L.V. & L.A. Revisited
0 comment Sunday, July 6, 2014 |
I was in Las Vegas and Los Angeles last weekend for a high school reunion and a funeral, and I drove the entire time. I spent years seven through seventeen in Las Vegas, and years seventeen through twenty five in Los Angeles, so I have some strong opinions and memories from both. Looking back now that I am a full time bike commuter, I always thought that if I got into it earlier, or in a different way, I could have done there what I now do in Denver. Sort of in that "if I knew then what I know now" line of thinking.
I regret to report that having traveled both cities with a keen eye for how it would be as a cyclist, I can't advise bike commuting in either (with a few caveats).
Starting with Las Vegas, the first hindrance is the weather, hot and windy most of the year. I think it is an easier task to endure frigid cold as we have in Denver, rather than extreme heat. Overheating is a frequent and dangerous condition in Vegas, while true hypothermia in Denver is rare and much easier to address with a stop into a cafe`. The biggest hindrance, though is urban design. Vegas was built up entirely during the modern automobile era, while Denver's core was designed when horse, carriage, and locomotive were king. The latter is much more conducive to re-appropriation for cycling (Fort Collins is the best example, planned out so that a 2 wide, 6 deep mule train pulling two wagons could make a U-turn in the streets). Vegas neighborhoods are built as enclaves unto themselves, walled off from one another and connected with high capacity, high speed roads. This takes away a cyclist's ability to cut into mellow neighborhood streets for a less hectic ride. There are some multi-use trails, but they generally don't go to any true business districts, and are more appropriate for light recreation. Between the DWI drivers, gawkers, late for work commuters and inattentive cell phone users, the entire city is distracted, and not expecting cyclists.
The cyclists I did see were roadies out doing long rides on desert highways, and commuters riding old Magnas on the sidewalk. I have been giving some thought as to how you would change the infrastructure of Las Vegas to accommodate bike commuting, but I'm really drawing a blank so far. Could it be too big and sprawling to ever include bikes as a real component of it's transportation mix? I know there are ways to improve, but no matter the changes, it will never be Portland.
Los Angeles suffers from some of the same maladies, but has some different assets as well. LA is a very large and spread out city, but the population densities are high. They have invested in both on and off street bike infrastructure, but it seems relegated primarily to the West side. There are a lot of immigrants whose use two means of transport, bikes, and Metro. Yet the general practice is to ride on the sidewalks, and stay off the road. The reliance on cars seems to be endemic everywhere. At the park we played "musical parking spots" and drove around four blocks looking for a space so we could go and hike for 35 minutes. Another observation, the on street parking takes up the place where the bike lane should go. Unfortunately, since everyone is an actor and there are always two or three people living in each one bedroom apartment, there are always far too many cars taking up the "free" on street parking for planners to ever get rid of the parking and replace it with bike infrastructure.
I mentioned the caveats, and the one area of LA where you could be a bike commuter is the West Side (Anything West of the 405 freeway, South of the Santa Monica Mountains, and North of Palos Verdes). This area has the most generous helping of bike lane, path and trail, including the 26 mile long beach bike path and the 6 mile long Ballona Creek bike path. If you can afford to live over here, the traffic is slightly more sedate, and liberal enclaves like Santa Monica have gone out of their way to incorporate bike paths into their cities. Of course, you also have places like Malibu and Pacific Palisades full of entitled people in a hurry, so it's a mixed bag. Being a bike commuter in West LA would take some pretty deliberate planning, but is not the total nightmare that downtown, mid-city or The Valley are.
All of this makes me appreciate even more what we have in Denver, and the cycling community I will soon join in D.C. Not every place has the fundamentals to make this work, and if you ever meet someone fighting the good fight and bike commuting in LA, Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, or hundreds of other bum U.S. cities for cycling, give them a high-five, and ask them to teach you a thing or two about riding. I'm sure they'll have a tip or two for you.