Now that UEPI is collaborating on a biking summit with some great folks from LA's energetic bike movement (stay tuned for more news and links to a summit planning wiki), I decided to re-read Bike Riding in Los Angeles, a 1972 novel by Marc Norman, best known for writing the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.
The book is a slim, expressionistic text without a real hero or overarching conflict. It features a character/narrator named The Bike Rider, cameos from his more out-there buddy The Phantom Bike Rider, and musings on bikes, history, living in Los Angeles, and what draws the region together - or whirls it apart.
Reading it, one picks up some little tidbits on bike culture circa the early 70s, like that "bike people" hung out "on the grass at Olympic and La Cienega." (p. 26)
The most poignant section, at least from a policy perspective (if regs and stuff can ever have emotional resonance) is the chapter entitled "The Pollution Question," that implies what role bikes can play in an autopia like Los Angeles. The chapter asks why, in such a big, populous, famous city:
there's no sense of a city, no feeling for the shared geographic experience. One answer might be that the people in Los Angeles can't see each other. This is not a frivolous statement. The smog divides the city into three-mile chunks - on bad days, people can only see things under three miles away ... [but when the wind wipes away the smog and people can notice the mountains, and the quality of light at the beach and the green trees] the thought runs through the city - maybe we are a city after all, maybe we can be a real city with our own cityness, like Denver or Nice or Paris. If only we could see ourselves so well more often. (pps. 67-69)
So, LA: step out of your cars, get on your bikes, thin out the smog curtain, cycle a few miles, far enough to pass between those 3 mile self-seclusions, at a pace that allows you to notice other people walking or biking by. Make this more of a Place.
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