Double Tap on Sepulveda

hitrun

There are no bike lanes in Van Nuys, from Woodman to Woodley. There are no bike lanes in North Hills. None in Panorama.  Put these three neighborhoods together and you have 265,000 people, nearly the population of Orlando, Florida. Orlando has bike lanes.  So does the city of Irvine, Pop. 266,000. But not us. We’re a colony.

Wait, a minute, what about the Orange Line? Ain’t that in Van Nuys?
Before the indigenous peoples south of Oxnard declared themselves to be Sherman Oaks, it used to be.  Now it’s an orphan.

The historic heart of the San Fernando Valley constitutes a medium-sized American city unto itself, but lacking the normal amenities found in such cities. Like say, Pittsburgh.
Then we have the nomadic tribes of the Favela, wandering their Sinai of dysfunction and dispossession from the 405 to the Wash, always on bikes.   Hundreds of them.

That’s a lot of people sharing lanes.   There are choke points, Sepulveda at Stagg being one of them.   It’s a great place to get clipped, pedaling against traffic.  At night.
Then again, it’s a great place to get clipped in broad daylight moving with the traffic flow, keeping yourself three feet from the parked cars, wearing a helmet and reflective clothing.

You don’t want to get hit twice.    Cause the first driver might not kill you. If he takes off, leaving you in the street, a second car might run over you like a speed bump, dragging your body up the block. She, too, might make a getaway, trailing sparks.   In the case of Stacy Adams, 55, neither driver rendered aid, though one of them managed to dispose of her bicycle in a spirited attempt to break the chain of evidence.

Erik Larson, the first driver, was arrested at his residence the next day.  The woman, Jenevieve Hegedus, was arrested a week later.

Cops like hit and runs.  They work them hard, they close ‘em fast.  -Michael Clayton

IMG_E9942

The victim, one of 50 bicycle-vehicle fatalities in SoCal in 2017, has a ghost bike to mark where her body was crushed. It’ll be there for a year, and then it will be removed.

In a year’s time, Metro may raze Aetna and Bessemer street to build a maintenance yard for a light rail conversion of the Orange Line no one asked for.  I have a wee suspicion there still won’t be a bike lane on Sepulveda. There’s no money in that.  Maybe I could write a letter to the colonial bureau.

When The Bike Was King

The first Arroyo Seco freeway

The first Arroyo Seco freeway

Imagine biking from Pasadena to downtown LA on a dedicated boardwalk, at rooftop level, then pedaling home in the evening under magic lights while serenaded by bullfrogs and crickets. Like the NYC High Line, but without pedestrians.

In 1900 you could do this. For about two miles.  The remainder of the California Causeway foundered for lack of paying customers, and the ungracious and untimely arrival of the automobile. Like so many magnificent wooden structures of yore, inevitably it would have burned to the ground at some point.  Instead the lumber was sold off, repurposed in local houses.

Oh, to have ridden upon it, even once!

A century later one is taken by the separation from streetcars and horse-drawn carriages. Here, in first conception, the bike fulfills transportation needs and communes with nature in equal measure.

Steve Jobs was fond of saying the condor was the most efficient creation in nature. It moved the greatest distance with the least amount of energy. Man, by contrast, was way down the evolutionary list. Until he got on a bike. A man on a bicycle was the most energy efficient creation ever. He moved at four times the speed of the pedestrian and used five times less energy. A computer, he added, was a bicycle for the mind.

Bicycles take less space, require less public infrastructure, impose less on the physical space of our fellow citizens. If unimpeded, a woman on a bike can cross the city like a wind deity. A boy on a bike arrives at school like a knight in training. Imagine if we had a whole network of cycleways like this connecting the neighborhoods of the Valley.  Oh, wait.

DSC_0241-001

So we are obliged in the absence of civic leadership to play Russian roulette on public streets, our laptops tucked neatly in our backpacks, spinning the pedals with Jobsian hyper-efficacy, masters of our own movement until a hit and run driver says otherwise.

A private esplanade on Valleyheart

_DSC0125

As bicyclists, birders and New Urbanists have long been aware,  there exists in digital space overlapping fever dreams of a Greenway along “51 miles of the LA River”.  A Google search will retrieve dozens of mock-ups.  This sublime alternative Los Angeles, we are given to expect,  is due to arrive by 2020.  Golden Road has already issued a commemorative IPA in celebration, sort of making it official.

Fifty-one miles would, by default, include the Valley.  Except that it won’t.  Unless one believes the western perimeter of the Valley is Universal City.  Cause that’s as far as the Greenway is going to extend.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone.  People are too busy lining up for photo shoots with our money.

Besides, who bikes in the Valley?   Who walks, for that matter?

Los Angeles is spending $600 million replacing the viaduct between the Arts District and Boyle Heights with a mixed-use architectural showcase.  One block parallel to another bridge.

There are plans in motion to build a park atop the Hollywood Freeway. Price tag unknown.

The development of the Downtown to Elysian Valley segment of the Greenway, including parks, is going to run a billion dollars.

What are we getting in the Valley, west of the 170? This:

_DSC0113

We’ve all seen Chinatown. We know the score.

