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.




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?


Hitting the streets – the deal with LA

To kick off I thought I’d give a quick run-down of what it has been like to live in LA without a car so far. We get asked a lot why we don’t have a car. The main reason is the hassle and impact on our quality of life – driving in LA can be a pain and finding parking is really boring (we rented a car during the first month of our move). I also like to walk, bike and use transit – it’s cheaper, I get to enjoy the magnificent weather and, hey, I get to interact with normal people! Plus, cars are expensive and we’d rather do without the cost. Plus, I guess it’s good to practice what I preach….

By and large we really haven’t needed one, mainly because we chose to live in an area (Los Feliz) that is walkable and that has good transit links to Downtown (where I currently work). If we didn’t have these two things, I think it would be trickier to get around without a car. But, you CAN get around LA without owning a car and spending a fortune on taxis – technology makes this possible (to the smartphone owning person of course).

Oh and we absolutely love living in LA. With or without a car.

‘Well, good for you!’ – confessing the car free life to locals

Our LA friends are genuinely shocked that we don’t have a car. They are really concerned for our well being. We once told our friends that we walk to the supermarket (it’s less than a mile) – I thought they were going to recommend a therapist.


LA has a pretty good public transit system.

I take LA Metro’s Red Line to work everyday. It’s cheap ($1.75 per trip), not particularly crowded and I have a station nearby which I can walk or skateboard to. It’s 1.3 miles away (see above for normal Angeleno reaction to this). At the other end of the journey I can walk 5 minutes to my office. Why would I drive? Looking at it from a different angle, if you want to get to somewhere that doesn’t have decent transport links (such as the beach), prepare to spend a long time on a bus.


Technology is making city mobility easier.

Admittedly, if it wasn’t for Google Maps and Uber I think we’d be in trouble. Both of these tools provide us with viable options – be it transit, walking or carsharing – for getting around the city. Uber in particular has been a huge bonus. If you’re not aware of Uber, check out an article I recently wrote – I’ll be updating this soon, including an update on how much it costs to switch to using transit and Uber to get around. LA Metro also has a pretty decent smartcard system, but it’s poorly integrated (i.e. not really at all) with other operators in the city – for example, I can’t step off the Red Line and hop on a LA DOT bus and pay for the trip with my TAP card. Well, not as far as I’m aware!  LA also has online real time information for most transit services, but the user experience side of things has to be carefully reconsidered – at the moment it’s just not that good and accessing information is a tricky process. Again, all of this information and guidance is only really available to those who have smartphones and are computer literate – I’ll be picking up on this in an upcoming post.


The weather encourages you to get out and about.

You can pretty much rely on the sun shining when you leave the house in the morning, so walking is a viable option. Same goes for biking. We have friends who walk everywhere in LA – even better, the sidewalks tend to be pretty quiet so skateboarding is also a great option! Just watch out for the uneven surfaces. Using my iPhone Health app I’ve noticed that I regularly hit 10,000 steps a day (well, my average is just under 9,000 – thanks Holidays), so I’m keeping fit at the same time.


The roads are by and large terrifying places for cyclists – but things are changing

I ride a bike in London, but nothing has prepared me for LA roads and the drivers. Plus, most people I’ve spoken to who bike in LA have been knocked off their bike at least once – the roads are a scary place for cyclists. Drivers seem to be permanently glued to their smartphone screens. But, things are starting to improve – LA currently has around 300 miles of bikeways and the plan is to deliver over 1,600 miles of bikeways over 35 years. Cities such as Santa Monica, Long Beach and Pasadena are really leading the charge with making their roads more bikeable. Bikeshare (Boris Bikes) are also coming to Downtown LA, and Santa Monica (and others) are leading the charge with a proposed bikeshare system in the works. Importantly, cycling is starting to crop up in the mainstream media and the debate over sharing space is getting louder. We also have CicLAvia – where LA’s streets and roads get turned into awesome bike festivals. If you want to check out some of my rides in LA – I’m on Strava.


There’s an appetite for change in LA

We speak to a lot of people as we travel around LA – the general impression that I get when I tell people what I do is that LA is ripe for change. Something needs to budge as gas prices get higher and roads more congested. Younger people also appear to be more receptive to change – they see transit as a viable option and not one that is solely for the carless who live in the city. I recently presented at an LA Metro digital event which also got me thinking that LA could be following other major US cities and really thinking about how multi-modal mobility could be enabled by using technology and focused urban planning.


When you leave the car at home, you see some cool stuff.

There are a huge amount of amazing sights and sounds in LA. The city has art and culture ingrained in its streets and if you walk around places like Venice you can see how this has been sewn into the very fabric of the neighbourhood.