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Cycling in the City: New Momentum, but Challenges Remain

By Jenni Simcoe
Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010, at 08:03AM
Downtown Los Angeles ~ Financial District A~ [Flickr]

Cyclists at 5th and Hill. Photo by R. E. ~ via the blogdowntown flickr pool.

Sit at a sidewalk café on Spring and you’ll be sure to see a handful of cyclists pedal by before you can even finish a cup of coffee. The choice to get around Downtown for errands without a car seems like a no-brainer. Not only can you save a bundle on gas, but you also don’t have to wait for the bus, worry about parking, spend time walking to your destination, or worry about CO2 emissions. But is it really that easy?

“Our infrastructure in L.A. is focused on cars, so cyclists aren’t as welcome,” said Joe Linton, local cycling activist. Linton points out that riding throughout Downtown can be treacherous. With no dedicated bicycle lanes, motorists rule the road.

Linton, like many cyclists, has his ear to the pavement to see how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s upcoming Bike Summit will affect the city’s master plan for implementing bike lanes Downtown and along major arteries that connect L.A. to other cities and suburbs.

Villaraigosa proposed the summit following his bicycle accident on July 17, in which he broke his elbow and required surgery. The mayor reached out in support of improving bicycle infrastructure via YouTube and Twitter, followed by a guest blog on The Huffington Post website. In the post he said, “Unfortunately most of our City was built with cars in mind. It’s time to recognize that bicycles also belong on L.A.’s streets.”

The city already had a 2010 Bicycle Plan in the works long before the Mayor’s Bike Summit was organized. The plan, still in the draft process, calls for 1,633 miles of bikeway facilities throughout Los Angeles. The current iteration includes the installation of bicycle lanes in the Downtown core on Figueroa, Flower, Spring, Main, First, 2nd and 7th streets.

“The mayor’s incident along with our plan has brought the issue of safe cycling on the streets to the forefront,” said Jordann Turner, 2010 Bicycle Plan Project Manager for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning. The lack of bicycle lanes throughout the city can’t be blamed simply on a lack of planning. “It’s an issue of where the infrastructure dollars go. There are competing interests for automobiles, public transit and roads,” said Turner. “The city budget priorities are always public safety, including the police and fire departments.”

The mayor addressed the funding issue in his Huffington Post blog post, saying, “For the first time, we have a dedicated revenue source for building our bike infrastructure through Measure R, the half penny sales tax for transportation. We are setting aside 10% of the city’s local return portion of Measure R for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. That means about $3.2 million for this fiscal year.”

While that’s a start, Measure R is not strictly set aside for bicycle infrastructure. Metro distributes 15 percent of the funding to all 88 cities within the county with each city allocating those funds to infrastructure including street resurfacing, traffic signals and transit upgrades.

Even if the current plan to dedicate a portion of these funds to cycling does get adopted, Turner says that funding will be needed from a variety of sources including federal and state grants and initiatives. Even with funding, implementation and installation will remain an issue.

“The cards are stacked against us in funding the bicycle plan,” said Turner. “The city is willing to take ownership, but it can be an uphill battle.” He explains that his department doesn’t have the ability to implement the plan alone without Metro, DOT and Bureau of Street Services all onboard.

Linton notes that the upcoming Bike Summit will show if the Mayor is serious about making changes in bicycle infrastructure. “He says he will support the plan, but he hasn’t stuck his neck out in the past, so we’ll be interested to see if he does now,” he said.

The Bike Summit will be held August 16, from 9 to 11am in Metro’s boardroom at One Gateway Plaza. The summit is open to the public. The City will also hold a series of workshops and public hearings on the 2010 Bicycle Plan in September.

Other Upcoming Events

The Mayor’s Bike Summit isn’t the only event on the agenda for cycling enthusiasts. Check out these upcoming bicycle-related events.

Bicycle Film Festival Tenth Anniversary

The film festival runs September 1-5 at the Downtown Independent Theater, 251 South Main Street. New Yorker Brendt Barbur created the festival after he was hit by a bus while cycling. “I wanted to turn that experience into something positive,” said Barbur. The festival, now in its tenth year, runs in 40 cities around the world.

Highlights include:

  • TO LIVE & RIDE IN LA, a documentary by David Rowe, chronicles the growing trend of fixed gear riding in L.A.
  • COUNTYWIDE: BICYCLING ACROSS LOS ANGELES, directed by Eric Matthies, features perspectives of cyclists who escape from the daily grind of Los Angeles.
  • THE BIRTH OF BIG AIR, directed by Jeff Tremaine and produced by Priya Swaminathan, Spike Jonze, Mark Lewman and Johnny Knoxville, pays homage to Mat Hoffman, a BMX legend AKA ‘the Michael Jordon of BMX.’
  • The Joyride Art Show features bicycle themed artwork by Shepard Fairey, Spike Jonze and Tim Barbur, among other notable artists.

The film festival will also feature bike races and a block party with vendors, cycling events and competitions.

For more information and a complete schedule, visit bicyclefilmfestival.com/los-angeles/.

CicLAvia

This event is inspired by ciclovías, temporary bike paths first created in Bogotá, Colombia, around 1980. Seven miles of streets from Boyle Heights to East Hollywood will be car-free on October 10 from 10am-3pm. The streets will be blocked off from traffic and safe for people to walk, skate, play and ride a bike. The route will have activities with shops and restaurants staying open for business.

For more information and maps of the route, go to ciclavia.wordpress.com.

Chinatown Summer Nights

Held every Saturday in August, from 5 pm to midnight. Enjoy free bike valet provided by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), KCRW DJ’s, food trucks, art and dance workshops, cooking demonstrations, video projections and more.

Rides Around Downtown & Beyond

Popular bike shop (and blogdowntown delivery partner) Flying Pigeon hosts regular leisurely rides.

  • Get Sum Dim Sum Ride- On the third Sunday of the month, this leisurely ride goes from Highland Park to dim sum restaurants in areas such as Chinatown and San Gabriel. The ride is free with rentals available for $10 per person. Cyclists are responsible for their own check.

  • Spoke(n)Art Ride- Held on the second Saturday of the month, this bicycle tour introduces cyclists to art galleries in North East L.A.

For more information on these rides, visit flyingpigeon-la.com/shop-rides/.

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