I had a meeting downtown on Wednesday night.
That’s not unusual for me anymore. After years of seldom venturing east of LaBrea, I now find myself making the 12.5 mile trip from my home on the Westside to the newly vibrant Downtown L.A. on a nearly weekly basis. Sometimes several times a week.
More often than not, I make the trip by bike or bus, mostly due to a lack of what I would consider secure bike parking. While that situation is slowly improving, I’m still no more comfortable leaving my bike on the street than I would be locking my laptop to a light pole.
Call me paranoid.
But at least it’s kept me from having to replace a bike after someone else rides off with it.
My old apartment was just off Santa Monica Blvd, making the 704 or 728 buses an easy and convenient option for me. The 728 offered an especially pleasant trip — at least compared to most other Metro buses — getting me from door to door in 45 minutes to an hour in most cases, with a minimum of discomfort.
Now that I’ve moved a few blocks away, it takes 25 minutes just to get to the 728. But I still prefer that to Wilshire Blvd’s 720 line, even though that’s just a couple blocks from where I am now.
The heavy congestion on Wilshire means that the same trip that takes less than an hour on the 728 can take up to an hour-and-a-half on the 720. And the abysmally pitted, pocked and potholed pavement on what was once L.A.’s glittering centerpiece boulevard virtually guarantees a jolting, stomach churning ride the entire way.
Which is why Wilshire needs a Bus Only Lane for the entire distance through Los Angeles, from the Santa Monica border to downtown.
And why I challenge Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl to ride the 720 to City Hall just once — and then try to justify excluding key Westside sections rather that taking a necessary step to improve transit for everyone.
And don’t forget that bikes are allowed to share bus lanes, which means a BOL the full length would result in new smooth pavement and a clearer traffic lane on a street that is virtually unridable now.
So I often find myself making the trip by car, much against my wishes.
Then again, that’s no piece of cake, either.
During the day, a trip downtown can take as little as 45 minutes; at rush hour, that balloons to a mind and butt numbing hour or more. Sometimes a lot more.
To drive all of 12.5 miles.
Then there’s the problems posed by L.A.’s notoriously impatient and aggressive drivers, making the simple act of driving seem like a game of bumper cars. And once I finally arrive, there’s the challenge of finding parking that won’t exceed my income for the previous week.
Fortunately, Wednesday’s meeting took place in a bike-friendly environment where I could take my bike safely inside.
So I made plans to ride with a friend, allowing enough time for a leisurely ride to the city center. But then complications arose, not the least of which was the need to walk the dog, who was impatiently nuzzling her leash with her legs metaphorically crossed, suggesting that waiting for my wife to get home to take her out might not be the best idea.
So I had to tell him to go ahead without me.
My friend, not the dog.
I briefly considered taking the car, but just couldn’t face the prospect of yet another commute from hell. Instead, I hopped on my bike for a solo ride downtown, leaving myself just over an hour to make the trip.
After taking side streets through the biking black hole of Beverly Hills, I found myself riding a relatively car-free route that lead from 8th Street, up to the future bike boulevard on 4th, then back down to 7th, which will soon feature bike lanes itself for most of it’s length.
Instead of the usually harrowing, traffic-choked commute by car — or the Third World conditions of the 720 bus — I enjoyed a pleasant, relaxing ride that had me feeling better and arriving in a far better mood than when I left.
And even had time to stop for coffee before going into my meeting.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a perfectly pleasant L.A. evening as we rode back on an Olympic Blvd nearly abandoned by the city’s drivers, with only one puddle-hidden pothole to mar the experience.
I wasn’t really wasn’t surprised by how fast, efficient and enjoyable it was to make the trip by bike, particularly compared to my other options.
But it was nice to be reminded once again.
KCET’s report on the changes coming to 7th Street suggests that the success of that project could have a lot to do with how quickly the city rolls out the rest of the new bike plan.
And unfortunately, their probably right.
But as @sam_ebnet astutely points out, that’s a bit like saying we’ll put the front wheel on a car, and if it drives well, we’ll put the other three on. Or building a freeway, and if it proves popular enough, adding the off-ramps later.
L.A.’s bike plan will only succeed when it’s seen as a system, rather than a series of independently planned projects. Both 4th Street and 7th are vital links in that system, and each will do much to make riding safer and more enjoyable.
But it is only when the entire network is built out, and cyclists can ride routes that actually connect with one another, that we’ll enjoy a truly ridable city.