not biking, water rationing!

So you’d think, what with all the crazy rain that we’ve been having, that we’re totally free and clear from that nasty little thing spelled D-R-O-U-G-H-T, right? (Actually, I don’t know anybody who’d say that we’re not in a drought anymore, but the rain does funny things to my head. I have trouble imagining 75 degrees in January for example, and I’ve been pretending that it’s been this wintry for what feels like months…).

In other news important to just about anybody paying money to the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, a vota just went through to impose the city’s first water rationing in more than two decades. Under the terms of the plan, every house and business would get its allotment. Once you go past that allotment, your rates would double.

But what I found most remarkable about the article was their mention that 40 percent of the city’s water consumption comes from outdoor irrigation. 40 percent. Think about that for a moment. All the wide lawns and palm trees that have become That’s So LA (or that’s so lame?), they’re using a water. A lot of it. Kind of makes you stop and think, at least for a moment. Right?

Advertisement

some thoughts about stops

Stop signs seem to be one of those things that cyclists can never entirely agree about. Of course, you show me a cyclist who stops at every stop sign completely and I’ll show you either a) a cyclist who doesn’t have very far to go or b) someone with a poor memory. For my own part, I run stop signs, but only if there’s no cross traffic. If I see cross traffic, I’ll yield at the intersection only if the other car is there first. If it’s close, I’ve taken to making sure cars see me and then trying to look at the driver when I roll through – I guess, following BikinginLA’s lead (parts 1 and 2), it’s an instance of me trying to control the intersection.

But to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of stop signs – it’s one of the reasons why I much prefer Santa Monica South in Beverly Hills to Charleville (you can see that route here). Even though I have to deal with a lot more traffic, I don’t feel nearly as nervous about meeting up with the fender end of some other car’s casual interpretation of the California roll.

All of that said, I came across an interesting article the other day making the point that all of cyclists’ complaints about stop signs – usually to make the point that we should be able to treat them as yields and not full stops – actually has a firm grounding in physics. Tom Vanderbilt of How We Drive explains:

Take a simple stop sign. For a car driver, a stop sign is a minor inconvenience, merely requiring the driver to shift his foot from gas pedal to brake, perhaps change gears, and, of course, slow down. These annoyances may induce drivers to choose faster routes without stop signs, leaving the stop-signed roads emptier for cyclists. Consequently streets with many stop signs are safer for bicycle riders because they have less traffic. Indeed, formal bike routes typically include traffic-calming devices like barriers, speed bumps, and stop signs to discourage car traffic and slow down those cars that remain. However, a route lined with stop signs is not necessarily desirable for cyclists. While car drivers simply sigh at the delay, bicyclists have a whole lot more at stake when they reach a stop sign.

Noting that riding a street with a lot of stop signs drops a cyclist’s average speed by a little more than 30%, he adds:

While a drop of a few miles per hour may not seem like much to a car driver, think of it this way: the equivalent in a car would be a drop from 60 to 45 mph. Because the extra effort required on California is so frustrating, both physically and psychologically, many cyclists prefer Sacramento to California, despite safety concerns. They ride California, the official bike route, only when traffic on Sacramento gets too scary.

And he ends by just making a fantastic point:

Car drivers say they are confused by the presence of bicycles on the road, and some wish the two-wheelers would just go away. Bicyclists know that cars cause most of their safety concerns. Traffic planners need to find ways to help bikes and cars coexist safely. A good place to begin is by taking the special concerns of bicyclists seriously, and not assuming that they will be served by a system designed for cars. Reducing the number of stop signs on designated bike routes would make bicycle commuting considerably more attractive to potential and current riders. Allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, as some states do, could solve the problems in a different way.

Perhaps cities should buy bikes for their traffic engineers and require that they ride them to work periodically. There’s probably no better way for them to learn what it’s like to ride a bike in traffic than actually to experience its joys and hazards.

Wouldn’t that be great? LA traffic engineers being forced to bike to work.

