30 August 2008

"Cycling Makes Community"

So says the Bike Writers Collective. Check out their web site for a Cyclist's Bill of Rights. It's awesome!

(I wonder if they'd let us into the Collective?...)

Evidence of a thriving bike community was seen two days ago on USC's campus at the semi-annual Bike Sale, which I attended. Rather, I tried to attend it, but the line was so long, I had no chance at getting one of the 100 or so used bikes they put out. These bikes are harvested at the end of every semester from bike racks on campus after having been abandoned by careless owners. Perhaps I was being greedy in the first place, I mean why do I really need another bike when I already have a perfectly good one? But, they were only $25 and I was hoping to find something a little lighter. Alas, maybe next time, but only if I camp out (photo below)...

You'd think they were waiting for tickets to see Saturday Night Live

About 75% of the line

27 August 2008

Pedestrian Skills

In surveys conducted by traffic engineering groups, a consistent fallacy occurs: everyone thinks they are a good driver. In fact, as many as 90% of the population think they are "above average to good." Basic statistical principles say that this is impossible, and it is one of the many reasons economists poke fun at survey data. I am sure if you asked people similar questions, you would see the same bias; I have met way too many people who said they were good at soccer or basketball, only for me to be shamed that I brought them to play.
So like the mundane task of driving, which we are all above average to good at, we must all be experts at walking. After all, I learned how to walk before I learned how to take my pants off (and NOBODY would EVER say they were bad at that). However, walking around downtown, Hollywood, Century City, Santa Monica, etc, I constantly observe people walking terribly. And I am tired of it!
What is it that people are doing wrong? Jaywalking. Now, I know that it sometimes takes a little more time, because crosswalks aren't always located directly beween Pinkberry and wherever you need to go next to get your car, try on cute shoes, or whatever it is you do after Pinkberry. But is it THAT much trouble to walk a half a block to the crosswalk? In all reality, you are doing everyone a service, including yourself, by going to the crosswalk.
First, you are protected. If you are in the crosswalk, you can pretty much play hopscotch in traffic and not be found at fault should a car collide with you. Even though you are technically protected by law anywhere in the road, all you need is an eyewitness saying you were darting in and out of the street trying to get hit, and a jury of your non-pedestrian peers may find YOU at fault for whatever damage you may have done to Mr. Smith's Nissan Sentra. And this brings up the second point: you are more protected in the crosswalk, physically. Most function in concert with traffic lights, which get a lot more respect now that cameras are attached to them. Those that are not are flagged with anything from flashing lights, caution signals, and refelctive strips in the road.
Not being a jaywalker is part of being a good citizen. Crosswalks have been placed, somewhat strategically, in order to allow the natural flow of traffic. So whenever someone darts across Melrose from Marc Jacobs to Alexander McQueen without using the crosswalk, a bottlekneck is created. For every time delay that the first driver experiences, the delay is multiplied by 4 to the traffic as a whole. Therefore, wherever you are going should be 4 times as urgent as all the places everyone on the road is going as a whole to justify your jaywalk.
Finally, a jaywalking ticket sucks. It doesn't stay on your record, but you do have to pay a fine. To paraphrase Sheldon Brown: "if you are in a hurry, why are you walking?" The extra bit of time it takes to use a crosswalk is offset by the safety and order maintained. It helps to eliminate the stereotype of Americans as a lazy, self-centered people. Using the cross walk costs you much less than it benefits everyone else on the road. Do something refreshing; do me a favor: jaywalk one time less today. I bet you won't mind it more than a few seconds.

26 August 2008

The state of car sharing in Los Angeles

I can't believe I've been doing this blog for almost three months now and I haven't yet talked about car sharing.

Car sharing, for those of us who do not have a car in this massive car-hungry metropolis, is an invaluable way to run errands or accomplish small car-dependant tasks without breaking the bank and/or getting caught up in the mounds of paperwork you might find in a traditional car rental agency. Or at least it is supposed to be. When I moved here one year ago, I joined FlexCar, and was quite pleased with the service. I live Downtown, and was delighted to find that FlexCar had 4 cars in the garage behind my building, which I started using immediately. Around the beginning of this year, FlexCar was bought out by ZipCar, which is a national company, and we were promised the same service. I'm sorry to say that ZipCar did not deliver. As mentioned in this blog, ZipCar actually pulled many of the cars from around the city ... in fact, it pulled all of the cars from its non-university areas, and it even pulled some of those cars too. And its prices are now higher than that of FlexCar, both its membership fees and its hourly rates. One wonders what a company could be doing right if the service costs more and you get less.

