By Benjamin Dunn, March 22, 2014
The kickoff of the October 2010 CicLAvia
In the 20th century, Los Angeles expanded its transportation systems
with the belief that the car was king. The city tore out miles of
streetcar track and replaced them with massive roads and highway systems
to encourage driving. Now, Angelenos spend an average of 59 hours
sitting in traffic every year. People are beginning to turn to
alternate forms of transportation, in particular cycling. But it seems
that many are unaware of both the benefits that cycling brings and the
challenges that bikers face.
Most people are aware of the positive health impact that cycling
provides, such as improved cardiovascular systems and lowered rates of
obesity; however, there are many other benefits that are commonly overlooked.
In a smoggy city such as Los Angeles, bicyclists do not pollute the
air with exhaust. Cycling through a city also connects people with a
community in ways that cars travelling at higher speeds cannot. When Los
Angeles hosted the June 2013 CicLAvia and closed down miles of road to vehicle transportation, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs released a report
saying businesses along the CicLAvia route experienced a 10 percent
increase in sales that day. Bike parking also takes up very little room,
freeing up car lots for other uses, such as shopping areas or public
Michael Kodama, Executive Director at Eco-Rapid Transit, President at
Michael R. Kodama Planning Consultants and professor at the USC Price
School of Public Policy, believes that one of the biggest obstacles
cyclists face is a general misunderstanding of the needs of bicyclists.
"As a cyclist, you're simply not represented. How many people in the government are avid bicyclsits?" he asks.
Legislators need to understand that bikers need a set of laws that
protect them from cars and facilitate cycling on the road. For example,
the idea that bikers need to stop at all stop signs in a residential
area is not very efficient since cyclists spend five times
the energy to maintain speed with stops. In 1992, Idaho passed a law
that allows cyclists to pass through stop signs at a “reasonable speed.”
After 20 years, a UC Berkeley study
has shown that there has been no significant increase in bicycle
fatalities or injuries as a result of this law. In fact, this law also
increases the number of bikes on the road since bikers do not have to
spend as much energy getting to their destinations.
Even though cities like New York and San Francisco have constructed
miles of bike lanes, cyclists can face difficulties navigating them
since they are often blocked
by obstacles such as cars or construction work. If cities wish to
facilitate cycling, they need to also introduce ordinances that protect
cyclists from these dangers. In fact, some of the biggest deterrents to
biking are safety concerns. Most people feel uncomfortable, myself
included, riding in narrow bike lanes that offer no protection from
While there needs to be a move towards protecting cyclists,
bicyclists themselves are also at fault for failing to understand the
most basic rules of the road.
Trousdale Avenue in the University of Southern California handles
thousands of students and commuters every day; however, it is one of the
most dangerous streets in Los Angeles to bike on. Often, you will see
bikers and pedestrians travelling against the flow of traffic, oblivious
to the dangerous situation they are creating for everyone else around
them. It is hard to fathom why this is such a widespread problem since
the lanes are quite clearly marked with bright white and yellow paint
along with directional arrows that point towards the flow of traffic.
All the infrastructure for an efficient cycling system is there: people
just seem too ignorant use it properly. It really takes little effort
for a cyclist to get into the right lane or for a pedestrian to walk
outside of the bike lane. Imagine what someone from the surrounding
neighborhoods would think if he saw students from an elite university
struggling to use something as simple as a bike lane.
While replacing some driving lanes with bike lanes and cycle tracks
(bike lanes separated from the street with a physical barrier) seems
like a recipe for severe traffic congestion, a simple look at each mode
of transportation disproves this idea. Cars are actually some of the
most inefficient forms of transportation in an urban environment like
Los Angeles: they take up a lot of road and parking space and only hold a
few people. Now imagine the number of bikes you can put on the road for
the space of one car. If for every car we can put out, say, six
bicycles, we can quickly reduce the number of cars on a road as well as
the time we waste sitting in traffic.
Kodama believes that there “needs to be a culture shift in how we look at bicycle transportation.” While Los Angeles has implemented miles
of bike lanes and cycle tracks, employers too can assist workers that
bike to work, such as by introducing facilities showers for employees
who ride their bike to work so they can wash themselves and put a suit
on after. For high rise buildings, Kodama also proposed creating a valet
bike parking system so employees would not have to leave them out on
Despite the benefits that cycling provides not only for people, but
for a city’s transportation system, there will still be a need for cars.
We will still need to travel distances that would be arduous on a bike
and get to certain destinations quickly. However, there are many
instances where we could turn to biking as a healthier, more efficient
and more social form of transportation. In turn, these would help ease
urban traffic congestion as well as connect the community.
For the future, we can expect to see more cities adopting biking
friendly policies. Los Angeles is already in the process of renovating
the Figueroa Corridor by adding cycle tracks and bike lanes with the MyFigueroa project. While our cycling infrastructure may never reach the level of Copenhagen's (where more people ride their bike
to work in one city than in the entire United States), people will
begin turning to cycling due to its numerous benefits for individuals,
the environment and the city they live in.