Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bike Haters?

In the last two weeks I feel like there has been an outpouring of news about really horrible tension between bicyclists and the rest of the world, mostly motorists, police, and the news media. First there was news of a really terrible road-rage incident between cyclists and a motorist on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood that resulted in some serious injuries. Then there was news about "formal discussions" between the cycling community and LA city governance to address the clearly growing tension between motorists and cyclists. I know I have been away for awhile, but I had no idea that tensions were getting that bad. And then, there was news of two really horrible incidents involving Critical Mass rides,* one in Seattle and the other in involving a rookie officer and cyclist in NYC (which, incidentally, became a sensation on YouTube). This hate has been so strong that I have been specifically avoiding talking about it and instead forward emails to all of my friends with the bad news. This is no way for me to behave, but I have been filled with so much anger about the situation (and the odd press bias against the cyclists involved) that all that was coming out was a bunch of rage-filled spew. Who wants to read that?!

I think that bike community is finally starting to deal with all of this tension. See Exhibit A, my new favorite explanation for all the anti-bike bias and hatred. We need more than that opinion circulating out there, but seriously people, what on earth is going on? In other venues I have been calling for more policy solutions. I don't know how ready we as a society are to accept the fact that our bike numbers are going up. But seriously, we are going to have to deal with it.

* For the record, I do not frequent Critical Mass events in the LA area, mostly because the anarchist spirit is a little much for my taste. I do, however, firmly believe in the right for cyclists to ride in groups. That is all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Reasons to go Car-Free

It's official. Aside from the many reasons to go car-free, here's another: it can actually help you save/make gobs of money. Last night Alina sent me this link to a book I should have read back when my car was beginning to show early signs of death: How To Live Well Without A Car. As anyone who has ditched their car can tell you: cars are way more expensive than the price of gasoline and your car payments. Think: insurance, maintenance, parking tickets, toll-roads, and parking. Hell, some apartment buildings go so far as to charge monthly fees for their own residents! The preview on page 8 breaks down all of the financial benefits for you (although in today's sad economy the investment aspect of things might not be quite so apparent). I am pretty sure my first bike purchase paid for itself within the first month of use, and that was when gas was at $2 a gallon! Anyway... I do not need to be given more reasons or guidelines on how to live my life without a car at this point, but it would have been nice if someone had presented the option to me around 2 years before I bought my first bike. And for the record, getting rid of my car did not allow me to save money or pay off my debt, it just stopped my debt from increasing exponentially.

And also, I can't wait to get back in the states just to ride my Surly again.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Planning a Carless Commute to Irvine

In the middle of August I will be attending a Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory about cultural policy and creative industry at UC Irvine. Getting there will be an adventure. I'll probably take an Amtrak down with my bike and ride to my final destination. It will take some planning, but I think I can make it work. Lucky for me I will be staying a mere 15 miles away for free. I shall thus use my daily commute to and from UCI as a training opportunity. Fun stuff, right? The irony of all of this is that I have been trying to work out the details of doing Orange County without a car for way too long. If you thought LA was addicted to cars, try the orange curtain, which never really had public transportation in mind during as part of its master-plan. Yeah, there are buses, but they aren't realistic for most people's needs.

I find it oddly ironic that this seminar which has such an emphasis on cultural policy is in a place that was thoroughly planned for a world which is no longer realistic. Growing up in a place like Laguna Beach, Irvine was often the target of much derision by my classmates and neighbors mostly because of its connections with the Irvine Company, Orange County's intensely powerful real estate firm. UCI only exists, for example, through a donation of the Irvine Company. Some would go so far as to say that all that is good about the OC only exists through the "generosity" of the Irvine Company. It's kind of hard to swallow.

For much of my youth, the wilderness-loving hippies of Laguna Beach hated everything that the Irvine Company stood for. This was mostly because they were responsible for turning most of Orange County's groves into an endless mass of controlled and pre-planned communities with look-alike homes. In 1989, many of Laguna's citizens (including myself) had to stage repeated protests just to persuade the Irvine Company not to build more tract homes in the Laguna canyon wilderness. (I could go on... but California's endless growth is finally coming to a close due to strains on water supplies.)

The ironies of dealing with the most unfortunate aspects of Orange County's development pattern will make my quest to go without a car quite... well... crazy. I'm pretty sure that my family thinks I'm nuts for insisting on not using a car for two weeks. However, I want to really experience life from my bike-saddle in a place that is really averse to making that work. And, to be honest, I also see my daily climb over Newport Coast drive as an excellent physical challenge...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Everyone's Talking Vélib!

Since Paris's Vélib just celebrated its one-year anniversary, everybody from the NY Times, to our friends over at StreetFilms is celebrating the world's largest bike share system. It's fashionable and is transforming one of the major cultural centers of the world. Check out the video! You will see people in high fashion riding little gray bikes all over the city. It's great!

