Being a bicyclist in a major city can pose a unique challenge. Many factors play into the bike-friendliness of a city: the layout and design of the streets, the community’s dependence on automobile transport, the average weather conditions, and the over-arching culture of transportation in the context of socioeconomic status, class structure, and environmental values. A city like Portland, Oregon has almost endless miles of bike lanes and paths, and the city infrastructure caters to cyclists at the same level as it does to pedestrians and automobiles. Conversely, Los Angeles has been a car driver’s city for decades, starting in the 1950s when the freeway system began construction and public transit operations couldn’t keep up. But the early romance between Southern Californians and their automobiles has since soured; LA’s traffic congestion is the worst in all of America, and increasing gas prices have made it almost impossible for young people to afford to buy a car. The rapid transit system of busses and light rail trains is woefully under-used and struggles to support the city residents.
In this environment, a new culture is emerging to encourage and demand bicycle use throughout Los Angeles. The city is not a bike-friendly place, but a growing number of collectives, co-ops, and non-profits are working to increase bicycle use and awareness, and campaign for increased city support; their efforts are working, slowly but surely. One of the most well-known bike groups in Los Angeles is the Midnight Ridazz, a group that gathers every month to organize a nighttime group bike ride throughout various areas in the city and celebrate cycling culture. The group was founded in 2004 with the goal of seeing the parts of LA that were not normally accessible in a car; today, there are Midnight Ridazz chapters in a variety of cities, and the original group continues to promote an inclusive, informative ride on the second Friday of every month.
Advocacy groups have begun to report and encourage city lawmakers to install bike lanes on major thoroughfares and make public transport more accessible to cyclists. C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange) is a non-profit aimed at helping riders learn how to use bikes on LA’s streets; they organize riding events, help people find local bike kitchens for repairs, and advocate for more bike lanes. Curbed LA reports on new bike lanes, and keeps readers in the loop about new developments in the continuing fight for bike safety on the streets.
The Los Angeles bike culture is far larger than just this summary can provide: there are bike clubs, parties, and even theme weddings, as well as a vast network of collectives catering to women riders, riders of color, political statements, bike messengers, and many more. While the city struggles to disengage from its dependence on automobiles, the cyclists are working to make LA a better place to ride, street by street.