L.A. on Bicycles: ‘Life is Good!’

Montebello and East Los Angeles bicyclists take part in second CicLAvia.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

Gleeful cries of “wheee!” pierced the air more than once last Sunday, as a human mass, mostly on bicycles, flew, and at times meandered, through the streets of Los Angeles on a 7.5 mile route from Hollenbeck Park to Koreatown during the second ever CicLAvia event.

But one woman on Spring Street, in the downtown portion of the route, was not feeling it.

She was not feeling the sunny, boardwalk-like scene overtaking a good portion of eastern and central Los Angeles, a scene in which the sudden appearance of the von Trapp family from the movie, The Sound of Music, swaying on their bicycles in joyful unison, would not have seemed out of place.

“People actually LIVE here! This is bullshit!” she exclaimed, car keys clutched tightly as she paced next to her bright, red car, which was trapped in a parking lot driveway closed off by caution tape and temporary street barriers.

Bicyclists continued to whiz past the enraged woman as the parking lot’s attendant, 23-year old Angel Galvan, tried to placate her. He helpfully explained the bicyclists would be leaving by the afternoon. Maybe she could take public transportation to get where she needed to go? Unsatisfied, she stomped off to find “management.”

Unfazed, Galvan continued manning his post, ready to greet any other motorist unfortunate enough to find themselves in downtown Los Angeles on a day in which cars had no place on the road. He couldn’t join the crowd of people on the streets, but he seemed to get a vicarious joy out of it.

“This is, you could basically say – this is freedom!” he said as he scanned the scene in front of him. “It’s good knowing you can come out here, exercise your muscles, jump on a bike with friends and family.”

The streets were also filled with walkers, people on rollerblades, children getting pushed along in strollers, while the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians and outdoor diners.

“Just to go out there and see these empty streets [with no cars], like no other day in Los Angeles, it’s good for Los Angeles,” he said.

Along the route observers could be heard saying things like, “seeing all these bicycles makes me want to get on a bike too!” and one police officer guarding the route remarked, “for once, they’re not saying ‘eff the police!’”

At Hollenbeck Park on Soto Street where the CicLAvia route begins, the sense that it was a nice day to ride a bike topped the impressions expressed by a group of bicyclists from Montebello.

“Life is good on a bike!” said 19-year old Montebello resident Jackie Gradilla. Someone next to her suggested she put the saying on a t-shirt.

Members of the Montebello Bicycle Coalition at MacArthur Park.

Gradilla, who uses her bike to get to classes at East Los Angeles College, attended CicLAvia on Sunday to show support not only for cycling in Los Angeles, but as part of the newly-formed Montebello Bicycle Coalition, a group advocating for bike lanes in Montebello.

About fifteen members of the coalition took part in CicLAvia, many of them loose acquaintances between 16 to 26 years old. Some know each other from high school, others are part of a political and social justice group in Boyle Heights, and still others were part of the effort to get the Montebello skate park built.

One of the group’s goals, said member Manny Zavala, is to get more people outside their circle – older people, families – to join them and get on board with making Montebello more bicycle-friendly.

He says CicLAvia is a good opportunity for the group to learn about what a bicycle-friendly city could be like, meet other bicycle groups, and to take pictures – things they can take back when making presentations to officials in Montebello.

Zavala thinks drivers are often hostile to bicyclists because they “assume bicyclists don’t belong on the road,” he said.

The coalition also wants to provide more bicycle education because many bicyclists are ignorant to the rules of the road. Zavala recently attended a workshop on bicycle rules and regulations where he learned things like the proper way to make turns and signal.

Another member of the coalition, Donovan Duenas, only started riding bicycles a year ago, after finding an old bike that was going to be scrapped at the recycling shop where he worked. “I didn’t know how to change the gears, I was just riding like an idiot,” he said. It turned out the bicycle was an extremely sought after vintage.

Since he started bicycling Duenas has reconnected with old friends, picked up a new hobby, and discovered corners of Montebello he did not know existed. “When you are driving, you don’t get to enjoy your city, your surroundings,” he said, “You might walk into a store you didn’t notice before.”

The downside of bicycling are the inevitable scrapes both serious and minor because of the way roads are set, usually with not enough space for bicyclists, or the attitudes of drivers. Duenas recently got into an accident riding his bicycle, but was able to remove the cast on his ankle in time for CicLAvia.

According to a Metro map for the Los Angeles area, there are a few streets with bike lanes in Montebello. But coalition members say most are not clearly marked and drivers never honor them. To improve the bicycling situation in Montebello, coalition members have been regularly attending city council meetings, and have reached out to city staff and council members.

Member Joel Montana says at the moment they are at a standstill – the city is preoccupied with its financial situation, and there does not seem to be much money available to put into bike lanes. However they might be able to get money through sources outside the city, such as “Measure R”  and “Safe Routes to School” funds. They have also begun meeting with nearby bicycling groups, including one in Monterey Park, to come up with options or ideas for making Montebello more bicycle-friendly.

Montebello Bicycle Coalition members take off from Montebello City Park to join other bicyclists at last Sunday’s CicLAvia event.

Toward the end of the day, the group sat down at a restaurant in MarArthur Park, and marveled at how great it would be if every day were this way. One member said she saw a security guard popping wheelies for two minutes straight. Another said he saw bicyclists stop to help others who were experiencing mechanical problems. Another said the event brought out many nonprofits and organizations, evident by the numerous banners and signs espousing different causes.

One member said bicycling could allow Angelenos to enjoy their cities in a deeper way. Drivers would usually just pass through neighborhoods like MacArthur Park, said coalition member Cynthia Cruz. “Usually when you drive by, you never enjoy the side streets. There are a lot of cool communities around here,” she said.

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April 14, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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