If you're ever lost in a city, ask a cyclist for directions. Chances are high that they will know every coffee shop, movie theater, dive bar, convenience store, post office, metro station, library, park, and side street within a 3-mile radius. Did I mention veggie burrito spots? Yeah that too.
Cycling makes a lot of sense for trips of less than 3 miles, especially in the city of Los Angeles where the weather is favorable and the terrain is relatively flat. People who haven't converted to the cult of the bicycle tend to naysay the idea because they say L.A. is so big. But with the city's expanding bike-friendly railway, that 3-mile radius is now very move-able and very do-able.
One of my personal goals each year is to continue to reduce my car trips and increase usage of rail and bike. This week I found myself with a challenge: I had to get to three meetings in one day, each in a very different part of Los Angeles. My agenda called for a 12 p.m. meeting at Sin City Tattoo in Pacoima; then an LAPD Bike task force meeting at 3 p.m. across from City Hall; and finally a 6 p.m. radio show at KillRadio in Koreatown. I had aspirations of arriving fashionably late to the Occupy Los Feliz General Assembly, which started at 7pm, but I wasn't going to be heartbroken about missing it.
Planning the Route
I turned to Google Maps to figure out if this day was indeed do-able without a car. By choice, I'm based near a Metro Red Line station in East Hollywood, which makes escape from traffic easy. The longest leg of this trip would be getting to Pacoima in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The nearest stop on the Red Line is the North Hollywood station, and Google bicycle directions suggested routes ranging from 7.8 to 9.4 miles. Knowing the streets, I was able to shave the route to about 7.4 miles. It involved using Tujunga, a lightly used road of mostly residential character. Using the Red Line, my total distance for the day would be about 16 miles, or about an hour of bicycle riding.
Meeting 1: Pacoima, 12pm
I left the house at 10:50am, hopped on the Red Line, arrived in NoHo around 11:15am and made my way to Pacoima via Tujunga as planned. On the north end of the street, where chunky roads and trucks abound, I see why some cyclists might opt for the longer Google route suggestion with more bike paths and lanes. Tujunga eventually connects to Tuxford, where a bike lane links with the Glenoaks bike lane. Tuxford turned out to be dusty and industrial, the bike lane was barely visible. Glenoaks was a bit better. I arrived at my meeting at 11:40am, plenty of time for a cool down and a sip of water. I generally don't wear special shoes or spandex when I commute; I like to hide my super bike powers a la Clark Kent, under "normal" clothing.
Meeting 2: Downtown, 3pm
It was close to 1pm when my first meeting wrapped up. Now I was on my way back to the Red Line for my 3pm in Downtown. Some think that 8 miles by bike is insane, but really, it's about 30 minutes of riding, which for me is a chance to meditate and get the heart going. In fact I've come to love my alone time on the bicycle. I once joined a gym but gave up because it was so ridiculously similar to a rat spinning on a wheel in a cage. This is different. Riding a bicycle satisfies some ancient survival instinct. There is a self-reliance and resourcefulness that awakens when you find yourself miles from home, powered only by your own two feet.
Speaking of ancient instinct, my thoughts drifted to the hunt for food. There I was at Victory and Tujunga (ahead of schedule) when I looked to my right and spotted a weathered sign that read VEGETARIAN... Leonor's! Yes. I knew of the location in Studio City but I didn't know about this one, the original of 33 years. A true gem in a desert of mini-malls and franchised fried grease. Inside was none other than Leonor herself, who made me a $6 meal. Gracias por la comida vegetariana maravillosa!
Belly full, I hit the Red Line with plenty of time to get to Civic Center station for my meeting. In fact, I had enough time for a brief conversation with a man known to the Occupy L.A. movement as "The Juan Percent." I had set up L.A.'s first bike share program for Occupy L.A., but I hadn't been to many of the general assemblies since the eviction. So it was great to run into Juan, who was known for his humorous (though at times ill-received) interruptions of the GA process. He pitched the idea of a non-profit aimed at buying land for every human being on earth to live rent-free. After a few minutes of hashing out the details, I had to get moving. Off to my meeting with Sgt. Krumer and the LAPD bicycle task force.
Of all of my fears on the road riding a bicycle, getting hit and left for dead by a belligerent car driver ranks high. It's an epidemic in my mind, and as a hit and run victim I've been intent on doing something about it. One area in which I can see improvement is LAPD response. In my own experience I've been frustrated by their lack of urgency. I was one of the lucky ones who got a plate number - why couldn't they just look it up and send a cruiser, sirens blazing to the suspect's residence? The answer is complicated, but as a member of the LAPD bike task force I was able to discuss the issues a bit. It turns out that more than 30% of all collisions are hit and runs, and if there isn't a death, the police tend to be apathetic due to the volume of traffic collisions happening every day.
Understandably, they must deal with rapes and gang shootings, and to the underfunded and understaffed justice system a mangey bike rider is low on the list of priorities. I aim to change that. Fortunately the task force was set up to help deal with these kinds of issues, and Sgt. Krumer helped with a strategy. More on this next time.
Meeting 3: Koreatown, 6pm.
My final meeting was at 6pm at Killradio studio, just off the Red Line at Beverly and Vermont. I got there just in time to go on air and join Nick and Mark for a show on politics, "Beyond the Consensus" - a kind of "Left, Right & Center" style show between a Libertarian, a Communitarian and an Social Democrat. I'm not a Libertarian, though as a bike rider I play one on the streets. The hot topic of the day was our electoral system and why the media pays attention only to the two dominant political parties... but I digress. Politics. After a dinner at a Bengali restaurant around the corner it was a leisure ride home to a hot shower and a good night's sleep to follow.
Roadblock is a native of Los Angeles, a graphic artist, musician, community activist... and a bicycle rider. He is one of the founders of Midnight Ridazz. One Ride at a Time is a blog dedicated to bringing bike love to Angelenos everywhere.
All photos by Roadblock