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend of mine living in Rio de Janeiro about the possibility of a bike share program. "I'm afraid they would get stolen," she says. Part of me thinks that real revolution of a system like Vélib isn't that people who need bikes suddenly have them, but rather that people who otherwise would never think of using bikes have them at their disposal in a practical and convenient way. And for a place with such a close relationship with French culture like Rio, I would hope that bike shares would be, in the very least, a possibility... Maybe not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

California Alternative Commuting in the News

I woke up this morning to many articles about commuting and bicycles in the news:

• High gas prices are pushing more and more people to commute by bike. You will notice that the article emphasizes how terrifying it is to ride a bike in Los Angeles due to distracted drivers. Despite this danger, bicycle sales for the month of June spiked by 20%. Ironically, for many commuters the biking option is much quicker than driving. Awesome!

I've got to say that there are some major downsides to this spike in bike riders in LA. First, the city has yet to implement its bicycle master plan and thus bike lanes and routes are often not very well advertised or supported. Also, an influx of inexperienced riders on the road can actually be dangerous if no one follows traffic laws. I could tell you stories of the police completely ignoring dangerous cyclists out there. Finally, the article notes that many bike repair shops are completely over-booked with this new influx. New bikes mean that they all have to be tuned-up within the first few months on the road. I guess that I can't just show up at my local shop for a quick diagnosis anymore...

• Apparently with the aforementioned terror of riding with clueless drivers, many cyclists really want to use sidewalks. It is so pressing that the City of West Hollywood wants to abandon its ban of cycling on the sidewalks. This is coming from a city that actually has marked bike lanes! I've got to say that I personally prefer riding with cars than pedestrians. Cars are generally predictable, while pedestrians often aren't looking for anything moving faster than walking speed, let alone a vehicle going 10-20 miles per hour in the path. I think it's great that so many people want to ride their bikes that this is even a consideration, but it sounds to me like a major step backwards.

• Aside from bikes and scooters, the high gas prices are also encouraging southland commuters to use mass transit. No surprise there. I can't wait until SoCal's rail system actually has the capacity and lines to make the transition easier; right now, the system makes very little sense. Just think: it is actually far less of a hassle for my to ride my bike 55 miles south to Laguna Beach than to take a train. None of it makes sense...

• And just when you thought it was safe to live in your car, it seems that the California state government wants to curb the bad habits of its motorists. I'm not talking about talking or texting on cell phones, I'm talking about such offenses as reading a newspaper, painting fingernails, or having one's dog on one's lap. My personal favorite offense is changing an entire outfit while stuck in traffic (which, as a cyclist, I've seen numerous times). If this actually works, perhaps the roads will be more encouraging to the newbie bike commuter and we won't need to have cyclists on sidewalks. I can dream, right?

Monday, July 7, 2008

I miss my bike...

thus, I identified immediately with a D&R post entitled, I Want to Ride My Bicycle. Guess what? I want to ride mine too, except mine isn't nearly as cool as a cardboard bike. I never thought a theft-proof bike would be so enticing. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bike-Blogging from São Paulo

In today's Folha de São Paulo there's a brief editorial column about bicycle culture in Paris. The author, Clôvis Rossi, describes a married couple arriving at a fancy hotel on bicycles as a way of introducing Paris's Vélib or free bike service. Like other cities around the world, Paris now has approximately 20 thousand bikes at over 14 hundred stations throughout the city for rent with the first half-hour free. Awesome! (A little voice in my head nags: "but what about bike fit?" which I'll ignore for now.) Rossi muses about what this could means for traffic in such large cities like São Paulo (which is, btw, one of the largest cities in the world):

É um modelo copiável? Do ponto de vista ambiental, parece interessante. Mas você acha que São Paulo é suficientemente civilizada para que carros e motos não atropelam os ciclistas?

Or in English:

Is it a copiable model? From a distanced perspective, it looks interesting. But do you think that São Paulo is civilized enough that cars and motorcycles wouldn't run over cyclists?

I've got to say, I'm not surprised by the author's doubt. Unlike Rio de Janeiro, there is no ciclovia or specially designated bike lane here. There isn't even enough space in the right lane for cyclists to ride independent of traffic patterns. Cyclists here are the craziest bunch I've ever seen, literally riding in the middle of traffic. They often ride mountain bikes with good reason: it allows them more flexibility to jump up on bumpy sidewalks. If any of my loyal readers ever thought that I was crazy to ride around LA, I present to you the craziness that is São Paulo cycling culture.

A few years ago (before I spoke a word of Portuguese), the Folha ran an article about a reporter's experiences on a bike for a month of his working life. Not only was he robbed, but he was constantly afraid for his life as cars would frequently cut him off. A motorcycle delivery boy (known here as "motorboy") witnessed such an occurence and expounded: "nobody here respects (the rights of) cyclists." Well, to be fair, they don't respect pedestrians either.