bicycling, mobility, technology, Transportation

Finding the best cycle commute in LA

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.


Riding Mulholland Drive. A commute route for some, but for me it’s a Sunday buzz. 


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).


The new scramble crossing in Hollywood. Part of LA’s Vision Zero to obliterate traffic deaths by 2025

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!


The Blaze laser light in action.


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.


California does have some empty roads! Onyx Peak – Southern California’s highest paved road. 

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.


Santa Monica bike path. Create for biking, and slinging your hammock!


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.


Where I ride my bike. The redder the road, the more times I’ve ridden it. Most are cycle paths or car-free roads in Griffith Park or along the LA River Path. 

Here’s hoping that Measure M will bring further change in LA, especially for cyclist and pedestrian safety.



mobility, technology, Transportation

LA ranked fourth amongst US cities where technology can reduce the need to own a car

Morning all. I was sent a link to a new report that considers how technology has provided new transport tools and options – the Innovative Transport Index. Los Angeles has come in at fourth on the list, below Austin, San Francisco and Washington DC. It tied with Boston and New York City. I think this is very positive for LA, although one would expect the larger cities to have more options. Interestingly, three other cities where I work – Seattle, Denver and San Diego – all made the top ten. These cities are offering viable options to their citizens, predominantly via the use of technology – smart phone apps, real time information, dynamically-driven websites, bike share and ride-sourcing systems. Simply put, these technologies provide people with options for their daily trips – often using real time information to provide the answer to the question – ‘what’s the best option for me right now?’. The photo below show’s Washington DC’s bike share system – perhaps not a viable option during freezing temperatures, but a ‘smart’ app could provide alternatives based on cost, mode preference or time of day.


Looking back on my previous post, perhaps it would be interesting to see how these cities are dealing with accessibility, and if these technologies have had an impact on the visually and mobility impaired? Should that be included as part of the index? Should car usage and ownership also be taken into account?

Let’s see if we can’t get LA higher up the index.


10 cool things about being car free in 2015!

1. You can take your bike on the subway and on buses.

This is great and something that is sorely lacking in other major cities around the world. I see lots of people hucking their bikes onto the front of buses and wheeling them on to subway trains. This sets up infinite multi-modal journey options – it’s just a shame that the LA Metro trip planner doesn’t offer this as an option.


2. You can save money – transit is really cheap to use and walking/biking are free

$1.75 for a one-way trip on the subway, 50 cents for a local LADOT community bus service. Bargain.

3. There are some great cycle routes in LA to enjoy, plus you might see some wildlife…

Aside from bike lanes (the one on Sunset is pretty good) there are some awesome bike trails to take in. If I worked in Burbank this would be my commute of choice for sure.

4. You’ll get to see cool street art like this


5. If you build a walk into your day, you get to burn calories and listen to some really great podcasts

I walk about an hour everyday – which leaves me to listen to some great podcasts such as Marc Maron’s WTF, This American Life and Serial. Yeah you can listen to them in your car, but there’s something about walking and listening….

6. LA transit has real time via smartphone – no need to wait at the bus stop any more

While there is some progress to be made on the user experience side of things, both LA Metro and LA DOT offer real time arrivals information for bus stops and stations in Los Angeles. This makes travelling much easier for a new-comer and helps me understand the network a little better.

What they really need is a smart real time powered trip planner – more on that later….

7. Try rideshare – it’s everywhere and has really competitive rates

We use rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to get to gigs, the supermarket, the beach and the movies. Without it we’d have to spend much more time on transit. Never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride. Just download the app and you’re off.

8. It’s a great conversation opener! You’ll always get into a good debate….

Saying that you don’t have a car at a party really gets the conversation going. You’ll get different responses ranging from ‘how on earth do you manage that?’ to ‘that’s awesome, how can I do that?’.

9. You can enjoy the splendid weather that LA has to offer…


10. Never have to worry about parking, unless it’s your bike…

Valet parking? What’s that all about? I can’t park my own car? Weird and expensive (plus you’re throwing your keys at a stranger).

For the cyclist, Santa Monica has got this wrapped up with a great Bike Center. You can store your bike securely, use a locker, get a shower and even get your bike fixed. It’s like valet but far more useful. Check it out here. More of these please – I’d love one in Downtown as my building doesn’t have these facilities. Pretty please?

Over to you…got any of your own?


Rain + Rush Hour Fun in Downtown LA