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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Los Angeles on two wheels.

'Bicycles' and 'Los Angeles' aren't two words usually found in the same sentence. But over at Slate, Andy Bowers puts them together a whole bunch as he describes what a bicycle commuter's life is like in the City of Angels.

Instead of the major thoroughfares I use when driving, I cycled quiet back streets — the kind that infuriate me in a car because of all the stop signs and the impossibility of crossing major streets without a signal. I found my commute so easy that I soon started looking for other short trips I could make on the bike — picking up a few groceries, going to the gym, returning library books — then longer ones. I plotted new stealth routes no driver would ever take. (Tip: The satellite photos on Google Earth are much better for doing this than a road map, because you can see exactly what the streets look like.)

One day, I found myself biking down an empty little access road next to the notorious 405 freeway during the evening commute. The freeway, as usual, was paralyzed, and I noticed I was actually moving faster than the cars. That's when the revelation hit: Over the past few months, I had discovered a different Los Angeles.

It's very easy for an L.A. driver to think that our city is as choked with humanity as Manhattan. From the driver's point of view, that's increasingly true — there are more and more evenings when every major street is stopped dead, and going a few miles can take hours. At work the next day, people grimly shake their heads and lament what's becoming of the city.

Not only has riding my bike enabled me to glide past all this gridlock (in fact, I'm often not even aware it's happening), but it has made me realize that it's an illusion. The city itself is not gridlocked — merely the narrow asphalt ribbons onto which we squeeze all our single-occupant cars. On the back streets I now take, everything is quiet and serene. The main roads may mimic Times Square on New Year's Eve, but the areas between L.A.'s clogged arteries comprise mile after square mile of low-density, low-stress residential bliss (the same is true, I suspect, of most American cities)

Bowers' article brings back memories of our own bike commuting in the early 1970s in the San Gabriel Valley, a big mess of suburbs east of downtown LA. We rode our bike to work at the phone company and to classes at community college, sometimes covering 50 miles a day if we had to go to school more than once. Even using the main streets, as we were often forced to do, our commute was much nicer than the same trip in a car. We actually got to see the neighborhoods we rode through, and if something really caught our eye, it was easy to stop and look at it. And, as Bowers has also discovered, the time it took to get from one place to another when bikings wasn't much differnt than the time it took driving: Our 8-mile trip to school, for example, took fewer than 10 minutes less than driving, largely because we didn't have to circle the college's parking lots looking for a place to put the car.

There were down sides to the bike commute. Drivers weren't much friendlier to bicycles then than they are now. And riding a bike on a smoggy LA day is no fun, let us tell you. But all of that was easily offset each time we rode by those cars waiting in long gas station lines during the first 1970s oil shock.

We've gotten much lazier over the years, sadly, and even though we live in a city that's very bicycle-friendly — Portland, OR — we don't get on our bike that often. We really should change that.

Via Slate.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:00 AM | Get permalink




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