Riding bikes with kids in LA

The author and co-pilot before setting out for school and work.

The following is adapted from a speech I was asked to give at a bike summit organized a few months back. I get asked about bike riding with kids in LA enough; I figure this might help some people out.

So, riding bikes with kids in LA – is it possible?

Really, just about anyone can:

  • find the equipment
  • physically ride a bike with kids

 

The troubles you’ll face:

  • obviously, it is physically tough sometimes
  • learning to ride confidently as a solo adult is one thing; learning to ride, and choose routes, confidently BUT also taking into account social factors and perceived risk is something else entirely
  • defining what is “Normal(tm)” and what is “Safe(tm)” is the hardest part of doing this – largely because we exist in families, communities, and a culture that cannot imagine either “Normal” nor “Safe” being affiliated with the idea of riding your kids around on a bike in Los Angeles

 

WHY DO THIS?
For all the adults I know at my kids school, when we had kids, we became many of the following things:
- poorer
- sleep deprived
- stuck being physically inactive driving kids everywhere
- more likely to become overweight
- more likely to become depressed
- more likely to be socially isolated

In most adults lives these turn into a negative feedback loop that spirals towards a defeated and unhealthy middle age and a verifiably grumpy and ill senior citizenry. Poor, tired, and sick – is it worth it to be this “normal”?

Riding your kids around on a bike is like a miracle cure for all of the above. Does it take physical effort? Sure, but that is why it helps make you feel better. Can everybody do it? No, but not everybody can drive a car either – but that doesn’t stop car makers from making and selling fine automobiles and it doesn’t stop governments from building more and wider highways. Riding your kids around on a bike is a sensible thing to do from a personal perspective – it makes you spend less, live better, and spiral towards a healthier happier life. Thrifty, happy, and healthy – it may not be “normal”, but it sure feels a hell of a lot better.

FINDING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
The biggest hurdle you will face is not in finding the right equipment. It is out there now. People like me sell some of it in your city, others will ship it to you from abroad. You can find it used. You can even cobble it together in your garage and still end up with something safe enough and workable.

PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE INSANE
The biggest hurdle is that you will have to deal with the negative judgements of others. People in your personal life will insist that you have to follow their insane or unrealistic perceptions of safety and normality.

Woe unto the mom or dad bike rider who gets their kids hurt on one of the “rigs”, “contraptions”, or “devices” you may be using.

In my own personal life the stress of injuring myself or my kid really paled in comparison to the always hovering judgement of our entire civilization waiting to crash down on me from above. This pressure radically changed the way I chose routes, dress, and the way I ride my bike and act in public. People who tight rope walk probably get the same flack once they get injured – because outside observers think that what I’m doing is akin to taking my kid 50 feet in the air and balancing her on my shoulders, hovering above oblivion. I don’t see it that way, but most of the people I encounter start talking about what we’re doing as if it were some dire risk (it’s not) we’re taking.

Dealing with the bleak assessments of your competence as a parent and a human being is the harshest thing I’ve had to cope with. Fortunately, the benefits of riding everyday easily make up for this occasional bother, as does the smug feeling I now allow myself to have when we cruise past a long line of very bored and frustrated looking drivers every morning on the way to school – because, no matter what others think of us, I know that we are generally quite happy and healthy doing what we’re doing. I believe that kick starting this virtual financial-health-happiness cycle is what being a mom or a dad cyclist is all about. It is too easy to break free from motordom as a free living, and single, 20 year old. It seems harder when you are in your early 30′s and saddled with kids and the vague sense that you are not allowed to really be happy anymore, that it is time to “get serious”, and be “responsible”. I agree with the seriousness and responsibility parts – but not with the means most people think “serious” and “responsible” we should use to get there.

In short, the emotional and psychological baggage of our civilization will get spilled on your happy bike dream party every once in a while. Steel yourself for that and when the judgement hits just smile and wave (at the grumpy dad with four fat bored kids in the car with him shaking his head at you) or laugh (at the people yelling “You’re a bad dad!” as you cross the train tracks heading into the local farmers market.

