CaliMD Dispatch: Bike Commuting in Los Angeles (aka no, I'm not crazy)
As a recent transplant from New York, and the CityMD team, I've been thinking a lot about New York, missing friends, and reflecting on how lucky I was to bike commute in New York. I've been bike commuting in Los Angeles since April, very reliably - I've driven to my office exactly once since I started my job at UCLA. I've compiled some observations and tips for those of you who end up leaving New York and want to stick with your car-free (or at least car minimal) lifestyles. No, you're not crazy. Yes, you may get run over one day, but probably not. Just keep these lines in your back pocket for when you're inevitably asked 17 times a week.
Los Angeles is blessed with beautiful weather almost all the time. When it rains people really don't know what to do. Being from Denver originally, before I spent almost 7 years in New York, I can relate to this. The weather makes LA a no brainer for bike commuting, especially considering that traffic is stupid here. I live in Silver Lake, which is on the east side, and work in Westwood which is about 9 miles as the crow flies or anywhere from 11.5 to however many miles you want to spend on your way to the office, depending on how sweaty you want to be when you arrive. When I started this job, and realized that driving here would require us to buy a second car and take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes longer, I decided I could easily make bike commuting here work. I've faced some challenges but generally I don't mind it.
Here are some of my observations and tips, enjoy!
When you're bike commuting in a new city, for the first several months I highly recommend exploring and trying a number of different routes. Google Maps has decent bike directions but they have no way of knowing when a route will require you to narrowly squeeze between buses and parked cars, while you're going significantly faster than supposedly moving traffic. It took me probably three months to find a route that features minimal traffic and relatively decent roads.
In bike choice consider comfort and durability first. The pictures in this article are of my new road bike but I most often ride an Aluminum cross bike with 30" tires, only pumped to 60 psi, for maximum comfort.
Always be alert, and make sure cars know you know they're there. I am always looking around me, trying to anticipate what the lunatics on the road, driving 2,000 pound potential death machines might do next. This has saved me from many close calls.
There are many parts of my commute without bike lanes. This sucks, and has made me very much want to work to fix this, but when you can't find a bike lane it's not the end of the world. Take as much of the lane as you need to feel safe and avoid getting doored. Cars have plenty of lanes. I generally use 'bike route' roads which just means I feel that cars should expect to see bikes, and if they choose those roads, they can deal with it. People are generally pretty chill about it.
It is often helpful to bribe oneself with a coffee stop. Helpful if not essential. There is some wonderful coffee in Los Angeles and I have found a portable coffee mug that fits in my bottle cages.
When you're a bike commuter you'll see strange and wonderful things most drivers never notice. There was a crazy looking house I saw for a while and as it turns out, this is a famous house called the witch's house! I also know where almost every road and intersection between Silverlake and Westwood is, which is super convenient.
As a bike commuter in Los Angeles, I have the same conversation many times per day. I tell someone I bike commute. They ask me where I live and work. When I say I live in Silverlake and work in Westwood, their eyes get really big, and they tell me I'm out of my mind and I'll probably be killed tomorrow. I smile and say 'well I might, but it's still faster and better for the environment than driving, and the weather is almost always perfect here!' I'm thinking of making this into a t-shirt.
If you're thinking about bike commuting, I really hope you'll try it. The best way for roads to be safer for bikes, and to convince people in the government to prioritize bike infrastructure, is to get a critical mass of bikes out on the roads!