“Are you crazy?”
It’s a question I get often because I get around Los Angeles with a bicycle as my primary means of transportation.
“I love biking,” people tell me, “but I would never ride in L.A. Isn’t it dangerous?”
I don’t think I’m crazy (I’ve never had a serious accident), but then neither are they. Los Angeles is a dangerous place to bike or drive or walk, and it’s getting more dangerous by the year. Our fair metropolis holds the distinction of having the deadliest streets of any major American city, this despite the fact that Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025.
Amid the carnage, bike lane construction in L.A. has largely ground to a halt, as has the removal of traffic lanes — “road diets” — to slow traffic, making streets safer for cyclists and other road users.
In fairness to our political class, it seems as if every time the city does try to experiment with safe cycling infrastructure, angry motorists do their best to gum up the works.
For four years running, a small but vocal segment of car-centric Silver Lake residents have demanded the removal of the demonstrably effective Rowena Avenue road diet. Manhattan Beach commuters, meanwhile, are threatening to sue Los Angeles for removing traffic lanes and installing bike paths on several deadly roadways in neighboring Playa del Rey. And just this month, apoplectic Mar Vista residents lobbied to undo a milelong segment of protected bike lane on Venice Boulevard, which narrowed the road from three lanes of car traffic to two in each direction.
Cities around the world are increasingly redesigning streets to make them safer for cyclists. Above, a protected bicycle lane in Boston. Los Angeles has been slow to implement similar changes. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
Here’s the thing: The car may still be king in Los Angeles, but its dominion isn’t as sweeping as some entitled motorists seem to think. Roughly a quarter of all Angelenos don’t drive to work. Nearly 24,000 ride a bike, while 260,000 more walk or use public transit.
Don’t we deserve the right to get to work safely?
Besides, the best way to ease L.A.’s arterial congestion (not to mention clean our air and fight climate change) is to get more people out of their cars and into alternative transportation.
There’s plenty of opportunity to do just that. Of all trips taken outside the house in L.A., 47% are three miles or less. Angelenos use their cars for 84% of these trips. Even if you allow for the way L.A.’s hills prevent many from regularly biking or walking, this is a ridiculously high percentage of drivers for such a short distance.
As it happens, my morning bike commute from my home in Echo Park to the L.A. Times falls in this exact 3-mile sweet spot.
Statistically speaking, my daily route is one of the safer bicycle passages in Los Angeles. There have been 77 cyclists killed in Los Angeles since 2011, according to data compiled by Vision Zero. None of those deaths occurred along my morning route.
A screen grab of a Vision Zero map detailing bicycling fatalities in and around L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood since 2011. Red dots indicate where a cyclist was killed. (Vision Zero)
Does this mean it’s actually safe?
You be the judge.
Come join me on my morning bike commute. Ride three miles in my shoes. Maybe you’ll be outraged enough by what you see to write your city councilperson, demanding safer streets. Maybe you’ll decide cycling in L.A. isn’t so bad after all and go for a ride. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll decide not to froth at the mouth in protest when road safety improvements to keep cyclists safe add a couple of minutes to your morning commute.
If nothing else, you’ll get to see what it looks like from the other side when you honk your horn as you blow past a cyclist who momentarily inconveniences you — and, I hope, decide never to do that again.