THE REAL BARRIERS

“What if it rains?” In LA, outside of God’s 20-year wrath, rain is no bar.

So, what is really going on when you ride your kids to preschool or school every day on a bike? Mostly, a crap ton of normal, grumpy, morning stuff (“For God’s sake, just put your socks on so we can go! Did you pack that form?” etc., etc.). The benefit is that we’re getting the emotional feelings during our commute that we’re just kind of hanging out the whole time and there is no distraction (except for unpleasant street noise or road surfaces) that keeps us from experiencing the totality of each day as humans were meant to.

What else happens? You get stronger. You feel happier. You develop a vocabulary for understanding your neighborhood that goes beyond, “God, this intersection is a nightmare.”

What kills riding your bikes with a kid? We all assume that the things that slow down cars and make conditions difficult for motorists also hold true for everyone else trying to get somewhere in town. We then imagine that bike riding is like being a starving potato farmer in famine-wracked Ireland – a life of woe and privation. Let’s look at what you think is stopping you from bike riding in “tough” conditions:

Rain? Nope. When it rains: put on a rain coat (duh). There is lots of great gear to go with your bike – at this point, someone has dealt with your problem and you just need to do a little Google research to find either the product or advice you need.

Fog? Nah. When it’s foggy: you are already going 10 to 15 mph, just make sure to turn on your blinky lights.

Snow? Pshaw. Snow: cover up and watch for ice. In LA this is a non-factor.

Traffic? Ha ha ha! What a joke! Traffic: LOL. One of the great secrets about bike riding to work everyday is that it is generally going to take you the same amount of time every day. Trucks can jackknife into oncoming traffic and you can still slip around the side on your bike and be on your way.

Hills? Don’t be a wimp/eBikes(!)/maybe move closer to work and school.

What kills it is injury, illness, and air pollution. Oh, and wind!

INJURY
The toughest times in my life have been when I’ve sustained an injury and couldn’t ride a bike – either a hurt knee from over doing it in a rush on the way home from work, or a strained back from a monster 32 hour drive to Arizona and back. Or that time I got the flu a month back.

AIR POLLUTION
Forest fires! Oh my God – forest fires, BBQs, and freeways all need to stop.

Once the calamity of personal injury, illness, or severe air pollution hit you are constrained in cycling. Being injured or sick and driving is sometimes possible (just like on a bike) but is sometimes impossible (just like car driving). There isn’t really a workaround for being sick or injured – it just kind of happens to all of us every now and again. Do your best to prevent it by continuing to be a Billy or Brenda Badass and ride your kid(s) around on your bike – but don’t pretend like you’re an 18 year old captain of the cross country team or cheer squad. You getting injured or sick can be a major setback for your entire spiral of health and happiness. Push it, but don’t push it too hard, physically. Get as much sleep as you can, stay hydrated (in LA, believe me, you need to STAY HYRDATED), moisturize (to show off your healthy body), and try not to eat crappy food that sucks more energy out of you than it gives back. The impact of your diet on your physical output becomes very, very, obvious once routine physical activity is a part of your day to life.

The trouble with air pollution can sort of be worked around by going really slow and getting some air filtration masks if you’re really worried or gung ho about the whole thing.

Wind! Those Santa Anas! The onshore flow! What to do? There are no pills. I recommend writing a letter to the Gods (might as well hit them all up) or just toughening up and living up to your heritage as coming from a long line of badasses worthy of passing on your genes (personified by the giggling kid(s) loaded onto your bike). If you drink, complaining about the wind is a great topic – so it’s not all bad news.

So, in short, yes you can do it. People will incorrectly judge you to be abnormal or unsafe, but you will be happier & healthier, safer too – so foo on them. The real hurdles are getting injured or sick, forest fires and pollution, and not having a full vocabulary to describe how annoying the wind can sometimes be.

