This is 30: On buses and bike racks

In 1997, Metro began retrofitting all buses to include bike racks for passengers, and exploring our sprawling megalopolis suddenly got a lot easier. Case in point: Anne-Claire Podlipski, a Frenchwoman discovering Los Angeles by bike, bus, rail, and on foot –– one day at a time.

By Anne-Claire Podlipski

Podlipski takes to the bike path in Playa del Rey. Photo by Tom Bertolotti

I arrived in Los Angeles in 2010 from France –– my first time living in the US. Having spent seven years getting spoiled by Paris’s excellent transportation system –– where very few people have cars, and almost everyone walks, bikes, or uses public transportation, I expected that LA would be somewhat manageable. Yes, LA is known internationally as a car city. But how bad could it be?

I came to LA because of work, which was based in West Hollywood on Beverly Boulevard. So you can imagine how delighted I was to find a decent hostel that was ALSO on Beverly. That is, until I realized how long Beverly Boulevard is. It stretches from Beverly Hills to Downtown … over nine miles in all! (By contrast, Paris from east to west is a little over six miles.) Naively, I walked to my office on my first day of work … which ended up taking one and a half hours.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to notice that there was a big orange bus servicing the whole boulevard. Here was my first encounter with LA Metro and its storied Line 14!

Shortly afterwards, I found a room in a shared house on Miracle Mile, bought a bike, and got into running. I soon became a regular at the DTLA running club, which would gather every Tuesday night. Running turned me into multimodal traveler. I’d bike from Miracle Mile to the running club, run six miles with the club, and then put my bike on the shiny rack attached to the front of the bus to return home.[i] You mount it, you strap it in, and you’re good to go.

The option of combining bike and bus always amazed me –– and it’s not as universal as you might think.

Artist rail car concept plan for the proposed Sunset Coast Line, c. 1976. Note the ample bicycle and surfboard storage. The ballot measure never passed, however, and the line was never built.

In Paris, there was no way of putting your bike on the bus. Even getting on the subway with your bike was frowned upon by other passengers, and only allowed at off-peak hours anyway. While Paris is a great cycling city with great public transportation, the two don’t mix. You have to choose your battle.

Public transportation also gave me a roadmap for living in a new country. It took me to restaurants, movies, museums, and concerts –– and put new attractions on my radar. The routes of my daily bus rides taught me LA’s geography better than any map. Hearing Metro buses announce our destinations –– like Wilshire, Los Feliz, and Sepulveda –– also taught me how to pronounce unfamiliar words. (Without these, I would likely have pronounced them with a British or Spanish accent, subjecting me to potential social embarrassment!) Even my non-English speaking parents picked up some important phrases by listening to the announcements during their visit.

Photo by Tom Bertolotti

I ended up living in LA without a car for a year and a half.

Maybe only curious distance runners intuitively know this, but transit has allowed me to explore more of LA by bike or foot than I would ever be able to otherwise. Yes, even a car. When you put your bike on a bus rack, you can go the distance in a single direction. That’s important to getting to know Los Angeles, a city that feels like it never ends. You can bike to the limit of your comfort zone. You don’t have to worry about conserving enough energy to make it back. Even today, I often bike the thirty-mile route from Downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach along the LA River, knowing that I have the Blue Line to get me home.

 

Notes:

[i] This used to be true in LA too. Until 2002, passengers riding Metro Rail needed to bring permits on bikes to board trains. In 2011, Metro removed all peak-hour restrictions for people with bicycles.

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1 reply

  1. “ Even getting on the subway with your bike was frowned upon by other passengers, and only allowed at off-peak hours anyway.”

    Yeah and it makes sense as to why that’s the case. LA definitely has a snob problem. Pre-COVID you had 10 people all trying to squeeze their bikes into one train car and take up space for both standing and wheelchair passengers. Literally saw someone just straight up bring a shopping cart and smelling like straight piss onto the gold line.

    Really hope Metro stops feeling itself with these “stories” soon, ain’t nothing “feel good” about our system.