by bicycle. That’s why Metro has made it easier for commuters to take bikes on the trains (and buses). According to Kim Upton, a Metro spokeswoman, Los Angeles has about 8,000 “daily boardings” with bicycles for rail and about 2,000 for buses. That’s huge.
But that’s not the solution for everyone. I, for instance, don’t really want to take my bike on the train with me, and I have no need of the bike on the other end, where it’s only a one-block walk to my office. Taking the bike on the train and then into my office building would only cause me extra difficulty. What I really want to do is ride to the station at Wilshire and Western and leave my bike there.
So when I learned about the incredibly affordable bike lockers that Metro has at many of its stations, I thought I’d found the solution. For a mere $24 every six months (plus a $50 security deposit) I could put my bike in a virtually theft-proof locker before getting on the train and then pick it up again in the evening. There are 592 bike lockers spread out across the system, mostly on the Red and Orange lines and mostly at end-of-the-line stations or at a central transfer point. The bike locker program, which I somehow thought was a new part of L.A.’s most recent effort to make itself bike friendly, dates back to 1994, according to Anthony Jusay, transportation planning manager at Metro, although it has been substantially expanded since then.
But not enough, apparently. Imagine my frustration when I learned that there are only 16 lockers at Wilshire and Western — and a waiting list to get one. It’s entirely unclear when one will be available because people can renew. I am on the list and desperately waiting.
So far, the bike locker program seems to be one of the few efforts to make Los Angeles more bike friendly that has not added to tensions between drivers and cyclists. But maybe even this will become a battleground someday. Consider San Francisco, which may become the first big city in the country to install bicycle lockers — collective ones, for more than one bike — in parking spaces. Less parking for cars and more for bicycles! Let the culture wars begin.
This post is part of an ongoing conversation to explore how the city’s cyclists, drivers and pedestrians share and compete for road space, and to consider policy choices that keep people safe and traffic flowing. For more: latimes.com/roadshare and #roadshareLA.