UPDATE: The Bicycle Librarian has a couple of really helpful links posted in the Legal Research section. Especially helpful is the link to a page of FAQ about Idaho’s Stop Sign Law thingermajigger. It explains:

This law would make it legal for bicyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs. A cyclist approaching an intersection controlled by a stop sign, would be permitted to roll through the stop sign after yielding the right of way if there are other vehicles at the intersection.

Thanks for the comments!

wolfpack all city II race video

This was put up a couple of days ago by Zachary at SHLA (and he says by way of Leetard at LAFixed) – I didn’t even know they were running this (not that I was planning to go even if I did know about it), but the video is just hypnotic. Really well done, and I’m finding myself at the computer raring to get back in the saddle and go. So compliments to whoever put it together (after ten seconds of sleuthing, Bicykiller).

Wolfpack All City Race 2 from Bicykiller on Vimeo.

I’d include the video here but can’t figure out how to make the code display properly. Take my word for it and go watch the video.

things to remember

Last night was my first time back on the bike in what feels like forever: Rain Thursday night kept me from trucking my bike home on the bus, and it rained enough on Friday to convince me that riding the bike home that night wouldn’t work either (the beers that evening didn’t help). As for the weekend, washed-light and fleeced clouds that it was, I didn’t make the trek west from Koreatown. So it was only last night that I confronted the thought of getting back on the bike.

And it’s funny: A couple of days waiting for the bus gives you pause. As far as commutes go, mine is a cinch – make my way to Vermont/Wilshire in the morning, pick up the 920, skip into Westwood; sure, riding the bus on the way back east is an experience in itself, but the streets had mostly emptied by the time I got of my last meeting. So the choice: Bike home in the foreign cold or slip on down to throw my bike on the rack of the 720?

Thankfully, I decided to coast on down Westholme – the cold rough against my knuckles, the sudden tearing of my eyes at the wind – and roll my slow way east. I’m glad I did too: The storms have washed the air (or if you want the scientific version, the low front drove a cold front through Southern California leading to less moisture content in the atmosphere and resulting in greater visibility), and the waning moon hung in the sky singing in its slow loping voice. Mostly empty streets tonight, and moments of catching the moonlight through sycamores on pavement, spun silk scored with shadow.

That was reason enough to ride, I suppose. I’m looking forward to tonight (although before that happens – and if you care – Go Heels!).

bike map: mar vista to koreatown

I actually mapped this one out a little while back but haven’t had the chance to put it up. It’s very much a work in progress and owes a great deal to Will Campbell’s routes, but here’s a first stab at mapping out some routes from Mar Vista to Koreatown. The Venice Blvd. bit is kind of a no-brainer, but it took me a couple of times to figure out the best route between Venice and 4th. As you’ll see, there are a couple options, and if you have any other suggestions, please send them my way.

not about my biking at all

But it is about biking. The New York Times had a short piece about Svein Tuft up the other day. He’s a Canadian who’ll be riding in the Tour of California and will probably ride in the Tour de France. The article’s well worth a read, but I wanted to quote a couple of lines from its end:

When this new life unnerves him, he said, he looks at a tattoo on his right forearm: We will never be here again. It was his mantra while on trips with Bear, who died seven years ago.

“It was by far the most content I’ve ever been,” he said. “My bike was a piece of junk. I had nowhere to go, no place to be. Didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. If I felt like lying on the side of the road, I did.”

To say more would take away from his story, but that ethic, that sense of taking responsibility for the present, seemed something that we (or maybe just I) could take for my life. We will never be here again as a way of saying embrace the moment of where we are because it might never come again in this way.

a break in the rain

It’s funny what the rain does to the city: I took the bus into campus on Friday (having left my bike there because I didn’t feel up for riding in the gathering dark Thursday night) and waited in the light drizzle that morning with everyone else. It’s just such a strange sight to see umbrellas on the street in Los Angeles; perfectly normal, I suppose, to see a crowd of mushrooming umbrellas in New York or San Francisco or Chicago, but there was something so odd about the sight of umbrellas on the sidewalk at the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont.

