Tag Archives: santa monica

two truths about the road

Or maybe just one truth with two kinds: To bike in Los Angeles requires dealing with cars. There are two kinds:

  1. The first are the ones who don’t see you. They might be the ones talking on a cell phone, yelling at their kids, tuning their radio, late leaving work and looking to roll a couple stop signs on the side streets because all the arterials are clogged. They might be the ones who nearly right hook you because they can’t be bothered to look over the shoulder. I get mad about these people, but I don’t stay mad. There’s no point, because I realize that it’s not really about me. These drivers are the ones who merge without looking on the freeway, who get stuck in the intersection going the wrong way at red lights. They’re the self-centered ones who treat the rest of the road like so many video game dots and numbers. Out there, but not really enough to worry about. They’re fat and happy in their steel cocoons, coddled in roll cages and crumple zones like so many eggs in cardboard cartons. When they cut me off, I know it’s not about me.
  2. It’s the second group that piss me off. It’s the second group that sees me pushing it down Westholme, heading south through the last roundabout before swinging left at Santa Monica, riding to catch the green light. It’s the second group with the driver’s side window of their white sedan rolled down and the driver peering through his thin glasses up the road to where I’m bearing down and still thinking it’s a good idea to swing out into traffic because he doesn’t want to get stuck waiting for the cars that are trailing me. It’s the second group of drivers who see me brake, pull up, raise my hands to ask what the fuck, then gun their engine through the light because they know they’re in the wrong and think they can leave me in the dust. It’s these second kind of drivers who think that just because I’m a little fucking cyclist on a dark single-speed that that makes it OK. And do you know what? It’s those second group of drivers who sit in their car waiting to turn right onto Beverly Glen at the red light, one arm dangling a lit cigarette out the window as I pull up to the intersection, then see me roll up to the light beside them.

The moral of the story? Your shit catches up to you.

Ride safe.

rollin’ deep in the ‘210

Beverly Hills gets kind of a bad rap: Rude drivers, expensive cars, a complete lack of marked bike lanes, more expensive cars, stupid people, dark streets, the list goes on. But I was thinking a little bit on the ride home tonight that I actually really like my stretch of ride through that strange little city. Sure, the stretch on Santa Monica South feels a little perilous, but Burton Way more than evens the score (and for the map of this ride, see here). Buttery-smooth pavement, empty shoulders (because everyone in Beverly Hills has their own driveway), lights timed that you can just roll on green if you’re hustling. When the wind is right, you can smell the steak at Morton’s while you’re waiting for the light at La Cienega to change.

And as for rollin’ deep: It was no critical mass (Did anyone ride that the other day? How did it go?), but I passed a guy holding steady on a blue cruiser in traffic: iPod in, lepoard-print Vans, lights front and back. We waited a light cycle at Wilshire, and he caught me at the next couple reds. Didn’t do much more than nod, but for a moment, Beverly Hills felt pretty bike-friendly after all.

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.

riding in the dark

Been a while since last writing, though the riding goes well.

Tonight’s ride wasn’t so much to speak of (down Westwood to Santa Monica, push up through Century City and split lanes through Beverly Hills until Santa Monica South widens into Burton Way; thought about crossing lanes in traffic to catch the left turn onto Sixth, but decided in favor taking the crosswalk and a moment to rest before catching up to traffic at Fairfax; move up to Fourth, split the darkness, roll stop signs east of Western, turn up Kenmore in the suddenly gathered night), but I’d like to pick up on a note or two after last week’s election.

As Gary pointed out, last Tuesday’s election was indeed a victory for transportation, no matter how cynical you are. It was not, unfortunately, an election that delivered everything that one might have hoped for, but I suppose elections never are. All that said, I have been turning over a couple of things in my head.

First is the issue of Measure R. To gloss the issue – imperfectly – the fine citizens of LA County have just voted themselves into a higher sales tax, with the increased revenues slated to be spent by Metro on a variety of transportation projects all across the county. It’s a great idea, but I just have one request: Can whomever is doling out that money or soliciting project ideas think for a moment about bicycle infrastructure from the perspective of the bicyclist? I’m not talking about designated bike lanes on every bike-friendly street; I’m not even saying that we need sharrows on every street (though that would be sweet). I’m thinking really only of the small section of Fourth Street that’s been affectionately named the Bike Boulevard. It’s a great way to sneak home from the Westside: Really light traffic, which leaves ample room to swerve past what would otherwise be maddening pavement, and beautiful scenery to either side. My complaint, I suppose, centers on the intersection of Rossmore and Fourth. There’s a light at Third that holds up traffic, but the light cycles seemed perfectly timed to leave a gap on one side of the street when traffic is coming on the other. As a cyclist trying to cross that north/south traffic, I have one of two options: Wait what seems an interminably long time until I get a break wide enough to roll across (which is what I did tonight); or wait only long enough to see a half-opening before jumping through traffic (which I’ve definitely done). Neither solution seems particularly satisfying, but I have to be clear: The issue isn’t so much the wait. It’s how absolutely invisible I feel to traffic (and on the note of invisibility: Bikes are utterly invisible to sensors at Wilton and Fourth) curving north or speeding south on Rossmore. There’s little to no street lighting – probably a function of neighborhood policies, I suppose – and the intersection is further darkened by a stand of trees about the intersection. Beautiful to look at, but absolute murder to see in. It’s kind of terrifying.