Nine months later and ZipCar still hasn't capitalized on the movement of people who, driven by high gas prices, want to shed their cars and rely on public transportation more. Sure, I am a USC student and I can use the ZipCars there - but I live downtown, so it's not at all convenient for me. I have used the ZipCars a few times since they took over, which have been necessary trips, but the lack of cars available to me has forced me to become more familiar with the public transportation system. It has been an unexpected bonus on what was an unfortunate situation. I would really like to see ZipCar work, but with their lack of expansion and service in what could be a very lucrative market, it makes me wonder if ZipCar even wants to succeed in Southern California at all.

24 August 2008

Photos of Bike Lovers in their Natural Habitats

I discovered this project in a newsletter produced by Cal State LA called Loudmouth, and I thought it was so neat that I wanted to share it with everyone. Bike It: Portraits of My Bicipandilla, by Kelly Marie Martin, is a series of black and white photographs that the artist has taken of her bike buddies to document them all. Have a look at this link to see some of the portraits and the artist's thoughts about her project. In the meantime, I'm going to try to figure out what a "bicipandilla" is ...

(I hope she doesn't mind me talking about it ... but it's super cool and a special treat for all the bike lovers out there!)

21 August 2008

Indifferent to Fuel Costs

To celebrate the largest price increase for crude in 2 months, lets blog!

I really wish that the reason I went car-less was because of my earnest desire to help save the environment and mankind. Honestly, though, one of my pet peeves is the nuisance caused by misguided attempts at environmentalism (read: bio-fuel boom, “bio-degradable” anything). Don’t get me wrong, it is a very nice feeling knowing I am not spewing CO2 into the air when I go to work; I have ammunition to spare if people want to get into a righteousness debate. My reason for going cog-crazy can be represented by the indifference curves below:

If we view this n-dimensional concept into two dimensions, then I think it would be fare to boil down the two dimensions to Time (Good X) and Money (Good Y). Unfortunately, time is fixed; the government can’t mint it, and it is the same in both recession and boom. You can only get more free time by working less, but that may affect Good Y in a negative way. Money, in terms of disposable income, is one of the more flexible parameters, growing in inflexibility during a recession.
Before gas prices soared out of control, I bought an old 12 speed off of my friend. I had wanted to get back on a bike, if for anything, to avoid the tedious parking situation I faced every time I went to visit my friends. Then, one Friday, I decided to bike to work. My usual 45-minute, 8 mile commute sublimated into a 30-minute joy-ride. The ride home (which sometimes took as long as an hour to drive) was only 30 minutes. And it was fun; I actually LIKED going to work (and going home was even MORE fun)! After about a month, I noticed that I had all of this Good X and Good Y that I did have before. Suddenly, I was consuming at I2 instead of I1. I was so happy that I stopped reading about the mental health coverage in my HR manual.

At the end of December, I had used my car about three times in the last three months. I was consuming at I3 instead of I2, and then things got complicated. The parking garage across the street from my apt was now offering services to a completely full office building, and would not longer offer spots to the local folks between 10am and 5pm. The only over-night/all day option left was Hollywood and Highland Center. I would rather park in the 4th level below Hell’s wine cellar than have to go into that monstrosity. In need of a quick tax deduction, I took the plunge and donated my old 626 to charity. Again, I didn’t do this because I am a wonderful, generous, community-oriented guy. It was because now that I didn’t have to pay for insurance and parking, I could consume at I4 instead of I3.

Not everyone has the same enthusiasm for bicycles that I have. Even if bicycles weren’t around, I would avoid driving at all costs. In college, I had an hour long commute by public transit to campus or a 40 minute drive. Even though it took 20 minutes longer, I was happy to take transit; it was the only time I could make myself study. I’m just one of those folks that are happier not driving or looking for parking spaces.