To give the appearance of inclusion in the great Greenway, several short discontiguous pathways, a half mile in length, have been scattered here and there: Radford to Whitsett, Mason to De Soto, and now the most recent: along Valleyheart, between Sepulveda and Kester.  One can’t complain as to the landscaping. It’s very nice.   But disconnected from each other and from the rest of the system, they serve no practical purpose for the general public. One cannot pedal to the Zoo, and thence down the Glendale Narrows to Downtown, as I did yesterday.

They are, in effect, taxpayer-built private esplanades for the people who live nearby.   No one else will be using them. One gets the feeling people in those neighborhoods wanted it that way.

This is our Angeleno moment: Dubai in Hollywood, Detroit in the Valley.

Speaking of Detroit, Andy Hurvitz has urban renewal schemes for parking lots up in Van Nuys:

Future Gardens of Van Nuys?

A Buddhist Gift

_DSC0065

There is something unintentionally discursive to riding a bike in L.A.

An absence of bike lanes in most of the city and nearly the entirety of the Valley means there is seldom a direct line between destinations. Nor is there, practically speaking, a direct zig-zag between points on the grid.

There exists in state law, but not in practice, a curtilage of three feet between cyclists and cars sharing a lane on city streets.  In a bizarro Los Angeles where the streets were ten feet wider, this might work.  In theory.  Some of the time.  In the el mundo real ciudad de Angelis one runs with the bulls even when one sprints down Sepulveda in full tuck and with great purpose.  Even in the Valley, on its abundant boulevards, there is not room for car, plus bike, plus three feet between the two, and this assumes a rather sporting cyclist gamely willing to play Russian Roulette with side view mirrors.

So the bicyclists get squeezed up on to the sidewalks at the choke points of the commute. Pedestrians are aggrieved when they see cyclists bearing down on them or feel them brushing past, gears whirring, as they take a post-prandial constitutional.

I will stipulate bikers can sometimes be jerks, but usually they’re just trying to stay out of traction. They’re trying to avoid this:

DSC_0241-001

DSC_0269-001

So one learns the hard way (flipping over a car hood and picking asphalt out of one’s scab is instructive) that to safely go straight one goes left-right-left.  The pain-free route between two points can sometimes be one which leads you into residential streets. But even by-ways offer their own hazard, and there are days like today when a prudent, prophylactic left-right-left-right-left-left can still land one in a tangle of fuchsia bougainvillea thorns, bleeding from the forearms and cursing an indifferent getaway car.  Even on a residential street, way off the boulevard.

Now imagine re-mounting the bike and seeing the spire of a Buddhist pagoda peeking over the flowers, and a monk beckoning you into his driveway.  Like Alice through the Looking Glass you follow him through the gap in the hedge and you see this:

_DSC0028

And this:

_DSC0050

And he doesn’t speak a word of English and he smiles enigmatically and he gestures for you to walk through the garden and visit the statuary. He doesn’t care about the camera. He doesn’t care if you are Presbyterian. He doesn’t even ask. A half hour later, you get back on the bike, but you’ve forgotten your route. Then you remember it, but it no longer has the same purpose. So you abandon it.

You’re not going somewhere any longer, you’re just pedaling.

Pedaling is joy.  Pedaling is youth.  Pedaling is liberty, glad and big.  You pedal pedal pedal left-right-left-left-left-right-left-right-right-right-left-who-cares which direction. Because pedaling is your breath.

Silently, you thank the monk.  Pedaling is a Buddhist gift.

Ghost Bike

Ghost Bike

Seventeenth of the year

‘Have you seen the bike?” asked Mrs. UpintheValley. “What bike?” “The white bike, up on Lanark Street.  A kind of shrine popped up overnight. Something bad must have happened there.” “There might be a bike there, but I doubt it’s a shrine.” “I’m telling you…it’s a shrine.” Up to the corner the three of us went, and there the bike was, spray-painted funereal white right down to the chain, gears and tires. A procession of  votive candles lined the curb and a garland of roses threaded the spokes.   A flyer clipped to the wheel promoted a film called…well,  Ghost Bike.  It had a distinctly indie-movie look. Horror, perhaps, with artsy pretensions. And a website, of course. In LA, always be marketing. On the heels of Shia LaBoeuf’s skywriting stunt, I confess this filled me with cynicism.  But why there, in Van Nuys, so far off the beaten track? Not exactly a cyclist’s haven.  A visit to the website reveals Ghost Bike  is not a horror film, exactly, but a documentary ‘about members of the cycling community who volunteer to install ghost bikes anonymously at sites where cyclists were killed…and the lives that are affected by the conflict between motorist and cyclists to safely share the road.’ Indeed. But who was killed there? Google filled in the blanks. A neighbor. An unnamed 56-year-old man, struck by a hit-and-run driver two days before Christmas. A police canvas turned up no witnesses. This was certainly news to me, and I bike everywhere. He was the 17th cyclist killed in Los Angeles in 2013.  The seventeenth. There were less than 300 homicides in LA last year, which would make car-on-bike mayhem the third-leading cause of death, behind stabbings and gunshots.