From Spokes People to Bikeroots

Back in January 2009, Los Angeles Magazine writer Matthew Segal took an assignment as an embedded reporter (so to speak) with bike activists and group riders. The resulting article, titled “Bike Culture: Spokes People,” was a thoughtful five-page assessment of the state of the bike community in Los Angeles from the perspective of a curious onlooker. Segal discussed the genesis of the bicycling advocacy movement in the 1990s, its slow, organic evolution and its branching into more radical and more mainstream elements.

A lot of the people and groups he mentions will be immediately familiar: the LA County Bicycle Coaltion, Roadblock, Stephen Box, and Alex Thompson. But at the same time, re-reading the story now is a cogent reminder of how much has changed, especially when juxtaposed against this week’s LA Weekly cover story “The Bikeroots.”

Here are a couple story-lines that struck me as illustrative of the progress that bicycling advocates have made in those intervening two years.

Then: Police harassment of group rides.

Now: Police escorts and cooperation on enforcement issues.

Then: No coherent bike plan for the City of Los Angeles.

Now: A city-wide bike plan — with a Backbone Bikeway Network — and a five-year work plan await approval from the city council.

Then: Dr. Chris Thompson assaults two cyclists with his car on Mandeville Canyon Road.

Now: CicLAvia closes 7.5 miles of city streets to 100,000 revelers on bike and foot.

What other signposts do you see, Streetsbloggers, that indicate the maturation of the movement, its increasing influence in Los Angeles politics, or perhaps challenges still ahead?

  • I was doing fist pumps reading the LA Weekly article, because I remember how absolutely bass-ackwards things were when I got involved in all this bicycle craziness in late 2005 and 2006.

    Aggressive rhetoric, an educated and talented activist groups, relentless pressure via online and print media, social bike rides that grew the movement without any government, or corporate, money.

    The powers that be could have done this for us, but now it is out of the domain of their control. Now, they are reacting to us and we’re slowly integrating into the power structure of Los Angeles.

    The size of the public works we want is small in terms of budgets and manpower, but you get a big bang for the buck and we can re-focus our civic institutions on maintaining what we have as opposed to constant expansion.

    Anyway, I am happy, but my bike commute sucks and my family was recently treated like street trash by the folks at FIDM for arriving to a public meeting via bicycle. There is still a lot of work to be done.


  • Bob Davis

    Writing as an “outsider” (non-bicyclist who happened into this site because of my interest in rail transit), I noted the comment about “radical” and “mainstream” branches. When I see “radical” I think of groups with names like “Midnight Ridazz”, which sounds like a hip-hop group, and probably does not inspire confidence among the suburbanites. And some of these bike rallys and “Critical Mass” events seem to outsiders to have a noticeable “hooligan” or at least “freak” element. Then there’s the terminology. It’s typical for specialized groups to have their own lingo: Musicians and railroaders for example, but the public needs to be educated. A “sharrow” sounds like a farm implement. “Pannier”, “velo” and “CycLAvia” have a “foreign” sound, and we should remember that we live in one of the few countries where the Metric System is still considered an intrusion (and soccer is consider a minor sport in our sports pages). The term “road diet” has overtones of restriction and deprivation, not rationalization. “Traffic calming” sounds wonderful, but drivers who see their favorite route modified to slow their travel may be anything but calm (“What lame-brain bureaucrat thought up this scheme?!?” might be a reaction.) When gasoline becomes scarce enough, most people may have to “get in touch with their inner bicyclist,” but they may not be happy about it, especially on days that are not “sunny and mild”.

  • It’s exiting to see this article for sure – I’ll admit I haven’t read it all yet tho.

    I’m also looking forward to when people think of livable, walkable and bikable, streets and communities – it represents a broader and more diverse group of people (culturally, gender, ability/level of fitness, age, economics, language) – so much, certainly not all, of what I read still is about fit men – to me there’s way more happening out there – but sadly it seems they rarely make it into many of the things I’m reading as a integrated part of the community – not a stand alone special event/spotlight article.

  • Bob Davis, suburbanites maintain a healthy lifestyle of apathy and inactivity. If we sculpted our campaigns around their cluelessness, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

    The reality is that, on the streets, every young person that can has taken up a bicycle as their mode of transportation in my community – largely because of the “Midnight Ridazz” and Critical Mass influence on our party culture in this city.

    We brought the fun, and the people decided to join in, and now we have a movement.

  • anty

    I nominate Jessica for a Word on the Street quote.

  • I too have to say that I was struck by how much of a white male perspective this article presented. What about all the women activists who have contributed so much to help shape the bicycle movement such as Kimchi and Mabell who started Midnight Ridazz,, many of the women who have or are presently working at LACBC, and the list goes on. Not to mention the Latino immigrant cyclists, families and youth who have contributed to the face of LA’s bike scene.

    I think this article is purely political posturing for Box and not an accurate portrayal of the “Bikeroots” in LA.

  • Aurisha

    oops..My name is still linked to LACBC, even though I am no longer working there. I speak on my own behalf.


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