What it’s like to bike in Los Angeles, Part III

Biking home from a dinner party at a friend’s place, the car in front of me got fed up with the slow-moving driving in front of him and decided to pass. Without looking, he veered out to the right–straight into the bike lane that I happened to be riding in–cutting me off so closely that I was able to slap the back of his car with my hand. I yelled to let him know I was there. When he realized what he’d done, he ran the red light at the end of the street in order to avoid having to wait next to me at the intersection once I caught up.

What it’s like to ride a bike in Los Angeles, Part II

This morning I ventured out to The Bootleg Theater to check out Creative Mornings with Barbara Bestor, which was totally awesome. Barbara owns an architecture company that tries to introduce weirdness and creativity into people’s everyday lives, which I think is super important, and is one of the reasons LA is home to such wonderfully creative people. I also decided to ride my bike to the event. Fresh air and a little exercise in the morning–what better way is there to start the day than that?

The ride over was awesome. The right back, frankly, sucked. Here’s why.

The Squeal and Peal

Riding in the bike lane, I pulled up to a red light at a T intersection and stopped. The only options here were to turn left or right, and the bike lane was in between the left and right turn lanes. I was waiting to turn left. When the light changed, I proceeded, but the car to my left, also making a left turn, did so with complete negligence to her surroundings, swinging extra wide and nearly knocking me over sideways. When she saw me, she got mad. She rolled down her window and yelled something profane before driving ahead toward the next red light. Now, I’ve committed myself to being as respectful and civil as possible on the road, so despite the bubbling frustration her arrogance was stirring, I decided I would remain calm and simply tell her that being a cyclist in Los Angeles is difficult, and that I’d appreciate it if she would try not to yell at us in the future. When she noticed I was about to catch up to her at the light, however, she rolled up her window and ignored me!

The Spontaneous Decision Maker

Not more than a minute later, I was riding in the bike lane toward an intersection when a truck carrying safety cones (ironic, right?) in the lane to my left decided all of a sudden that he was about to miss his turn. Without so much as a glance, he swerved right, straight into the bike lane. I slammed on my breaks, missing the back of the truck by about 2 feet. I yelled. He didn’t notice, and continued onward.

The Anxious Left Turn

Finally, as I entered the very next intersection–again, in the bike lane–a man driving a big white SUV coming the opposite direction decided not to wait for traffic to finish before making his left turn. Well, at least not bike traffic. As soon as the stream of cars ended, he began to make his turn, getting about halfway through it before realizing he was about to plow directly into me. He and I both slammed on our brakes. To his credit, he did wave apologetically and motion for me to go ahead once we’d regained control of the situation, which was nice.

Three close-calls in a span of no more than 3 minutes. No wonder people are afraid to bike in this city. Fortunately after all that, I made it home unscathed. But not before getting stuck for a whole block behind some guy in a Camry who decided driving in the bike lane was a good way for him to bypass the traffic in the lane he should have been driving in.


Technology will save the world. Eventually. In the meantime, you might wanna carry a notepad.

// Recommend this post on Medium

Whenever I travel with my parents, I find myself amused by the trouble they go to to maintain a sense of control over the whole affair. They pack their bags days in advance, choosing clothes for everything from blizzard to typhoon, and they print out stacks of paper so thick I’m amazed they can get a staple through them. What’s on them? Tickets, receipts for tickets, copies of tickets and copies of receipts for tickets. Directions to the airport, and directions from the airport. Names phone numbers and addresses of all the people we plan to meet up with throughout our travels. Directions to hotels. Hotel reservations, bus routes, fairs, and times. Any travel number, document, or map you can think of, they’ve got it on paper. And don’t forget cash. Gobs and gobs of cash, preconverted into the appropriate currency. What’s funny about it is the stark contrast against the way I myself travel.

For me, less is better. I leave as much at home as is humanly possible. I check the 10-day forecast to make sure I’m not bringing any clothing I don’t need, and then I stuff it all into a carry-on bag so I don’t have to wait around at baggage claim. All my documents — flight information, boarding pass, phone numbers — are on my phone, and I’m usually staying at an AirBnb, so I’ve got that app downloaded and ready to help get me there when I arrive. As for where I’m stayingtomorrow, I haven’t planned that yet. I’ll handle that booking from my phone while I’m in the car. What’s the best way to get to town from the airport? I dunno — but Google Maps does. I didn’t rent a car, but that’s cool: flip the app to the transit tab and it’ll get me there by whatever combination of train and bus is most efficient. Hell, it’ll even tell me how much it’ll all cost. And how will I be paying? Credit card, of course. Or, in the hyper-weird event that credit isn’t an option, I’ll visit an ATM and use my no-fee debit card to withdraw some cash in the appropriate currency, surcharge free.