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Speed vs Flow

Gil Cedillo and other mindless opponents of road diets invariably spout off about the horror of “slowing down drivers.” Of course, slowing down drivers is one of the main goals of a road diet, and the benefits of doing so are manifold and well-documented. A quick look at, say, NYDOT’s analyses of the effects of road diets in that intensely-congested city show not only health and economic benefits; they often reveal that transit times for car users are shorter than before. Yes, if all you want to do is get from A to B faster, and don’t care at all what’s in between, road diets often help you do just that—while opening the street to multiple modes of transportation, and to residents and local merchants as well. These streets now carry more people about, and increase neighborhood cohesion, health, and prosperity. Without impeding the oh-so-important tooth-gnashing, road-raging cut-through speeders that Cedillo seems to think stand with the archangels in the heavenly ranks.

Even when a road diet increases travel time, it’s almost never by more than a minute. On North Figueroa, whose road diet has been blocked by an intransigeant Cedillo, the LADOT’s worst-case scenario showed an increase in travel time of all of forty-five seconds…over five miles…at rush hour.

How can this be? How can driving more slowly get you through town faster? Simple: you aren’t constantly driving yourself into a jam at every red light, as you and your fellows all crowd towards the intersection like hogs at a feeding trough.

To quote the LADOT’s blog post on road diets:

Road diets can improve traffic. Seems a little strange, doesn’t it? When a 4 lane road is below a certain volume of traffic (usually 18,000-20,000 Average Daily Trips – ADT), implementing a road diet can actually make traffic flow more smoothly. Especially on streets that have cars making frequent left turns (like, say, a residential street with plenty of driveways), creating a two-way left turn lane creates a space for turning vehicles that won’t impact moving traffic. Think about it another way: when a left-turning car comes to a stop in 2 lanes of travel, that direction immediately becomes 1 lane of travel. Even worse, cars merging right will snarl traffic even further. A road diet gives that driver a place to turn that won’t impact the free flow of traffic.

On top of that, every person who is encouraged by the bike lanes installed to ride their bike (instead of drive) on local trips around their community means one less car on the road to create congestion.

I’ve seen the futility of high speeds on local streets many times myself. Just yesterday I turned onto Seventh from Broadway to go home from a series of business meetings. The street—which has been road-dieted, in fact— was nearly empty of cars at that time of day. I could see down nearly its entire length from the top of the hill just west of Figueroa. As I climbed that hill, though, I had to move into the mixed traffic lane, as construction had blocked the bike lane. Some typically irritable ignoramus in a town car roared around me and shot ahead…to the next red light, where I caught up with him. When the light turned green, he roared ahead again, unimpeded by any other motor traffic…to the next red light, where I caught up with him. Over and over again, for several miles. And I was tired that day, having already ridden thirty miles in very hot weather and sat through a couple of meetings.

I was eventually passed, though. By another cyclist. So Mr. Town Car was, despite his noise and fury, not going any faster point-to-point than a tired old man on a bicycle.

I enjoyed a similar incident not long ago while I was pedaling along Martel to a farmers’ market. Martel is a narrow residential street that, unfortunately for its denizens, possesses traffic signals at each intersection with a major arterial. Just north of Third, a pudgy gentleman in a black SUV roared around me and zoomed ahead to the next major street…where, of course, I caught to him as he waited for the light. This particular fool was also careering wildly around his fellow drivers, who apparently were not reckless enough for his taste. Nevertheless, I caught up to him repeatedly, all the way from Third Street to Santa Monica Boulevard, where he signaled to turn. There, I tapped on his window and politely informed him that one of his brake lights was burned out. He politely acknowledged the intelligence. Of course I really wanted him to know that his extravagant waste of fuel and nervous energy had gained him not one second over a greybeard on a beat-up old bike.

Do you think they’ll ever get it? Or does driving so much somehow flatten your learning curve, even as it broadens your butt?

