As frequent Los Angeles cyclists well know, there are three things you need if you want to ride a bike in this town: a good helmet, a stout lock and a very good life insurance policy.
If the street wars between drivers and bikers in L.A. are a lot less deadly than the gang wars, they are no less irrational. Bikers, after all, perform a public service by reducing traffic and emissions. Few drivers seem to appreciate that. Talk to an L.A. cyclist and you will hear horror stories about drivers who cut them off, yell at them, throw things and otherwise endanger their lives. Such a conflict nearly proved fatal on the Fourth of July when a driver, allegedly enraged because two bikers speeding downhill on Mandeville Canyon Road were blocking his progress, swerved in front of them and slammed on the brakes. The riders were seriously hurt, and the driver faces charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
Despite the dangers, high gasoline prices are swelling the ranks of local pedal-pushers. Statistics are scarce, but abundant anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of people who bike to work or across town on errands is soaring. Bike retailers are reporting a strong rise in sales, and transit officials say the number of bikers who ride to bus or train stops is up sharply. The increase in two-wheelers can be expected to worsen the strains in a city renowned for its love affair with the automobile.
Though many bikers might find it hard to believe, public officials are trying to adapt. West Hollywood is rightly considering an end to its ban on riding bikes on sidewalks. Los Angeles is updating its bicycle master plan, a torturously long process that might eventually result in more bike lanes. The city already has a progressive law that requires commercial developments bigger than 10,000 square feet to include bike parking and on-site showers for employees who ride to work. And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has installed bike racks on every bus (some are missing because they were damaged and haven't been replaced) and added more bike parking at train stations.
Obviously, a lot more is needed: more bike paths and lanes, more "smart growth" policies that incorporate bike-friendliness and more incentive programs by employers to encourage workers to cycle to the office. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that no matter how bike-friendly our government or businesses become, L.A. will remain a rough ride until motorists learn to share the road. Bikers are boosting their health, their pocketbooks and the city's environment. If it's a battle for moral authority between drivers and bikers, the bikers have already won. Give them a break.