Tag Archives: wilshire

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!).


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.

accidents en masse

I took the 720 into campus today – all well and good until just west of Beverly Glen, when traffic slowed to a crawl. There was a scrum of fire engines on the south side of Wilshire, and a line of traffic stretching west along Wilshire. The driver eventually let us off a couple blocks shy of Westwood, and I slipped onto my bike and rode the gutter until I could turn right on Glendon. As I did, though, I happened to turn and look through the engines.

One beige SUV had its front fender smashed in. Another smaller car might have been on its side or flipped over, its front almost sheared off. It was on the curb or against the curb or even as far as the sidewalk. There may have been another car still obscured by the trucks. No bodies, and my memory may even now be playing tricks on me, but there a line of police cars shunting traffic off of Wilshire, and an almost bizzarre quiet. I didn’t linger and quickly put the scene behind me.

I mention it because a conversation about the relationship between driving and sight came up today. In a lot of ways, it’s probably a tangential topic, this relationship between ways of seeing and the positions from which we see. This is, in some ways, not a new question for me, but still a pressing one. How does being on a bike impact the way in which we see the city, and is it necessarily for the better? One of the key issues that has to be addressed in talking about bikes, I think, is the numbers in which we ride. As a solitary individual, my rights, my privilege, are fairly abridged, simply by virtue of being solitary. But in taking to the streets in numbers, be it in Critical Mass or in the ongoing protests against Prop 8, you regain a certain prerogative of action. You can do in a way once not possible.

As to how all of that links to the scene of the accident at Glendon and Wilshire this morning, perhaps this: One of the luxuries, the fleeting joys, of being among others in common cause is the sense of safety it imparts. Driving among others might impart something of that, a certainty of safety in spite of an uncertain world (one need only think of the appeal of SUVs); what accidents like today remind one is that in spite of that solidarity, catastrophe is sudden. A brief line from the radio this morning (I think a Kenneth Turan review on NPR): Plan for life of a hundred years, but live as though today might be your last.

riding because you can: critical mass

There was some point during last night’s Critical Mass ride when Brian – recently moved from Jackson Hole, now living in Culver City – turned to me and said, I don’t have any idea where we are.

Last night’s ride – my first – had a lot of those moments, even for someone who lives in the area. For people who came in from other parts of Los Angeles, their heads must have been spinning by the time we finally ended up in the parking lot of the Rite Aid at Hollywood and Vermont. That was about the time that I peeled off, but the two hours’ ride we took last night curled through Koreatown and up into the eastern verges of Hollywood, down empty streets and streets thick with families leading their kids out trick-or-treating, along back roads (as much as any exist in Los Angeles) and through the thick of traffic heading west on Sunset or on Melrose.

I mapped out the ride this morning, and what struck me was the way in which the map confirmed a feeling I had when I was riding: We didn’t really go anywhere.

Check that: We didn’t really go anywhere in the way that I usually think of going places in this city. When I get in my car, get on the bus, or even (usually) when I get on my bike to commute home from campus, I have a very destination-oriented approach to what I’m doing. Sure, there are different modes of moving, but they are all teleological, in that they’re inflected by my desire to arrive at a specific place as efficiently as possible. That’s not Critical Mass. While there’s an ultimate destination, the ride is everything. While there’s a route, it’s not so much about getting there efficiently as it is about having FUN while doing it.

And that’s kind of daunting at first. Coming from an experience of riding in the city where I’ve always been going somewhere specific, it was a little confusing to figure out how to fit in with the group. I don’t think I quite managed it, but you can reach a point where you just settle in and ride for the sheer pleasure of the experience.

You ride because you can, and though I don’t know much of anything about the ethos behind Critical Mass, that way in which it lets you ride for no other reason than that you can strikes me as something rare and something worth fighting for. See you next time.

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.

bike town beta thoughts part 2

First of all, thank you again to the organizers of last Saturday’s Bike Town Beta. That evening was my first time out in a group with other riders, and the whole experience was really empowering.