Let me direct my final comments to those of you who say you “like” driving. I know you exist, and some of you were in town recently for the celebrated Gumball 3000. I also saw a couple of you on my way into work on Monday (it is extra satisfying to pass genuine race cars, with your carbon-fiber body panels and extra-fancy riveting crawling through Santa Monica Blvd traffic). Most of you who like driving really don’t. If you did, you would not buy a BMW 3 series or a Mercedes 230 (there are non-luxury brands with better performance for a lower price). You would never compromise and get a Prius, because it isn’t fun to drive. While you are driving home from work (that is where everyone reads blogs, right?), consider your indifference curve. And don’t forget the part about cookies; when you ride to work every day, you can eat them at lunch EVERY DAY, guilt-free.

19 August 2008

Saddle up, ladies!

Yesterday on Curbed LA there was a question from a (probably?) female reader who asked how to best begin bike commuting in LA. As is usually the case on Curbed, the comments ranged from genuinely helpful to sincerely douchey, but I decided to bring it up since we've covered a lot of these same topics on this blog before. That said, I came across the booth for C.I.C.L.E., or Cyclists Inviting Change through Live Exchange, at Sustainable LA on Sunday and I wanted to make everyone aware of their presence in the community. C.I.C.L.E. was founded by women and is more than just an exceptionally worked-out acronym: they are a non-profit that offers workshops for many different levels of riders, including beginners, and they focus on educating the community about the benefits of taking up cycling. They operate mostly out of a community center but are hoping to open their own facility in the future and will be fund raising for that soon. I encourage anyone with questions similar to that of the Curbed reader to check out C.I.C.L.E. and try to take one of their workshops, which are very reasonably priced (~$15).

It's important to support fledging organizations in our community that approach the issue of alternative transportation in a helpful and informative way!

18 August 2008

Sustainable LA

Yesterday on Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, the Los Angeles Film Festival branched out into a mini-block party dubbed "Sustainable LA." Organizations and artists from all over the city who promote sustainable living came out and set up booths along the block from 12 to 6 pm, and the booths were bookended by performances or workshops. The discussion they were having while I visited was about electric cars; they had five panelists, I missed who they were, but one of them was clearly from General Motors because he was discussing their upcoming Chevy Volt and GM's research on electric car infrastructure. Here's a snapshot from that:

Here are some other photos from the day. It was a lovely afternoon for a block party and local cycling and public transportation enthusiasts were out in force as well.

A model of a plan to turn the 101 cavern north of Downtown into a park

A parking sign becomes a planter

In the shadow of giants!

15 August 2008

A peak into the future of 4-wheeled vehicles

MSNBC continues to surprise me with its coverage of alternative vehicles and transportation. Today they have an article about the Zenn ("Zero emission, no noise") electric vehicle that you should check out. I stumbled upon the Zenn for the first time at a conference last year and I thought it was great, even more so since at about $16,000, it's actually affordable. It is part of a growing industry refered to as "neighborhood electric vehicles" or NEVs, since its top speed is only about 25 miles per hour and it only gets about 35 miles to a charge. If you live in a community with streets that have 35 mph speed limits, you could legally drive this car on the road in many places of the country. Of course it is still impractical for most people, myself included, but the battery technology is quickly catching up to consumer demands, and the CEO of Zenn is planning to have much more robust vehicles on the road in just a couple of years. So when an all-electric car comes on the market that gets up to 80 mph and goes for 240 miles on a single charge, and it costs about $25,000, would you buy it? I believe my answer would be "yes."

image courtesy msnbc.com

13 August 2008

New Age of Road Rage

The recent coverage by the media of cyclists has truly been exciting; there hasn’t been this much in the news since Lance Armstrong retired from cycling, and the greatest come-from-behind story in US cycling since Greg LeMond was finally litigated into being a fraud. Images from these stories have been gruesome and even scary. Living in LA, nothing has hit harder than the Mandeville Canyon incident.
So, hearing similar stories about a cyclist being beaten down after commenting on someone’s driving, to stories commenting on cyclist traffic behavior, and reflecting on some of my own experiences, I decided to address the New Age of Road Rage.

