A quantum leap in L.A.’s cycling culture

Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is. Do you Mr. Jones? — Bob Dylan, Ballad Of A Thin Man

It can be challenging growing up with a physicist for an older brother.

Oddly, it doesn't look any different.

By the time I was in 7th grade, I had a better understanding of physics than most of the people who tried to teach me. Like the time I found myself trying to explain Schrödinger’s Cat to one of my science teachers, who couldn’t grasp the concept that a kitty could be both alive and dead at the same time. Or what it was doing in the damn box in the first place.

Or trying to explain that quantum leap doesn’t mean a sudden dramatic change, as most people assume. But rather, it’s an infinitesimally small shift at the subatomic level; yet one that can result in a dramatic change over time.

Sort of like what’s happened over the last year in with bicycling in Los Angeles.*

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out just when things started to change around here. Maybe it was the Mandeville Canyon case that finally made cyclists mad enough to coalesce around a cause. Maybe it was the LAPD’s tepid response to the infamous Hummer Incident that caused riders to storm City Hall.

Or maybe it was when a group of cyclists got together to metaphorically nail their 12 theses on City Hall’s Wittenberg Door.

I really don’t know.

All I know is that something has changed. And for once, it seems to be for the better.

Take City Hall, for instance.

A year ago, there was minimal support for cyclists in local government. At best, a council member might host a bike ride or two, or stage a two-wheeled press event on Bike to Work day. Current TranspoComm chair Bill Rosendahl seemed to be one of the first to take cycling issues seriously when he tried to host a community meeting to discuss the Mandeville case. And failed, due to the overwhelming anger on both sides.

And no one could seem to recall Mayor Villaraigosa even mentioning bikes, let alone favorably.

Things look a little different today.

Somehow, that quantum leap — or series of leaps — has resulted in a dramatically changed environment for cyclists in this city, especially in the last month or two.

The City Council has responded to the concerns of cyclists by proposing an anti-harassment ordinance, pushing for sharrows and a bike-sharing program, and demanding a real response from the city’s police department. Council President Eric Garcetti went so far as to offer his personal assurance that he’ll keep the anti-harassment ordinance moving forward.

Even the mayor has recently expressed support for the planned CycLAvia. And just this week, he tweeted about his concern for making the streets safer for cyclists.

When Antonio Villaraigosa notices cycling — and actually supports it, no less — you know there’s something serious going on.

For the first time I’m aware of, LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson also offered public support for bike safety and educating drivers about cycling. And Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery assured listeners yesterday that much of the proposed Backbone Bikeway Network is already being incorporated into the revised bike plan, based on feedback from cyclists.

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the recent appointment of new LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has apparently resulted in a sea change in the department’s attitude towards bicyclists.

In recent weeks, the department has established a task force to address cyclists concerns, and has begun tracking bicycling collisions — revealing that a full 23% of reported bicycle collisions are hit and runs. In addition, they’ve issued a call for cyclists to report dangerous intersections so they can step up enforcement and recommend changes to city planners, and started to crack down on bike theft.

And they’re working on a program to educate officers on the rights of cyclists, and ways to educate drivers and cyclists on how to share the road safely.

Next up, Chief Beck is scheduled to address a special bike-focused meeting of the Council’s Transportation Committee meeting on the 24th. And hopefully he’ll listen to cyclists, as well.

The real test, though, will come when — and if — this change in attitude filters down to the street level.

Then there’s the LACBC.

When I started this blog a couple years back, like a lot of other local cyclists, I didn’t have a lot of use for the County Bike Coalition.

As far as I was concerned, they were wasting their time on relatively trivial matters, and unwilling to take on the serious challenges that face cyclists in Los Angeles. Maybe I was wrong; maybe they were working on things that went under the radar. Or my radar, anyway.

Or maybe they’ve just seriously stepped up their game in the last year or so.

Either way, the LACBC has been actively involved in the changes currently taking place in Los Angeles, from pushing for sharrows, bike-sharing and the anti-harassment ordinance to fighting for the 4th Street Bike Boulevard, a better bike plan and reforming the way the LAPD deals with cyclists.

They’ve also learned to hold their own with aggressive and sometimes unfriendly council members, without backing down. And yes, I’ve been impressed.

So much, in fact, that I’m seriously thinking about joining myself. Which is not something I would have considered a couple years ago. Or last year, even.

And the news media have taken notice, as the L.A. Times, KPCC’s Patt Morrison and Larry Mantle, and others have begun covering cycling on a regular basis.

Things are changing.

