Riding Bikes with the…Americans

As many of you may know, the Dutch Embassy actually sends bikeway designers from the Netherlands around to North American cities to study them and proffer advice on increasing bike modal share, under a program called “ThinkBike.” The LA sessions take place tomorrow and Friday, and the public is invited. (They’d like to know how many folks are coming, so you gotta register.)

The Dutchies have been up in San Francisco but arrived in Los Angeles today, and through some gross error of protocol, I was invited to join them on a ride from Playa del Rey to downtown.

In fact, the ride started from the Bicycle Bridge across Ballona Creek, one of my favorite places to stop on a bike ride, so, after hauling my bike trailer to the Garment District in the morning to pick up some more inventory for Bicycle Fixation, I warmed up some leftover spaghetti and then hauled ass westwards on the fast bike to meet the group–which included folks from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Santa Monica Spoke, and the LADOT.

The ride started off at a sedate Dutch pace–think Critical Mass but slower–along the Ballona Creek bikepath, with the water silvery under a thin cloud cover, but at Duquesne we pulled off and headed to Venice Boulevard, which was replete with roaring swerving traffic, crappy pavement, and trucks parked in the bike lane. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the helmets the Dutch had politely declined at the beach suddenly appeared on heads after a few blocks of Venice!

Near La Brea the ride veered over to Hancock Park and 4th Street, then cut over to the brand-new 7th Street bike lanes, to end at the Tokyo Grand Hotel, where most of the designers were staying. The day ended, of course, with beer!

The Dutch crew–many of whose names I did not retain–were unfailingly polite, sharply observant, and matter-of-factly bold in voicing opinions. They constantly referred to maps and manuals to place their experience of the ride in the larger context–and they loved downtown.

More important, they saw a number of existing bicycle facilities, rode streets that (like Redondo in Mid-Wilshire) were being prepped for paint, and saw a range of what we as LA cyclists have both to enjoy and to suffer. The route sampled the best and the worst that’s out there for two-wheeled Angelenos.

In the next two days we’ll get to hear what they make of it all–and what they think we should make of it. I won’t be able to go to tomorrow’s session, though maybe you can…. But I can probably get to Friday’s.

Should be interesting, to say the least!

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3 Comments

  1. Margaret
    Posted September 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting. Wish I got to ride with the Dutch.

    You went right near my mom’s house if you chose to go down your hated Higuera St. ;) (I’m referring to your roundabout post) BTW, It was my mom’s neighbors who got Higuera St. revamped in the ’90s. It took over two years of engineering studies and prodding from the citizens to finally get a change. The idea was to move some of the cut through traffic off of Higuera and over to National, which was designed to handle it. I agree that the roundabouts could be better, but if you only knew how much traffic was travelling down Higuera before the updates, your head would spin.

    OK, I digress. More Dutch visit stories please.

  2. Posted September 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Hopefully, the Dutch experts will dispel this notion that if we just put a lot more miles of paint for bikeways on the street, most potential bicyclists, including small kids and women, will want to bike unprotected next to the cars. This method will never attract much beyond the fearless young male rider, a small part of the demographics. There is a reason we have sidewalks for pedestrians and why should the no less vunerable cyclist be expected to ride uncomfortably next to vehicles going much faster than they are.

    I had strong hopes that these Dutch experts could spark major changes to how the powers that be view the creation of bikeways in L.A. The list of participants deflated my hopes considerably. I’ve gotten the idea that some just want the Dutch to tell them where to put the paint.

  3. Posted September 23, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    It’s simply stunning to see the Dutch experts wanting to risk life and limb bicycling throughout Los Angeles to get a good picture of what bicycling is like in Los Angeles and also to get an idea of how the city functions.

    It’s even more shocking to find out the people that were willing to go with them. The LADOT bike engineers are riding with them?!?! I was imagining that some of them would be following behind in a van, even on the ThinkBike workshop. When I participated as a bicycling guinea pig in the the Sharrows pilot study I asked one of the engineers if they were going to ride. I got a response like not in a million years would I go out there, heck no. Imagine my surprise when I saw that person in front of city hall with a bike and then several more engineers with bikes. Wow! The Dutch have already changed things radically by getting them to observe an area by bike. It makes sense that if you are going to design bicycle infrastructure, then you should travel the area by bicycle first to get an idea of what people need and the existing conditions for bicycling.

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