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Neighborhood Networks

One of the ills Kar Kultur brings with it is the fragmenting of neighborhoods, as blocks are sundered by wide streets teeming with fast and all too often deadly traffic. People are either coerced into driving by the contrived and complete absence of comfortable and safe alternatives, or they just stay home. And you can’t get to know your neighbors when all you see of each other is a shadowy figure behind the windshield of a speeding car. This inhibits commerce as well, since drivers don’t want to interrupt their momentum to scan the local storefronts. Instead, they just follow their fellow lemmings to the great financial cliff of a distant mall, sucked into the whirlpool of the parking lot to be spit out later, stripped of money and spirit by the sharp-toothed minions of distant corporations.

Building bike lanes, improving sidewalks, and slowing car traffic are not only proven ways to reduce road deaths and injuries of all sorts;they also build cohesive neighborhoods and support the local businesses that provide the majority of jobs in the US, and that return much of the money they earn to the neighborhoods their owners and staff tend also to live in.

Such neighborhood businesses are better at funding government services as well, from administration to schools, parks, libraries, and emergency services, all dependent on tax revenues. The famous “Taco John’s” study is a good quantification of this effect; it shows how even a semi-decrepit pedestrian-oriented block is worth more to the community and the local government in cold hard cash than a glossy automobile-oriented chain store taking up the same amount of space. I strongly recommend this well-written report on the study:

The Cost of Auto Orientation (Update).

Just don’t expect our local ostrich, Gil Cedillo, to dare to read it himself. It might upset his shadowy out-of-district backers if he did so….

Meanwhile, if you want to get a really close view of that corner of NELA known as Eagle Rock, which, unlike Highland Park’s Figueroa corridor, is blessed with bike lanes and traffic calming on its main drag, Colorado Boulevard, here’s a suggestion: get yourself over there on Saturday, August 23rd (the day after tomorrow at posting time), for the Eagle Rock Walking Tour. Put on by Walk Eagle Rock (which also advocates tirelessly for cycling facilities), it will focus on “community and civic engagement. Eagle Rock has a long history of being an active community and it certainly would not be as fantastic as it is today without the efforts of residents taking the time to participate, on all levels, to improve the neighborhood.”

Just the kind of neighborhood network building we need here in Highland/Cypress, to lay the groundwork for the onstreet networks we’re being denied by our so-called local leadership.

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The Perfect City Bike

Once the artisanal-bicycle aficionados got randonnée bikes out of their systems, they turned their attention to the City Bike: the bike made for short commutes, shopping, bar crawls, visting friends, and so forth, all in a relaxed manner regardless of traffic, night, or weather.

Well, although the artisanoids got the randonneuse down pretty well, generally copying the excellent models made by Alex Singer, René Herse, and Goeland during the heyday of randonneuring in France just after World War Two, when they tried their hand at the city bike, all too many of them tried much too hard to improve upon a design that had already been refined, with variations in different countries, for over a hundred years.

After all, city bikes have to take the knocks of being jammed into the corners of trains and elevators, of being locked up anywhere and everywhere, and of being loaded down with anything from groceries to microwaves as they bounce along often-shattered urban avenues.

And they have to do it in all weathers, and very often in traffic. Not everyone can live in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or Assen.

So the Dutch have their stately cruisers, the Brits the three-speed roadsters so beloved of filmmakers, the Japanese their mama-charis.

And the artisanoids have such bizarre concoctions as:

A fender-free, luggageless hipster whip that won the “Best City or Utility Bike” award at NNAHBS 2104, which, you may be amused to learn, asks the bare brake cables to double as levers, thereby raising the possibility of garroting your own fingers during a panic stop.

Or a strange effort that won the Oregon Manifest’s Bike Design Project’s “Ultimate Urban Utility Bike” award a few weeks ago; it uses shoe brushes for fenders and a snow shovel for a luggage rack.

Both bikes have only minimal lighting as well.

I say, no thanks. Look at the picture at the top of the page again: that is a Miyata “Commuter” model from about thirty years ago, one that could actually serve as a commuter, shopping, or general utility bike. It has fenders, to keep the rain and the much off you; it has a rack to carry things on, and it had lights, as you can see from the generator mount on the fork. In its original form, which you can view here on Flickr, it also sported a front rack for extra capacity, and a chaincase to keep your pantlegs free of grease. And it appears to be a three-speed as well, friendly to the less muscular—or simply more relaxed—amongst us.

