For A Cycling Advocate I’m A Lousy Activist

A couple years or so ago I had an op-ed piece published in the L.A. Times in which I said that it was OK by me if the city didn’t stripe another inch of bike lane ever.

That didn’t go over very well with some people. Never mind that my alternative was to take the money for the deathless bureaucracy needed to ultimately produce some stretches of paint on the streets and instead use it to attack motorist ignorance and attitude by putting it into increasing and sustaining education and awareness of cyclists rights, some people were flummoxed that I was satisfied with the fractured state of our entirely insufficient bike lane network.

Of course I’m not satisfied with it. It’s heartbreaking and reprehensible. But here’s the thing: in its past, present and future dysfunctional state: I’m on my bike all over this city yesterday, today and tomorrow. If I have the opportunity to get somewhere by bicycle, I find a route and I take it and I make it happen.

And that attitude bothered some people too. They were perturbed at my apparent lack of understanding that there are cyclists out there who don’t have the urban-cycling history and skillset that I do.

Really? Who?

Of course I understand that. I know there are people out there young and old who lack the experience or the familiarity with the street, and for whom the idea of biking across town is a daunting or even terrifying task. Hell, we’re indoctrinated into that fear by our worried parents from the moment we get that first ecstatic taste of two-wheeled freedom: “Stay out of the street!”

But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be so frightening. The first time I commuted an extended distance to work by bike 20 years ago this past spring certainly I had my doubts and fears, made even stronger by the prevailing negative stereotype that one didn’t have to ride far to encounter.  Those annoying calls to “Get A Car!” we hear nowadays are almost quaint when compared to the shouts of “Alky” or “Don’t Drink And Drive!” from passing motorists who’d automatically assume I was on a bike not because I wanted to be but because my license was in suspension due to a DUI. Underlying that, if you think our cycling infrastructure is dysfunctional now, you should’ve seen it then. Those meaningless green and white “Bike Route” signs we see around town? That was the very definition of cycling network innovation back then.

But still, I got on my bike and rode it.

And therein lies the simple depth and breadth of my activism: I lead by example. I ride. I take the rotten fruits of Los Angeles’ ever-compromised bike masterplan and make it work for me. Whether biking from Burbank to Tarzana, Encino to Mid-Wilshire or to Pasadena, Sherman Oaks to Griffith Park, or Silver Lake to El Segundo or to Westchester, I don’t let what we don’t have keep me from it. I don’t let the lack of anything make me surrender my rightful and respectful place on the road.

Sometimes, though, I feel that it’s not enough just to be out there pedaling my wares. I knock myself for not being more participatory with projects or on the frontlines fighting the good fights and stepping up to the mics to voice my objections against the levels of disconnect and disinterest found among the various governing bodies and agencies. At times it seems hypocritical of me to be willing to spend taxpayer money on motorist education and awareness while doing so little to increase that awareness myself.

But then again, I’m out there. Roughly 80% of the workdays each of these last two years I’m on my bike on those roads. And over the course of the 20 years I’ve been a bike commuter (some years a much more dedicated one than others) I’d hazard I’ve been seen by hundreds of thousands of motorists. And while the percentages aren’t very efficient or encouraging, if even only a few thousand have looked at me and said “What’s that middle-aged dork trying to prove?” “Maybe I should try that one of these days,” and from that group maybe a few handfuls actually did. well then that’s something. Isn’t it?

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."