Los Angeles News Papers Ask Whether City Can Ever Be Bike Metropolis, Reveal Their Own Bias

The wildly disappointing “Summer of Cycling” series sadly pedals on in the pages of The Daily News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Long Beach Press-Telegram and other papers that are part of the group. The series seems to be as much about painting cyclists as a bunch of weirdos, different than the normal people of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, than it is exploring bicycling or bike culture.

Today, after publishing some critiques of their most recent disaster in the series, an op/ed by “futurist” Syd Mead that rolled out every tired cliche against building bicycling networks; the Series continued by asking their readers if “Will Southern California ever really bike to work?”

Of course, the editors who wrote the piece then went on to justify their own decisions to not bicycle to work, which apparently stops them from bicycling anywhere by noting that many of “us” choose to live really far away from where we work.

So, I decided to help them out by giving them a much longer answer than I usually do in newspaper comments sections. I hope they decide to publish part or all of it. But if not, I’m including it after the jump.

This entire series has been incredibly frustrating to read as someone who chooses to ride a bicycle for many, but not all, of his trips. Whether consciously or not, you continue to paint cyclists as some sort of weird “other” and everyone else as the normal people. Instead of actually trying a bicycle-transit commute, at least once, you continue to publish sentences such as:

“Most of us, unfortunately, face commutes of far longer than a mile or two. It’s a mass sprawl from the desert to the sea, and some of us have either chosen or been forced into commutes that go from one to the other each morning and evening.”

Most of “us.” Some of “us.” Conversely, your comments about cyclists are tinged with sarcastic sounding compliments such as the entire third paragraph of this article.

On top of that, you published an op/ed by a “futurist” who rolled out a lot of lame cliches with no actual facts or statistics and continue to treat that rant as the baseline for discussion. The comments you reference in this article clearly debunk Syd’s points, but of course those come from weirdo advocate cyclists, not good people such as the “us” that you mention all the time.

In answer to your question, of course Los Angeles can become a city with a significant portion of people choosing to make trips by bicycle. Nobody is claiming that everyone will ride a bicycle for all their trips, so the people making decisions about this “Summer of Cycling” series can continue your really long car commutes in peace while listening to John and Ken on the radio. Even in cities such as Portland the bike commute share is closer to 5% than anything else.

However, as the city builds out its bicycle network, we’re seeing more and more people bicycle. Studies completed by the Downtown Neighborhood Council show how just painting a bike lane on Spring Street resulted in a doubling of bike traffic on that street. If the city continues to create safe and attractive bike facilities, more and more people will bicycle. As more people bicycle, more people walk and ride transit. I can get you the statistics and reports if you want…the comment system doesn’t allow hot links.

As Wesley points out above, 47% of car trips are three miles are less. If we get 10% of those to switch to bike trips, you and your friends will see a lot less traffic congestion on local streets. You might also notice your neighbors having more money to spend and their waistlines decrease. Don’t worry about that. It’s a side effect of being a weirdo.

And this is a second problem with your question. Most trips made by a household aren’t commutes to work. So you can continue to commute from Desert Hot Springs to Santa Monica and make other trips by bicycle…assuming you don’t shop in Santa Monica, take your kids to school in Santa Monica, eat out in Santa Monica AND need to make separate trips to Santa Monica for every trip you need to make. You can make many of those trips within Desert Springs and leave your commute mobile at home.

In conclusion, nobody is going to try and force the “us” to join us. Most people won’t and that’s the choice many of “us” choose to make. But the reality is we don’t need futurists or newspaper editors to start riding their bicycle for commutes or trips to the grocery store for L.A. to become a cycling method.

The rest of us will figure this out on our own.


  • Rich

    Great response. I guess my question is do they really believe that this “cycling thing” is going away? They can fight tooth and nail against new lanes and sharrows and bike corrals and complain all they want, but they can’t ignore the mounting evidence that this is a tremendous shift among the living. I’m so tired of driving to the coffee shop a few miles away! Me and four million other Angelenos!

