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The Problems With Riding A Bicycle In Los Angeles

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Bicycles at a bike rack during CicLAvia (Photo by Serena Grace via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Although Los Angeles is making big efforts to become more bicycle-friendly, not everyone feels safe making the switch from four wheels to two.

Ben Poston, a Los Angeles Times staffer and transplant from Milwaukee who used to bike to work daily changed his tune about biking in L.A. within a year. He wrote an article in the Times back in Feb. 2013 about how he was braving the roads in his new city and was actually enjoying it. He was beating all the commuter traffic and exploring the city in a way that people who primarily drive cars don't get to. Of course, there were some close calls with aggressive drivers cutting him off and a major pothole (so L.A.) that messed up his wheel frame, but nothing he was too concerned about.

However, in Poston's follow-up article he posted this week, he reveals things haven't been so peachy since then. Last year he got hurt when he had a run-in with pick-up truck near Sunset Junction while biking at night; Poston suffered a minor concussion and had a cut on his wrist. He said he was wearing his reflective cycling vest, though the rechargeable lights on his bike were dead. The driver stayed at the scene and exchanged information with Poston. This goes to show that even when cyclists and drivers are on their best behavior, cyclists are still vulnerable on our roads.

L.A. is making big steps to become more bicycle-friendly. We will soon have our first Bicycle Friendly Business District in Eagle Rock, CicLAvia is growing by leaps and bounds and the city plans to add 40 miles of bike lanes this year. Ted Rogers' blog Biking In LA calls attention to horrific crashes that leave bicyclists injured or dead—and sometimes highlight failures of infrastructure or our criminal justice system. But he maintains that he feels safe as a cyclist (and he has made the argument that Los Angeles County is probably the safest place to ride in SoCal), "Personally, I feel far safer on my bike than in my car, where I can count on riding skills to avoid most dangerous situations, whereas in my car, I'm a sitting duck."

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But not everyone feels the same. Poston writes that "the reality is that danger is always lurking—car doors, distracted drivers, drunk drivers, pedestrians, scooters … it's just really congested and the bike culture hasn't totally caught on yet." He notes that even the veteran biking group Wolfpack Hustle says, "Every day I ride I know may be my last."

A few months later, Poston's bicycle was stolen out of his carport, which was the last straw for him. "As time went by, I biked to work less and less with my other bike," Poston writes. "By the end of last year, I had stopped altogether."

Losing your ride is a big problem, too: NBC Los Angeles reported in August that bike theft was up more than 200 percent in the last four years in some L.A. areas like North Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Ironically (or maybe it's just human nature), once Poston switched to driving, he found himself groaning about "losing" lanes to cyclists:

And while I'm in favor of more bike lanes in the city, I must confess I'm annoyed when I see traffic lanes turned over to cyclists. North Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood recently lost half its vehicle lanes, and now my evening commute is five to 10 minutes slower.
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And Poston isn't the only one that feels this way. He's aware of how hypocritical it sounds, but other Angelenos complain the same way. When Rowena Ave. in Silver Lake went on a road diet in 2011 with the addition of bike lanes, commuters complained that their commute would be slowed down.

But Alissa Walker of Gizmodo writes that she's annoyed that his take-away lesson boiled down to a question of two wheels or four:

L.A. is a far cry from bike-friendly cities like Portland, but the city is trying to make its move in that positive direction. Let's hope we all learn to share the road eventually.