Save money, protect the earth, and risk your life
In the spring of 2006 my partner's lemon of a Nissan Altima was on its last legs, requiring repairs more expensive than the car was worth. We were (and are) cheap, young, and foolish — and so we donated the car to our favorite radio station, took the tax write-off, and hoped for the best. We made do with one car for four years. With some coordination, patience and luck, we found that reliable, quick transportation options do exist in our corner of Los Angeles County. Not as quick as hopping in your car and turning on the ignition, but doable. The secret, I found after several years, is that a bicycle is almost the great equalizer of public transportation in the sprawling suburbs east of Los Angeles. The key word is almost — getting to work is no jaunt through the park, and there are some risks involved.
Alhambra should be a great cycling city. We have a number of transit hubs available to us just out of walking range, but well within comfortable riding range, making a bike commute downtown or further into South LA, Koreatown, or even the Valley entirely feasible. Last winter the MTA announced a new express bus line - the Silver Line - which connects the San Gabriel Valley to the South Bay. The line runs from El Monte to the Artesia Transit Center and can get me from Cal State LA to my office in Exposition Park in about 28 minutes. With a bike, for me what was once a 15-minute walk from bus stop to home becomes a three-minute bike ride. What was once an inconvenient, unreachable transportation hub became a refreshing 12-minute ride. Combined with my 15-minute bike ride, the total commute is 43 minutes when I time the connections right. Compared to 35 to 40 minutes grinding through traffic on the 10 Freeway, it’s a very attractive option.
But here’s the catch. The first time you try to ride your bike down Atlantic Boulevard at 5:30 PM, you will realize that Alhambra is not, in fact, a great cycling city. Most roads are highly congested and only wide enough for the cars that are on them, and residential streets, when available, can be just as dangerous with riders forced to weave in and out of parked cars. There is not a single bicycle lane in Alhambra, and while I am not a big proponent of bike lanes (I think that they often exacerbate the problems, because drivers don't learn how to drive alongside bicycles, and cyclists don't learn how to ride defensively alongside cars) it does speak to the low priority the city has placed on providing an infrastructure for cyclists.
My commute, while enjoyable, is particularly treacherous. I start out with an easy ride through residential streets, then merge onto Ramona Road running right alongside the 10-East. Ramona is a narrow street that gets busy with angry commuters trying to beat freeway traffic. The last thing they want is a bicycle slowing them down— which is exactly what I do. I get honked at frequently, and sometimes it seems that drivers try to pass as closely as possible just to intimidate me. I might occasionally react with my own choice gestures, but again I don't blame the individual drivers. Ultimately we, as a community, have to figure out a way that bicycles can be used as a reliable, safe means of transportation, so that residents and people who drive through Alhambra understand how to coexist. Until then, it is going to be rough going in what should be a supremely bike-friendly city.
My in-laws can't understand why we are so cheap, and my partner worries when I leave the house groggy on a cloudy morning. I love riding my bike, but I wonder about my longevity whenever an SUV whizzes inches past. I have spent the last few months trying to figure out ways to make my two-wheeled commute work, but until this commuter city changes the way it considers its bike commuters Bicycling will be a last resort instead of a first option. Call it defeat if you want to, but this month we finally buckled under the pressure – the horn honking and the treacherous blind left turns – and bought a Honda Civic.