How much time do you spend cycling in the city?

Hit and run accidents. Graph: AAA Foundation.

Reader Kyle says, “This will sound like a loaded question, but it is totally sincere: How much time do you spend cycling in the city? I tried re-taking up cycling as an adult in Seattle and it was terrifying, even in areas with clear bike lanes. In fact, I only cycled in areas with clear bike lanes….I had this vision that I would get comfortable enough that I would be able to cycle to my stable about 40 miles away via the trails paved over the old railway lines. My life changed and I ended up moving down there to shorten my commute, but cycling out here is very much an at-your-own-risk activity. But my experiment in Seattle failed. I was very much not comfortable on a bike, despite my grand vision of joining cycling culture and going all over the city without a car.”

A great question. The truth is that I spend less time cycling around Los Angeles than I did ten years ago. Partly, this is due to fewer family and work obligations. Kelly and I just don’t leave our neighborhood much anymore.

But there’s another reason I’m using my bike less and that’s because, like Kyle, I don’t feel safe. The carnage on our roads, after lessoning for many years, is back up. Hit and run accidents alone spiked by an astonishing 60% (see Hit-and-Run Deaths Are Skyrocketing, and Pedestrians and Cyclists Bear the Brunt in LA Streetsblog). Accident statistics related to cycling and walking are difficult to interpret as many incidents go unreported and police and the mainstream media often have a bias towards drivers. But the overall trend is not good. I’ve been hit by cars twice while riding a bike and Kelly got hit by a car while walking the dog last December.

While difficult to prove I believe we can blame the uptick in accidents on mobile devices. Combine those distracting devices with roads designed for high speeds and you’ve created the conditions that will scare people away from walking and biking. It’s a vicious feedback loop. We don’t feel safe so we drive more and thereby contribute to the problem.

The solution is also frustratingly simple: prioritize walking and cycling over driving. This involves slowing down traffic, making parking expensive and difficult, installing bike and bus only lanes and heavily penalizing anyone who texts and drives. Unfortunately, these are unpalatable and career ending policies for our council members and mayor.

But we can’t give up hope. I was a small part of the push, ten years ago, to make things better for cycling in Los Angeles. I feel like contributing to a second effort before I give up and move to the car-free paradise that is Venice, Italy (and drown in the rising waters caused by everyone driving).

This time around I’d like to help figure out a different strategy. But I’m not sure what that strategy will be. All I know is that we’ll have to try something other than having a bunch of hardcore cyclists show up and get ignored at LA’s horrible city council meetings. What that new strategy will be is something I’d like to turn my attention to once I’m done with my domestic carpentry duties.

Do you ride a bike? Have you taken up bike and pedestrian issues with your local politicians?

What You Can Do to Make Our Streets Safer

Frederick Frazier and the accident scene where he lost his life.

On Tuesday of this week, 22 year old Frederick Frazier was riding his bike with a group of friends in the middle of the day. He was struck and killed by a motorist who left the scene and has yet to be apprehended. The next day Frazier’s friends held a vigil at the site of the accident. While they stood in the intersection an angry motorist deliberately drove into the group hitting and injuring one of Frazier’s friends. This motorist also drove off without stopping.

I’ve been hit by cars twice while cycling and Kelly was hit by a car while walking. Thankfully, neither of us suffered serious injuries. Many of our fellow Angelinos, like Frazier, were not so lucky. Two hundred and forty-four people died in traffic crashes in the city of Los Angeles in 2017. Unfortunately, our elected officials here in Los Angeles don’t take this public health crisis seriously enough. Rather than make our streets safer they spend their time pondering presidential runs and virtue signaling on issues they have no legislative authority over. When my own councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s hypocrisy was pointed out to him (he halted a road diet on Temple street where 5 people have died and 34 have been seriously injured between 2009 and 2017), he responded with this terse and arrogant Tweet:

Between Frazier’s death and my own councilman’s intemperate tweeting, I’ve been too angry to write or work on the podcast this week. The week’s bad news (an acquaintance of mine also broke 11 ribs in a bike vs. car crash) brought up bad memories of the bike and pedestrian advocacy that I was a part of years ago. I especially remember two frustrating situations, when a group of us unsuccessfully attempted to stop Hollywood lobbyists from taking way bike lanes as well as the time we dared to suggest that speed limits should be lowered. In both cases we were treated condescendingly and, in the case of the Hollywood bike lane incident, not even allowed to speak.

I’m reluctant to bring up these issues on Root Simple because I strive to keep the blog positive and practical. But I can think of at least two simple things you can do to begin the process of making our cities more livable and safe, especially for our children and elders.

Burn Your AAA Card
The Automobile Club likes to hide behind the cheery road trip facade epitomized by their magazines and free travel advice. But behind the scenes they are a lobbying group as powerful and nefarious as the tobacco industry. They’ve never seen a road they don’t like and have spent the past hundred years making our cities into dangerous traffic sewers (see this article). Their lobbyists have a seat on municipal traffic commissions and they have the ear of our politicians. Thankfully there’s an alternative. If you want roadside assistance you can sign up for the Better World Club or just use the towing service offered by your insurance company. The tow trucks all come from the same source so you don’t need AAA.

Find Out Your Neighborhood’s Crash Hot Spots
If you live in California you have free access to a powerful map-based database, the Transportation Injury Mapping System. Once you sign up for a free account you can search your neighborhood by type of accident or go to their map which shows pedestrian and cycling crash “hot spots.” Armed with this information you can ask your elected officials for help by, at least, writing a letter. Or, if you’re a parent, look up the intersections around their school and share this information with your PTA and elected officials.

A better world is possible. In Walter Benjamin’s thinking the Messiah returns and just makes a bunch of small changes. We don’t need grand schemes like Elon Musk’s car tubes or Uber’s flying drone cars. We human beings, before the age of the automobile, used to make human-scaled cities. Those cities can still be visited and learned from (treat yourself to a vacation in Sienna or Venice). The changes we need to make are simple, inexpensive and don’t rely on any new technology.

City Mapper, an Alternative to Uber/Lyft

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Queasy about the exploitation of gig economy employees? I am, and this is why I’ve yet to step into an Uber or Lyft. Apparently the City of London agrees with me having, this week, pulled Uber’s license.

My ride sharing alternative, when I don’t feel like driving or riding my bike, is a handy and free public transit app called City Mapper. City Mapper works in 39 cities worldwide. Enter a starting and ending point in City Mapper and the app offers you a number of transit options along with estimated travel time.

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Once you choose a transit option it shows you a map and helps you navigate to the nearest transit stop. When you’re on a bus or train it will buzz your phone to notify you when to get off (good for the transit dozing types, I suppose).

City Mapper runs on iPhones, Androids and on the web. It also suggests bike sharing options (though I haven’t tested this feature) and will even help you hail an Uber if that floats your transit boat.

The Most Attractive Cargo Bike in the World

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While doing an image search about home coffee roasting (I’ll post on that later this week), I stumbled across what I think is the most handsome cargo bike I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the delivery bikes for the Portland based (of course) Trailhead Coffee Roasters. They also seem to have an equally attractive mobile brew bike that you can rent out for events.

Though not as pretty, I’m still very happy with my Xtracycle cargo bike and use it for hardware store runs and to avoid the fistfights that break out over parking at our local Trader Joes.

Do you have a cargo bike? If so, what kind?