First, I have been a driver/pedestrian, I have been a driver/cyclist/pedestrian, and I have been a cyclist/pedestrian. In every faculty, I have made mistakes. People were cut off. I have run red lights. I have jay walked. Pretty much any way I could have traveled, I have made errors. Fortunately, everyone around me was paying a little more attention, and collisions were avoided. While doing my driving/cycling/walking, I have had the chance to observe the technical skills others employ in these activities, and I think I can safely say that nobody has a lifetime of perfection in any of these.

Now, even though we mostly agree, there has been a lot of discussion about the reason why this is such a hot issue now. Working at a bike shop, I can tell you that sales are through the roof. Some shops are announcing huge vacations in the middle of summer because they are sold out of everything! And driving? GM is mortgaging its future to sell SUVs to anyone who will still take them, even offering to lock in gas at 2.99 a gallon. Americans feel more strained to make ends meet than ever. I am not a psychologist, but I know a thing or two about economics. And everything makes me say: “man, we are some stressed out folks.”

So, as we try and confront our stress, be it in car, bicycle saddle, motorcycle, or crowded train, let my personal reflections help you keep your cool in the slow-moving summer commute.

When I was riding my bicycle back from brunch with a friend one morning, a concerned motorist passed me. Whimsically and foolishly, I had left my helmet at home, thinking the 5 block trip did not call for it. In a moment of absolute righteous indignation, the motorist yelled out his window “hey, you’re a fucking idiot!” I had no idea what he was saying, but when I asked him to clarify, he repeated himself in a more civilized tone and added “if you are going to ride your bike in traffic, you should at least have a helmet.”

What could I say? He was right, though I did let him know that his delivery really didn’t inspire any obedience. And then it hit me (fortunately, it wasn’t a car). All these years that I had ridden motorcycles and bicycles and cars, cursing motorists for merging into my lane without checking their blind spot, cutting me off, and usurping the right of way, was all in vain. No more did my chiding break these drivers of their bad habits as did this motorist’s chiding break mine. After all, I almost ALWAYS wear my helmet. Even though it doesn’t look as cool, I am way too cool to be dead. And all these drivers who don’t see me, or whatever they may have done, did not set out this morning to kill a cyclist (I know there are isolated cases where this logic does not hold up, but let’s simplify the discussion by assuming that drivers who did intend to hurt cyclists are just as crazy as random guys who start bar fights just to see a little blood flow).

So now that I no longer feel the need to correct and chide and insult every errant driver, I can enjoy the day more. Even if someone is a terrible rage-a-holic, my effort to reform them is pointless. I am sure that their family, lovers, friends, and the crew of “Intervention” have all been trying for years to do what I am only spending seconds on. In fact, I am trying to do it one better. When I accidentally took the right turn on red during someone else’s protected left today, I stopped by the car and apologized. The driver looked at me like he had never heard an apology before, and in the context, it is a great possibility.

Now, on another night, I didn’t take things as coolly. I had stayed at my office until midnight working on a project. After a 14 hr workday, an 8 mile ride home did not seem inviting. When I work that late, I will usually take Santa Monica Blvd from Century City instead of Little Santa Monica, which has more stoplights, but a smoother right lane and some delightful eye candy on the sidewalks. This particular night, I was booking along at a decent clip, not a car in sight, when I started to see headlights creep up on me. The headlights turned into warmth radiating off of the engine behind me, and finally culminated in a long, obnoxious honk.

BikeSnobNYC has covered honking pretty thoroughly, and my reactionary impulse is a little more violent. When we got to the stoplight, I was able to see that the offending vehicle was a BMW 7 series with an overweight, Caucasian, male drive and an overweight, Caucasian, female passenger holding a doggy bag in her lap (there was a restaurant that served so much food that not even THEY could finish it?). I was able to restrain my most primal desire, and simply shrugged my shoulders, as if to say “there was nobody in the left lane; why didn’t you just pass me?” Then the passenger rolls down her window and says:
“Get off the road!”
“Where should I go?” I asked, my shoulders still shrugging.
“On the sidewalk!”
“There isn’t one.” If you have ever ridden Santa Monica Blvd heading East, there is no sidewalk on that side of the street, and the right lane has only a 1 foot wide strip that is rideable. And before I could add “besides, the road is the safest place for me to be,” Kirsty Alley wanna-be had rolled up her window, and pre-Ironman John Favreau slammed his foot on the gas. And right there, I had another epiphany: some of these people don’t know! Some drivers do not know the laws regarding safe road sharing between automobile and bicycle. And we are all guilty of this in some way. How many folks do you know that get a perfect score on the driving exam? How many people do you think get all of the bicycle-specific questions right?

