Two-wheels on the sunny side of the street

[[image:jsunny_mini.jpg::inline:1]]I wanted to challenge the perception of the recent Los Angeles Times article “On the mean streets of Los Angeles” that bicycling in Los Angeles is scary, dangerous or stupid.

Published September 10, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
By Jeannette

[[image:jsunny_inside.jpg::inline:1]]I wanted to challenge the perception of the recent Los Angeles Times article “On the mean streets of Los Angeles” that bicycling in Los Angeles is scary, dangerous or stupid. I’m frustrated by what I view as scare propaganda that often paints bicycling along cars as a war. And I’m discouraged that these comments and perceptions may keep many people, especially women like me, from the joy that I receive from bicycling. There I said it, joy. Enough print exists about how bicycling in Los Angeles can be scary and very little has been written about the daily positive, courteous, and joyful interactions between bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

See, I think these news stories and pessimistic views illustrate a cognitive behavioral psychology phenomena called the negative filter wherein we only remember negative events and filter out positive events or experiences. Our nightly newscasts are prime examples of this phenomena focusing primarily on all that’s gone wrong (crime, traffic, disasters) instead of highlighting all positive, constructive, beneficial actions and events that have occurred each and every day. Alas, news stories about happy Angelenos benefiting their community are hardly sexy or sensational.
So sure, I could take this opportunity to share with you the handful of times in the past seven years of bicycle commuting that car drivers have yelled at me or about the occasional absent-minded driver who failed to signal a turn. But scarier things have happened to me while I’ve been driving my car. Other drivers have been discourteous, absent-minded, ignorant and mean. And several years ago, my car was totaled by a hit and run driver. Despite all that, I keep driving recognizing that it’s my job to be a safe and courteous driver and that for the most part other Angelenos share these values. Interestingly, in my nineteen years of driving there have been very few trips in my car that I could describe as pleasant and blissful. The day-to-day gridlock and congestion of Los Angeles has made car driving a laborious chore. Not so with bicycling. Compared to driving- bicycling is easy and a joy.

Riding my bicycle is the most life affirming things that I do. Yep, that’s a pretty heady statement for a 35 year old functionally uncoordinated woman but it’s true. My 12 mile roundtrip ride takes me past industrial buildings and lush green areas. My commute to work allows me to wave at pedestrians, chat-up motorists at stop lights, and befriend school crossing guards. Yes, even in Los Angeles.

Last year, pedaling to my place of employment I looked ahead to an elementary school on my route and caught a glimpse of a large group of kindergarteners standing in line. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by a cacophony of sound complete with wild cheering and screaming. As I pedaled closer, I started to understand that they were screaming “bicycle”. Naturally, I started waving like a fool and they began to point, giggle, clap and cheer even louder. Those kindergarteners were cheering for me, for the sheer joy of seeing a woman on a bicycle pedal by them. It’s not too often that a motor vehicle elicits this kind of vociferous response. Well, at least not a vehicle that I’ve ever driven.

But don’t just take my word about the joy of riding a bicycle in Los Angeles. While hanging out at the Bike Oven, a community bicycle workspace located at 3706 North Figueroa St. in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles, California, I informally asked several people about their experiences bicycling in Los Angeles. The following is a collection of quotes about bicycling that emphasis the joy, fun and safety about riding in Los Angeles.

“Riding a bicycle is too much fun. I got used to riding my bicycle on the street and lost 10 pounds in a three week period. Bicycling is almost like a meditation.” – Steve

“I love the adventure of riding my bicycle. It’s an adventure going to work. Despite the sweat, city dust and distance I arrive at work in a happy mood. Overall, I’ve encountered courteous drivers.”- Leticia

“You can be peaceful and centered when you ride a bike. You discover your neighborhood and world closer to the experience of our ancestors. Riding a bicycle is safe—what is often a real danger is how many of our roads are designed. Once you learn to avoid these roads, you understand how pleasant and nice it is.”-Josef

“I’ve been bicycling for 60 years and had only one or two close calls. My bicycle has utilitarian value, I use it for local errands and plan my route on quiet streets by-passing high traffic roads. I think it’s probably more dangerous to be a pedestrian in Los Angeles”
– Harv

Want to unleash your inner bicycle joy? Encourage your neighborhood kindergarteners to break out in cheers for you? Want to learn more about safe bicycle commuting? Plan a commuting route on quiet streets? Then be sure to visit C.I.C.L.E.’s Beginner’s Resource Section.