Tag Archives: beverly

wandering in elysium

Last week, Will Campbell posted footage from his 26-mile post-Thanksgiving burn-off-and-otherwise-expel-your-excess-calories-ride, and it set me to thinking about my own adventure. While I’ve done a fair amount of biking between Koreatown and points west, my experience of the city east of here has been woefully limited.

While you can see the map below for a more accurate representation of the route (and for a yet more accurate map, the gmap version), a couple of thoughts about the ride. First, figuring out the best way to roll towards Downtown took some doing. Following some of Will’s maps, I pedaled down to head east on 4th; but when that petered out a couple of blocks later, I couldn’t remember which streets Will took to make it to Sunset and Sunset’s bike lane. Instead, I found myself on Beverly looking at a “bike route” sign and thinking that there were worse things I could do than ride by Tommy’s on a Saturday afternoon. As for Beverly – once they finish the construction on it, it’ll be a much nicer ride, but as it stands now, there’s a stretch around Alvarado that’s cut down to one lane on account of that construction, with an exceedingly bad shoulder to boot. But what traffic there was thinned out as I came down the hill over Glendale Blvd, and I had a peaceful slog up 1st to Grand. I rode Broadway north mostly because I remembered it from last week’s Critical Mass ride until I found myself with the south slope of Elysian Park on my left with the LA River channel spreading to my right.

Now for people who live or travel in and around that area, seeing that part of town might just be old hat. But for someone who’s spent so much of his life on the Westside and who’s gotten so used to seeing the Downtown skyline from a particular point of view, there was something tremendously exhilirating about being able to stop at the curb on Broadway and take in City Hall, the old business district, the greened expanse below me, the rail lines cutting along the River channel, the sense of a completely new city. And I’ve driven the 5 before, taken in the view of Downtown from this other side from through the windshield of a car, but it’s a completely different experience to watch the city move from the saddle of a bike.

I cut up – following Will’s route – into Elysian Park just before the bridge over the river, and worked my single-speed up Elysian Park Drive. Along the way, I stopped to catch views east and west, smiling all the while. I worked past Elysian Fields and the baseball diamonds before stopping to call my friend Matt and tell him that I was standing on a hill looking out over Dodger Stadium in the clear late afternoon, that I was going to get back on my bike and pedal through an aisle of palm trees before curving down Chavez Ravine to pick up Sunset Blvd. by way of Elysian Park. The rest of the ride back – minus an awkward turn onto Santa Monica – was easy enough, and when I came out of Scoops after a celebratory ice cream, the clouds in the west were lit up like the backdrop of some set of a movie I have yet to write.

Beautiful ride, and one that makes you appreciate just how much there is to do outside in this city. A friend of mine from back East was just out here to interview for a residency at UCLA. He commented on how strange it was to be in a city with no green, with no nature around. It’s something I hear a lot from people, especially people just recently removed from those states where trees are as natural as rain, and I never know exactly how to respond.

I’m not sure I have the whole answer yet, but this ride is a start.


in praise of the 714

One of the arguments against biking in Los Angeles – at least, one of the common arguments you hear on the Westside, where I grew up – is that the size of the city precludes using a bike as your means of transportation. There is, after all, a certain perverse logic to the city, an almost sinister immensity. Never mind the fact that people (see Will, especially, but also Gary and BikeGirl) manage without a car (and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not one of them), biking in Los Angeles sometimes seems daunting because the city seems so… well… big.

With that in mind, I’d like to sign the praises of the Metro 714. One of my greatest reservations about moving out to Koreatown from the Westside was how much further away from UCLA I’d be. But prior to moving, I looked on the Metro service map and figured out that I could probably subway to bus to campus without too much trouble. Problem was, the Sunset line (the 2 and the sometimes mythic 302) took anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and forty minutes, and I couldn’t bring myself to spend that much time in traffic every day.

The other option I had in mind was the venerable 720, which a friend of mine rides between Koreatown and Westwood. There were two problems with that: First, the 720 never leaves Wilshire, which puts you down at WIlshire and Westwood when you get off the bus – not the worst thing in the world, but when coupled with the crowds of people that cram onto the 720 (and that’s my second problem, the crowds), I just couldn’t bring myself to pedal down to Vermont and Wilshire, wait for the 720, sit in a crowded bus, and then have to pedal the rest of the way up to campus once I got off the bus.

Enter the 714. It doesn’t go as far west as the 720 or the 704, but that keeps most of the crowds off it. It doesn’t run all that late into the evening, but I’m usually trying to bike home then anyways. It has the advantage of only making a handful of stops between Vermont and Beverly and its western terminus at Santa Monica Blvd and CaƱon, runs roughly every twenty minutes, and best of all, I can almost always plan the trip will take me the same amount of time. The ride I have left (the map of the whole route is here) isn’t long enough to really wear me out, even though it ends with a stiff hill, and is usually pretty peaceful.

There’s no sitting on Sunset while the DWP decides to jackhammer one lane of traffic during rush hour; no full bus racks that leave me fuming while I wait for the next Rapid to come through; no reason, really, not to ride the 714 (and not to mention the fact that UCLA subsidizes my TAP pass).

