By Stephen Box
I hope this is the last year that “Bike to Work Week” imposes itself on the people of Los Angeles, urging cyclists to ride their bikes and beseeching the motoring public for a little consideration. Tough words from a transportation activist but I’m looking forward to the day when all modes of transportation are supported on the streets of Los Angeles, not just in funding but in law enforcement, in routine accommodations, in maintenance and repair standards, and in the development and implementation of standards. I’m looking forward to the day when it isn’t necessary to schedule a special day in a special week in an effort to encourage cyclists, when the Police Chief doesn’t feel the need to ask motorists to consider the safety of cyclists on the road, when promoting active transportation is simply unnecessary.
I’m looking forward to the day when we celebrate cyclists and their contribution to our communities. For your consideration, I offer up a few reasons to be thankful for the cyclists who have gone before us as well as those who ride the streets of LA today.
• It was cyclists who spearheaded the 19th century “Good Roads” movement that resulted in a national campaign to pave America’s roads, affording cyclists and motorists alike a smooth ride. Ironically, for all of the contributions to the development of national road standards, cyclists still find themselves fighting for their place on the street. [LINK ]
• Many of the mechanical innovations now associated with the automobile were originally invented for cycling. It was Dr. Dunlop who invented pneumatic tires for his son’s bike. Rack and pinion steering, the differential, the band brakes, and even geared assembly-line machinery all originated in the world of bicycles.
• The development of human flight is the result of two bicycle mechanics who used their bike shop to develop the aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible. Orville and Wilbur Wright spent years experimenting with gliders before they added an engine and took to the sky in the historic flight that saw their three-axis control trump the more powerful engines of their competitors.
• The bicycle craze of the 1890’s challenged popular perceptions of femininity and fashion, resulting in a movement away from Victorian sensibilities. The battle over restrictive clothing challenged public perceptions of female athleticism and proper female behavior. Susan B. Anthony commented that “bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” [LINK]
• Cyclists today continue to fight for streets that are safe and effective for all people. The next time you see a cyclist on the streets of Los Angeles, wave (Don’t honk, we think it means danger!) and give a silent thanks to the cyclists who developed LA’s Backbone Bikeway Network, a commitment to connectivity that focuses city resources on the streets that connect major destinations.
As for Bike to Work Week, I’m going to pass on the festivities and instead call on our leadership to step away from the photo opp. It’s time for the Mayor, the City Council members, the LAPD, the LADOT, the Bureau of Street Services and everybody else who has a piece of the streets to join forces with LA’s most powerful non-profits, Bikeside and Sustainable Streets, and to work with us to make our streets safe for everybody, not just for the day or for the week, but for every day of the year.
Great Streets don’t happen by accident, they require year-round work by professionals who know that our streets are for people and who understand that what’s good for cyclists is also good for the community.
“See you on the Streets!”
(Stephen Box is a cycling and transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached atStephen@thirdeyecreative.net) -cw