Fear and loathing and cycling in L.A.: Tales of a bike commuter
L.A. Times editorial writer Carla Hall speaks with Jennifer Klausner, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who like everyone else battles L.A. traffic- except she does it on a bicycle.
When Jennifer Klausner left a dinner party at the home of a longtime friend in leafy Brentwood Glen late one night, she said her goodbyes, pulled on a helmet and clip-clopped to the front door — not in spiky high heels but bike shoes with cleats. She clipped into the pedals of her bike, made her way past a Range Rover in the driveway and assorted luxury cars on the street and cycled off into the dark.
That was the first time I met Klausner, and I was utterly impressed that she would bike home, even if it was only a few miles away, at night. Turns out that’s tame for her.
“I love riding my bike at midnight,” she says, “from Hollywood all the way home in the wee hours of the morning.”
What she doesn’t love is commuting to work in L.A. traffic. Who does? But she navigates it on a bike from Brentwood to downtown as often as she can.
“People give me a hard time every day for offenses big and small, whether I have committed them or not,” she says as we sit at an airy eatery in Brentwood. “There is never a day when I get on my bike when I am not harassed by someone. Every single day, someone honks at me, yells at me — ‘Go to the park! Get on the sidewalk!’ That’s why we need a cultural shift in this city. Bicyclists should be accepted on the surface streets. You have to build a little fortress of strength when you go out on a bike.”
A lot of what she’s doing as executive director of the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition — a nonprofit membership organization, not a department of county government — involves figuring out ways “to make Los Angeles County a safer, healthier and more fun place to ride a bike.”
Her organization also pushes for more extensive bicycle pathways. “Bike lanes don’t just appear on streets because the city just puts them there. People have to ask for them.”
But don’t get the idea that Klausner is alienated by the streets of Los Angeles. Klausner is an L.A. girl (“I love, love, love Los Angeles — to the core of my being”) but on a bicycle. Her mother took her out on the bike lane on San Vicente Boulevard when she was 5. Klausner, 43, grew up on the Westside, went to the girls school Westlake (before it merged with the Harvard boys school and became Harvard-Westlake), and, while her classmates drove around, she left her little Mazda in the garage and bicycled instead. At UCLA, she was on the bike racing team.
After UCLA, she went to USC to earn an MBA. She worked at Mattel, marketing Barbie (a doll who wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than a late-model convertible). And she did similar work at Nakajima on “Hello Kitty” merchandise. Eventually she grew disenchanted and troubled by the industry and quit. (“How many Hello Kitty notebooks can there be in the world?”) A friend found the Bicycle Coalition job listing and sent it to her, saying, “Jen, sounds like they’re looking for you.” She has had the job for six years.
Of course, she has a car. She just bought a Volvo (to replace her 16-year-old Volkswagen GTI.) “But truly I think of it as an appliance. I’m not attached to my car.”
But her constantly growing collection of bicycles is a different story. “They’re going to do an episode of ‘Hoarders Alive’ about me and my bikes,” she says.
On the days when she rides her bike from her Brentwood home to the Bicycle Coalition offices downtown, she takes what she calls “a super-circuitous route that involves some sections that are not for the faint of heart.”
Yes, she has been known to weave through traffic on commuter-clogged Wilshire Boulevard — something I have blogged against cyclists doing. She says it’s not that difficult when the cars are practically at a standstill in traffic: “Sometimes you can wiggle through.”
Other times, she makes her way to Ohio Street and heads east. “Ohio has a tiny little substandard bike lane on a chewed-up street. But hey, it gets me where I want to go.” She takes that to Sepulveda and drops down to Santa Monica Boulevard — “which has a bike lane but, let’s be honest, people are going 50 on this street.”
One of her biggeset complaints: Beverly Hills. “The city of Beverly Hills is the black hole of no-bike-infrastructure on the Westside. It cannot connect with the bike infrastructure on the Westside on one side and West Hollywood on the other. “
She takes Charleville Boulevard to avoid Wilshire traffic. Unfortunately, so do a lot of drivers. “That street is narrow and people are angry. It’s terrible to drive, it’s terrible to ride.”
But when Charleville ends, she turns north on Le Doux Road and makes her way back to Wilshire to San Vicente. She turns right on San Vicente and snakes through the Carthay Circle neighborhood, making her way to a street called Del Valle. Cross Fairfax and Del Valle becomes 8th Street, which she can take all the way to downtown. But at a certain point, she sometimes cuts over to 4th Street. “It’s very neighborhoody … it’s pretty, it’s historical.”
Total time? An hour and 15 minutes. I tell her there have been mornings it took me that long to drive from Brentwood to downtown.
“We should race!” she says with a laugh.
Not all cyclists are as fearless as Klausner (and her boyfriend, who is an ultra-distance bicyclist.) And those people are all part of her constituency as well.
“Some cyclists are more timid than others. There are new cyclists, there are young cyclists, there are old cyclists, there are returning cyclists who haven’t ridden in 20 years.” The bicycle infrastructure of lanes and “sharrows” and paths needs to accommodate them too, just as experienced drivers can handle freeways and new ones can acclimate themselves on quieter surface streets.
“A lot of people get in their heads that they want to ride their bike to work. So they pull down that cobweb-encrusted bike and use the same route they use to drive to work and have a completely terrifying experience. And never do it again. They need a bicycle network.”
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.
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