Bike Riding, Bike Sharing for the Health of Our City and Environment

TamButkerHead.jpgGuest Blog by Tamika Butler, Executive Director of LA County Bike Coalition (@lacbc)

In 2012, two years before I became Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, a doctor told me that my L.A. life of driving from meeting to meeting with pit stops for fast food was putting me on a collision course with diabetes.

I came to Los Angeles after going to law school and practicing employment law for three years in the Bay Area and realizing litigation wasn't for me. My work starting the California office for Young Invincibles had me constantly on the go and in a car or on a plane. I knew I needed to get healthy. I knew I needed to get out of my car. I knew I needed to change the way I was experiencing L.A.

So a friend persuaded me to ride in the AIDS/LifeCycle: seven days, 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles by bike. More importantly, AIDS/LifeCycle got me training on local rides all around Los Angeles. As I put in the miles, I felt "I can do this!" But the collisions and close calls I saw while riding here opened my eyes to the challenge of making our streets safer.

I started riding for health--both raising money to fight disease and riding to improve my own--but I became an advocate for mobility. Not just mobility in the transportation sense, but also for the economic mobility that good transportation provides, particularly for low-income people of color. As I look back on the LiveRideShare (@liverideshare) conference, I think about how bicycling is a common thread among health, the economy, the environment, social justice and how planning for the sharing economy can support all of these outcomes. The transportation sector--cars, trucks, and buses--generates ground level ozone and and greenhouse gases. Safe biking can help us address public health and environmental problems.

Different people ride bikes for many different reasons--from the laborer who can't afford a car and needs to ride to a late-night shift, to the child biking to school, to the mom heading to the store, to the young fixie rider cruising around with friends, to the guy in spandex on a carbon racing bike training for a triathalon. Our goal at LACBC is to serve all of them: to make biking safer for those that already ride and to make biking attractive for those who might if it were more comfortable and convenient.

The research is conclusive: if you build safe, protected bike lanes, more people ride. Our own bike counts show that five times as many people ride on bike paths as regular city streets, and that just installing a bike lane doubles ridership. The better the bike infrastructure, the more women ride there too. Fewer than one in five bicyclists in Los Angeles is a woman. If we care about equitable mobility, we need to close the gender gap in bicycling by creating infrastructure that truly serves people of all ages and abilities.

We are excited that Santa Monica, Long Beach and LA Metro will launch bike share systems as early as this summer and over the next year. As these systems grow, we hope to see a truly regional system: with one membership and payment card serving all of Los Angeles County's diverse neighborhoods. People should be able to take a train or bus from South LA and then rent a bike in Santa Monica to complete their journey on the same TAP. Expansion should prioritize low-income communities that surround job centers, not just serve downtown professionals running lunch errands.

Making these new systems work seamlessly requires having community and advocacy voices at the table. We know that there are economic divides across different modes: on average, people driving and taking the train have higher incomes than people on the bus, while walking and biking span the economic spectrum. For shared mobility to work, we need to intentionally blur the lines between these systems and cross-promote ridership between the public and private sector. We also need to make sure we are serving the mobility needs of low-income families with accessible technology at affordable prices.

When I signed up for that 545-mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I had no idea where the journey would take me, and truthfully I'm still finding out. My journey from representing low-income clients in the Bay Area to expanding access to healthcare statewide to now promoting safe mobility in Los Angeles weaves together the themes of economic opportunity, health and social justice--the same themes we apply to our work every day at LACBC. I'm optimistic that with so many great minds working together, Los Angeles will be at the forefront of urban mobility solutions and--more importantly--making sure our diverse communities are able to access them.

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