Explore LA! Localism and the Bicycle

Los Angeles is a big city of over 450 square miles, with over 4,000 square miles if we’re looking at the whole County. This massive size is daunting even in a car… after all, how many of us have let friends and beloved relatives go un-visited all to avoid a traffic-clogged schlep to the Westside, Eastside, or the Valley, or that particular just-too-far place of your own personal choosing?

To some, this daunting size balloons out of all reasonable proportion at the thought of tackling it perched, huffing, between two spinning wheels; not to mention the idea of travelling on foot or taking a maze of public transit. Some say: Los Angeles is just too big, too spread out, the infrastructure isn’t there, Metro doesn’t go there, it’s too far, too hot, too hard. Los Angeles is one of the few cities where the phrases “let’s walk”, “let’s take the train” or “let’s bike” is met with confused stares.

City of Los Angeles bicycle facilities in their respective Council Districts

However, while Los Angeles as a whole is big, anyone who’s lived here for a while or has taken a gander as the LA Times’ wonderful Mapping LA project knows that LA is made up of a collection of neighborhoods with unique-to-them shopping, recreational, and eating opportunities! Some trips are of course impractical for more sustainable transport methods; the average person doesn’t want to walk more than a mile, or spend more than an hour biking or riding transit while en route to their destination. Nor do most people relish the idea of donning a load of spandex and arriving at their destination sweat-dripped, and smelling faintly of the gym.

But, for many people, small, local trips to get groceries, coffee, or see a film are very exciting from a walking, and even more so, from a biking perspective! Getting on a bike or taking a walk doesn’t have to be something you prepare or set aside time for. The purpose of the ride can be practical, or for fun, or both! Say… a spontaneous event, just like when you hop in your car to pick up something quick.

This combination of practicality and entertainment is something unique to biking. You can turn a chore like picking up toilet paper into a sort of mini-adventure! Even in your own home town, if you’re used to getting around in a car… on a bike, you’ll see stores, people, and sights you’ve never noticed before. This is the driving concept behind Bicycle Friendly Business Districts! Since you don’t have to fight others for parking, it’s relatively easy to stop where you want to stop. While riding a bike there’s no excuse of, “oh we just passed it… maybe next time” if you come upon something that looks interesting, just stop, hop off, and check it out!

Ok, now that we’re all on the same page about local proximity and the things we can do around the neighborhood, maybe you’d like to explore what sort of rides you can do! What are some things you have to think about when you’re setting out on your local expedition? After all, a bike, while it is made of metal and has wheels, is somewhat different in practice from a car for errand-running and short-sight-seeing-trip purposes. In the Explore LA blog series, I will profile a handful of routes, but you’ll also find tips and guidelines you can easily apply to all your trips.

I’ve been sure to orient these Explore LA! routes around transit stops so if you want to check it out yourself you’re sure to be able to get there sans car.

Before we embark on the series, I’d like to share some helpful tips on how to plan a ride of your own. A good first resource is simply to use google maps, and select the little bike icon as your mode of transit. Google will try its best to route you on bike lanes and along designated “bicycle friendly” streets (the definition of “friendly” may seem illusive). One thing Google doesn’t take into account though are things like difficult turns at intersections, which is something you only learn about when taking the route.

A second option for discovering perhaps more “secret” routes is to use Strava’s heat map which highlights roads used most frequently by cyclists and runners. A majority of users, however, are more competitive cyclists, so some of the routes following winding and hilly terrain may be more challenging than one you, the convenience-oriented cyclist, might find appealing.

Strava’s heat map shows where its users are biking

The key though, is to have fun and experiment… get a general idea of where you’re going PLUS take detours and explore! After all, these are some of the greatest joys of being free and out of a car!

Looking forward to hearing more? Here’s a taste of what you can read about… COMING SOON! 

1) Bike to an outdoor movie! Cinespia hosts movies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery all summer and we are going to check it out!

2) Explore Expo! USC and Exposition Park are major destinations to eat, shop, visit museums, sporting events, conventions, or… if you’re a student like me, this trip might be your daily commute to school!

3) And finally… let’s take a tour of Pasadena! Why is the LADOT Bike Blog covering Pasadena you ask? Well for one, it’s my hometown! But also, we recognize that adventures know no City limits! Bike infrastructure shouldn’t stop at City borders and neither should we…. 

Paul Cipriani is a Master of Planning student at the University of Southern California and a summer intern at the LADOT Bike Program.

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