  • Anonymous

    The reference to a Desert Springs to Santa Monica commute is proof that they’re not serious. I doubt they could find one single person who does that. One fact related to that that I think transit advocates should think about citing more often is that average commute times in Los Angeles are actually less than they are in other more transit-friendly metros like SF and NY, even though our traffic congestion is the worst in the nation. The reason is that people have already sorted themselves out for the most part across our dispersed region. In NY, relatively fewer people can avoid needing to get into Manhattan on a daily basis, but in LA, relatively speaking, people tend to live, work, shop, play in the various sub-regions. So with a substantial number of us already having in response to traffic congestion set ourselves up such that we can avoid travelling very far on a daily basis, with additional bike and ped infrastructure, those “intra-sub-regional” trips would be increasingly do-able without a car. This kind of arguments turns around the “Angelenos will never get out of their cars” argument on its head; Angelenos have already acted en masse to reduce the time spent in their cars.

  • Erik Griswold

    There were people who used to drive from Riverside to San Diego and perhaps from Desert Springs to Santa Monica every day. The latter was more common due to the difference in housing costs; Greater Palm Springs is not a place one lives for the lower cost of housing versus Santa Monica. But those days ended for most in 2008 when gasoline blew past the $4 per gallon mark.

  • Anonymous

    No. It’s full of Angelenos.

  • Anonymous

    And before I get attacked for being a jerk for saying that, the fact that maybe, possibly, in fifty years LA might be a less horrible place to ride a bike does not mean it’s becoming a “bike metropolis”. Make decisions based on your life now. After all, in 4 billion years the sun will have become a red giant and enveloped the Earth (and all of LA’s half-assed sharrows with it). The people of LA have shown that they don’t think investing in cycling infrastructure is worth even the slightest impact on automotive convenience.

    If you want to live in a decent city where you can ride your bicycle without death threats and murderous drivers making you question whether you’ll be alive in an hour for every moment of your commute, move. I did and it made all the difference in my mental well-being. Live somewhere that’s good now, not a place that might be slightly less awful decades in the future.

  • Steven Nicoloro

    I ride 20 miles to work one day a week to get out of the car. I see numerous others riding to work each day on my easy commute to mid city from the South Bay, Although the car ride is traffic free, the bike ride gives you a different perspective that you do not get from a car and a little exercise can’t hurt either. Those of you who thinks that bikes riders are weirdos should talk to some of the professionals aka, doctors, accountants, actors, etc and you will see that you cannot paint a picture with one brush. There are all types riding to work these days and it should be tried by all before you start denigrating those that decide that biking is good for the city and its masses.

  • MWhite

    Want to ride a bike? Fine, but please don’t slam those who, for whatever reason, choose not to or simply can’t.

    While 47% of car trips are three miles or less, 53 % aren’t and, in a city like Los Angeles, that’s extremely significant in and of itself.

    Los Angeles isn’t a city as much as it’s a disparate conglomeration of metro entities some of which happen to abut one another. It could never be a Bike Metropolis…it isn’t Roxbury, Massachusetts or Bovina Center, New York.

    Like it or not, it is, literally, spread out all over the map with demographics unlike any other metropolitan area in the country.

    Over the years, with a family to support, I’ve lived in the San Fernando Valley and had to commute to Irvine and Long Beach because that’s where my jobs were. Frankly, the last thing I wanted to do after a day a work was climb on a bike and pedal two miles to the market for a gallon of milk.

    Sorry to all, but that was and still is my reality.

  • MWhite

    I don’t think people who ride bikes are “weirdos.” Bike away and good on ‘ya. I do, however, think that some bike people feel themselves superior and show themselves to be insufferably arrogant in their dismissal of those who don’t feel the need to don spandex and funny looking helmets to make themselves feel like they love the planet more than the rest of us.

  • Anonymous

    Please point us to where anyone is “slamming” people who can’t or won’t ride a bike. The fact is that this is a never ending hobby horse by those who oppose efforts to encourage cycling. “They don’t realize not everyone can ride a bike!” when literally no bike advocates ever say that. Correcting bias is not “slamming”.