It’s up to us to keep up the pressure — on the Council, the Mayor, LADOT, LAPD, and yes, the LACBC. Because it’s up to us keep things moving forward.

And make sure this is just the beginning.

*Admit it, you were wondering where the hell I was going with this.


Riding outside the box and keeping yourself — and the city — moving in a more positive direction. Learning from San Louis Obispo’s bike boulevards. Can the Backbone Bikeway Network make North Fig bike friendly? Planning to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe on the Rose Bowl loop. Two new Bike Stations in Claremont and Covina. San Antonio becomes the latest city to approve a three-foot passing distance, while Portland delays a vote on their 20-year bike plan. The Bicycle Leadership Conference wants your input, including a separate survey for female cyclists. Better signage for better bikeways. Encourage cycling through a positive focus, or discourage it through a negative focus on safety? Slap your car with a Bicycle Safe Vehicle sticker, assuming you have one, of course. Busting the myth about taking the lane on a high-speed highway. A missionary’s son bikes from Alaska to Argentina. Cyclists will ride further for long distance trains with fewer stops; maybe cyclists should just park their bikes at the train station and stop complaining. The Bicycling Baronet rides to the rescue of Parliament. Will the Vancouver games result in more than a short-term uptick in cycling? Drivers target cyclists along the Australian coast, and Tasmanian drivers consider cyclists hazards; one in four reports a collision or near miss with a rider. A British cyclist is killed on her way to visit her Alzheimer’s-afflicted husband in a nursing home. Finally, yet another cycling collision in Orange County — but this time, it’s cyclists vs. raccoon. And at least it’s a reason for running late.


  1. Greb says:

    Thanks for all you are doing.

  2. TheTricksterNZ says:


  3. bikinginla says:

    Thanks guys, I appreciate that. But there are a lot of other people who do a lot more than I do — like Glenn Bailey, Joe Linton, Roadblock, Alex Thompson, Stephen and Enci Box, Jeremy Grant, Damien Newton, and Jen, Allison, Dorothy and Aurisha at the LACBC, just to name a few.

    Those are the ones I’m in awe of. Me, I’m just a guy with a blog and too damn many opinions.

  4. Roadblock says:

    2010 is the year of the bicycle. Let’s keep our heads down and continue to draft off each other. Everyone will get a chance to pull. Keep it moving. We have a lot of miles to cover.

  5. proud LA cyclist says:

    The LA bike movement is like a nation unto itself growing ever powerful with the Bike Working Group becoming the de facto Congress and it’s speaker of the house being Stephen Box with perhaps Alex Thompson being the president of this emerging nation. Joseph Ubrayj running counter-terrorism strikes with the department of DIY, Roadblock being the 4 star general mobilizing his massive Ridazz troops to invade the streets (wolfpak being the elite delta command force) and the LACBC something of a UN of sorts, fighting the good fight yet struggling at times to remain relevant but appreciated none the less. Somehow it’s all coming together, more and more recruits are responding everyday and joining the rebel alliance. The LADOT being the evil empire of course… blood on the streets spilled by their inaction as they continue to ignore the nation of cyclists banging down their car doors. 30 years from now perhaps people riding safely on friendly uncongested bike-able streets will look back and smile about these days… with embedded reporters like Damien Newton, Ted Rogers and Will Campbell covering the conflict the citizens may know the history of this epic battle for Los Angeles. Maybe it won’t matter to anyone but for now we’ll pretend that it does, because it lights our fires.

    • ubrayj02 says:

      Nuthin’ says it like a war metaphor. More proof that we’re collectively moving things in the right direction.

      • bikinginla says:

        I knew when I wrote that list of people whose bike activism awed me — as opposed to odd me, which is another topic altogether — I knew I was going to forget some very important people.

        And sure enough, as I’m out on my bike today, it hits me — Josef Brayj-Ali, the ultimate bike wonk, who doesn’t just talk bikes but lives it every day. So I figure maybe I can get home and slip his name into that list before anyone notices.

        Too late. Sorry for the glaring omission.

  6. Nate says:

    I really need to start visiting here more often. Very nice review of all that’s been happening.

    On your “a lot of other people who do a lot more than I do” sentiment, I have always had the sense that its been a huge advantage for L.A. that so many people have been inspired to act in so many different ways. I think its the key reason so much has started moving this past year, there are so many different fronts being activated.

    • bikinginla says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I think our strength comes from a thousand people working in ten thousand directions. Even if you do nothing more than make a phone call, write an email or just get out and ride your bike when you could have taken your car, you’re doing your part to make this a better place.

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