I’ve been involved with Los Angeles cycling ‘culture’ since 2003 and the growth, energy and spirit of it has been unexpected, lively and insanely motivating. Since back then we have C.I.C.L.E, the Bicycle Kitchen, the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition; all of which have been working diligently to put people on bikes in this city. And my how we have grown. Midnight Ridazz has ballooned by epic proportions and now the splinter rides of splinter rides have their own rides. There are a whopping four community bike spaces, not including the bike shops opened by active members of those spaces. There once was a time when I knew every cyclist I’d pass on Sunset Blvd. I’m delighted that this is no longer the case and bike riders abound like never before. And in the city where everyone said it was impossible…
But in a way, very little has changed. The Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) is virtually unknown to those who use two wheels as transportation, our ‘inside’ person with the Dept of Transportation since 1994, Michelle Mowery, acts as if it is still the mid-nineties and bicycling as transportation is a totally unachievable pipe-dream in this city of cars. Advocacy appears to be dominated by the triumvirate of Alex Thompson–Stephen Box–Joseph Brayj attending meetings, blogging and opining.
And now the 2009 Bicycle Plan has been released. Our city hired a Portland-based consulting firm to create the plan, but it lacks the energy, direction or vision of Portland. To quote Stephen Box on StreetsblogLA,
“Portland is currently going through the same Bike Plan update process as Los Angeles and they have eleven working groups, one steering committee and one technical advisory committee, all working together to ensure that the Bike Plan is a robust document that represents the desires of the cycling community.”
I understand that we are not Portland, but the point of a bicycle plan is a vision of what could be. I’ve spent time in Portland; the weather sucks, the roads are narrow and the city is spread out. Yet they are considered a bike mecca with only 6% of trips made by bicycle. We could have 6% of trips here in Los Angeles if our city took our concerns seriously and built bicycle infrastructure. New York, for example, tripled the number of bicycle commuters in three years by making the cost-effective, smart, safe changes that cyclists were demanding. Our city could not even organize a Bike Plan meeting within 5 miles of the East Hollywood ‘hub’ of cycling. We need to demand more from our elected officials.
It’s a big city. We should dream big.
So what do we do?
As the number of social rides and fast rides has increased, the number of advocates/activists has not. When we have such few rebel-rousing, noise makers, the city believes that we are a minority fringe with only a few people who care about this issue. Michelle Mowery went as far to say that it is not a bike issue, that it is only about ‘them’. This is detrimental to the future of bicycling in our city. We simply need more voices, more action and more pressure. We know that cycling is great for us, but we need to represent beyond our own interests: more urban bicyclists is better for the health and social well-being of everyone. Fewer cars means less pollution, safer streets and a more democratic and engaged citizenry. But it is up to us to make this case and up until now we have done a mediocre job.
Urban cycling is not swimming or golfing. It’s gritty. Every day we are harassed and forced to fight for our space on the road. We are a tough bunch, used to taking shit from people and giving it right back. We fight to survive on our own streets. We need to harness this grit and anger and change our situation for the better.
Where from here?
Come to the LA Bike Working Group meeting this Saturday at 1pm in the LA City College Faculty Lounge* as we work to improve the plan. 1000 come to a social ride, but we’re lucky to get 10 to a meeting. You can do both and you can influence how policy is written in our city. More info here and facebook is here.
Write a comment about the 2009 Bike Plan here: Los Angeles 2009 Bicycle Plan. Yes, they do read and note them. Imagine if we generated 10,000 responses demanding more bicycle infrastructure and actual implementation! You should review it and form your own opinions, but the most popular arguments are: lack of vision, no real plan for implementation and cyclists’ concerns are secondary. If you only read one article, read L.A.’s Draft Bikeway Plan: Non-Committal, Sloppy and Perhaps Illegal by Joe Linton.
Get involved with a campaign. There’s C.I.C.L.E, the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, and even Midnight Ridazz has some advocacy plans. And don’t forget that the Department of DIY always has open positions (DIY bike lanes, DIY park).
Read. Seriously. We need substance beyond rhetoric and need to be educated on the case for bicycles.
Speak with cyclists, friends, activists. These ideas and events need to be given life. No one is going to do it for us. Tell others about what is going on.
Donate money. My least favorite of the actions. We need money for all that we do, but we’d prefer you and your energy. Donating money creates the mentality that others will do it for you, but those most invested in this have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money because of their passion. Buy an activist a burrito!