A Woman’s Comfort on Our Streets

10_6_09_map.jpgOne of Enci’s many Thomas Guide maps, colored in for routes she’s taken.

WI’m young, I’m an actor and a
photographer and I’m a woman. This might be nothing unusual in Los
Angeles with the exception that I’m also car free.

I ride my
bike everywhere and I take the Metro rail or bus to auditions,
interviews, meetings and jobs. I carry my photo equipment on the back
of my bike when I have a photo assignment across town. I ride my bike
in dress and heels and made up when I have an audition in the Valley. I
carry my wardrobe in my panniers on my bike when I go to my theater
rehearsals and performances at night.

I ride and travel the
streets of Los Angeles at odd times, day and night and often times at
new places I’ve never been before. Because I’m not locked in the safety
of a car, I plan my route ahead of time and I chose carefully where I
go, what streets I take and what roads I travel. And my route changes
with the time of day.

In the daytime, I like to discover new
streets and new neighborhoods. I have an old Thomas Guide that has all
the routes marked that I have traveled and I like to take streets that
I haven’t traveled before. I love discovering the smells and sights and
sounds of the neighborhoods that I never traveled when I used to drive.
I like to see the neighborhoods where people walk their dogs, where
kids rule the streets, where trees arch over each other and let the sun
glitter through the leaves. I love to travel through the neighborhoods
that have history left from the night before; Fresh graffiti or a new
mural, party bottles overfilling trash bins, or soft piano music coming
from a couples window.

At night I travel main corridors, big and
busy streets. The busy streets are always well lit and they are
maintained to the most part. I can see where I’m going, who is ahead of
me or behind me and I can be seen if anything happens. I avoid any side
street, even if I have to do a detour. They are not well lit, they have
potholes, cracks, dark intersections and I’m invisible by anybody who
drives by and could be witness if anything happened.

I like to
feel safe wherever I travel. I like to feel safe when I’m dressed up,
without worrying about harassment. I like to feel safe when I’m
carrying my equipment and not worry about being robbed. And it is not
unique to me because I’m a woman. Anybody likes these same things,
regardless of what mode they travel. But I am the best judge for my own
safety and nobody should tell me I shouldn’t be out on the street
because it’s late and dangerous on a bike or on foot. That’s like
telling me to not dress up or wear a skirt because there are wild men
out there and it can be dangerous.

Bike lanes or paths or
routes give no consideration to the time of day people travel. At night
paths and routes are empty and prone to criminal activity. Paths and
routes have been segregated from the busy streets for the benefit of
the speed of motor vehicles and to the danger of those who travel
alone. Bike lanes are the pedestrian zone for those who come out of the
clubs and chat with friends before they get into the car and they are
also the jogging area for runners, who feel safer running against
traffic in the bike lane than on the dark and broken sidewalk.

In
LA we have the freedom to choose what is convenient, what is safe and
what makes us comfortable. At least most folks do but when it comes to
cyclists or mass transit users, oftentimes the authorities (be it the
LAPD, LASD or the Transit Authorities) like to tell us where to go,
where to be and how to travel. The bus stops are dirty, stinky and
without shade throughout most of the city, the bike lanes/paths/routes
are trap zones that cyclists are told are for their benefit. The
choices for me when I’m on a bike range from riding in the door zone to
riding on an empty street that nobody travels to riding on segregated
bike paths that have long stretches with no escape routes and no eyes
on it from the community.

My choice: I avoid the door zone and if I travel on a bike lane, I ride on the
outside white line away from the cars. A British study
recently came out with their report that bike lanes are unsafe for many
reasons and
one of them is that drivers are not giving enough room to cyclists). I
don’t travel on any bike paths day or night unless I’m in a group. And
I only travel the bike routes if it is already part of my route, I
don’t detour to it.

The
choice for me when I’m walking range from to walking broken sidewalks
that are ready to break my heel to waiting at a bus stop that reeks
like urine and is sticky from the overfilled trash bins to taking the
Metro with the risk of being harassed by the Sheriffs at the NoHo Red
Line station.

My choice: Walk less, ride more. Hold my breath at
bus stops and distract myself with a good book and not make eye contact
with the Sheriffs if I’m dressed up and bury my face into my book,
script or cell phone.

I love LA and I am carfree by choice. I
rent when I need one and that is not very often. I love every part of
my travels, be it good or bad. But I know lot of people who don’t walk
or ride because it is not as easy and as comfortable as driving a car.
If LA’s Transit Authorities and the Department of Transportation would
look at our streets and redesign them and plan them through the comfort
level of a woman, our streets would be safer, cleaner and more
enjoyable to all instead of the traffic sewers that we have now.

Think about our streets as if you were a lady, it’ll be good for everybody!

  • Cindy Coan

    So awesome to find like-minded folks. I am a single mother of two pre-teen and teenage kids…and we’ve been car-free by choice for going on 3 years. We love it. But there are issues…great post. Enjoyed it.

  • You’re absolutely right, Enci. I just read your post a few hours ago and fell upon this Scientific American article that supports your claim on bike friendliness: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-more-bicyclists-on-the-road

    Keep up the great work!

  • Evan

    Sorry to be dense, but what have Sheriffs said to you while you wait at the Red Line station?

  • The city’s bike plan should look more like your map Enci! Great article. Keep it up!

  • Excellent first post. I enjoyed the read. Can’t wait to hear more from your perspective.

  • Norman

    Agreed that there should be more investment in developing a city environment thats suitable for bikers as well as public transportation users. However, I dont understand why these recommendations are said to be inspired particularly by women.

