Los Angeles as Harbinger

It is barely October 2011, and the time frame Aug-Sept 2011 has swept Los Angeles with seismic shifts in the critical mass and dare one say “convergence” of interests surrounding alternative transportation – especially bicycling. From the GOOD LA opening art exhibit on “moving beyond cars in LA” to the continued improvements on bike paths such as the 7th Street dedicated bicycle lane and the Exposition Line bike lane, to the ThinkBike LA event to the apogee of the first LA Bike Summit held appropriately in Long Beach, CA or LBC.

It is also during this time frame that the author has been able to connect with critical persons at USC – a pivotal institution located in South LA and that is connecting to downtown via the newly completed, soon-to-be-operational Exposition Line (light rail) and the so-called “Figueroa Corridor” that connects to the Staples-Nokia Centers (South Park). Academically there is also a sea change at USC led largely by such faculty as François Bar of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Deike Peters of the School of Public Policy and Planning (SPPD) who will be teaching a bicycle planning course in the Spring 2012 semester and who is changing the orientation of the METRANS Transportation Center with new energy and initiatives relating to bicycling. As part of François Bar’s “Mobile Communication: Learning by Hacking” course, some brilliant students and I are experimenting with an SMS-based story-telling mobile platform, enabling regular cell phone users to upload images and simple text stories including location maps via their non-smartphone, plain-old-cellphone.

There is a fundamental change in Los Angeles that reverberates throughout the many communities and bicycling cultures that permeate the land. It is at the city where Mayor Villaraigosa and key persons at City Hall are transforming the urbanscape with new measures such as SB 190 the “three-feet to pass” bike law and the strictest anti-bicyclist harassment liability law in the country passed in July, sponsored by Bill Rosendahl of the LA City Council , to the efforts by those like Jaime de la Vega who leads the LA Transportation Department and who supported and joined the ThinkBike LA events.

For this writer, the changes parallel the changes in the USC-to-the-Pacific-Ocean corridor via Exposition-Jefferson-Ballone-Creek. Since 2004 I rode from Santa Monica to USC with the apprehension that all riders had at that time – and probably still do as newbies to such a commute. I would ride the path along the ocean from Santa Monica, south to Marin del Rey, and then up the Ballone Creek to Jefferson and La Cienega. With ‘laser eyes’ I would be constantly scanning for any moving objects – cars especially – that were not supposed to be moving, and trying to anticipate a door opening. Since around March 2011 – oddly the same time that I moved to within walking distance of my employer USC – there is now a bicycle lane connecting Exposition Blvd to Jefferson and then on to the bike path along Ballone Creek to the ocean. Over eight years of intense morning rides at approximately one hour and ten minutes – often wondering if it was worth it. Now a kind path that I ride almost daily to places like Baldwin Hills or the ocean. A gentle reminder of what once was a rather intense challenge, to what is now a wonderful, dare I say even family-oriented pathway. It will be especially interesting once the parallel Exposition Line (light rail line) is operational – scheduled for early 2012.

The culmination of these past months and a microcosm for what is to come with bicycling across the world, is the Bicycle Summit held in Long Beach, CA (LBC) on September 30, 2011. The Summit was truly a Summit and covered the major issues surrounding bicycling: safety, infrastructure, health, economics, style and fashion, community, politics, planning, data and metrics, and so much more. It was an incredible day that folks like Jean Armbruster (Director, PLACE Program) called an “historic day” and that we were actually acting as a county – because we all had a compelling need to address the role of the bicycle.