As we’re in the midst of Bike Month, it’s worth taking stock of where we are bike-wise given the many bike-related projects and programs happening.
Statistics are not in huge supply. But there is one worth considering from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows that in 2005 about .6 percent of commuters in Los Angeles County used a bike to get to and from work. By 2015, that number had increased to one percent of commuters — in raw numbers an increase from 25,477 bike commuters to 47,075.
Okay, those numbers may not scream “revolution.” But it’s a nice uptick in a span of time when the number of people driving to work also slightly increased. The bike numbers are also pleasing because — let’s be real, folks — many swaths of our sprawling county remain not exactly bike friendly.
Of course, many people who bike don’t use their bikes to reach their jobs. That’s where it gets harder to determine how we’re doing bike-wise. We know that bike sales across the country have been very solid this century. We also know that there is no shortage of local bike shops, many local cities have completed or finished new bike plans and, anecdotally, it seems as if there are more people on bikes these days.
Let’s consider some things that we can quantify and qualify that have happened in the past decade.
The most important is this: Metro now views bikes as a legitimate transportation mode — not just a novelty or something used for recreation. To put it another way, Metro sees bikes as a viable way of getting around and closing the gap between transit and work/home/play destinations.
As a result, we now have:
•Metro’s Bike Share pilot program, which launched in downtown Los Angeles last summer and is expanding this summer to Pasadena, the Port of Los Angeles and Venice.
•Metro is building regionally significant paths for walking and biking on the same scale as its transit projects:
–The agency’s Rail-to-Rail/ River project is building a 10-mile east-west walking and biking path from Inglewood to the Los Angeles River. It will connect major bus and rail lines in South L.A. and the L.A. River Bike Path to Long Beach. The path is planned to open from the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Blue Line in 2019.
–Metro’s L.A. River Bike Path Gap Closure Project is in the first slate of Measure M-funded shovel-ready projects and is set to begin construction in 2023. Closing the eight-mile gap in the river path between Elysian Valley and Vernon will create a continuous 32-mile path for people to walk and bike on away from car and truck traffic.
–Pedestrian and bike access to Union Station, our region’s largest transit hub, is set to be improved by a half-dozen different projects, including the L.A. Union Station Forecourt and Esplanade project. Recognizing that most people who use transit start and end their trips without a car, these efforts are poised to help boost ridership.
•Metro has an Open Streets grant program to fund events such as CicLAvia, 626 Golden Streets and the many other events that close streets to motor vehicles and open to people walking, biking, or skating.
•A decade ago, bike lanes were most often a painted line separating car traffic from bikes. Nowadays, cities are increasingly looking at protected bike lanes in which some type of physical barrier — sometimes bollards, sometimes a parking lane — are used to protect people on bikes from vehicle lanes.
A decade ago the thought of closing down local streets for a bike event was laughable in many quarters. But area leaders made it happen with an assist from Metro and today the events are hugely popular and a great chance for everyone to get aboard their bikes. The traffic nightmares? They’ve never really materialized thanks to good planning and traffic control. And the events have served as a nice reminder that you don’t always need a car to get around our region.
One other thought I’d like to raise. Making it easier to get around on bikes is a tough business. To get more people to ride, you need more bike infrastructure. But finding space for bike lanes and paths requires political support — and that’s not always easy without a critical mass of riders. Still, we’ve seen some cities — Long Beach, Santa Monica, Temple City and the city of L.A., to name just four — making great strides adding bike infrastructure that has proven popular with the public at large.
Is it a worthwhile endeavor? I think so. Biking is popular in places around the planet. People like to ride. There’s no reason it can’t happen here — we just need to make the improvements that will put more people on bikes.
What do you think, people? What changes have you seen bike-wise in our region? What would you like to see?