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!