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Jan Lee headshot

Commuting by Bike in L.A. Can Be Harder than It Seems

Words by Jan Lee

Southern California seems like an ideal place to live if you’re into cycling. L.A.'s warm temps and seemingly incessant sunshine are the perfect ingredients for a love affair with the outdoors. Yet the League of American Bicyclists reported in its last survey (2010) that only 16,011 or 0.9 percent of Los Angeles’ sprawling population of almost 4 million actually commute by bike. By comparison, Seattle, Bellingham and Portland, known for their rainy weather and less-than inviting riding climes all had triple (or greater) the percentage of riders.

Why is this? Clearly, L.A.’s sheer size may be a deterrent to commuters, since a jaunt to work in So Cal’s biggest city can be as much as 20 to 30 miles, and often requires at least one brief trip on a freeway. But the city that essentially grew up around the interstate can still be a tough place to live if you prefer to commute by bicycle and happen to live in an area that doesn’t feature bike-friendly streets.

Cycling events, like the city’s hugely successful Ciclavia have helped to bring attention to this fact, and the need for more bike paths and amenities. Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation (LADOT) has taken up some of the lead with a goal of implementing 200 miles of bikeways to the city streets per year, and ensuring bike paths are marked clearly.

But a map of the Greater Los Angeles Area’s bike paths shows that there is still much to do. LADOT’s ambitious efforts don’t address the fact that there are multiple cities in the metropolitan area, some which have been able to address needs faster than others. Pasadena, for example, which shares the metropolitan area with L.A. and is intersected by several interstates, has quadruple the percentage (4.1) of bicycle commuters than L.A. It also has three different kinds of designated bike routes and incentive programs for bicycle commuters.

Reducing Southern California’s dependency on freeways and automobiles is also difficult in an area that has almost always been dependent upon its freeway system as a mode of transport. While Angelenos may argue that it is easier to get to a destination by freeway than say, in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, where cross-town freeways generally don’t exist (but cycling routes are plentiful), traveling from Santa Monica to East L.A. by back streets can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

But hopefully with new services like Bike Nation’s bike kiosks, which are supposed to take off this spring, and LADOT’s increasing amenities for bicyclists, cycling will become easier for work-time commutes as well as those famously sunny days of weekend play.

Photos courtesy of  Umberto Brayj.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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