As a brief aside: We use umbrellas so rarely here that people have no sense of umbrella etiquette. I’m a reasonably tall person, so it’s not usually too much of a problem to lift my umbrella up and over oncoming pedestrians, but it’s sometimes kind of funny to see people shorter than me barrel through a cluster of people with their umbrella.

As another brief aside: Props to everyone who cycled through the rain. I saw a couple of people working through Westwood and have nothing but respect for people willing to brave the automotive equivalent of chickens with their heads cut off that results when the rains come.

I hope to back to this a bit more regularly, but I’m realizing there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of work I accomplish that I’m supposed to do and the amount of time I spend about the interwebs. Who knew? But as a last note, Ingrid has a new effort called The Bicycle Librarian gathering everything you might want to know about biking in Los Angeles, and Jim Haygood has a new biking blog up at Bike Date. Check them out.

And as for why I’m not riding today: The bike’s still in Westwood and I’m not. Such is life.

a poem for will

Will (neat thing about the interwebs: not knowing people, you still begin to refer to them by first names, as if you knew them) had a scary run-in with a driver the other night while riding home on Fourth. Please read his story, but his encounter seemed to speak to a poem I came across the other day. It’s by Mark Doty, and comes from Doty’s recently published Fire to Fire. The poem is called “Citizens” and speaks, at least in part, to how we find meaning in our lives. Will’s written about why he bikes, and my sense – without talking to him at all – is that biking is very much a civic (civilizing?) act. And the moments of shock and violence like the other night really challenge that.

But without further ado:

Citizens

The light turns and I’m stepping
onto the wide and empty crosswalk on Eighth Avenue,
nothing between the white lines but a blowing riffle

of paper when this truck –
all unnecessary red gleam – roars on the avenue from 20th,
the driver turns his wheels inches from my knees

even though I jump back
out of the way, and before I’ve even thought I’m yelling
what are you doing, act like a citizen

though it’s clear from the face
already blurred past me he’s enjoying this, and I shout Asshole
and kick at the place where his tire was with my boot.

If I carried a sharp instrument
I could scrape a long howl on his flaming paint job
(just under the gold and looming logo: DEMOLITION)

and what kind of citizen
does this thought make me, quivering and flummoxed
by contradictory impulses: to give a speech on empathy

or fling my double latte
across his back windshield, though who knows what
he might do then. He’s stuck in traffic and pretends

I’m not watching him looking
in my direction, and people passing doubtless think who is
this idiot fulminating to himself,

or probably they don’t;
they’ve got trouble of their own. Here’s a story:
two pilgrim monks arrive at a riverbank

where an old lady’s weeping,
no way to cross, and though they’ve renounced
all traffic with women, one man hoists her on his shoulders

and ferries her over the water.
Later his friend is troubled: How could you touch her
when you vowed not to?
And the first monk says, I put her down

on the other side of the river,
why are you still carrying her?
Midday’s so raw and dirty
I can’t imagine anyone here’s pleased with something just now,

and I’m carrying the devil
in his carbon chariot all the way to 23rd, down into the subway,
rolling against the impersonal malice of the truck that armors him

so he doesn’t have to know anyone.
Under the Port Authority I understand I’m raging
because that’s easier than weeping, not because I’m so afraid

of scraping my skull
on the pavement but because he’s made me erasable,
a slip of a self, subject to. How’d I get emptied

till I can be hostaged
by a dope in a flaming climate-wrecker? I try to think
who made him so powerless he craves dominion over strangers,

but you know what?
I don’t care. If he’s one of those people miserable for lack
of what is found in poetry, fine.

It’s not him I’m sorry for.
It’s every person on this train burrowing deeper uptown
as if it were screwing further down into the bedrock.

