Let’s talk about negativity. Mine, in particular.
You see, during the panel I was on at last week’s Bike Summit, I mentioned that one of the many reasons I’d started this blog was that I was concerned — okay, pissed off — about the state of cycling in Los Angeles. And said that this is, with the possible exception of 1980’s era Louisiana, the worst city in which I’ve ridden.
Then someone asked if I thought that cycling had gotten better or worse in my 30 years of riding — and here in L.A. over my near two-decades of residence, in particular.
My response was, worse. Much, much worse, in fact.
And it’s true.
Once I learned to avoid busy streets unsuitable for cycling — and to never, ever ride after an LSU home game, when the risk of being intentionally run off the road by drunken frat boys increased exponentially — Louisiana really wasn’t that bad. There were lots of quiet side streets perfect for cycling, and the River Road along the levee was wide, flat and virtually car free. And cyclists were enough of an anomaly in those days that drivers usually gave us a wide berth.
Every other city I’ve passed through or called home, for whatever reason or length of time, had a system of cycling infrastructure far superior to present day L.A. Even San Diego, circa mid-‘80s, had a better system of Class 1 and Class 2 bikeways (off-road paths and on-road lanes) than L.A. does today.
And in many ways, L.A.’s bikeways are in worse shape than they were 10 years ago, as crumbling asphalt, increased traffic and lax enforcement of bikeway restrictions take their toll.
Another thing that’s changed over the last 10 years is the willingness of local drivers to share the road. And in case you’re unsure where this is going, I’m not suggesting that it’s gotten better.
Maybe it’s the fact that traffic here on the Westside is significantly heavier than it once was. Maybe it’s the added stress everyone is under these days. It could be the distractions to drivers offered by the proliferation of cell phones, iPods and PDAs.
Or it could be the simple fact that L.A.’s understaffed police force, combined with an increasing population and shifting departmental priorities, means there aren’t enough officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws. As a result, local drivers seem to feel free to do whatever strikes their fancy, legal — or safe — or not.
And whether or not there’s a cyclist in their way.
So if that sounds negative, I’m sorry. That’s just my experience, from my perspective.
On the other hand, it’s not all bad.
Things actually seem to have gotten better over the past year. There seems to be less tension on the roads today than there was just a year ago. Maybe the Mandeville Canyon incident has made drivers rethink their attitudes.
Or maybe we’re all just trying a little harder to get along.
Then there’s the fact that even a bad day on the bike is better than just about anything else I might be doing. And for every negative moment on the road, there are a thousand moments that make it all worth while.
Some people at the forum thought that it was wrong to focus on the negatives. They felt that too much negativity might discourage people from riding.
And they have a point.
This sport needs its evangelists. We need people who will encourage beginners, and help them get the skills they need to start on a long, safe and rewarding riding career.
But we also need to talk about the wrongs we see and experience on the road. The things that can, and should, be changed, so that the people who start riding today will experience a better, safer and more bike friendly city than we did yesterday.
Because we owe them that.
One of my fellow panelists says it’s time to become a more considerate cyclist. According to Streetsblog, cyclists may finally be getting some respect in Washington. An economics professor at Oregon State University says instead of taxing cyclists, they should pay us to ride. An off-duty police officer in Tucson was killed when his bike was struck from behind in broad daylight; as usual, the driver was not cited. And also as usual, it doesn’t take long for the anti-cyclist rants to start. Another cyclist, also run down by a pickup truck, credits his survival to wearing a helmet; while this site suggest that learning how not to get hit in the first place is an even smarter option. Evidently, I’m not the only rider who complains about iPods on the bike paths. And finally, L.A. Magazine has added a postscript to their description of Los Angeles’ Bike Culture, discussing the role we cyclists may have played in influencing the outcome of last week’s primary election.