You see, the days of having to plan a trip are over. Just like technology eliminated the need to have a travel agent, it has now all but eliminated the need to do any planning in advance whatsoever.

At least that’s what I thought.

Technology moves so fast these days that when someone comes up with a good idea, it’s hard to imagine that idea might not instantly spread to everywhere else. Psy’s Gangnam Style took what seemed like less than a month to hit all four corners of the earth. If catchy music can spread that fast, everything else must too. Right? Right?

When I landed in Helsinki last week, I immediately whipped out my phone to pop in the address for the Airbnb I was staying at. And I know what you’re thinking: “You can’t use your data plan abroad!” But no, I thought of that before I left, and I made sure to add a temporary international data plan for my trip. Everything was set. Except it wasn’t: my data didn’t work. Yep, that’s right, it just didn’t work. 3g, 4g, LTE… nothing.

Oh well. “Maybe they just don’t have it at the airport,” I thought. I decided to try and find my way to the city center the old fashioned way: by reading signs. And alas! I found the bus I needed. I walked out to the platform and found the ticket dispenser. Cool. We’re good now. I’ll take this bus, and then they’ll definitely have some sort of data network available when we get closer into the city, so I’ll just look the address up while I’m on the bus and figure out which stop to get off at. Awesome.

I nav’d through the ticket machine process and then dipped my credit card. Surprise! Card read error. It turns out that even though most European card readers are prepared to handle the archaic US mag strip technology that we for some reason insist on using, this one wasn’t. On the off chance it was just a bad card, I tried paying with two other credit cards and a debit card, but alas, I had no luck. I needed the chip. I didn’t have the chip. Crap.

I needed cash. This bugged me, because I knew that airport exchange facilities don’t exactly give you a sweet deal on currency conversion, but I figured given the circumstances I’d just take the hit. I wandered back inside toward the exchange counter, completely forgetting that my flight from Germany earlier had been delayed by over six hours, and that it was quite a bit later than I had originally expected to arrive. When I got there, much to my chagrin, they were closed! Argh! Why didn’t I bring cash with me!?

Feeling helpless, I shuffled back out to the bus stop bench and slumped down onto it, hoping to god the bus driver would accept a credit card. Amazingly though, before that happened, a sweet Finnish girl asked me (in perfect English, of course) if I was having trouble. When I explained to her my situation, she happily offered to pay the five euros it cost to ride the bus. I felt horrible accepting the money from a girl I’d just met, but given that I was in no position to turn it down, I obliged. Fortunately, she worked at the airport, so I was able to offer her some US cash I had in my wallet as payment. She assured me she’d be able to convert to Euros at work the next day.

After a while, the bus arrived and we both got on. She asked me where I was going and I told her I wasn’t sure. That one earned me a weird look. As we got closer and closer to the city, I started to get nervous. My cell still wasn’t working, and the only thing I knew about the place I was staying was its address which, without a map was fairly useless, and that it was pretty close to the city center. I stared at my phone, hoping that a signal would pop up. I must have been staring pretty intently, because the girl eventually asked me if she could help–again. Man, did I feel useless. I showed her the address of where I was hoping to end up, and once again, she came through for me. She recognized the street name, and knew exactly which stop to get off at. Incredible.

“This is you!” she said as we pulled up to the stop. I thanked her profusely and hopped off the bus. Then, as the bus pulled away, I scanned for my street. Too bad it wasn’t there. For some reason I had assumed that the bus would just magically let me out on the street I needed to be on. Why, I have no idea, but it definitely didn’t. Okay, time to start searching then. What was that street name again? I pulled out my phone and popped open the Airbnb app to start digging through the conversation with my host. The address wasSäästöpankinranta 4 a 2, 00530 Helsinki. And no, that’s not a spelling / UTF-8 conversion error, it’s just Finnish. Worse still, after reading over the address, I remembered that I’d been using my phone quite a bit, and that my battery was likely pretty low. My phone had a run-in with a swimming pool last summer and the battery meter has been pretty unreliable ever since. This meant my phone could die at any minute, and I wouldn’t even get a heads up about it.