This is more akin to an “Ultimate Urban Utility Bike” than either of the above overly-twee concepts, and millions of them are used in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, with similar designs prevalent all over the globe, from India to Africa to Austria and beyond.

The US infatuation with making an impression rather than making an actual bicycle has resulted in such bikes being hard to find here, but companies including as Public, Linus, and Beater do provide very similar but gently modernized versions, and at reasonable prices. (Since the Beater Bikes factory is taking an extended vacation, the Pigeon might be your only chance to pick one up for a while.)

And Flying Pigeon stocks Linus and Beater bikes, as well as genuine Dutch and Danish city and cargo bikes, all of which will carry you, your shopping, and often a friend or a brace of kids all over town in any weather, day or night!

Stop by and check them out. You won’t even have to get on a five-year waiting list to buy one.

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Spoke(n) Art Ride on Saturday, August 9, 2014

Join us for another Spoke(n) Art Ride bicycle tour of art galleries in NELA this Saturday, August 9, 2014!

Meet at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop (3404 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90065) at 6 p.m. The ride departs at 6:30 p.m. for the first stop of the night.

The Spoke(n) Art Ride is a slow-paced, free to the public, bicycle tour of artistic expression and events in NELA. It coincides with NELAart’s 2nd Saturday event – when galleries and other venues open their doors to art and community for free each month.

This month’s ride is going to have a live outdoor performance piece of spoken word, a photographic slide show, and son jarocho music (a folk music from Veracruz, Mexico) as part of the show at the Bike Oven, “Moving Target“.

Don’t have a bike? No problem! Flying Pigeon LA rents single speed beach cruisers with blinkie lights for $20. We have a fleet of bikes – just make sure to show up at or before 6 p.m. to ensure you get a bike! Things get hectic at start time, with dozens of riders congregating at the shop before we leave.

For more general information about the ride, please check out the Bike Oven’s Spoke(n) Art page.
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The Dogs Bark

Across the continent, cities of all sizes and characters are moving ahead with “Complete Streets” and bike lane projects, sometimes rudimentary, sometimes quite advanced. Here’s a short list culled from my own Tweets of the last few days:

I had to reach back a whole six days just to skim those entries from my Twitter feed.

And our own Los Angeles?

The last night I sat in on the regular meeting of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, which couldn’t even muster up a quorum, and so could not actually vote on any actions. We did, however, all did hear a litany of woes recited by LADOT’s long-suffering Senior Bicycle coordinator, Michelle Mowery: staffers leaving or transferred and not replaced, organizational malaise among even the usually stolid engineering staff in the face of reactionary politicians, and the very real prospect of losing Highway Safety Improvement Project funds as safety changes such as the North Figueroa road diet are stalled by the knuckle-draggers and reach their deadlines without groundbreakings—a situation that may disqualify the entire city from applying for HSIP funding going forward. The Federal Highway Administration, as you should know, promotes road diets as a “Proven Safety Countermeasure,” though NELA’s unrepresentative Cedillo knows better; he listens instead to his “gut feelings,” or maybe to the outside interests that support him.

Nevertheless, LA is slowly moving on. Ms. Mowery announced that, because of the complications our muddled politicos introduce, LADOT’s Bikeways is going to fund future projects with local money, which would allow more flexible timelines. We won’t get ahead as fast as we could have, and will continue to lag behind not only other major cities but even small towns, but we will make progress as we slog our way past the special interests that own our council members.

There is a saying from Arab culture that I think applies here:

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

In this case the dogs have nipped at the camels’ heels and slowed them down, but the caravan will still move on.

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The Way of the Armadillo

Well, I’m going to try to get through an entire column without writing NELA’s dreaded C-word…you know, the one that rhymes with “armadillo.”

