WWith year-round riding weather perfect and a topography that allows cyclists to enjoy pedaling without too much stress and experienced cyclists explore the nearby mountains and hills, Los Angeles is in many ways a cyclist’s paradise.
But the city’s cycling reputation is tempered by the fact that it is one of the most irritating, difficult, and downright dangerous cities in the United States to bike.
“The weather here is so perfect that you don’t really need a car to shelter like you do in other parts of the country,” said Phil Gaimon, a former professional cyclist turned author and YouTube star. “But Los Angeles is also the most horrible city in the most beautiful part of the world.”
At least 36 bicyclists died in Los Angeles County in 2019, according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accounting for about one-third of all bicycle deaths in California that year. Last month, Branden Finely, 46, was killed while riding his bike through the city center, struck by the driver of a stolen pick-up truck driving in and out of traffic.
In 2018, the magazine Bicycles gave LA the ignominious title of “The worst cycling city in America” because the dangers that distracted drivers pose to bicyclists, the terrible shape of most streets, and the apparent willingness of local officials to pay millions of dollars in lawsuits rather than address infrastructure needs that could make Los Angeles a safest place to ride a bike.
“In terms of bike infrastructure, let’s just say my organization is not closing anytime soon,” said Eli Kaufman, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). “It just hasn’t been a priority given all the other intractable issues the city and county have to deal with.”
But the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the region to improve its cycling infrastructure, as bicycle sales increase and more people take to the streets to escape being stuck at home and get some exercise with nearly-closed gyms. “We have to build a culture that demands the changes that the city needs and with more people getting on bicycles now that is becoming a reality,” said Kaufman.
Possibly more than any other city in the US, Los Angeles is a product of the automobile, its highways and multi-lane boulevards (101, 405, Sunset Blvd, Hollywood Blvd) embedded in the American psyche.
That deeply ingrained car culture, coupled with limited public transportation options, has only strengthened the majority of Angelenos’ reliance on cars and made advocating for alternative modes of transportation an uphill battle.
“Ending the car culture here in Los Angeles is a lot like trying to end the electoral college, it’s not going to happen,” said Stefan Mayer, a cyclist in Los Angeles since 1980 and a coach at the Encino Velodrome in the San Fernando Valley. .
That attitude has also been reflected in the courts. Take the case of prominent entertainment attorney Milton Olin, who was killed in 2013 when a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy struck him with his car on Mulholland Drive. Despite the revelation that Rep. Andrew Wood had been texting his wife at the time of the accident, the district attorney’s office refused to press criminal charges against him. Olin’s family ultimately received $ 11.75 million in a civil settlement with the county.
“The district attorney simply refused to prosecute the police [who] he killed Milt, ”said Mayer, who knew Olin both professionally and personally for more than 30 years.
Cars aren’t the only things that kill cyclists. Sometimes it is the roads themselves.
Despite numerous cities in Los Angeles County raising their sales taxes twice in the past 15 years to improve road conditions, and voters passed a gasoline tax in 2017 to do the same across the state, Los Angeles and California as a whole, have some of the worst public streets in the nation.
More than 46% of urban roads in California are rated in poor condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That number rises to more than 62% when only highways in the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim metro areas are counted, data compiled by Copilot automotive website found.
The poor condition of the streets of Los Angeles has forced the city to distribute millions of dollars in the last decade to cyclists seriously injured by poor road conditions.
In 2017, the city paid $ 7.5 million to a man who was left quadriplegic after he crashed on a stretch of highway where the pavement had bent due to tree roots. That same year he gave $ 6.5 million to a cyclist who suffered a traumatic brain injury after hitting a huge pothole on his bicycle, and another $ 4.5 million to the family of a cyclist who died after colliding with a 2-inch ridge on the pavement.
“Right now, the bike infrastructure in Los Angeles is woefully inadequate,” Kaufman said. “We’re not doing a system-wide approach, so you end up with these bike lanes that just end. They are bike lanes that lead nowhere. “
Los Angeles city officials agree that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to making the city more bike-friendly, and they acknowledge that bicycle horror stories happen far too often. Local officials appear to be at least willing to speak lip-service about bicyclists’ concerns and have argued that biking in Los Angeles has improved tremendously in recent years.
In 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the Vision Zero plan, which aimed (but failed) to reduce bicycle fatalities by 20% by the end of 2017 and see zero deaths on city roads. by 2025. The city’s Mobility Plan 2035 hopes to add to an existing bicycle infrastructure plan and connect a network of completely separate and protected bike lanes and trails.
Last year, the city added or made safety improvements to more than 61 miles of bike lanes, more than double the improvements it made in 2019, according to LADOT. And as part of Los Angeles’ Green New Deal, the city plans to increase the percentage of all trips made by foot, bike, micro-mobility, package travel, or public transit to at least 35% by 2025 and 50% by 2035. .
“Any life lost on our streets is too much, and Mayor Garcetti will never stop pushing for safer roads and accelerating commonsense projects that can reduce fatalities,” said Harrison Wollman, Garcetti Under Secretary of Press. . “Los Angeles is investing more than ever in traffic safety, and in the last year alone, we have installed more bike lanes and safety features than in the previous three years combined.”
LACBC’s Kaufman argues that in order to convince people of the importance of a better bicycle transportation system, the discussion must be expanded to show how such a system would benefit other aspects of society.
“If we want to be a little more courageous, we need to look at communities in terms of other metrics besides the efficiency of people’s commuting so that we can really start to change people’s quality of life,” he said. “We need to look at metrics like the physical and mental health of people, the environmental impact of cars, how this impacts inequality as a whole.”
One program working to put this into practice is CicLAvia, a nonprofit initiative that began in 2008 and is modeled after weekly bike lane events in Colombia’s capital Bogotá, where certain city streets are closed to the public. car traffic and open to cyclists, walkers, and others for recreation.
“CicLAvia is about turning public streets into public parks for a day,” said Tafarai Bayne, chief strategist for the initiative. “The idea of changing public space to be more for people is at the core of what we are doing.”
Since its inception in 2008, CicLAvia has held 35 events across the city, attended by more than 1.8 million people. Organizers say that before Covid-19 hit the region, they had planned to host at least six CicLAvia events a year.
Like any other aspect of society, cycling and the bicycle industry have been deeply affected by the pandemic. With gyms, shopping malls, movie theaters, and nearly every other establishment closed, the US has seen a bicycle boom that hasn’t been seen in nearly 50 years.
In April 2020 alone, bicycle sales in the US reached $ 1 billion, a 75% increase over the previous year. according to market research company NPD Group – and bike manufacturers and shops have struggled to keep up with demand.
While some staunch cyclists may complain about the wave of newer, slower riders clogging streets and trails, advocates like Kaufman and Bayne see the pandemic-induced bike boom as a way to create new allies and spur more projects. cycling infrastructure that make Los Angeles a safer and easier place to ride.
“We just don’t want to go back to the old normality,” Kaufman said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism