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A Los Angeles Primer: Fourth Street

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I conducted my daily exploration of the city on a bicycle, which remains, as a result, my primary mode of transportation. (The trains rank second, then, when it comes down to it, the buses.) Many an Angeleno, so I’ve gathered since first setting out on two wheels, would have expected me to say that I still insist on riding a bike despite having tried it, or that, after one harrowing attempt, I locked the thing up at home, never to free it again. Even when I tell someone outside the city that I get around by bike, they express disbelief at the very notion. Somewhere along the line, whether due its size, the varying quality of its roads, its high-profile car culture — they may imagine me pedaling desperately on the thin shoulder of a raging freeway — or some combination thereof, Los Angeles gained a reputation as a uniquely un-bikeable place. This may explain the harsh, defensive posture of certain local cyclists I encounter — “Hey man, I just happen to prefer getting around Los Angeles on a bicycle, okay?” — and it can, at times, make cycling here feel like an inherently contrarian act.

Even on Slate, with its own penchant for contrarianism, Andy Bowers calls Los Angeles, where he lives and rides, “an almost pathologically bike-unfriendly city.” Then again, he does so in the context of a piece on the joys of cycling after he began commuting that way. “I cycled quiet back streets — the kind that infuriate me in a car because of all the stop signs and the impossibility of crossing major streets without a signal,” he writes. “I soon started looking for other short trips I could make on the bike — picking up a few groceries, going to the gym, returning library books — then longer ones. I plotted new stealth routes no driver would ever take.” The daily Los Angeles cyclist gains a command of these quiet back streets, and a host of quiet-enough medium-sized streets as well, which together constitute a parallel road network, shadowing the wide arterials — Wilshire, La Brea, Olympic, Western — that form the grid in every driver’s geographical mind. When getting into or out of downtown, for instance, use the more lightly commercialized Seventh Street; riding through Beverly Hills, go with Charleville Boulevard, and just glide past all the cars that stack up on it; through Hollywood, take Yucca, the city’s first politically official “Bicycle Friendly Street.”

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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