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LACBC Everywhere: Ben Creed

For Bike Month, LACBC Everywhere returns for it’s third season of sharing stories from people across Los Angeles. LA County has a lot to offer in terms of places to ride, but its the experiences that shape us. Today’s profile features Ben Creed from the West Hollywood Bicycle Coalition:

What was it like to grow up in New York City? It was great. I got to experience all the diversity and vibrancy of NYC – the people, the subway, the neighborhoods, the cultures, the foods – thanks to publicly financed middle-income affordable housing that I grew up in. My parents were able to work humane hours at jobs they liked, knowing that the rent would be an affordable portion of their income. This allowed them to be home for dinner, help me with my homework, attend my baseball games, take modest but nice vacations, and save for my college and their retirement. In terms of the city itself, the 90’s in retrospect feels like this special window of time between the “bad old days” of the 70’s and 80’s and the extreme cost of living you see in almost every corner of the city today. So I have pretty idyllic memories of a stable home, safe and diverse neighborhoods, good public schools, and – of course – multimodal transportation.

How did you get involved with cycling? Growing up car-free thanks to NYC’s mass transit. In my family, the bicycle was just one of many ways to get around. I’d bike a handful of times a year, mainly to friends or to Little League games and occasionally to school. Purely recreational rides were pretty rare, though we always rented bikes on vacation in the summer. I brought my bike to college but didn’t use it much because the campus was small.

It was in Madrid during grad school that I started commuting regularly by bike. My closest friend in the program was an avid bike commuter, and he gave me the encouragement I needed since the streets there (at least in 2011) were by far the most bike-unfriendly and dangerous I’ve experienced to this day. When I returned home to NYC, I had a four-mile commute from Queens to Midtown, and I started volunteering in safe-streets and sustainable-transportation advocacy with Transportation Alternatives. I knew of them because my parents had been members, and I recalled seeing the T.A. newsletter in the mail as a kid. Here in LA, I have a four-mile commute again, and I’ve gotten involved with similar advocacy work with the West Hollywood Bicycle Coalition.

What are some of your favorite places and things to do around Los Angeles? CicLAvia and Critical Mass, Smorgasburg and 85ºC Bakery Cafe (for the sea salt iced coffee!), and watching the Mets play at Dodger Stadium, to which I wear my Brooklyn Dodgers cap and my Mike Piazza Mets jersey (though the Dodgers are certainly my second-favorite team now!). Also, after seeing Billy Joel play at Dodger Stadium and La Oreja de Van Gogh play at UCLA, I’m determined to catch Elton John and Paul Simon here on their upcoming farewell tours. I also want to go to the Hollywood Bowl more often.

What are some of your biggest challenges about getting around LA? By bike, my biggest challenge is safety: the near-total lack of separated / protected bike lanes, coupled with much faster vehicle speeds than in New York. LA is not as bad as Madrid was in 2011, but it reminds me a lot of biking in NYC in the 90’s before there were almost any bike lanes (though the cars go faster here). Also, the frequency with which people on bicycles are killed and injured here, and the victim-blaming that inevitably follows, can be pretty demoralizing.

By Metro, my biggest challenge is frequency of service. I live within walking distance of the subway (my one requirement when moving from NYC!), which is great, but 10-minute intervals during rush hour are rough, especially if you have to transfer. And the still relatively small area covered by Metro Rail could be significantly mitigated if the buses ran more frequently. Not to mention if they had dedicated lanes. Perhaps the most pervasive challenge is the fact that for so many trips, the car is still simply the fastest and easiest mode by far. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Can you name a place nearby you would consider a hidden treasure? It’s probably not hidden to anyone reading the LACBC newsletter, but considering how many people (including many born-and-raised Angelenos!) don’t know there’s any subway at all in LA, I’d say the subway! It might not yet be as expansive as one would expect for a metropolitan area of this size and importance, but it’s so much better than so many people realize or assume based on LA’s car-centric reputation.

City of West Hollywood Fairfax Ave Bike Lane ribbon cutting ceremony. June 9, 2016. Photo: Joshua Barash

What are some of your favorite places to cycle in Los Angeles? For recreation, the LA River and the Orange Line bike paths because they’re safe. For my everyday trips, I favor Fountain since it’s a single lane of traffic with frequent stop signs (at least before it becomes the deadly Fountain Freeway in West Hollywood). Willoughby is a decent lesser-of-other-evils since it’s narrow. And Sunset west of Vermont isn’t as bad as I’d expected since it has enough lanes to allow impatient drivers to pass you, but the pavement is so dangerous that I usually choose Fountain instead. Obviously the fact that these are my “favorite” places to bike in LA speaks volumes.

What do you like most about biking around Los Angeles? The weather – being able to bike 12 months a year. The fact that so many cities with much worse weather (and/or hillier terrain) have been able to make biking a safe, viable option for people of all ages should give us hope. LA’s natural advantages mean it could easily be the most bike-friendly place in the country. We just have to mobilize the support that we know is out there to carve out a couple of six-foot slivers of street width every half-mile or so.

To anyone reading this: Please get involved with your local chapter or Neighborhood Bike Ambassadors group! I’m serious; the only thing keeping LA from being the most bike-friendly place in the country is grassroots people power. It really can be done, but not without you!

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