BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
In this time of harvest celebrations, I want to address a different bounty, that of the increasing level of awareness of bicycle related issues.
The progress isn’t perfect. The process has had, is having, and will continue to have fits and starts. But, there is unmistakable forward movement.
Dozens of cities across the United States are adopting “complete streets” plans that, when implemented, will serve to make mobility safer, healthier, and more pleasant for all modes of transportation—two feet, two wheels, four wheels, and more.
What’s most heartening is the progress made in Los Angeles. If the city that arguably has the greatest love affair with the car, in region where a conspiracy dismantled the public transit system half a century ago, can take its first steps to improving bicycle access to the public road system (expansion of total bikeway mileage from the current 378 to 1680 miles), then it can happen anywhere. Of course this happened after the city’s mayor broke his elbow when a taxi cut him off and he fell off his bike. The police department is also working with the cycling community much more positively.
But, in an example of how unavoidably slow progress can be, just a few days ago, an unmarked police car cut me off on my ride to work, after its driver used the loudspeaker to tell me to ride on the right hand side of the road when that would have placed me in a right turn lane. That’s not such a big problem, except I was going straight, not turning light, and would have been in violation of the rules, plus, I have every right to be in a lane of traffic. This is the kind of awareness that has yet to, must, and is slowly seeping into public awareness.
When I mentioned my intention to write this article, a friend asked “What do you think is the biggest danger to bicyclists?” The answer is: lack of awareness of their legitimate presence on the road by automobile drivers. I cloak of invisibility seems to descend upon bikes and their riders when riding the streets.
All this is not to say that all bicyclists are paragons of good roadway behavior at all times. But those that do break the rules are few. Often, there may even be a good reason for it embedded in the difference between cars and bikes. The best example is right turns at stop signs. Many jurisdictions are considering making it legal for bikes to treat stop signs as yield signs under this circumstance. Why? Stopping and re-starting a bike is a lot more difficult than a car. Plus it harms no one and keeps things moving more smoothly.
Things like Ciclavia, an idea imported from South America, when city streets are closed to cars and they become a place of bikes, skateboards, pedestrians, musicians, food stands, etc. in a celebration of community also contribute to changing attitudes. Three have been held in LA. Other cities are also making progress. New York’s Broadway is far more enjoyable now, I’m told. Burbank’s mileage of bikeways is significant, but now, connections among them have to be improved and with increased ridership, the number of accidents has also risen. Glendale recently adopted its bicycle master plan and is holding periodic community rides.
And now that we’ve reached heavily Armenian neighborhoods, I must confess to something embarrassing. I get the worst treatment from car drivers when I’m riding in these areas. Awareness in our community of bicycles’ rightful place on the road is woefully low, and I’m afraid some tragedy is going to happen before that changes.
Finally, I’ve got to impishly confess to the anticipatory glee I’m feeling about a phone call I will be making shortly after this writing— it’s to the hotel where the ANC’s big Thanksgiving conference is going to be held. I’m going to ask them where their bike parking is… Go there on your bike and join me in relishing the ride and the informative program planned for the weekend.