Tag Archives: public transportation

tensions of cycling and public transportation

Last week, I wrote briefly about my trip up to San Francisco, asking:

The city – coming from Los Angeles with foreign eyes – seems made for cyclists: Sharrows, bike lanes, well-marked bike routes, and a critical mass of people willing to ride for their commute. I have more – I think – to say, but an open question to anyone who knows the history of San Francisco’s infrastructure better than I: How did San Francisco seem to get right what Los Angeles has, to this point, gotten wrong? What has made it possible for San Francisco to seem so cycling-friendly when Los Angeles seems not?

Several people were good enough to throw out a couple of thoughts. Peter pointed out San Francisco’s relatively high density and its history of progressive politics. Alex added that San Francisco’s compact geography makes it an easier city to bike, and that LA has never really recovered from rejecting street cars. Gary echoed Peter’s comment about the density, and suggested that San Fran’s tendency to, I don’t know, mark out bike routes in a visible and useful way made the city more bike-friendly than Los Angeles. And Ryan, echoing Alex’s points, linked all of this into a larger history.

All good points, and I appreciate the thoughts.

But as I see it, there are really two conversations that could happen here: The first is what the city of Los Angeles could do to develop its cycling infrastructure – which is not, in itself, a question of public transportation; the second, however, is what precisely public transportation means.

After all, Alex noted in his comment that LA turned its back on public transportation, which isn’t entirely accurate. It’s just that LA’s public transportation system – second, in terms of total mileage, only to New York City – doesn’t actually make sense to those of us who have the time and the economic capacity to sit down and blog about biking. Most of us have cars. If we don’t, we’re of a certain income bracket where we could have a car if we wanted but don’t on principle or economics or what have you. Is public transportation what LA has now – a messy, crowded, over-subscribed way that still, in spite of everything, gets people around the city when they have no other way to get around? Or is public transportation something that might be pleasant?

For my own part, I’d love to live in a world of the latter, but we’re stuck in the present of the former, which is how we get back to bikes, because biking advocacy is not always public transportation advocacy. It could be, but it isn’t right now, in part because biking doesn’t seem like an activity that the public writ large participates in. Sure, we all bike here and there, but there’s not really a sense in Los Angeles that commuting by bike makes you part of some bigger group (in the way that, perhaps, Mini owners are encouraged to hang out with other Mini owners, or the way in which bus riders all share in something of the same bus misery).

One other thing that come to mind while I was in San Francisco: Biking seemed to appeal to a certain socioeconomic group, which stems, I think, from the way in which biking can seem something like a lifestyle choice.

But going forward, I think one of the challenges we face – as a city and as a biking community – is to figure out how to link arguments for developing cycling infrastructure to a broader social consciousness about public transportation. None of this, to be sure, is something I have an answer for, but I think we – messy and nascent culture and community that we are – have to think both about how cycling is already part of the broader public transportation agenda and the ways in which cyclists’ efforts for more infrastructure might part ways with mass transit.

After all, I used to bus a lot more before I got my bike. Getting on the bike is so much more appealing, I think, because I don’t have to share my space with anyone else, and that tension might be at the heart of these debates about cycling and public transportation as we go forward (though, as Bike Snob LA realizes, public transportation and cycling can go hand in hand).

And in the end, what do I know? I’m in Colorado now, staring out at the Rockies being overtopped by clouds heavy with snow. Happy Holidays to everyone, though I hope to be back on a bike in LA before the New Year. I’m already looking forward to it.


bus-only lanes and bikes

Damien Newton posted a story this morning about proposals to create bus-only lanes along Wilshire Blvd in an effort to develop what Metro calls “Bus Rapid Transit”. It’s a great idea in many respects, though it seems to be a ways from actually being realized.

Damien quoted a couple of the other people who spoke at the recent meeting:

Both speakers testifying on behalf of the Bus Rider’s Union spoke about the joys of bus riding and want to see the bus-only lanes be added to the road quickly.  Joe Linton, speaking on behalf of Green LA, commented that bus-only lanes need to be supported by an attractive, walkable pedestrian environment and the lanes need to be well marked as open to bicycles to avoid the confusion that occurred when bus-only lanes opened in the Downtown.  Others testified that the bus system in the surrounding areas will need to be bulked up to support the BRT system just as it supports the subway and light rail systems.

It’s Joe Linton’s point that I want to take up briefly. Not having really ridden in Downtown, I can’t say much about the interaction between bikes and buses in those bus-only lanes. However, having seen Wilshire at rush hour, I’m not sure that opening the bus-only lanes to bikes is the greatest idea. As I understand it, a bus-only lane would greatly speed bus traffic, so long as there wasn’t anything – read: bikes – in that lane. And asking bikes to take the lane along cars in heavy traffic strikes me as a questionable project. My suggestion, then, is this: Educated cyclists that riding Wishire might not be in their best interest. Even if there were a bus-only lane open to cyclists on Wilshire, I still wouldn’t want to ride: too much traffic, poor road conditions, and perfectly viable parallel streets make riding on Wilshire a no-go for me.

I think the cycling community might be better served by establishing parallel infrastructures rather than establishing bike infrastructure on already existing arterials (although the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. testifies to the success of those projects). At the same time, I alllow that cyclists’ best chance for pushing through infrastructure developments is linking those projects to bus and metro projects around the greater LA area. An interesting time ahead.

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 Cañon, 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.