Let’s see, what happens when my phone dies. Oh god. What happens if my phone dies!? I can’t remember this address! All the information I thought I had carefully accounted for might simply vanish in a matter of seconds. If only I had a pen and paper to write is all down!

24 hours earlier I’d nav’d my way from checkin to gate at LAX using nothing but a cell phone. And yet, there I was, stranded on the sidewalk at midnight in Helsinki with… nothing but a cell phone. And even that could at any minute become an expensive brick. Man. I would kill for a really thick stack of papers and some Euros.

I ended up being saved by a lucky coincidence. The fact that my flight was delayed meant that my travel buddy who was meeting me at the Airbnb had gotten there before me. I reached out to her for help via what I expect to soon confirm was an annoyingly expensive text message. What happened after that was a comical amount of bumbling around.

“Where are you?” she asked?

“I dunno.” I replied. “I see a Pepsi sign.”

“I remember a Pepsi sign!”

“You do?”

“Uh… maybe. I’ll come downstairs and look for you.”

Then we both walked in circles around a large public square for about 15 minutes until we finally managed to bump into each other. What a relief.

When we finally made it inside, I explained to her how ridiculous my reliance on technology was, and that I vowed to be more prepared next time I travel, since obviously, I can’t just assume everything works the same on one end of a flight as it does on the other. She humored me.

I now have a notebook and pen in my travel bag, in which I plan to write down everything I might possibly need for my trip before ever leaving the house. Next time, I’ll be prepared.

In a related story, I’m writing this post from the airport. I’m headed to Copenhagen. When I get there, the guy who’s picking me up at the central station is named Quincy. I’ve never met him. My notepad remains empty, and that’s all I know.

Gotta go. Plane is boarding.

They already built a bike lane, and no one is using it

// Originally posted on Medium

There’s a lot of pushback against cycling infrastructure in Los Angeles, and one of the most common arguments I hear from those opposed is that, “we already built a bike lane over there, and no one is using it, so why should we built another one?” I can totally understand why this is frustrating, and why some people see it as a sign of lacking interest in cycling, but before dismissing bike lanes altogether, let’s investigate the reason for this kind of outcome.

In order to draw a comparison, we need something that’s as threatening to a vehicle as a car is to a bicycle. Since there aren’t many things that are a fair match against a 2 ton hunk of metal, I’m going to go ahead and go with a giant boulder. Nobody wants to be crushed by a boulder right? Right. So imagine that for your daily commute by car, you have the option of taking one of two roads. One is a typical highway–boring, traffic-filled, concrete, nothing out of the ordinary–and the other is a pleasant mountain road. The mountain road takes a bit longer, but the scenery is beautiful, and there’s never any traffic. Faced with a choice between the two roads, I imagine that a fair number of people would pick the mountain option. But what if that mountain road was notorious for having unpredictable avalanches, say, once a week? Well then that changes things. You might still get a few brave souls in Landrovers and Hummers taking that road, but even though the chances of you actually being smashed under a boulder are relatively low, your average mom in a mini-van certainly isn’t going to take the risk. After all, this is a commute we’re making every day. The risk adds up.

Now let’s take this a step further and pretend that the city has decided something needs to be done about all these falling boulders. They announce plans to reenforce the hillside. The only caveat: they’re only doing it on one stretch of the highway. What happens then? Once the construction finishes, do more people take the road to work? Chances are what we’d see is a small number of additional drivers who, given the slightly diminished risk, are willing to drive the road, but since drivers still have to pass through a danger zone on both sides of the reenforced section, most people are still going to avoid the road. However, if we continue to reenforce more and more of the road, things start to change.

At a certain critical point, the experience goes from driving a dangerous road with just a few safe zones to driving a safe road with a handful of danger zones. That is the point at which people will truly begin to use it. When only a tiny section of the road is risky, it’s much easier to simply be extra alert and prepared when traveling that section. If half the road was risky however, the level of attention required during the journey would be exhausting, and probably not worth it.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. The reason adding a bike lane to a dangerous length of road my not necessarily increase cycling activity is because even though that section of the road is now safe, chances are it’s only a small portion of the rider’s commute. The cyclist still has to take dangerous, stressful roads to complete his journey, and the ride as a whole is only slightly less risky than it was previously.

In short, we need to hit the critical point for bike lanes. Only then will cycling become a quality transportation option for the average citizen. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s quite a lot of work to be done to get to that point, but it’s not an unreachable goal, and the nice part is that each bike lane that gets added into a neighborhood will have a larger positive effect than the one that came before it. All we have to do is give them a chance.