Biking in LA: An Act of Trusting Strangers

I haven't been as dedicated a bicyclist as I had been the past two years, perhaps because of me now viewing my time as limited and spending most of it in Wilmington.

These days I'm around a lot of people who do not bike to commute, who at best view bicycling as a recreational activity.  My current girlfriend is one of them.

She owns the heaviest, but most stylish cruiser bike ever made.  Its like a 50-pound green bike with sunflowers on it.  It's really only made for beach cruising and nothing more.  We once took it on the back of my Corolla along with my road bike to a (Councilman) Tom Labonge bike ride where she rode a hellish 12 miles struggling to keep pace with a pack that seemed to all have road bikes.  She absolutely refuses the free, lighter mountain bike that my godsister is willing to donate to her.

She is quite terrified of the idea of biking on anywhere but the sidewalk.

Last Labor Day, we decided to bike from her place in East Wilmington to her parents' abode in West Wilmington.  It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time she'd biked in a long while.  She would do this even before she'd met me, but it would be on the sidewalk.

We rode a little bit on the road, I followed her from her back, making sure that if anyone was going to get hit, it would be me. It's a pretty calm ride, if not utterly boring for an LA biking veteran.  Good thing I had my iPhone bumping Paulina Rubio.  Despite taking only residential streets and having the luxury of this self-proclaimed "LA biking veteran" literally watching her back, there were still a few streets on which she clung to and rode the razor thin, crack-laiden sidewalk.

I was thinking of her experience as I rode from East Wilmington to Long Beach today.  Biking this route means biking industry-serving bridges that act as quasi-freeways on Pacific Coast Highway, big rigs, and drivers pressuring me to bike faster or get the hell out of their way.  Along the way along Poly, I passed 2 girls riding the wrong way on the street.

I had three thoughts, which sound a lot more organized as I write them out for you:

1)  I've seen quite a few bicyclists riding the wrong way in Long Beach on busy streets.  My girlfriend told me that "maybe" people rode the wrong way so they could "see the traffic" as opposed to being blind to it from behind.  I thought maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if one day bike lanes were big enough as a street lane and accommodated both directions in one lane on both sides of the street.  I'm not a traffic planner, and I doubt its feasibility given the dependency on automobiles, but it seems like this would do something to make the designs of street more bicycle-friendly.

2)  As all this was swirling in my head, and I kept thinking about the video of that motorist from Brazil running over a bunch of critical mass riders, and how cyclists could continue to be killed without much uproar, I had this thought:  biking and riding with traffic on the street in LA is one activity where you put an immense amount of trust and faith in strangers operating these high speed machines.  "Immense amount" meaning you're trusting a lot of people traveling, trying to get somewhere at their convenience and at an accelerated pace that we've become accustomed to, not to mess with you, your body, your bicycle, or your ability to bicycle.  If you're riding with traffic, you can't see what people with their 2-ton vehicles behind you are doing, which immediately puts your limbs, and life at risk.  It represents too much uncertainty in the crazy social worlds of uncertainty we already have.

I feel like I put too much trust in motorists.  Many times, it seems like doing so doesn't really pay off.

3)  If riding the bike with traffic represents uncertainty, and putting trust and faith in strangers, using the car to commute a short distance is due also in part to not trusting strangers behind the wheel.  When I was doing research for what I thought would be my thesis project, I came across a few LA Times and Press-Telegram articles about how public space in Long Beach was scary for women and children during the 90s:  kids would get jumped at bus stops.  For their safety, one woman would drive around her car 3 blocks to church to avoid walking the sidewalks.

Having and using a car represents a safe, secure, time-conscious way of moving around.  If biking could ever be made safe, secure, and time-conscious, then it would decrease dependence on the car.

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