Invidious Comparisons

Ah, travel can be exhilarating…but it can be mighty dismaying as well. We’ve been on a train trip to Denver and the Bay Area (bringingnalong folders with us, including a Brompton borrowed from the mighty Pigeon), and it’s been hard to take…seeing all the decent to very good bicycle infrastructure other cities are putting in, while LA lollygags, letting a loud and fractious minority hold back even the most basic of infrastructure, changes that would make the streets happier for everyone, even motorists.

Bike lanes let people who want to ride but are fearful of traffic get on two wheels, cutting noise and pollution, bettering their health, and leaving more space on the asphalt for those who are truly stuck behind the windshield. Greenways give the neighborhood back to neighbors by discouraging cut-through traffic and making room for cyclists, walkers, even children playing and neighbors chatting, just like in those iconic small-town days everyone claims to be so nostalgic for. Replacing a single-car parking space with a bike corral brings more shoppers–who have been discovered by surveys to spend more overall–into shopping areas currently crammed with metal shells but short on actual spenders.

Yet LA shuffles into the Bicycle Millennium like a crippled hippo climbing a sand dune–while other cities forge ahead.

Here are a couple of photos illustrating what I mean. First, a shot of bike parking in downtown Denver:

Plenty of it, very well used. This was on a Friday around 11AM. In the backgroound you see a B Cycle bikeshare stand. There are sharrows, lanes, and bike racks all over central Denver, and there are hordes of cyclists everywhere, and bikes parked everywhere from the office towers of the finance district to the loft conversions next to Union station. Sidewalk bike racks are everywhere, half a dozen to a dozen per block. New condos are going up at the intersections of bike routes. Shops are crowded with cyclists spending money– in traffic jams. Denver is a sprawling LA-like city with less money and much worse weather, yet they’ve made the changes and are letting bike riders boost the town’s economy. Unlike LA….

Likewise the Bay Area–where, to be sure, a single NIMBY held the City of San Francisco’s entire bike plan hostage for four years till a judge told him what he was full of. Even the poor cities of the East Bay have been putting in bike lanes, sharrows, and racks as fast as they can After all, such facilities provide access without congestion, improve public health, raise property values, and make cities more attractive to tourists and bright and active potential residents alike. And East Bay bicycle facilities, unlike LA’s, are truly useful and comprehensive…why, you can even follow a bike route that you’ve never been on before without a map! And feel safe crossing streets! They even have more than six lousy bike parking spots at transit stations! Here’s a pair of photos to whet your appetite:

I almost cried when I saw a bicycle boulevard in Albuquerque!

Still, it’s been a relaxing, revivifying trip. We’ll be back home soon, pedaling through the cars lined up in each other’s way and wondering why LA, with all its resources, can’t do such a simple thing better than it does. And hoping that it will, before too long.

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