So why not take steps to increase visibility of bicyclists at what is – by most accounts – a fairly popular east/west route for LA riders? I’m not saying put in flood lights or even demanding that flashing lights go off whenever a bike approaches the intersection. It doesn’t even need a stop sign. But there must be some way to both moderate cross traffic speeds and increase the visibility of cyclists. And as planning proceeds and the debates unfold over Measure R, I’d love to see changes in the infrastructure that come out of the experience of riding a bike in this city and not from some idea of what some study said in a different place.

Second, about this whole business of California Propositions. Relic as they are of a particular moment in the Californian democratic (demagogic?) imagination, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the whole institution. That said, I’ve been thinking about ways in which the institution of the Proposition might be turned towards cycling advocacy. Taking a couple of BikinginLA’s recent suggestions as case studies, what would happen if citizen cyclists wrote a proposition that made vehicular assault a criminal violation? Perhaps it might be possible to put drivers at fault for accidents occuring in the bike lane, in the same way that a driver who rear-ends another driver is automatically at fault. Or better yet, rewrite our vehicular code to make cars more responsible for the damage which they can inflict on bikes and pedestrians. Just a thought or two.

More, I hope, soon.

bike 1 – bus 0

Honestly, this probably isn’t exactly the thing that you should brag about – it’s probably bad bike karma – but I can’t help it. After a couple of fitful starts riding home, I decided to take 3rd from La Brea instead of 4th. There were a couple of reasons for that: 4th, in spite of its lack of traffic, has very few lights and a handful of bad visibility sections; 3rd figured to be better lit and not as heavily trafficked, being half past nine and all; and I’d seen a couple of people riding 3rd in traffic and it had taken a great deal of restraint not to roll down the car window and tell them to ride 4th – in other words, I figured they knew something I didn’t.

The bad news about 3rd is that the street is a mess. The right lane is just filthy with divots, cracks and other potholes, and there’s no shoulder to speak of. Not at all the kind of street I’d want to ride in traffic.

But the good news? I turned right onto 3rd just ahead of the late night Metro 16 rolling east. I thought about stopping and hopping on, but decided to stay on. I stayed ahead for a couple of blocks, but the bus pulled ahead of me along that dark residential stretch around Highland. Kept riding though, and I saw my chance at the clotted series of lights just east of Western. Put the hammer down, if that’s how you put it, and jumped back in front of the bus. Hauled up 3rd to the crest at Normandie and rolled the last couple blocks home. Moral of the story: I could have taken the bus, and it would have taken just as long.

Bikes are fun.

And another story from the ride home: I took Santa Monica and caught a knot of No on 8 protesters in front of the Mormon Church. There were a couple more knots strung out between Century City and Beverly Hills, causing a racket. I don’t know if it’s related to earlier protests in Westwood, but who knows. Least of all I. Actually, on looking around a moment longer, there was evidently a large crowd protesting this afternoon in West LA. LAist links to the story: Prop 8 March Creates Traffic Nightmare in West LA. A commenter notes that it’s not always about the traffic. How true.

route adjustment

One of the worst sections of my ride home is the area between Holmby Park and the east side of Beverly Hills. Traffic sucks, the roads suck, and I always feel as though I’m heading really out of my way to get wherever I’m going. My usual route takes me down Comstock, onto the sidewalk along Wilshire. Depending on my mood, I’ll sometimes cut up Whittier to Elevado and take that as far east as Canon before cutting south to Burton Way. It’s not great, but it feels safe and keeps me out of the mash-up that is the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire.

Today, though, I picked a new way home (see map for updated route): Cut south on Beverly Glen, cross Wilshire, and swing down to Santa Monica Blvd. You’re still left to contend with the incredible disappearing bike lane, but as long as you’re intending to merge onto Santa Monica South – which I was and usually am – the road is wide, well-paved, and generally rideable. From there, I split lanes through heavy traffic until things opened back up east of Rexford.

It’s not perfect, but it feels like a quick way to push past the worst of Beverly Hills traffic, especially at rush hour.

Anyone have any advice on negotiating that stretch? Please check out the map and some of the thinking behind it.

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.