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The first national Bike to School Day took place this Wednesday, May 9, including participation from the Warren High School Cycling Club and two other secondary schools in the area. The entire month of May, in fact, is National Bike Month, and National Bike to Work Day is next Friday, May 18. (Except for the San Francisco area, where they seem to be celebrating it on Thursday, May 10.)
Despite the fact that I've been retired for about a year and a half, I thought it would be interesting to experience riding a bike to my old workplace in Culver City, about 35 miles round trip from my house in Downey. Let me be clear that I'm not an athlete, and certainly not a competitive cyclist, though I have been riding a bicycle as my primary, if not exclusive, mode of transportation for most of the past year. My limit has been about a twelve mile radius, including occasional bicycle commutes to downtown Los Angeles. So the idea of a thirty-five mile ride out and back frankly made me a little nervous.
For starters, I checked my usual source for locating a route to a destination I'm not familiar with on my bike--namely, Google Maps. If you haven't already noticed, Google Maps has a bicycle option under directions, although they clearly note that bike directions are still in beta. These directions sent me zig-zagging to the north and west towards USC and the closest stop for L.A. Metro's new Expo Line, destined eventually for Santa Monica, but currently taking passengers as far west as La Cienega Boulevard, just a few blocks away from my old work address. (I figured I'd parallel the Expo Line, just in case I ran out of gas--so to speak.)
Google Maps, it turns out, is uncannily savvy about how it picks routes for bicyclists. Specifically, it looks for ways to keep you off the major thoroughfares and on less traveled streets, including even sending you down alleys that parallel major arterials (street engineering lingo for principal throughways). This can be good news and bad news, because these alleys don't have names, and sometimes Google sends you in directions and down streets without names that don't seem to exist.
So I ended up mostly guessing my way until I finally reached Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which heads west towards Exposition Blvd., then Jefferson Blvd., all of which were familiar to me. I turned the corner onto King Boulevard, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear!?!?! But a bike lane. A bike lane! Right before me on a major Los Angeles city street. Thank you, Martin!
I indulged this eighth wonder of the world until I headed into Exposition Park, with its astonishing Rose Garden, the Sports Arena, Coliseum, and the Museum of Natural History, coming out the other side to Exposition Boulevard, and--lo and behold!--another bike lane! Turns out with the development of the Expo Line that both Exposition and Jefferson Boulevards (Thank you, Thomas!) have been outfitted with bike lanes all the way to La Cienega. So I luxuriated in the comfort of my own travel space until the last few blocks on National Boulevard in Culver City.
Returning, I discovered two more bicycle amenities that signal the future of bicycle transportation--literally. At two red lights on the return bike route there were weight triggers for bikes under the asphalt. By standing on the designated lines, my weight along with the bike's communicated a signal change to the red light, where normally I would expect to have to become a pedestrian in order to get a light change at the crosswalk. This was my first real-life experience of a growing number of traffic devices now being implemented to facilitate bicycle travel.
To put my experience in perspective for further discussion, I would offer a few observations. First, I wore a helmet, universally recommended by bicycle advocates everywhere. Second, I observed all traffic regulations. (OK, maybe a few California stops on the back streets, but NEVER when another vehicle was in sight.) By the way, without exception, whenever I came to a four-way stop at the same time as a motorized vehicle, the driver deferred to me. Third, I took Google Maps' advice--as I always do--and stayed on the back streets as much as possible. Even Exposition and Jefferson Boulevards have less traffic than some of the north-south streets I've experienced riding to L.A., such as Santa Fe and Alameda. (I suppose most of the east-west traffic was gridlocked on the I-10.)
This leads us to our next topic, as requested by Patriot reader, Mr. Paul Duran. Next time we'll look at bicycle rules and some elements of common courtesy between bicyclists and drivers as we share the road together.
Published: May 10, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 04