For those of you not from Texas, let me explain what an armadillo is: it’s a thick-skinned, dull-witted beast whose only recourse when confronted by uncertainty is to roll up into an inert ball and hope its plate-like hide will protect it from whatever it fears. Even when there’s nothing to fear.

Or when it fears the wrong thing. Here in NELA, the real predator is the Speeding Motorist, sinking its fangs into residents, visitors, and businesses alike. Hordes of theses bloodthirsty fiends have been prowling North Figueroa for years, leaving literal blood on the streets and scaring away the street life that York Boulevard has been enjoying since the road diet tamed the animals. Other streets in the region have also undergone their own renaissances, including Spring Street downtown, Abbott Kinney in Venice Beach, and Main in Santa Monica, all by simply slowing down speeders and making room for cyclists, walkers, and humanity in general.

Meanwhile, the numbers for North Fig are grim, as this graphic shows:

And that’s for just one year, 2009. The long-term trend is no better:

The astounding incident just last week, when a speeding SUV flipped nearly in front of the local council office, shows that the beasts will even eat themselves, if no other prey is available.

So it seems to me that our armadillo is truly afraid of the wrong things. In “protecting” us from road diets, he’s insisting we all follow the way of fear itself when confronted with something new and better, and just curl up with our heads up our behinds, hoping no one will bite.

Those of you who are from Texas know better, though. The tarmac there is paved with flattened armadillos, who were protecting themselves the wrong way, against the wrong threat. We’ll all be roadkill, if we follow suit.

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You Want Safety? You Got It…in Santa Monica

Yes, while CD1′s Gil Cedillo utters his blandly-crafted platitudes about”safety” while undermining an FHWA-approved safety project on North Fig, Santa Monica gets down to the nitty-gritty of making life better—and longer—for all its residents and visitors.

That city’s Main Street was put on a road diet long ago, with bike lanes providing high-protein nutrition in place of the empty calories of car traffic. The program has worked wonderfully: I remember years ago when Main Street was just a few dull blocks to pass through on your way to the Third Street Promenade.

Now, Main Street thrives, sidewalks and storefronts alike packed with happy strolling throngs eager to spend time and money on the most pleasant four blocks in LA County. Bikes are parked everywhere, in sidewalk racks as well as the once-a-week free bike valet that serves the farmers market, and they spin happily down the bike lanes that line the street. Car and bus traffic continues as well, and I haven’t noticed any of the numerous establishments that get my cash there running out of supplies because of a lack of truck access.

Nor has emergency access been compromised: in fact, it’s been enhanced, as when the sirens sound, the motorists can edge into the bike lanes and make room for even the biggest of fire trucks. Not that you see them much anymore: road diets make for fewer crashes, so the paramedics tend to get bored….

But Santa Monica never quite stays still, unlike LA with its stick-in-the-mud city council. Look closely at the photo: you will see the ghost of an older bike lane, which was removed…to be replaced with a wider, safer one. With a door zone buffer!

And the narrower mixed-traffic lanes reduce peak speeds a little further, making for a safer street, and one that is easier to park cars on.

Just as it ought to be. North Fig could be prosperous, lively, and safe as well—but it remains a deadly speedway killing residents and businesses alike.

Yet it coulda been a contender….

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Thanks for Nothing. . . .

Well, he killed it, after all. “He” being Council District 1 boss Gil Cedillo, and “it” being the plan to put Figueroa on a road diet and add bike lanes to it. His “rationale”—and I use quotes here because it has no relation to rationality—is that he is not sure the road diet would ensure “the safety of all those who travel the corridor.” Read his condescending and terminally mealy-mouthed letter yourself here, if you’ve a strong stomach.

This is nonsense, and in fact must be a conscious lie. I personally sent links to fifteen studies of actual road diets that were followed and analyzed for years, and which allow for no misinterpretation. His district director, Conrado Terrazas, whom I had met at a Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, emailed me back with thanks, stating that he had “forwarded this info to our policy staff.” So Cedillo knows that road diets are the best way of “ensuring the safety of all who travel the corridor.”