  • BB

    Maricopa County has been a cyclists dream. If you don’t mind cycling everywhere and everyday at the very least to a bus. You will enjoy the majority of warm sunny days, few pedestrians, few bicycle thieves, fewer cyclists, expansive infrastructure, pancake flat, no door zones on major roads, and the public officials have some respect for ya. Then you only need to survive the 20 percent of traffic which is highly questionable.

  • Ride on, Cindy! Glad you are car free! Woohoo!

    Starla, thanks for that excellent link. I love it! Great find!

    Evan, the Sheriffs ask women questions like “where are you going,” “where are you from,” “what are you listening to,” etc. Seems like harmless questions until you notice that they are paying more attention to the young ladies and are establishing themselves in a power position. They don’t seem to chat with guys or with the mother and her two kids. They ask the young girls and they stick to them. They sometimes follow the girls into the train. Sometimes two of them corner the girls and flirt with them. I talk with people about it, men and women, and others are also uncomfortable with it but people stand by and watch what’s happening but nobody dares speak up because they look like guys from the Terminator. In Europe the ticket checkers are non-threatening. The Sheriffs here are buffed up and carry weapons.

    Joe and Johnny, thank you! I hope to write some more in the future. ;-)

    Norman, women have a unique sensitivity to security than men and often this perspective is neglected. Men offer lots of advice on route selection and tell me to ride quiet side streets which are the last place I want to find myself after dark. We’re all vulnerable but I’m sensitive to eyes on the street, hiding places such as bushes and solid bus shelters, bathrooms, etc.

    The link that Starla attached is a great post that you might want to read. It’s quite enlightening. It says “Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities.”

  • “men and women, and others are also uncomfortable with it but people stand by and watch what’s happening but nobody dares speak up because they look like guys from the Terminator.”

    I’m not sure why anyone would speak up about it. I don’t look at a person initiating conversation with another person and immediately feel the urge to put a stop to it.

    I’m not aware of Sheriffs hitting on chicks in the subway, but I would guess they aren’t any different than other men who do that. Personally, people try to initiate conversation with me sometimes, but unfortunately they are often intelligible.

    I keep my headphones firmly in my ears to discourage it, even if I’m not listening to anything. Have you tried it? It might work.

  • Jennifer N.

    I guess I’ve been lucky when traveling to the NoHo Red line station – I’ve never had issues with the sheriffs, and I’m a single woman as well. For about six months, I traveled that way at least twice a week, often at night. I’ll keep my eye out for that, although now most of my red line travel ends at Hollywood & Highland.

    Good post, with valid points about personal safety… or at least “feeling” safe. I live in downtown Los Angeles, and my perception of a safe environment is somewhat different from many of my Westside dwelling friends. I do many of the same things when walking – sticking to well-lit and busy routes, avoiding side streets, avoiding pedestrian-only walkways, etc.

  • Thanks for opening my eyes, Enci. I’m one of those guys who would direct a woman cyclist to those quiet side streets, without a single thought that it might not be safe for her after dark — and those are the same sort of streets that are designated “bike friendly” in the new bike plan.

    As always, it helps to see things from someone else’s perspective.

  • Monica

    Insightful and informative post. Like you, I’m somewhat car-free by choice; I say “somewhat” because we’re a one-car family, but in Los Angeles, one car for a couple with two kids is pretty unusual. I sold my car in 2003, because I was almost never using it.

    Interestingly enough, I actually went to grad school because I didn’t want to drive. I was working less than a mile from where I lived, and was walking to work most days. I drove when I had a weekly appointment after work.

    Then they started doing something awkward to the street I worked on, changing the traffic patterns and making the driving journey about 50% longer than the walking journey, and I decided to try taking the bus to my appointment. It worked, after a fashion, but it was harder than it should be. I had lived in England for six months, and had the experience of waking up in Paris and going to sleep in my own bed in Birmingham, UK 13 hours later without ever using a private conveyance, so I KNEW it could be better.

    So when I found out I was getting laid off, I decided “What I really want to do is direct… traffic.” I got a Master’s Degree in Transportation Planning.

    I’m not using it, unfortunately; all the public entities have hiring freezes, and the private firms are looking more for engineers (the program I went through at UCLA is from a social science perspective). But one of the things that we did touch on in one of my classes is the absolute NEED to get women involved in transportation and land use planning. The example given in lecture was in parking lot design; men want to make the structures less visible from the street, screening them with bushes and decorative panels… while women focus on clear sight lines and lighting.

    Keep up the writing, and bike safe!

  • Evan

    Thanks Enci…that’s what I assumed, but wanted to be sure that’s what you were implying.

  • Metro should discourage men from talking to, sitting next to or making eye contact with women on the subway.

  • alek

    Great article, Enci. Thanks for highlighting the different decisions women have to make for safety and comfort, that might not be obvious to the men who frequent this blog.

    Also, yikes on the sheriffs at the station. It’s awful that men in positions of authority so often don’t know how to handle it. I’ll definitely pay more attention on the train for that kinds of stuff. The more eyes and ears on the lookout, the better.

  • cph

    “Metro should discourage men from talking to, sitting next to or making eye contact with women on the subway.”

    They could always go the Mexico City/Cairo/Dubai/Tokyo route….

  • Yah – more women commentors!!! We need more posts that bring out new commentors from mom’s and other new voices!

  • Good post by Portland’s Elly Blue about cycling, sexism, leadership and more:
    http://bikeportland.org/2010/01/12/editorial-my-year-as-a-woman-in-a-city-of-bikes/

  • HotDogLa

    I think you’re lying.

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