Two wheels, handlebars and a seat. The humble bicycle has been around since the 1800s, beloved as a treasured staple of childhood transportation for generations.
Now, a cycling revival of sorts is sweeping across America's cities, especially among adults seeking a healthier alternative to the automobile. And maybe a bit more fun in their lives. Over the next 30 years, the city of Los Angeles plans to install 1,600 miles of bikeways. The goal? To connect the sprawling, car-loving metropolis and make it more bike-friendly.
It won't come without growing pains, as officials were reminded this month when new bike lanes on two San Pedro streets replaced car lanes. Complaints from residents continue to roll in over that project. And a new green lane bikeway on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles has prompted grousing from filmmakers who like to use the area for vintage movie scenes.
"It's still very recent, but we're not going anywhere," said Tim Fremaux of the city's Department of Transportation.
As Bike Week kicked off Monday, cycling proponents are eager to get the word out about the expanding push to make bicycles a more prevalent mode of transportation in Southern California. The genesis of the regional push for more bike-friendly transportation routes in Los Angeles is often traced to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's broken elbow. Three years ago, Villaraigosa was knocked off his bike when a taxi pulled out in front of him while he was in the bike lane on Venice Boulevard.
But the discussion about improving the city's focus on bike safety already was in gear, riding a wave of what has been the growing global bike culture. "Things are changing all over the world," Fremaux said, citing cities that have active bike-share programs.
There are several classes of bikeways, including dedicated paths and routes. "Sharrows" - asphalt markings reminding cars and bikers to share the road - are popping up on roads throughout the Southern California region.
Bike safety booklets are being produced and distributed, reminding everyone the rules of the road for both motorists and bicyclists.
Rogers credits the new awareness to the aftermath of a road rage case from 2008 in which a motorist later was convicted of deliberately stopping his car in front of two cyclists on a downhill stretch of Mandeville Canyon Road. The driver, Dr. Christopher Thompson, was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $20,000 to each of the cyclists for legal fees.
"That was front-page news but it was happening on a smaller scale every day," Rogers said.
Rogers said bike lanes - along with respect between motorists and cyclists - is making a difference, but that some areas of the city need more work.
"People tell me that the (San Fernando) Valley is not a picnic," he said.
Elliot Ir, who owns Reseda Bicycles, said streets there can be dangerous for bicyclists. "I don't think there's much effort made by the car drivers to let bike riders ride free," he said. "There are too many incidents of hit and run, it's becoming predominant. ... And obviously the Valley is getting much more congested. "
The city of Los Angeles plans to add about 40 miles of bikeways a year, Freemaux said. Among the first funded projects is a corridor along Figueroa Street between downtown and Exposition Park, which will be built over the next 18 months. In the South Bay, a bicycle master plan also is in place to create a network of new routes, adding 213 miles of new bikeways in El Segundo, Lawndale, Gardena, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance over the next 20 years.
Just this month, Manhattan Beach also signed onto the plan.
Long Beach is one municipality that already has made a concerted effort in recent years for the title of "the most bicycle friendly city in America. "
The city has invested more than $20 million from state and federal grants in its bicycle infrastructure, creating more than 130 miles of bike roadways, protected bike lanes and other paths.
A green share lane along Second Street in Belmont Shore has worked out well, according to one business manager who asked that his name not be used. For the most part, he said, drivers are courteous.
"You'll see some impatient ones who swerve into the middle lane to go around them," he said. "But Long Beach is such a pro-bike and bike-friendly city. " The city of Pasadena launched its bike plan three years ago.
Rogers' main concern with the L.A. city plan is how long it will take. "I'm going to be an 80-year-old bike rider by the time they finish" in 30 years, he said, adding that he hopes the city will find ways to expedite the process.
Cycling, said one city official, appears to be on the road to becoming a significant wave of the future.
"It's part of the urban culture," said Michelle Mowery of the Los Angeles city bike program. "It's cheap, it's economical and research is showing that more and more people under 30 are less likely to get drivers' licenses. "
- Maps showing proposed bikeway routes for the city of Los Angeles are available at bicyclela.org/
- Information about the South Bay Bike Plan can be accessed at southbaybicyclecoalition.org/
- Information about the Long Beach bike plan and bike-related events in town is posted atbikelongbeach.org/
- Los Angeles County bike information is posted at http://la-bike.org/
- The city of Pasadena bike plan is available at www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/transportation/BikePlan/
- Events celebrating Bike Week can be found at metro.net/bikes/bike-week/