Keeping this in mind, I try to keep it cool around imperfect drivers. I do the same around imperfect cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and myself. Until the day I come across someone who is out for blood, I will try my best to assume that after all is said and done, most people want to get where they are going without incident. And I am just the same: another imperfect road-user, powerless to change the road around me. Until the police begin enforcing the proper passing cushions, motorists intimidating cyclists, and cyclists blowing red lights like they don’t exist, nobody is going to change their habits. And until then, we should not take it upon ourselves to enforce these laws on each other. More than likely, those were the questions you and I got wrong on our driver’s tests.

12 August 2008

Beach Ride

There's nothing quite as lovely as taking a long bike ride down the beach on a Sunday morning. It's beautiful, it's breezy, and you burn lots and lots of calories in the process. The route that my biking buddies and I usually take is shown below.....we start just a little south of Santa Monica pier and bike south all the way to Hermosa Beach. Normally you can pick up a pretty good pace after you get through the crowds in Venice, but this past Sunday morning, the roughly 15 mile return trip was a little tougher than normal. We biked into headwind nearly the whole way home! Needless to say we burned over 2000 calories and I spent most of Sunday and yesterday recovering. I recommend this trail though, especially for beginners. There are plenty of people on beach cruisers through Santa Monica and Venice so it's less intimidating, although it is a chore to dodge traffic in some major pedestrian areas.

11 August 2008

The saga continues....

A popular topic in New York news outlets these days is the recent discussion about cyclist vs. motorist angst, which was blogged about here last week. Today, it's a link to a lengthy article by the New York Times, which rehashes much of the stories floating around the internet in the past month, and even gives a shout out to our very own Mandeville Canyon Road incident. Through the article I found a link to another Blogspot blogger entitled BikeSnobNYC, who is working on a photo project to document people who "almost kill" him, as in this hilarious post. Sounds like a noble cause....just remember to be careful out there, folks. Better to be a bike safety nerd than an injured cyclist.

08 August 2008

Call for Contributors!

Happy 08-08-08! Since it's the luckiest of all lucky days, I thought I might try my luck at asking for contributors (sorry, couldn't help myself). I'm returning to grad school in a couple of weeks so I fear my opportunities to post might diminish significantly, but LA's various and dynamic forms of transportation certainly aren't going anywhere. If you use alternative transportation to get around in this car-centric city and feel that your experiences might be worth sharing, drop us a line or leave a comment. I think that more voices and experiences would make the site richer and more useful for everyone.

Have a lucky and wonderful weekend!

07 August 2008

Tom LaBonge and his merry band of bikers

I never meant for this blog to be solely about the biking experience in Los Angeles, but it is summertime, and therefore it's a great time to ride, and talk about it. As it turns out, City Councilman Tom LaBonge agrees with me, so he's started hosting Wednesday bike rides throughout different areas of the city. The most recent ride started in and traversed through Downtown, and since that's my 'hood, I decided to join. What great fun we had! I have never been to some of the areas we biked through, and wouldn't have gotten the chance except with a group. We wheeled around a state park, biked through Boyle Heights, and waved at the Arts District. Also in an exhilarating flash, we biked through the 2nd Street Tunnel. Woo hoo! I recommend next week's ride to anyone looking for a little exercise and community in one neat package. And the best perk of riding with a City Councilman? The police escort, although the popsicles at the end didn't hurt :o)

Photos from the August 6 Sister City Downtown Ride:

This week's starting point: City Hall

I hope someone at the front knows where we go next

Go into the light!

Cresting on Figueroa and getting ready for the tunnel

At the end

06 August 2008

Bikes vs. Cars = Trouble

It was bound to happen. In a country that has spent the last 50 years of its existence worshiping the almighty automobile, we had to imagine that this day would come. America is starting to realize, gently and collectively, that our cars might not be so good for the environment and our pocketbooks. And some of us are taking steps to remedy that; riding our bikes to work, taking public transportation, and carpooling. And some of us are just getting angry.

