Why You Ride: Bicycle Edition – a bicyclist who helps build bike lanes

During Bike Week LA, we collected nominations for the Golden Pedal Awards, Metro’s annual competition for great stories about bicycling. We’re featuring these stories in a weekly 'Why You Ride' series – because for many Angelenos, every week is Bike Week!

Jon Overman was nominated for a Golden Pedal Award by LADOT colleague Rick Gutierrez for his work on a successful $2.4-million grant proposal to build 43 miles of bike lanes in Los Angeles. Rick wrote: “Not only does Jon commute to UCLA and downtown LA by bike or bike and transit every day, he is working to make sure all Angelenos can safely commute by bike.”

Name: Jon Overman
Start: Venice
End: UCLA and downtown LA
Distance: 7 miles (UCLA), 15 miles (downtown LA)
Time: 35 minutes (UCLA), 75 minutes (downtown LA)

Jon stands with his commuter bicycle. He is wearing a white helmet. His bike has a front bakset that he uses the carry a backpack.

Jon and his commuter bike. He originally built it for his wife and thoughtfully included a front rack and internal hub gear. Nice helmet! Photo courtesy of Jon Overman.

Jon graduated from UCLA with his master’s in public policy earlier this summer. Outreach and design phases of the bikeways that he helped secure funding for will begin to appear soon — keep an eye out!

After the jump, Jon shares his bike commute tips with us.

How did you commute before you started biking? What made you decide to ride?

Ever since I started working full time, I have always commuted by bike. I drove to school as a high school student, but when I moved to the Bay Area I didn't have a car and realized it was much faster and more fun to ride my bike than to take the bus.

I was also inspired by my dad, who after 25 years of commuting (by car) to the same office just a few miles from our house, was offered a job in north Seattle about 10 miles away. Instead of braving the rush hour traffic on the interstate every day, he decided to begin bike commuting. For the past 10 years he has been riding every day, rain or shine,10 miles each way – and for a few months each year both trips are made in the dark. He is 62 years old and a total inspiration.

Now that I am in L.A., I wouldn't dream of commuting by car. I love the freedom that cycling gives me. It gives me point-to-point access wherever I am going. I never have to worry about traffic or finding parking, so I know exactly how long it will take me to get somewhere.

How often do you bike to school/work now? How long does it take? When do you decide to connect to transit?

I ride to school or work daily – unless it is raining. It takes me 30 to 40 minutes to get to or from school (seven miles) and 75 minutes to bike home from work (15 miles). I generally take the bus to work and then ride my bike home. Riding transit in the morning is a good way to avoid showing up to work too sweaty (also a great way to catch up on work or reading). Recently I have been riding a bit farther to the Expo line so that I avoid the possibility of a missing a bus due to a full bike rack.

What kind of bicycle do you ride?

I commute on an early nineties Schwinn World Sport. It has an internally geared three speed hub and front basket. It's a bike that I built for my wife a few years ago but recently took over when my road bike started falling apart. I ride recreationally and for most of my errands, though I do not ride as much for exercise as I used to.

What tips do you have for making a bicycle commute easier?

A number of things have made my commute easier: leaving early in the morning when the traffic is lighter, learning the hills and how to avoid them, and having a locker at school for dirty clothes. I am tall and my bike is fairly upright, which gives me more confidence that I will be seen by passing motorists. My favorite article(s) of cycling clothing are my Pearl Izumi arm sleeves. I often bring them instead of a coat when I am out at night and will put them on under button down shirts for my ride home.

Tell us about the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant proposal you worked on to fund 43 miles of bicycle lanes in the city of L.A. What did you learn about creating a safe environment for bicyclists?

A cartoon that shows Jon deep in thought.

A cartoon of Jon, deep in thought, at an LADOT Bike Plan Implementation Team meeting. Drawing by Joe Linton, courtesy of Rick Gutierrez.

My work on the FHWA's Highway Safety Improvement Program grant included calculating the safety benefits of installing new bike lanes. This required looking at historical crash data for the corridors where we were proposing new bike lanes. One of the often overlooked benefits of installing bike facilities is the safety benefits they provide to all users of the road. Installing bike lanes often requires the narrowing of vehicle travel lanes. Narrower lanes slow cars down, creating benefits for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Hopefully, additional cyclists on the roads will also encourage drivers to slow down and be more aware.

Anecdotally, I feel my presence on the road as a cyclist is helping to create safer roads. I can think of many times at night where an oncoming car was about to turn left in front of me. I do a good job of making myself seen, and in doing so, prevent the cars from taking a quick left without looking for the less visible pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Do you have a favorite bike path or lane in LA?

I would say Venice Boulevard is my favorite bike lane. The pavement quality is not the best on Venice, but I really like that it is almost 10 miles of continuous bike lanes from Mid-City to the beach. It passes through (and connects) so many different and diverse neighborhoods.

Other than that, the beach paths and creek/river paths are great. I look forward to the day when the entire L.A. River has a multi-use path alongside it.

Thanks Jon (and the rest of the LADOT team!) for your work on making streets safer for all of us. We've sent you a Nathan reflective safety vest, some Clif Bars and a year of bicycle roadside assistance from Better World Club.


2 replies

  1. Congratulations, Jon. You are an inspiration to your former cohort, your former co-workers, and the city of Los Angeles. Good luck in your future exploits!