  • Anonymous

    I do, however, think that some people feel themselves superior and show themselves to be insufferably arrogant in their dismissal of those who don’t feel the need to use a expensive, dangerous, and inefficient vehicle for ever the shortest trip to make themselves feel like they are more serious or realistic about the way the world “really works”.

    Lots of people are obnoxious and judge other people for their decisions. But you don’t generally make public policy decisions based on whether some guy once said something arrogant.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is the general attitude of cyclist activists who, instead of focusing on the need to additional bike infrastructure, try to portray their cause as one of “getting people out of their cars” or “forcing people to live close to their workplaces”.

    It conveys a negative and bitter message as if those who don’t use bikes are some sort of fair game for name-and-sham, and as if the car was something to be “phased out”.

  • MWhite

    “Of course, the editors who wrote the piece then went on to justify their own decisions to not bicycle to work, which apparently stops them from bicycling anywhere by noting that many of “us” choose to live really far away from where we work.”

    An opposing opinion “that rolled out every tired cliche against building bicycling networks…”

    I think the tone speaks for itself.

  • MWhite

    Wow. How superior…how un-judgmental. I think you just validated my comment.

  • Heather

    They should come interview the people in our office. Of the less than a dozen f/t employees working in our entertainment industry workplace, today we had 3 people commute via bike and 1 via public transit.

  • MWhite

    And I would like to live in a city where bicyclists who want to share the road:

    1.) Get licensed as auto drivers have to;

    2.) Have proof of insurance for the same reason;

    3.) Obey red lights and stop signs;

    4.) Don’t make left turns from the far right lane:

    5.) Don’t play out their petty control fetishes by riding in the middle of a regular car lane at three miles an hour;

    6.) Don’t flip me off for driving around them when they block traffic; and,

    7.) Drop the generally snarky attitude.

  • Niall Huffman

    It’s unfortunate that some cycling advocates talk in those terms, yes. Please point out where Damien says anything like that.

  • Niall Huffman

    1) We don’t require licensing or insurance as a condition of operating a bike because bikes plus their riders only weigh ~200 lbs. (instead of 3000+) and only generate ~1/10 of a horsepower (instead of 100+).

    2) See #1.

    3) Fair enough, though pretty much all road users could stand to improve their behavior, especially when operating motor vehicles (speeding, texting, failing to yield to pedestrians, etc.)

    4) See #3.

    5) Riding in the middle of a narrow lane isn’t playing out a control fetish; it’s an internationally recognized best practice that discourages drivers from trying to squeeze into the lane dangerously close to you when there isn’t enough room for them to pass you safely. Most cyclists travel faster than 3 mph on the street; I typically go 18-23 on flat ground.

    6) Don’t drive your car dangerously close to a cyclist, and they won’t have cause to get mad at you. Regardless of how you feel about where someone is riding on the roadway, it is never OK for you to use your vehicle to threaten or intimidate them, which is what probably provoked whatever reaction you got. Cyclists don’t block traffic; they *are* traffic, and they have as much right to be on the roadway as you do.

    7) How can you know the mental state of untold numbers of people you’ve never met?

  • Anonymous

    On #5: If you’re a pedestrian, the bicycle is going 30+mph. If you’re a motorist, the same bicycle is going <10mph. It's some Einsteinian relativity thing.

  • Dennis Hindman

    You state that 47% of car trips are 3 miles or less and then you go on to explain that places are far away in Los Angeles. Imagine if just 1/3rd of those car trips that are 3 miles or less were made by bicycle. That would put the mode share for bicycling into double digits. Impossible?

    What is the maximum potential for bicycling in the city of Los Angeles? If all of the 2,600 miles of collector and arterial streets had barrier protected bike paths next to them and there was a equal split of males and females bicycling, then that would be close to the peak modal share possible. As it is there is only 56 miles of barrier protected bike ways constructed in this city and only about 17% of the bicycle riders are women. There is a long ways to go before the full potential for bicycling is reached.

