Is Los Angeles a Biking City? - An Expert's Perspective

With its ideal climate for cycling all year round and its topography that allows both novice and experienced cyclists to explore the nearby mountains and hills, Los Angeles is, in many ways, a paradise for cyclists. As the urban cycling revival continues to flourish across the United States and most big cities become better and safer places to ride, Los Angeles should be a cyclist's paradise. The weather in Los Angeles is beyond ideal. The city has received less than four inches of rain so far this year.

The city is a huge, mostly flat network of wide boulevards with plenty of space for an intelligently located bicycle infrastructure. Traffic is notoriously bad, making it even more reasonable to cover shorter bike trips. The metropolitan area has perfect waterfront walks and spectacular climbs in legendary places such as the hills of Malibu, Palos Verdes and the San Gabriel Mountains. Every day, hundreds of people can be seen cycling around the city with a smile on their faces, despite the challenges that the city presents to them.

The roads themselves are a disaster, with millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to pay civil lawsuits filed by seriously injured cyclists or by the families of cyclists killed. In Los Angeles, cyclists may not even face broken roads; they are faced with hostile, speeding or distracted drivers, and a legal system that treats them calmly. In the midst of the carnage, there is an alarming increase in hit-and-run crashes involving cyclists. Last April, three cyclists died in incidents of this type in just one week.

One of the cyclists was hit by two cars before he died and both drivers fled the scene. A particularly visceral shock gripped the city's cycling community after the death of Frederick “Woon Frazier”, 22, who was hit by a car in South Los Angeles in broad daylight by someone who left the place without helping. As if that tragedy needed a bold underscore, a friend of Woon's had to be hospitalized two days later, after being injured at a protest vigil by another driver who fled. I travel approximately 8,000 miles a year in Los Angeles and the behavior of the drivers I witness is astonishing.

California has strict state laws that prohibit texting and using portable mobile phones while driving, but every day I see motorists with their cell phones in the palm of their hand, dialing, texting, playing with Waze or using social media. It's huge, covering more than 500 square miles, and yet it has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to resident in any major U. S. UU.

In neighborhoods that aren't known for their criminal problems, the Los Angeles police can seem truly invisible and are certainly not there to enforce regulations on cell phone use or speeding. From a cyclist's point of view, roads may seem illegal. They're peaceful, well-meaning people, but the reality is that most people are much more excited about traffic jams than about the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users (or even things like climate change and air quality). There is no populist campaign to promote car-sharing or a more robust public transportation system, or to explore congestion pricing.

The culture of the city has remained curiously unchanged since the 1950s; it is a gigantic urban village (with 19 million inhabitants according to the latest count) where everyone continues to mythologize the right of residents to wake up in a suburban bungalow and drive a long distance alone to their place of work. Aggravating the problems faced by cyclists in Los Angeles is the lack of a powerful defense movement. The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition is a well-intentioned organization but it suffered a leadership vacuum last year and lacks the 501 (c), 4 status that would allow it to support candidates and otherwise participate in politics. And it faces relentlessly aggressive opposition and a municipal leadership that can charitably be called apathetic. A city councilor recently proposed that instead of investing in repairing its deteriorating infrastructure, the city should eliminate bicycle lanes from any poor quality road.

Some council members are legitimate advocates of cycling but most are unreliable or even totally hostile to the safety needs of cyclists. In his view, one or two cyclist deaths per month are acceptable collateral damage to keep a big city focused on cars properly lubricated. This furious populist rebellion resonated far beyond the borders of Playa del Rey; City Council members saw the political power that enraged motorists wielded as did Mayor Garcetti who aspires to hold national office and wants to avoid unpopular controversies. And since Playa del Rey's bike lanes were destroyed, the already breakneck pace of making streets safer has practically stopped in L. A.

The blow to the city's cycling culture has been widely felt; data recently released by the United States Cyclists League demonstrate that after a decade in which the number of people who ride bicycles to work in Los Angeles grew by more than 50 percent, this figure fell by more than 13 percent in the last year surveyed. The sad truth is that many people have been scared off from cycling due to these issues; someday I hope to be asked to write an essay explaining why this sun-drenched metropolis is now one of America's best cycling cities - but that day is not today. Despite all these challenges faced by cyclists in Los Angeles - from hostile drivers to inadequate infrastructure - there are still many reasons why this city should be considered as one of America's best biking cities: its perfect climate for cycling all year round; its topography which allows both novice and experienced cyclists to explore nearby mountains and hills; its wide boulevards with plenty of space for an intelligently located bicycle infrastructure; its waterfront walks; its spectacular climbs; its strict state laws prohibiting texting while driving; its low ratio of police officers per resident; its car-sharing programs; its public transportation system; its congestion pricing policies; its well-intentioned bike coalition organization; its legitimate advocates for cycling safety; and its mayor who aspires for national office. It may take some time before Los Angeles can be considered as one of America's best biking cities - but with enough effort from both local authorities and citizens alike - this dream can become reality.

Adam Martabano
Adam Martabano

Professional social media buff. Devoted twitter trailblazer. Amateur pop culture aficionado. Typical web maven. Freelance web scholar.