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Campus vs. the City

Los Angeles still has a long way to go as far as bike infrastructure and culture are concerned. We see somewhat of a utopia, though, where things seemed to be figured out: the college campus.

UCLA campus and the immediate area are pretty bike friendly for Los Angeles — though when I say that, I mean that I’m nearly hit by a car every other month instead of every. The bike lanes are clearly marked, often with bright green paint, and there’s signage for drivers about how bicycles are allowed to take the lane. Before LACBC, I was actually confused about whether this was a regional or statewide policy because it doesn’t seem to be respected most of the time. The campus bike shop is available for repairs, along with public workstations around campus which are super useful because I don’t actually own my own air pump and carrying one everywhere seems unrealistic. There are also lots of bike racks and bike lockers in select locations. The infrastructure is in place, I think a lot of the remaining traffic safety work is in changing behavior on the road.

Once I started riding off campus, finding bike parking in Los Angeles was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. Deciding whether or not it’s possible to actually use my bike for transportation away from campus can be a struggle if I’m not sure I’ll have anywhere to put it at my destination. Racks that do exist tend to be the kind that don’t allow you to secure the bike frame. I’ve also noticed that people tend to be less kind when I’m away from campus— drivers are more likely to crowd cyclists in the lane, bus drivers are more impatient with the bike rack, etc.

I think the difference is, people are more willing to extend grace to college students because we’re young and it’s not taboo to acknowledge that a lot of us can’t afford other forms of transportation. For the most part we live very near where we commute, only stay in the area for a few years, and grapple with limited, expensive parking. Cars aren’t viable for most students in LA. At the same time, we’re not shamed for being cyclists out of necessity since we’re on “a path to upward mobility” and biking is assumed to be a temporary step towards that. I wish that people extended the same grace to all cyclists, regardless of their age or class.

I think that the real impact comes from coalition building. A single voice can’t do much more than articulate an idea, but being a link in the chain that brings those ideas to fruition down the line makes a difference over time. I like to paraphrase Dr. Robyn Rodriguez at UC Davis and say that the responsibility of college students, as part of institutions of knowledge production, is to shift the narrative around what ideas are “legitimate” — whether this be antiracism or urban cycling.

Regarding infrastructure and changing culture, my favorite approaches are participatory planning movements like Sunset 4 All which combine social outreach with infrastructure changes. This ensures the infrastructure genuinely meets the needs of users while generating community and improved connectivity in ways even beyond just transportation. During my time at LACBC, I’ve also learned more about how important it is to track data so progress can be observed over time.

Kaitlin Alcontin

2021-2022 LACBC Intern

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