[[image:quiet_streets_mini.jpg::inline:1]]The other day I caught up to a rider who looked new to the road. Not because they were riding dangerously, timidly, or displayed behavior that served as proverbial “training wheels.” New, because I hadn’t seen him before – I like to keep an eye out for the regulars.
Published October 15, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
By David Pulsipher
[[image:quiet_streets_insidewtmk.jpg::inline:1]]The other day I caught up to a rider who looked new to the road. Not because they were riding dangerously, timidly, or displayed behavior that served as proverbial “training wheels.” New, because I hadn’t seen him before – I like to keep an eye out for the regulars. We pulled up to the light side by side and I wondered if we’d talk. You know that feeling – casually looking over to see if they are interested in a brief “how do you do.” You pretend to be looking for crossing traffic or to see if the light is going to change.
I bit the bullet and said “hi” and asked him how he was doing. My safe introduction. If I’m feeling particularly bold I’ll say something sarcastic about how badly I’d like to be in my SUV – but that’s a game time decision.
He said that he was doing fine, and I believed him. He then asked something I’ve never heard another person ask me before. He asked for route advice. He said, “Are you going downtown?”
“What’s the best way to go North once you get downtown?”
I then gave him several options, depending on his destination. Shortly thereafter the light changed and I passed him up. He was on a single speed townie after all (in dress clothes). 😉
It made me really glad to be able to help him out. Having cycled a generous amount downtown, I felt pretty confident in my suggestions. I was also glad to have the conversation, because it just feels good to help people. It also was fun to share some “insider information” on routes to a fellow cyclist. As we all know, the best route for a cyclist is often different from the best route for a car.
I then got to thinking… would this have happened if I were in a car? The answer is a resounding “no” for several reasons. I’ll name two. One: when in a car you are completely closed off to those around you; thus negating any chance for random, whimsical, or enjoyable conversation with other people. I like how J. Harry Wray describes this dynamic in The Bicycle Goes to College:
"The whole point of the car is to isolate the driver and reduce the relevance of the environment. Inherently, other drivers are obstacles. The bike's effect is the opposite. It makes the environment more relevant, and connects one to the community."
This point leads into reason number 2 why my route-sharing experience never would’ve happened in a car. Drivers see other drivers as obstacles, rarely fellow users of the road. As obstacles, how likely is a motorist going to share their favorite, or secret route somewhere – with a stranger of all people? Forget about it, it’s me vs. you, Lord of the Flies out here kiddo, every man for themselves. As soon as you shared your secret route, you’d be in danger of exposing yourself to more traffic, more time waiting, all because you spilled the beans on the nook of efficiency you’d been hiding from all those other obstacles out there.
Of course and thankfully, this isn’t the case with cyclists. We say, more the merrier, pile them on! An all you can eat buffet without the guilt, odd aromas or cheap décor! Everyone is welcome to take my route to work – In my wildest dreams, Venice Boulevard looks like the Tour de France with commuters. Truth be told, I’m not even sure my route to work is the best way. I’ve just been doing it out of convenience.
There is a resource at CICLE that is vastly under-used, and describes exactly what I’m talking about. It’s called Back Roads LA and works like a message board where you can post good routes for getting around the city. As bicyclists, we know a lot – but we don’t know everything. Contributing to this resource is a great way for people to find safe, fun, adventurous and enjoyable ways to get around Los Angeles by bicycle.
If you’ve ever wondered the best way to get to (or out – ha) of Hollywood, the Westside, Koreatown, Silverlake, etc – and want the input of fellow cyclists, then this is the place to do it. Helping Los Angeles become a more hospitable/enjoyable environment for bicyclists starts with us sharing our experiences, stories and routes with each other. We may ride alone at times, but we are a part of a larger network than we realize.
So post your favorite routes on Back Roads LA. If you’re lucky, you may see some new faces and make some new friends on your way to work/getting your monthly perm.
David is a bicycle commuter living in West LA, but originally from Denver. He is also pursuing a masters degree in urban planning from UCLA.