Cycling Towards a Greener Los Angeles

There’s no question that ‘going green’ and spreading environmentally-friendly awareness is heating up across the U.S, but as many cities around the world begin to place a heavy focus on the potential benefits that bicycling can have on the environment, it’s only a matter of time before the typically trend-setting Los Angeles gets in on the green fad.

If you’ve ever been to Holland, you’ll notice something quite astounding. Come rain or shine (and believe me, there’s a lot of rain) the bicycle has become so ingrained in the Dutch culture that there are actually twice as many bikes as there are people and the country. It’s cheap, efficient, and causes zero harm to the environment. Many cities across the globe have been acknowledging and enforcing the trend, and one city that probably isn’t too far behind is Los Angeles, known for either setting trends, or transforming those already in existence into what works for their community.

Thousands of people, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa, are gathered in Copenhagen to discuss climate change—a topic on the forefront of people’s minds in many places. It’s likely that the delegates and attendees of the conference can learn a thing or two from their host city as well. In Copenhagen, more than 36 percent of its residents ride their bicycles to work, approximately the same percentage use transit, and only a third of the population commutes by car. As Los Angeles attempts to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 20 percent, perhaps Mayor Villaraigosa can bring back some sound advice from locals in Copenhagen who are significantly helping the environment on a daily basis.

To be fair to Los Angelenos who are looking at their screen with quizzical expressions on their face thinking, “But Los Angeles is so much larger! It’d take me forever to get to work by bike,” bear with me. Yes, Copenhagen does have the advantage of being smaller in scale, but having smaller distances to travel isn’t the only reason the transition to bicycling has worked so well there. The bicycling fade can also be incorporated through smaller, less dramatic shifts, such as what is happening in places such as New York, Portland, Ore., and Long Beach. Below are some possible “smaller shift” ideas so that Angelenos can begin to pry themselves out of their beloved cars and hit the pavement with their bicycles.

Designate car-free streets: By designating some streets in neighborhoods around the city as “car-free” on weekends, which has been done in places such as Mexico City, people will feel more inclined to gather their family members and get out for some fresh air and exercise, without worrying about the potential dangers that cars can have. There are already groups in the city who are pushing for car-free events, or “ciclovias”. If you were in town a few years ago for the one Sunday when cars were forbidden to drive on the 110 Freeway to give way to bicycles and pedestrians, you’ll be a believer in the power that designated car-free areas can have on a community—and the environment.

Focus on short trips: As far as commuting by bike to work, residents of Los Angles are at a slight disadvantaged by no real fault of their own, but rather due to the sprawling nature of the city. So in order to facilitate the shift to bicycles, the city can begin by focusing transit dollars and policies towards shorter trips, which reportedly “account for more than a quarter of U.S. car use and it’s resulting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” Bike advocacy group CICLE notes that “we need a ‘car lite’ approach”, that facilitates alternatives to cars for short distances, for instance across college campuses which are already beginning the merge into becoming more car-free and bicycle-friendly. Incorporating those types of innovative shifts could have a huge impact if implemented into larger public spaces.

Change our thinking: By beginning to view the streets as not exclusively for cars, people will start to feel more comfortable with bikers gliding through the streets. Bicyclists need to “make common cause with pedestrians, bus riders, and street vendors to encourage a new way of envisioning the city.”