By Leighton Woodhouse.
Seleta Reynolds, Los Angeles’ new chief of transportation, wants to help break LA’s dependence on cars. She believes that bikes are key to doing it. New York City, the Bay Area and other metropolises have already begun to show that a mixed transportation network with a central role for bicycles can be achieved in America. But can bikes prosper in the most infamous car town in the world?
Before being hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti this summer, Reynolds helped lead San Francisco’s Livable Streets office in that city’s transportation agency. She sees a bit of LA’s future in San Francisco’s present.
“In San Francisco, people are truly multimodal,” she told Capital & Main. “They take taxis, they take Uber and Lyft. They ride their bikes, they take a bike-share. They take the ferry, they ride the bus, they take the Muni Metro. Sometimes they drive, they take car-shares. There’s this huge web of choices available to people whenever they want. That’s the direction we need to be moving in Los Angeles.”
Reynolds imagines a future in which an Angeleno can open an app that tells her not just the route to her chosen destination, but the best combination of modes to get there—bike to light rail to a bus to another bike, for instance—with the combined cost of the entire trip, and a one-click payment for all of the separate fares. In her view, the lifestyle habits of the digital age are already pushing us in that direction.
“You see it when you look at millennials,” she said. “If you give them a choice between a smart phone and a car, they want a smart phone. They consider driving a distraction to texting. They do not want to drive, and they want to live in cities where they don’t have to have a car.”
That city is not Los Angeles. LA is a city in which it’s not uncommon to take the freeway to get from one side to the other of the same neighborhood. While LA actually beats New York, Chicago, San Francisco and almost the entire rest of the country in access to bus lines, those buses crawl at an average of 10 miles an hour when not on the freeway, in a city of more than 500 square miles.
LA also has a robust light rail system, but its ridership barely edges out San Francisco, a much smaller city, and still falls short of Boston, a yet smaller city. LA is a city with a stubbornly car-centric infrastructure in a country that may be moving away from cars.
Or at least, that’s what Reynolds believes. “It’s probably too early to say,” she suggested, “but we may have passed peak driving. There’s a societal shift away from driving. That is happening regardless of what [the city is] doing. We just need to be able to catch up and enable it and make it stick.”
One of the keys to making it stick, she believes, is bike sharing, an innovation that has gotten off the ground in New York, Chicago and the Bay Area, but despite concerted efforts, has so far eluded LA
“That’s really the barrier for bikes to fit into that truly multimodal trip choice scenario,” she said. “If I ride my bike downtown, and I don’t want to ride it back home for whatever reason, I can put it on the bus, but that’s about my only choice. Whereas if I had a bike-share in my neighborhood, I could pick up a bike, ride it downtown, drop it off down here, and then I don’t have to worry about it.”
But while it’s easy enough to imagine a thriving bike-share program in neighborhoods like Echo Park, Silver Lake and Venice, where bicycles are already ubiquitous, in poorer areas in the picture may be more complicated.