    Is there any country in the world that has such a high percent of streets that have barrier protected bike ways? Yes, the Netherlands. Where about 1/3 of the total amount of streets have barrier protected bike ways. The modal share for bicycling in that country is 26% and there is a equal split of males and females cycling. Its so comfortable and safe for bicycling that it is rare to see anyone wear a bicycle helmet.

    Take away most of those barrier protected bike ways and the rate of cycling would dramatically fall. This happened post WWII when the population started buying cars and the cities started tearing down buildings and bike paths to make room for all of the auto traffic.

    As the rate of injuries and deaths due to motor vehicles rose the population starting mass protests in the early 1970’s which lead to a reversal of transportation policy to include emphasis on transit and bicycles. The Netherlands then started aggressively installing bike paths in cities starting in the early 1980’s. The mode share for bicycling stopped sliding downward and has been climbing since then.

    The increases in bicycling and transit use was by design. When you design the transportation system around the single passenger car, then you end up with not much other choice than to driver everywhere, even for distances of less than 2 miles.

  • Oh, Syd’s opinion piece was stupid. It deserved to be called stupid. That the Daily News and other papers chose to publish as part of a “Summer of Cycling” series says wonders.

    The other line was just pointing out that rushing out a judgement that they can’t bicycle because they live too far from work is silly. There are plenty of places to bicycle that aren’t ones work.

    If someone doesn’t want to bicycle anywhere, that’s fine and dandy. But then don’t publish a series in a major newspaper called “The Summer of Cycling,” and publish stupid pieces that didn’t involve any research, and continually create an “us” v “them” mentality with the “us” being the normal people and “them” being the weirdos that bicycle.

  • By the way. I don’t own spandex. I do agree that my helmet looks kind of silly, but that’s because I have a big head.

  • Anonymous

    My point, which you don’t seem to have gotten, is that there are obnoxious, snobby people on both “sides” of this debate as well as in just about every area of life. I’ve been subjected to many arrogant and dismissive comments by people who don’t think we should do anything to encourage or support cycling. That doesn’t make them wrong or right, it just makes them annoying.

    Whether or not cycling will work well in Los Angeles and whether we should actively encourage it has approximately zero to do with whether or not some activist dude is a dick about it.

  • Anonymous

    I think what you describe as “the general attitude” would be more accurately described as “a few obnoxious guys in internet comment streams.” Yes, there are negative and bitter people out there who don’t always convey messages in a nice, polite, inclusive format. Oh well. Look at many comment sections and you’ll also see a lot of “I’m going to run over the next Lance wannabe that gets in my way!” comments. Sorry if we sometimes get “bitter” when people occasionally threaten to murder us. Us activists are very sensitive.

  • Anonymous

    You will be pleased to know that I have left your fair city. Enjoy!

    (I don’t do any of that stuff, but in your head I’m sure I do)

  • Since we’re all recapitulating the entire bike people vs car people argument here, I’m going to avoid that and just say the following:

    I think just about everyone has driven a car before, whether they normally bike or not, so we all know what assholes some bicyclists can be, and the terror that can seize you when one pops out from around a corner without stopping at a stop sign, or at a crosswalk at night with no lights, etc. It’s extremely inconsiderate and drivers are right to complain about it, though they don’t need to take their complaints to places like this and try to generalize the entire population of bicyclists, the vast majority of which are not intentionally or brazenly inconsiderate.

    If you haven’t ever ridden a bike to work for a decent amount of time (a week or two), I encourage you to try it. As someone who mainly used transit and recently switched to mainly commuting by bike, unless you possess Gandhi-like patience and self-control, you’re going to get pissed off at drivers occasionally. When you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do on the roads and you get buzzed or cut off and are sometimes put in a position where you’re literally inches away from serious injury or death, that will make you angry, or frightened, and often both.