I met up with a couple of people next to the Bike Kitchen late Saturday afternoon. Taking off was sort of a haphazard affair, what with figuring out who was riding, if we should wait for stragglers, and what route we were going to take out. As it was, we struck out on Santa Monica Blvd. – traffic, but nothing too horrendous, a bike lane in West Hollywood. We cut up to Carmelita once we made it into Beverly Hills and decided to chance Wilshire coming out.

My thought on Wilshire: Friends don’t let friends ride Wilshire. As a hill, it’s not that bad, and traffic isn’t so bad that you’re going to get hit. But as a road, as a physical fact, it’s miserable. It’s absolutely shot, riddled with cracks, potholes and the assorted wreckage of a thousand rush hours. If you have any choice in the matter, don’t ride Wilshire. And if you must (because I feel like I must), take the sidewalk through the country club. Please.

But we made it to Westwood well before most cyclists rolled in – hung out on the edge of UCLA’s campus and talked politics and planning (thanks Mark and Stuart for the conversation) until 6 rolled around. We met the first mass of cyclists coming up from Venice just after 6 and the next fifteen minutes or so we a kind of glorious freedom for me. Like I said, I’ve never really ridden in a big group before, and there was something really exhilirating about being in a mass of people that cars had to recognize as a group and not as individuals (arguments for collective bargaining?).

We rode a couple of laps through Westwood until someone called a halt to find ice cream. From there, people seemed to gather themselves and wander off into the evening. I hung out on the corner at Westwood and Kinross for a little, watching people jump rope, catch up with friends, and make plans for the rest of the evening. I didn’t know much of anyone so stayed on the margins of the whole affair; and it didn’t help that I was planning on leaving before the evening was done anyways.

I hung out there until someone summoned people over the Bertha – which, after a slightly anarchic ride, I learned was a RV – where people gathered again to laugh and plan again for the evening. That was about the time that I skipped out – before Alec’s Red Light Tit Tag, before much of anything really.

In all honesty, I’m not in any position to render any sort of final opinion about the evening. But a conversation I overheard might be a good way to end. I was poking about at the first corner, listening in where I could. What are we doing?, someone asked, Is there a plan? No, someone answered, this is just the beta! But it’s still an open question: Green LA Girl talked about Bike Town as a way of envisioning Los Angeles as a bicycle-centric city, and I’m not sure the event lived up to that. And I think a lot can still be said about what it means to have a bike town. All of that said, thank you again to Alec and everyone else who helped organize the evening.

I’m curious to see what direction Bike Town goes, be it direct action, purchase power, general fun, or some combination of any and all of the fun.

You can find a couple of my first reactions here; but more important to me at the moment is this idea I’m still working with of developing a common map for the cycling community, a way of creating a common well of knowing the roads.

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.

tonight’s ride

dark comes more quickly these days. i rolled out from UCLA a couple of minutes past six today without my front light, but had to stop at san vincente and sixth to put it back on. i’m still a bit jumpy after last week, and decided it was better to take the minute than regret it later.

home safe and sound now, and still trying to work through some more thoughts after BikinginLA’s recent work. nothing yet, though i think the central issue for me is this: how do you balance legislation with engineering? with activism? with plain old driver education?

all of that said, one of the reasons i wanted to start a more cycling-specific writing effort was to give some sense of how possible it is to ride in this city. talking to friends on campus, a couple of them often seem a bit incredulous at the thought of riding from UCLA to koreatown, and so i thought it might be an interesting project to start putting together some maps of my rides. this one here was tonight’s.

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.

08 october 08

cresting wilshire this evening, had to smile: looking east down that broad boulevard, the evening hung in the heavy angeleno air. the pitch and thrill of cars on the road, the street’s complaint. sure, you can see it through the car window, but who has the time? pause for a moment beside the green wooden bus stop tucked into the hedge beside the country club, catch the scent of eucalyptus. by the time i get home, not dark but nearly so, the brushed velvet of griffith park in the distance, the glimmer of the observatory on the hill.