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Give Me A Bike-friendly City, or Give Me Death
by Katy Purviance on 08/28/07 @ 11:12:18 pm
Categories: Observations, Urban Planning | 471 words | 856 views

I care about the environment. One of the ways this concern manifests itself is my predilection for riding my bike to work.

Did I mention I live in LA?

For me, riding my bike to work means fearing for my life. It means slowing before every alleyway, every blind driveway, every strip mall curb cut, because drivers are only sorry after they’ve almost hit you. They do not look ahead, or plan ahead. They have no problem passing a bicyclist in a sidewalk-less, one lane, dark underpass (I think it was her attention to her cell phone that kept her from noticing my large, red blinking light). Because the automobile affords anonymity – and a speedy getaway – drivers seem to feel that they have been given a free pass for wanton sociopathic behavior.

Far be it from me to pretend that LA is some idyllic cyclist’s paradise – I knew before I started biking to work that it would be dangerous. But, as a certain administration of ours likes to say, if I’m afraid, it means the [drivers] have already won. Besides, starting and ending each work day with a bike ride makes me feel great all day. I’m feeling healthier. I have more energy. Stamina. Riding gives me the opportunity to notice the homeless at a more personal level, lest I forget that “The Greatest Country on Earth” can’t even take care of its own. Driving would rob me of these opportunities.

All this is to say that urban planners, and those who aspire to wield this great power, must be cognizant of the effects of their design decisions. Urban planners must care about the people who will inhabit and use their proposed patterns of living. Urban planners must say to themselves, How can I serve people. Not cars. Not lobbyists. Not corporations. Real people. Like those who would sure like to stop spending four hours a day on the 405 sometime soon, thank you very much.

Some questions to ponder:

Are we designing for cars? Or for people?

Do we need to widen the streets to accommodate more cars? Or do we need to provide better, more efficient methods of getting a lot of people from Point A to Point B (and C, D, E, and back to A again)?

Do we really think suburban dwellers like the fact that they cannot walk to a store without mastering a maze of lookalike cul-de-sacs and the effrontery of bullying collector streets? Or can we design more balanced distributions of residential and commercial zones? Can we add some mixed-used development? And can it be affordable so that regular people can enjoy the social and health benefits of a nice walk - or a bike ride - to the store for milk and bread?

I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

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