Heavy hands on the knees,
weary heads nodding toward the floor or settling
against the glass. When did I ever set anything down?

new bike map: westwood to mar vista

So what feels like a good while back, I wrote a little bit about bike maps, noting:

Thinking about biking in Los Angeles, one of the biggest things holding the community back is the lack of well-publicized maps. True, the MTA has put together a map of bike lanes around the city (their Metro Bike Map), but one of the things I quickly learned about that map was just how far removed it is from the actual experience of riding the streets. It’s partly the MTA’s myopic bicycling policy, but partly to do with the fact that different roads ride very differently at diffferent times. I’ll ride Western after 9 pm, but I don’t think I’d be caught dead on the street during rush hour. Wilshire between Comstock and Beverly Hills is a crap shoot: Late at night, you don’t have to take the sidewalk, but I can’t bring myself to ride the street during daylight hours.

As happens with a lot of things, however, I haven’t really set out to do what I wanted to do, which was produce a set of maps to help people new to cycling in Los Angeles navigate the city by bike. The Westwood to Koreatown map was a start, but I thought I’d give a stab at putting together some other maps for the sizable number of people that don’t actually commute or ride consistently between Westwood and Koreatown.

Hence this new map for anyone looking to move between Westwood and Mar Vista. It’s very much in its first stages, so if anyone has any suggestions, comments, or concerns, please let me know.

car-free fridays

Via C.I.C.L.E., a quick announcement:

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) has launched a new campaign called “Car-Free Fridays” to encourage both new and experienced riders to commit to using the bicycle as a means to commute to work and to make their shorter trips by bike at least one Friday of the month.

The campaign is aimed to get more people on bikes and to highlight the global and personal benefits of riding a bicycle.  To celebrate the first “Car-Free Friday,” on January 30, LACBC will host a ride, meeting at 8 a.m. at Hollywood/Western Metro Red Line Station and will head downtown, to L.A. City Hall.

The article goes on:

“Car-Free Fridays is great idea that will encourage folks to start and continue bicycling”, comments Ron Milam, of BikeSage. 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become a priority for many Angelenos, but it is not always easy to dedicate extra time and money to get to the gym every week.

“According to the British Heart Association, cycling at least three hours a week cuts your risk of heart disease in half compared to those who do not cycle or perform other exercise,” said Marisa K. Bell, MD Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.  “Other studies have shown that exercise such as cycling can reduce levels of depression and stress and improve mood and self-esteem.”

Riding a bicycle for just 10 miles a week can save at least $520 a year, shed calories, work to reduce California’s emissions from cars and light trucks which are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. It helps reduce traffic congestion which costs the regional economy $9.3 billion annually

Sure, it’s not what Mihai said on WestsideBIKEside, but I don’t think that’s the point:

Listen, I want you out of shape fools to continue living your American dream and drive whatever vehicle tv ads, your parents, or your peers told you would be an impressive purchase.  I do enjoy the occasional chat with other cyclist life forms while I am commuting, but honestly, it wouldn’t be as cool if I had to share even more road space with new cyclists.

The status quo is just great, fuck bike activism, streetscape improvements, and Safe Routes to School, I want cycling to be slightly dangerous and exciting.   And I want your kids to grow up to be fat, so I can whoop their chubby asses in sports when they grow up and I’m in my late eighties.  Pave your driveways, widen your stank-ass roads, multiply the use of those gas-powered leaf blowers. Let LA burn, Mike Davis-style. I can always fly back to my home planet.

As ever, I’m somewhere in between, but I’ll be on my bike Friday. Will you?

UPDATE (29 january 09): I probably should have been more specific: I’m not actually going to be on my bike at this ride; I suppose I was trying to suggest that I was going to ride tomorrow in the spirit of solidarity with the program and the idea. And I suppose the point of linking to Mihai’s post – as I was thinking on the ride home tonight – was that there are moments when I feel fiercely independent as a biker, and proud of that independence. And then there are moments – like maybe tomorrow – when I’m excited to see more people riding, to see commuting by bike as something other than an isolated and sometimes isolating activity. Or something like that.