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The things we'll do to go on a bike ride.

Today the city of Los Angeles closed off several main streets to traffic, leaving it safe for bikers and pedestrians. It's called Ciclavia. I love this day.

Of course, being in Los Angeles, everyone lives spread out far from the center. We commute into the center on buses, trains, maybe even cars, in order to ride our bikes around the city.

Ciclavia was great, but the drama came on the home trip. Imagine thousands of urban cyclists squeezing into a tiny string of subway cars.

We were ready to wait patiently for out turn, but as we worked our way through the crowd towards Union Station, we were told that the Red Line was temporarily closed.

I was outraged for a while. I thought they arbitrarily blocked us off so that instead of dealing with hordes of bikers on a Sunday afternoon, they would have to deal with hordes of bikers a few hours later on a Sunday evening. It didn't seem logical.

It turns out the real issue was a bomb threat.

I didn't wait for the news, though. I met a friend who had her car parked a few miles away, complete with a bike rack on the back. She handed me a spare key with the idea I would ride my bike to her car, and drive back to pick her up.

But when I got there, the car key was useless because she had "The Club" locking the wheel.

For a biking event that ended at 3, I didn't even get home until after 5. Not a disaster, but it got me thinking.

I could have just got on my bike and taken a ride anywhere I wanted today, and avoided the hassles of a group trip. Why do we really ride our bikes?

For me, it has never been about racing or speed. I thought I was just using the bike as a fun way to get around, and save some money along the way. But it turns out I'm willing--even eager--to spend 7 hours of my time to take a 45-minute bike ride if it's part of a big group event.

I had a lot to do this weekend, and doing Cyclavia meant giving up some sleep. But I didn't just ride. I met a professional musician, and talked about wine with a dude from Argentina. I even got a new business idea which may someday provide the means to go on more bike tours.

Biking is a social event, something I hadn't thought about since the last time I went on Midnite Ridazz. That's another reason I ride a bike.

Biking is social, something that can bring strangers together.

 

There are now so many people using their bikes as transportation in Los Angeles that we actually have a parking problem. A number of businesses (notably independent cafes and restaurants) have installed bike parking in front of their doors. I suspect this has been invaluable in helping them survive the recession.

Anyway, I've been wondering whether the owners put up bike racks to attract more bike commuting customers, or whether they did it because many of their customers were bikers already.

Which came first? And could anybody build up their business by showing that they're edgy, forward-looking and ecologically aware by catering more to bike riders?

If you ever ride a bike in L.A., you probably feel the pain of living in the classic car-dominated culture. So this might surprise you. It certainly blew me away.

Los Angeles could be a bicycle-friendly city
Los Angeles could be a bicycle-friendly city

On his Human Transit blog, Jarret Walker listed the top 50 cities with the highest percentage of car-free households. East L.A. made the list, with 21% of households living without the automobile. Even Los Angeles itself was up there, albeit in 49th place, with a car-free density of 16.53%. We beat Seattle!

The reasons don't have much to do with ecological awareness. It's more a combination of poverty, age (Los Angeles was a big city before the riode pf the automobile), and urban density. Still, this just empasizes the opportunity here.

There's always been a weird misconception that the bicycle is a luxury toy for the well-to-do, or a vehicle for the suburbs and the country. But given that poverty and density are compelling obstacles to owning a car for many people, biking just makes more sense. 

There could be a perfect storm brewing over this. Los Angeles has a strong bike culture already, and a bike plan (even if it has many shortcomings) is in place.

With our relatively flat streets and typically good weather (not counting this week), LA should be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Now there's some political will to make it happen, and statistics to show that it can be done.