Living in LA is a hoot. It’s even better if you experience as many neighbourhoods as you can. During our second year of living car free, we decided to live in new places to get a better flavour – Highland Park, DTLA, South Pasadena, Hollywood Hills (seriously), Santa Monica, Atwater Village. Yes, hipsters, but fun. In many cases we tried to live near decent transit, but I also took the opportunity to try and use my bike more to commute to work in DTLA.
Cycle commuting is something I’ve shied away from so far, although I do quite a bit of bike riding in my spare time mainly in the mountains, where the traffic is thin and the views are spectacular. Cycling in heavy traffic and pollution really didn’t float my boat.
LA has an ambitious ‘Vision Zero‘ – zero traffic deaths by 2025. Considering that 44% of all deaths and severe injuries in LA involve people walking or bicycling, it has got a lot of work to do. Even crossing the road here in LA is a high risk prospect. Luckily, with the influence of advocacy groups such as the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, things seem to be on the move, with a new protected bike lane appearing in Downtown alongside a brand new bikeshare system launched by Metro. In Hollywood there is now a ‘scramble crossing’ that makes it easier for pedestrians to get where they want to go (i.e. in a straight line).
While we wait for a safer city, there are a number of technologies, such as smart trip planners and mapping that can help with recommend bike routes. They will get you away from the badness and give you as pleasant route as possible and connect you, where possible, with physical infrastructure on the ground.
Google Maps worked with Metro to integrate their cycle network data, which means better routing results for cyclists. I also purchased a handlebar mount for my smartphone which meant I could use GPS to make sure I was on the right path. Strava, the activity logging app, also released a nifty ‘Beacon’ feature which allows your ‘safety contacts’ (i.e. my wife) to track my journey and see where I am. Really handy for a commute.
A cyclist also needs really good lights so I have a Blaze ‘laserlight’ that not only puts out a bright flashing beam, but also projects a green image of a bike onto the lane in front of me. This light was developed with cyclist safety in mind and it really works, especially at intersections and junctions. It’s also a great conversation starter with other commuters!
So far, South Pasadena wins the prize as the best connected by bike. About 2/3 of the 8.5 mile route I took into DTLA used some form of dedicated cycling infrastructure, apart from one section that connects Lincoln Heights to Chinatown that can get a little dicey, but then you are back on the cycle lane on Spring that takes you to Pershing Square. The journey took me around 30mins (granted I’m a seasoned cyclist) which was quicker than getting to the Gold Line and transferring to the Red Line. I got to use the cycle path that runs along the Arroyo Seco. It’s fast, safe and allows you to miss out some really busy roads. Granted, there are quicker routes, but the extra distance was a trade off for safety and a more pleasant ride.
Did I feel safe on my commute to DTLA? Kind of, but with caveats. I’d been cycling in LA enough to work out what to be aware of at intersections (people blindly turning right or left across my path). You need eagle eyes. But, I used to really look forward to my commute. Where the City had provided decent cycle lanes I felt that I was somewhat in control, but couldn’t help but feel that they were missing a trick with leaving out any form of infrastructure on S Main. It’s absolutely crying out for it – and where you put this type of infrastructure you will get more cyclists. They just need to fill the gaps to give riders more confidence. Without it, they will struggle.
After our adventure, we moved back to Los Feliz, on the north-east side of the City. LF has great connections to Griffith Park, one of LA’s more popular cycling destinations, and also to the LA River Bike Path that connects the north end of the Park with, well, the lovely 5/110 flyover. It doesn’t really go anywhere useful yet which is a massive shame, plus the Army Corps of Civil Engineers have closed the path between 7am and 4pm – drastically reducing the options available to bike commuters.
For a commuter you’ve got a number of choices, most of them so-so. You can hit the River Path to avoid traffic completely but are then confronted with what happens when it runs out (you have to do the Main St rat run as described above). This route doesn’t come up in Google Maps, but I know it well enough. You can also take the bike lane on Sunset, which is the obvious choice as it’s pretty direct, but when the schools are back this route can be horrific at rush hour (pollution, noise, traffic). You also have to run the risk of getting doored by drivers not looking where they should. Then there’s the mess of DTLA to deal with. You have to be prepared and ready for anything. It’s not particularly relaxing but is a smidge quicker than transit at around 24mins door to door. There are other options, but to be honest I don’t trust the ‘bicycle friendly’ nature of a road with no cycle lane.
Here’s hoping that Measure M will bring further change in LA, especially for cyclist and pedestrian safety.