As a last aside on mixed transit, Gary of Gary Rides Bikes put up a good post a little more than a week back on his sterling experience using public transportation to cover a huge swath of the city. The general Metro page, with a couple of good tips, can be found here, with a handful of other rules to live by here. While on that site, Metro also has a section on Bikeway Planning. I have yet to look through it, but it seems worth a look. And, while not actually about public transportation, BikinginLA is continuing his thinking about ways to legislate our way to a better biking world.

knowing the roads

Some time ago, I read JB Jackson’s Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. The details are a bit fuzzy, but at some point in the book, he suggests that what was lacking in landscape scholarship was an odology, a study of roads. It was a suggestive idea at the time, and though the specifics of Jackson’s argument have long since fled, the word has stuck with me, and it came back to me on today’s ride.

For going on three months now, we’ve lived in the shadow of Griffith Park without ever making our way up there, so I took advantage of today’s spectacular weather to pedal my way north (the full ride is here or here). I’d been a little worried as to how my legs would take the grade, but it went smoothly, aside from one break on the way up to take some water while sitting in the shade of a sycamore tree.

It’s been years since I visited the Observatory proper, and cresting the shoulder where it sits took me back to a kind of childlike state. There’s a broad green lawn, a tall white monument at its north end, and then the broad face of the Observatory at the edge of the hillside. There’s much more to write (probably not by me) about the Observatory proper, but I took a couple of minutes to saunter up to the roof.

It was not, to be fair, the most beautiful sky one has ever seen. Lingering ash and smog to the east threw up a haze on the Angeles National Forest, and Long Beach was lost in a haze of marine layer and ozone. What was neat, though, was to see Western Normandie (even though the story works better if it’s Western) slicing south from the foot of the Park, all the way south into an indistinct away. A couple of intrepid souls (congratulations to them!) walked the length of Western yesterday, and leaning against the railing of the Observatory, it almost made sense why.

One might argue that the straight road extending to the horizon is one of the archetypal images of the west, and Western might pick up on something similar. Reyner Banham wrote that it was those boulevards like Western that first began to give shape to an otherwise formless city, and again, it’s easy to see from the Observatory.

As for how all of this gets back to biking: One of the limits of both Jackson’s work and Banham’s appreciations is their position in the automobile. For both, understanding the road came out of an understanding of the automobile; knowledge of the former flowed from the experience of the latter. But getting on a bike, taking the wide curves of the Park by bicycle, pushing south on Vermont on traffic, leads to a different kind of knowledge. Scenic, perhaps, but also more visceral, material, a physical experience of the road.

I wrote a piece this past summer about motorcycles and back roads, finding something suggestive in Robert Pirsig’s description of the unframed experience of the motocycle. This – what I’ve written here – doesn’t speak directly to it, but I think it makes a similar point: There’s something to knowing this city, its long boulevards, by its roads; and knowing those roads through a bike is, I want to think, different than knowing them through a car. I don’t know how yet, but it was a beautiful day to ride.

so that’s what it’s like

part 2, really. i drove into campus yesterday with a friend, as i have yet to learn how to get myself to campus in time to teach my 8 am lab section. i’m not thrilled about the prospect, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about driving on empty streets and pulling into an empty parking lot.

but this comes back to cycling.

i drove home with my friend last night in traffic. in all, it took me almost seventy minutes to make the drive from westwood back to koreatown; small irony in the fact that i drove almost exactly the route that i ride, and some measure of satisfaction in thinking that i can actually bike home in less than it takes me to drive in rush hour traffic. it was wyton to wilshire to carmelita to canon to santa monica to beverly near all the way through to wilton. taking my friend down to her place near 5th and wilton, we crossed 4th on van ness. i pointed out one block west where i’d nearly been hit last week and rolled my through the stop sign.

it was only some time later when i realized what i’d done had been almost exactly like that white BMW had done last week to me. i’d like to think i stopped long enough to really look both ways, but it was probably a pretty good california roll that took me through that intersection. and though i was looking, i wasn’t really looking. sixty minutes of rush hour traffic will do that to you, lull you into an easy expectation of cars and nothing else. i’d seen bikes on beverly – most without lights, without helmets – and had taken some measure of satisfaction in seeing them. see, i thought, look how conscious of people i am.

except i wasn’t really. i was conscious of cars because i had to be; i was conscious of cyclists because i had the luxury of looking. when i rolled that stop sign at van ness and 4th, i had the luxury of looking, but i didn’t feel the need to really look. of course, this cuts both ways: riding down that hill on 4th, i have a responsibility as a cyclist to make myself visible and to ride defensively, expecting that a car is going to do exactly as i did.

maybe just end with this: as easy as it is for me to gnash my teeth at a stupid driver, i can just as easily be that stupid driver.


seasons come and go here; and you know you’ve really fallen for the angeleno dream when you start insisting on the subtle nature of the seasons here. let the blue ridge mountains have their riots of color and the upper midwest have their first drifts of snow, the thinking goes, we’ll take our incremental weathers.

agree or not, it was a beautiful day for a brief ride on the bike. stiff wind in off from the ocean, the air scrubbed a clear blue over griffith park, a bite to being outside. as a ride, it wasn’t much to speak of: from beverly and kenmore, up heliotrope, past orange 20 and the bike kitchen, weave through the bungalos and apartment buildings of little armenia, up edgemont to franklin, then over to hillhurst. on the way back down, vermont felt free enough to ride, even freighted down with groceries.

a brief stop in orange 20 – it’s still shaping up, filling in, stretching out – and a passing thought about a new backpack: my messenger bag (a well-worn Timbuk2) doesn’t carry it’s weight all that well, and i’m trying to figure out a new way to take weight longer distances. any suggestions would be much appreciated.

but then home, all too quickly.