It looks as though Cedillo, who long ago was some sort of liberal, is turning into a Tea Party denialist of everything that doesn’t support the self-indulgent fantasies of cut-through drivers, a decidedly outside interest that seems to be his real constituency. To these folks, any lie is good enough if it can keep them rocketing through your neighborhoods at twenty over the limit, and it’s just too bad if you get in their way. They’re important; you’re not: so please step aside or die.

The safety benefits of road diets are established fact, accepted even by such stodgy and formerly pro-speeding bureaucracies as AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration, which refers to road diets as a “Proven Safety Countermeasure.”

None of that mattered to Cedillo, who is perhaps a cat’s-paw for some more-organized outside interest than the general mass of self-entitled road hogs he seems to be pandering to. Despite endless community meetings in which supporters of the road diet always outnumbered the reactionaries; despite the majority of neighborhood councils voting in support of the road diet; despite unanimous City Council approval; despite funding, planning, and widespread joy over the prospect of a safer, healthier and more prosperous North Figueroa…Cedillo stamped his foot and wailed, “No! I don’t wanna!”

And so the carnage will continue, and the prosperity and public health benefits the road diet and bike lanes would have brought remain on hold…till Cedillo decides to become an honest man, or at least till the election in three years.

How many more Highland Park residents will be killed or crippled in Cedillo’s name till then?

Thanks for nothing, Gil.

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Bike Rack Hack Back on Track


I am notorious for calling in bike rack requests using the LADOT’s online form. Although the DOT claims not to keep track of who requested what and whether it was installed, they have told me I’ve gotten about two hundred racks put in on sidewalks all over town. About twenty of these have been, naturally, in the Miracle Mile, since I live here. Though I haven’t actually used any of these racks, since they are all within walking distance of home! As the photo shows, though, they get plenty of use without my patronage. In fact, we could use more.

There are over twenty racks on the Mile; some were here before I developed my obsession with bike parking, some were called in by others, and some LADOT put in of their own initiative. There are a very few privately-installed sidewalk racks as well, plus a large and well-used private bike corral at the Wilshire Courtyard building. That private corral is well watched by security via video cameras and proximity sensors, as a curious guard explained to me one day when he felt compelled to inquire why I was staring at the parked bikes. (There was a nice vintage roadster there that morning.)

However, not a single rack has been installed for about a year now. I haven’t stopped calling them in, and the need has certainly not diminished—more and more people are riding, and parking, bikes every day in our city. But two unfortunate happenstances coincided:

First, about a year ago, the city ran out of bike racks, and it took forever for the various interlaced bureaucracies to approve the purchase of new racks to replenish the inventory.

And second, just as the new racks came in, the rack installer retired.

Yes, there was just one man who put in bike racks—and he had to install the single-pole parking meters as well. He was a sinewy little old man named Richard, whom I met when he was installing one of “my” racks on Wilshire. I can understand that at seventy-two he might have lost his enthusiasm for manhandling a concrete drill and then swinging a heavy mallet to pound in bike rack mounting spikes.

Unfortunately, the procedure for applying for the position requires negotiating an intricate bureaucratic labyrinth, and even finding the web page listing the job so you can start is two steps short of impossible. I suggested to my neighbor, who is a mason, that he might apply, and to make it easier on him, slogged through the maze myself—which was a surrealistic experience indeed! My neighbor declined to apply in the end, but someone must have, for a day or two ago, when I wrote to what may have been the only person who actually knew what was going on (thanks to Senior Bicycle Program Coordinator Michelle Mowery, who gave me his email), I heard the good news: someone had actually applied and qualified, and the candidate is being reviewed by higher-ups right now.

It’s rather bizarre that a supposedly “progressive” (ha!) city such as Los Angeles could drop the ball on something as simple as installing bike racks for nearly a year, but it looks like the program will be re-started soon.

So put in your requests for sidewalk bike parking while you can, folks; who knows how long it’ll sputter along…before it stalls again.

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