    As a bicyclist, the way other people view you is constantly on your mind in a way that simply isn’t the case as a driver–“If I go against this crosswalk sign because there aren’t any cars crossing, what will people think of me?” “This traffic light doesn’t recognize me waiting, so I have to either ride through the red or wait for a car to stop behind me to change the light–what should I do?” “I don’t feel comfortable riding on the side of this narrow lane because any cars passing will do so at very close distances, I hope the people behind me don’t get angry.”

    I may come back to this later when I have a better sense of what I want to say, but I hope those that are really anti-bike or think they need to be much more regulated will at least try a bike out for themselves before they judge so thoroughly. See what we have to put up with just because we want to get some extra exercise, or save some money, or reduce our carbon footprint, or whatever. We’re completely at the mercy of drivers who often make extremely unsafe choices, ones that don’t put their own lives in danger, but do risk ours. Better infrastructure is a proven means of reducing that danger, and at incredibly low costs. LA has great natural strengths as a bicycling town: it’s warm, it’s flat, it has great communities. It could easily reach Portland levels of bicycling and higher if we made it a safe, comfortable thing to do, but instead we’re stuck arguing about who breaks the rules of the road more often. How about we start by building an infrastructure that discourages breaking the law and encourages all modes of travel, then go from there?

  • I have no idea what you are talking about with bicyclists being “assholes” as you put it.

    I have NEVER ONCE, in 34 years of driving felt “terror” from a bicyclist while driving a motor vehicle. How does that work exactly?

    Sharing the road with bicyclists is easy. I will never understand why some people act like it is difficult.

  • Not terror for your life, terror about possibly killing someone else. It’s obviously not the same as being in terror for your life as a bicyclist when you’re cut off or buzzed by a driver, but when a bicyclist appears out of nowhere (say, at night, not using any lights or reflective material) it can be really scary and unexpected. It’s not common, but neither is almost being killed by a car, and those incidents stick with you for a long time.

  • I don’t understand that either. I have NEVER ONCE been afraid I was going to hit a bicyclist. They’re pretty easy to avoid hitting if you bother to watch where you are going.

  • Well you’ve had a different experience than most of the people I know. I drive about once every four months so it’s not like I’m the biggest defender of drivers, but sometimes bicyclists do really stupid things that put their lives in danger no matter how vigilant you are as a driver. It’s not common so it shouldn’t color your judgment anymore than you should assume “criminal” when you see a young black male, but it certainly happens and the people who have told me about it said it’s scary and frustrating.

  • I see them do stupid things for sure. I don’t have a problem avoiding a collision with them anyway because I drive (and ride) defensively.

  • justine

    Nobody is really slamming cyclists. A great group and more power to them.
    I have been one. However …. I object to unneeded asphalt paths taking away the natural decomposed paths we have (for 42 years) and which the recreational cyclists I have talked to want to KEEP. They are PRO nature.
    (These paths have RARELY NEEDED ‘maintaining’ either.

    Cost effective.
    I suspect the city doesn’t want to hear that as this is all about getting people out of their cars. Cars that were caused by the way by never ending development and crowding people together in this developer controlled city.

    It’s the city’s fault but they have the power to save some nature and still have bike paths. If they don’t kids and dogs will be ‘at hazard’ on increased usage asphalt paths instead of decomposed granite – perfectly suitable for biking and they exist I am told at Balboa Park and Encino.

  • Franz

    Yes absolutely

  • Yeah. The whiners always exaggerate bicycle speed in whichever direction suits their argument best. Most bicyclists ride 12-15mph most of the time. That’s reality.

    If people want to portray bicyclists as impeding, suddenly bicyclists are only going 1mph, even though it’s actually difficult to maintain balance at 1mph, or even 2mph.

    If people want to portray bicyclists as a danger to others, it’s 30mph or 40mph, which is tough unless there’s a steep downhill or you’re talking about an actual professional racer. Actually, 40mph is tough even for the pros.

    Whiners only care about supporting their prejudice and hatred and delusions of entitlement.


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