It’s been said before that Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods.
Sometimes the changes from one to another are subtle. West L.A. flows seamlessly into Santa Monica, Rancho Park into Culver City, Studio City into Sherman Oaks.
Other times, the changes are abrupt. There’s no question when you enter Koreatown, whether you’re traveling by bike, bus or car.
And most of us know our own neighborhoods.
For instance, I know the Westside. From La Brea west to the coast; from Mulholland to the Marina. I know the back roads that let you slip past the traffic tie-ups; I know when to take Wilshire or cut over to Arizona to make a meeting in Santa Monica. And I know where the bike lanes are, where it’s safe to ride on the right and where it’s safer to take the lane.
I also know a few other areas pretty well, such as the lower Valley area, from Studio City west to Woodland Hills. And I can find my way through Hollywood and Downtown, Burbank and Pasadena.
But like most Angelenos, get me out my comfort zone, out of the areas I know, and I’m lost. In a car, it’s a minor inconvenience. Just pull out your Thomas Guide, use your GPS, or stop someone and ask for directions. Or do what most locals do, and just take the freeway to bypass all those strange, unknown neighborhoods and the people who live there.
On a bike, it’s a different problem entirely.
L.A. streets were designed for cars, not bikes. And there are some streets that just aren’t safe for cycling — like Vermont between Beverly and Wilshire, as I noticed the other day. It’s so crowded, I’m not sure cars even belong there. But I guess that’s to be expected in the nation’s most congested city.
If you live or work in that area, you’d know not to ride on weekdays, during the day, anyway. On the other hand, if you just looked at a map, it might seem like a reasonable route to get from, say, Culver City to Silver Lake or Griffith Park.
Or you might try to take a busy street like 3rd, not knowing that there’s a perfectly reasonable, and safe, alternative just one block away.
The problem is, there is no Thomas Guide for bicyclists. There’s no practical system of interconnected bike lanes, paths and routes that lead coherently from one neighborhood to another. And even the best map currently available has so many gaps that it’s virtually useless for planning a trip — and makes no distinction between routes that are safe for casual riders, and routes that are best left to experts.
Or routes that aren’t safe for cycling at all, like the inexplicable bike route on Pico between Sepulveda and Century Park East, sections of which should never be ridden without a death wish.
Since cyclists, like nature, abhor a vacuum, some riders have tried to fill in the blanks by posting their own routes. For instance, Rearview Rider offers a great route from my ‘hood to the Bicycle District. Los Angeles Rides offers a map of routes from Mar Vista to Koreatown, as well as a wiki map-in-progress where cyclists can enter their own routes and tips. And C.I.C.L.E. offers a number of routes throughout the region.
But it shouldn’t be up to us to map out these routes.
It should be the job of our government to provide a safe system of interconnected lanes, trails and routes that can take a rider anywhere in the city. Or at the very least, to provide a workable map that clearly addresses how to safely and efficiently ride to any point in the greater metro area — including such prime destinations as Downtown, Hollywood, Griffith Park, Dodger Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the beaches — from any other point in the city.
Until that day, though, we’re on our own.
And the roads that lead through our neighborhoods will continue to be the lines that divide us, instead of bringing us together.
Google says it was just kidding about that real-time traffic map. Caltrans gives our local region legion an F. Is anyone really surprised? LA Streetsblog says it’s going to be a busy weekend for local cyclists. Bikes and parts are disappearing in Silver Lake. Gary turns his usual breath-taking camera skills towards the Tour of California. Consumer Reports says half of all cyclists aren’t using their heads. And finally, authorities respond quickly when cyclists on PCH get shot in the ass.