SBLA Editor Joe Linton Featured in Guardian UK Tour of US Car Capitals

Screen shot of today's Guardian article
Screen shot of today’s Guardian article

In September, I had the pleasure of bicycling around Los Angeles with Guardian journalist Nick Van Mead. The reporter was on a tour of three of the United States’ car capitals – Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles – to understand how car-centric places are moving into a healthier, more multi-modal future.

Today, Van Mead’s article America’s road trip: will the US ever kick the car habit? was published at the Guardian.

Sitting at Relámpago Wheelery, Jimmy Lizama and I related to Van Mead how bicycling in L.A. has come a long way and how we still have a long way to go. Then Van Mead and I rode the 7th Street bike lanes into downtown L.A., checked out pedestrian improvements on Broadway, green bike lanes on Spring Street, and protected bike lanes on Los Angeles Street, and rode back on the L.A. River bike path.

I told Van Mead that I was concerned that some reporters drop into L.A. and report tired stories more or less saying “Whoa! Who Knew It!?! There Are Actually Bicyclists in L.A.!!!” I have seen quite a few stories like this, dating back to a 1999 National Public Radio piece. It seems like it is one of my roles to tell reporters that walking and bicycling in L.A. really is not new or news. I like the way Newsweek quoted me on this: “People have been walking in L.A. since before Columbus discovered America.” Unfortunately neither the Guardian nor Newsweek could resist quoting the tired counterpoint from that misleading Missing Persons song.

I was glad to see Van Mead relay my conviction that governmental planning and transportation professionals are “only just catching up with how groups of Angelenos have been using their streets for years.” I find that many people look at L.A. today and read it as: people are bicycling more because there is, finally, some bicycle infrastructure. I tend to read it the opposite way. People have been bicycling for a long time. Bicycling has visibly increased in L.A., especially around 2000-2010, while the city did next to nothing for bikes. Now, finally, L.A. is implementing bike infrastructure to catch up with people already bicycling.

My point underscores what L.A. County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler states in the article:

If this is the number of people cycling without very good infrastructure, then you will really see that jump when we have better lanes.

L.A. City Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds rounds out the article, speaking on the other side of the equation. It is not enough to just provide “carrots” in the form of safe walk and bike facilities but we also need to implement some “sticks” to make driving more reflective of its high societal costs, she says. From the article:

Unlike other city officials I’ve met on this trip, Reynolds at least acknowledges the existence of a “stick” – in the form of more expensive parking, and perhaps even a congestion charge one day – alongside the carrot (better transit and safer facilities for walking and cycling).

“To reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles, for example, research shows carrots can cut that by 7 or 8 percent, but sticks can have a 30 percent effect. We need the carrot and the stick. It’s a question of providing good options but having some really good public policy discussions about the stick … and that’s tricky.”

All three cities are taking some impressive measures to encourage walking, cycling, and public transport – from Detroit’s land grabs and protected bike lanes, to Houston’s bayou conversions, and LA’s Metro extensions – but this is the first time I’ve heard “the stick” mentioned.

There is plenty of more about Los Angeles, Detroit, and Houston emerging as more balanced, more livable cities. Read the full Guardian article here.