But there’s always the pull of athleticism, so the pair has started another ride, their answer to the Wolfpack Hustle – a fast-paced midnight ride called Zulu Dawn. Fast-paced – but still no spandex! They’ll always be punk-rockers at heart.
In mid September, I rolled into the vast underground garage of the CalTrans building downtown: a huge building that also houses the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation (LADOT), which is home to the Bureau of Capital Programming where Michelle Mowery – a vigorous, willowy fifty-year-old – is the Senior Project Coordinator of Bicycle Outreach and Planning.
Mowery, who has held the position since 1994, has managed to get a good bit of bicycle infrastructure on the ground in the last fifteen years. She has come to realize that “a huge part of my job is talking to people who always say ‘No,’ till they finally say ‘Yes’ to bicycle projects. But it isn’t easy.”
Still, there have been successes: when Mowery began at LADOT, there were no public bike racks in Los Angeles; now there are 3,500 of them, with more going in weekly. Mowery also began working on parking meter retrofits ten years ago – a hard pull back then. But now that parking meters are being phased out in favor of pay-stations, Mowery has persuaded LADOT not to uproot all the old meters, but to slip a lock-on adapter over them and convert them to bike racks, complete with LADOT logo and a little silhouette of a bike.
Mowery lives thirty miles away in Long Beach but makes the round trip by bike at least once a week, coming in by Metro most of the other days and driving only about once a week. She’s been a street rider since her teen years but she understands that not everyone is comfortable facing Los Angeles’ notorious traffic and so has worked hard to establish bike routes, lanes and paths throughout the city.
The new Bicycle Master Plan for Los Angeles strives for a comprehensive network of “bike friendly streets,” some of which may eventually become full-fledged bicycle boulevards. This she sees as her most important job for the next ten years – a job complicated by the fact that Los Angeles City comprises only 39 per cent of Los Angeles County and that the mishmash of 88 cities that forms the Greater Los Angeles Area means lanes will often disappear at an invisible line in the street, as you roll from one city to another, or into unincorporated territory.
Mowery in particular is trying to get more bike lanes on arterial streets – the ones that get you to work the fastest. And with the help of individual citizen activists and local NGOs, especially the LACBC, it looks like we’re finally getting someplace after a long dry season.
Los Angeles Today
It used to be that when I met people who saw me riding a bike on the street, the only question they would ever ask was, “Oh, do you race?” They couldn’t imagine that anyone riding a bicycle in the city could possibly have any reason other than training for competition.
I haven’t heard that question since, I think, around the year 2000. More often now I get a thumbs-up and shouts of approval. More people are riding and more shops are offering practical bikes. Drivers are more polite, and sometimes even deferential. And government is slowly catching up to the realities on the street and the impact of sprawl, global warming, the public health burdens of sedentary lifestyles, and the myriad of other social and physical ills that active transportation, including bicycling, can forestall.
It’s not a cycling paradise yet, by any means, but it’s becoming a place where it’s not only possible to ride (because it’s always possible) but it’s pleasurable as well.