Los Angeles is a sprawling and car-centric city of 3.7 million people (without the metro area). The last American Community Survey (from 2011, compiled by Darren Flusche of the League of American Bicyclists) showed that just 16,101 Angelenos are commuter cyclists. That number is almost what the city of Portland, six times smaller than L.A., has in bike commuters.
reasons its hard to bike in L.A. are numerous: distances between city
segments are great, main arterials streets are fast-moving, and traffic
is incredibly dense and relentless.
Recently, however, Los Angeles has made some fairly big efforts to be kinder to cyclists. In 2010 the city passed a bike plan
that called for 1,684 miles of planned bicycle lanes. Putting them down
was going to require 40 years in total, and millions of dollars. In
the two years since the plan was adopted, the LA Department of
Transportation has installed 123 miles of new 'bikeways', and is working
on adding 200 miles of additional bikeways every five years. LADOT also
plans to add 'sharrow' bike icon markings to 22 miles of streets this
year. It's fairly easy to put a bike on L.A. Metro buses, though the
crankiness of the bus driver varies wildly from route to route.
addition, the Department of Recreation and Parks hasn't been slouching
on adding to L.A.'s off-road paths. One of the most famous starts in the
Pacific Palisades and runs along the Pacific Ocean all the way through
Santa Monica and Venice, continuing for more than a dozen miles south to
Redondo Beach. The San Gabriel River Trail also runs for nearly 40
miles between L.A.'s Azusa foothills and Seal Beach.
And this month Los Angeles should also see the start of a very ambitious bike sharing program. Bike Nation's
plan is to eventually have 4,000 bicycles at 400 different stations -
if the plan comes to fruition L.A.'s bike share will be even larger than
New York City's.
While the flurry of bike works is encouraging,
there's no indication yet that it has significantly increased the city's
bike commuters. In spite of a very successful series of car-free city street Ciclavia
events - the next one happens next weekend on April 21 - , LA just
doesn't seem to have a critical mass of riders willing to brave the
streets on regular days. Though there is plenty of bike traffic on the
beach-front path, the new bike lanes seem sparsely used by cyclists when
I visited at the end of March.
It also didn't feel like there's
much of a community of cyclists quite yet. When you ride around the
streets, other cyclists seem less like friendly allies than like other
survivalists just trying to scurry quickly and safely from point A to B.
And just as in New York City, in Los Angeles there are so many cars and
so much traffic that the bike lanes that do exist end up being
frequently used by drivers waiting to pick people up or waiting for
While these downsides are discouraging, Los Angeles has
some key features that make it possibly primed for a big time bike
revolution. For one, the weather is pretty fantastic - nothing like the
cold rain of the Pacific Northwest or the long winter slog cyclists in
Minneapolis and other midwestern and East Coast cities face. For
another, with traffic so relentless, biking can be a pretty cheap way
for Angelenos to reduce their stress and save some money by getting out
of their cars, even if only occasionally. The effect on air quality
would be pretty welcome, too.
Perhaps bike sharing can really help
create that critical mass of cyclists the city really seems to need,
and fast, to use the bike lanes instead of letting them become extra
idling space for parking-seeking vehicles.