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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