There was an article a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal about the confluence of these groups on the streets of Los Angeles. I suppose LA is an easy target for these types of stories since everything is so spread out and since our car culture is still so resistant - the distances that cyclists have to go here are always longer, their encounters with cars more frequent, and perhaps, more frightening. But the problem isn't confined to Los Angeles. All across the country cyclists are running into trouble. Last month in Toledo, a cancer survivor and bike commuter was murdered while riding his bike to work; it was his first day of bike commuting. In New York City last week, a cop body checked a cyclist on a Critical Mass ride, and it was caught on video. And in Seattle, which I've just discovered is a cyclist's happy place, a Critical Mass group clashed with a motorist who "felt trapped" by the sea of bikes around him - and then he proceeded to run over a couple of them to get away. This story is especially illuminating because it shows the bias the media and most of society still exhibit when it comes to cars. The motorist comes off like the victim in the story when the reality is, he's the one who has a vehicle and used it as weapon to run over some people. Two cyclists in this case have been charged with assault when the guy who was driving the car hasn't been charged at all.

And then there's the flip side in this equation, when cyclists get angry back. Case in point, Portland, aka the most bike-friendly city in the country, where cyclist-motorist relations have recently gotten way out of hand. These events, while bizarre, demonstrate that bikes are not going away any time soon, and bikes and cars are going to need to play nicer on the roads if everyone is going to stay safe.

Here's a few steps I think cyclists could take to make themselves less of a target on the road:

Obey traffic laws. If you're going to act like a car then you need to obey the same traffic laws as cars, at least until they pass bike-specific road rules. Just think of how annoying it is to see a cop car run a red light and then think of how motorists must feel when bikes do the same thing.

Avoid riding in rush hour if possible. I know it's impossible for many commuters but see if your office would give you flex time by avoiding rush hour. Less cars to deal with means less opportunity for conflict.

Practice defensive bike riding. If you're riding on a road that has little or no bike lane, don't yield to cars. Get in front of them. Yes, you'll probably piss them off but you have a right to be there as well. Also there's a lesser likelihood that a car will run you over head on rather than sideswiping you. It's sad to think of it this way but it's harder for a motorist to get away with straight out running a bike down than what could be seen as an "accidental" sideswiping.

Defend yourself. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. What do you do if you feel menaced on the street late at night? Do you pull out your Mace or some other self-defense tactic? Well, motorists who menace cyclists are no less dangerous. If a motorist starts harassing you while you're riding your bike, Mace them, Tase them, or whatever you need to do to get away safely.

For god's sakes, wear your helmet. It never ceases to amaze me how few people wear their helmet in Los Angeles. I realize people here are obsessed with looks, but cyclists too? Really? No matter how careful you are when you're riding, you're going to get hurt a lot easier if you don't wear a helmet, and sadly, people won't sympathize with you nearly as much either. In a perfect world we could all let our hair down when riding, but we are far from perfect....

These tips are just one cyclist's take on how to ride safer. Use your common sense on the road and let's hope that motorists use theirs as well.

01 August 2008

Bags for Biking

Can't talk for long as I'm going to explore the great public transportation system of Seattle this afternoon, however, as promised yesterday, I wanted to mention a few great bags for biking:
  • Timbuk2 - This is the type of bag I use. I love it. My bag is so enormous that in the event of an emergency it will fit both my computer and my cat, plus a change of clothes. That's not exactly essential for biking, but you can rest assured that this bag and its stabilizing strap do a great job carrying my stuff on my back while I'm concentrating on the road.
  • Chrome bags - These bags are very popular in the biking community as well. I almost bought one of these but I thought they were a bit masculine for my taste.
  • Freitag bags - These bags are super fantastic because they use cleaned and recycled truck tarps to make the bags. Unfortunately they cost a small fortune but at least you are being good to the environment!
  • Voltaic bags - And if you REALLY want to lessen your impact, may I suggest Voltaic bags. These have a solar collector in them so you can charge stuff with your bag!
I'm sure there are way more types of bags that people use.....if you have any suggestions, post them here. I gotta take the Flyaway again!