FROM Seleta Reynolds
Identity in Design: Paving the Way for More Women Cyclists If roads are to be safer for cyclists, bicycle commuting needs to be normalized, say experts, and that means encouraging a wide range of people to cycle. And that includes women, who are far outnumbered by women on the road. DnA explores some of the reasons for this, among them the dominance of “bro culture,” and the planning of bike lanes, which are being put on LA’s arterial streets. Even with painted bikeways, cycling alongside fast cars, buses and trucks has been found to be intimidating to many people except “fast and fearless” cyclists, who tend to be overwhelmingly male. In 2009, women accounted for just 24 percent of bicycle trips in the United States. Compare that to other countries such as the Netherlands, where women account for 55 percent of bike trips; in Germany, it’s 49 percent. “Women in particular are more averse to traffic turbulence, let's call it. We’re willing to go out of our way to get a quieter street, or slower street, even if it means we add a little bit of extra distance to our commute,” said Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). Reynolds argues that a movement of “vehicular cyclists” in the 1970s and 80s argued that bicycles should be allowed to share the streets with cars. “Those folks figured out how to infiltrate and influence the committees on major institutions that make the design guidelines, that write the book on how we design bike lanes in the U.S., and they were mostly male and they were mostly in that ‘fast and fearless’ group of cyclists.” The other contributor to putting bikes on arterials is that transportation funding to build bike facilities comes through the frame of emissions reduction. “In order to demonstrate that your project is worthy you have to show that you are taking cars off the road and thereby reducing emissions,” Reynolds said. Of course, it’s from the busy arterials that you get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of reducing cars and emissions. But the department is working on “a whole new wave of designs for people biking and walking” that want calmer routes, explains Reynolds, and that includes creating a Greenway Network through LA’s quieter, residential streets. “But where the neighborhood greenway network always falls apart is when you have to then swim across the wide river of a fast arterial street. And so that means that we need to put in things like you know signals and other sort of things that make it easier and more comfortable to get across that route.” Reynolds says she’s looking “block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood and it takes a very thoughtful approach. But when we have you know as many people as many women biking as we do men in L.A. Then I will know that we have been successful at designing a system that really works for everybody.” There are other factors impacting women’s decision to ride a bike and one of them is clothing. Nona Varnado explains that where men give little thought to what to wear, women worry about how they will appear on arrival at work or a date. If that’s a challenge now, think of what it was like in late 19th century Victorian England, when the bicycle was first invented. Pedal power was hugely attractive to women who could afford a bicycle -- because it represented freedom! But it wasn’t made easy for them. According to Dr Katrina Jungnickel, “onlookers often hurled abuse and stones at female cyclists, while conservative social attitudes meant that it was unacceptable to appear in public wearing trousers.” The pioneering outfits remade by Kat Jungnickel. Photo by Charlotte Barnes. Jungnickel is the author of a new book called “Bikes & Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and their Extraordinary Cycle Wear.” She writes about the astonishing patented inventions dreamed up by women who were determined to ride a bike, without the limitations of clothing typical of their day: “a long full length skirt, up to seven pounds of heavy layered petticoats, tightly laced corsets, tailored blouses, vests, jackets, gloves, veils and more.” They created a type of convertible bicycle wear and a Brixton dressmaker, Alice Bygrave, invented a garment with a pulley system, in which cords could pull on a weighted hem and lift the skirt up for riding. Jungnickel and her team actually made the outfits from original patterns, and described it as a “skirtain.” It would seem those days are behind us but some women feel full acceptance on bikes is still out of reach, because of what some see as a dominant “bro culture” in cycling. Reynolds agrees that cycling tends to be a “very muscular male culture, it is about how fast your time is on Strava, it is about bike messenger culture, that's really what it grew out of.” She concludes that everyone will benefit if street cycling ceases to be “tribal’ and instead is “normalized,” as in other countries where a bicycle is simply a form of transport like a car, bus, train or plane. “And since the tribe is mostly made up of men right now, I think it is hard for women to feel comfortable and that's why you see a lot of intentional work by some of the best bike advocacy groups in the country around how to get women into cycling…. there's great work happening but there's I think a pretty long way to go.”
What will freeways look like in the future? Is the High Desert Corridor the last gasp for freeways? Or will they always be part of our lives? Seleta Reynolds heads LA’s Department of Transportation and says that as transportation changes -- with the advent of electric vehicles, driverless cars, and drone delivery -- we should change how we think about freeways and their costs. “If we don't figure out a way to optimize what we have, which is a huge massive capital maintenance burden, then I'm not sure I'd buy that freeways will be here in a hundred years, because we won't have the dollars to continue to invest in them and maintain them,” Reynolds said. She points to some projects that are re-envisioning the freeway structures, such as the Hollywood Park project to create a park and deck the freeway at the 101 in Hollywood. Another project would rework the stub of the 2 freeway in the Silver Lake and Echo Park area. Landscape architect Chris Reed worked with his students at Harvard on a concept to turn the spur of this unfinished freeway into an elevated park filled with plants, paths for cyclists and pedestrians, and a rainwater capture system. Stoss Landscape Urbanism's proposal for the 2 Freeway spur includes paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and a rain capture system. (Chris Reed / Stoss Landscape Urbanism) He says that in addition to separating communities and spewing pollutants, freeways also exacerbate storm water runoff. “It was an exciting speculation to say, look, let's just take a piece of infrastructure and turn it on its head and allow it to become this vibrant space for ecology, for culture, for people in ways that just aren't possible right now,” Reed said. But could interventions like this steer us away from freeways in the future? “It's hard to imagine L.A. without the automobile and without the freeways because L.A. is a 20th century city and the automobile is a 20th century invention,” said Eric Avila, author of “The Folklore of the Freeway.” “In so many ways the identity, the politics, the economics, the landscape, the environment of L.A. is based upon the automobile.” Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council , a state agency. And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab. Follow this series at KCRW.com/BridgesandWalls
DoT chief: road diets aren’t dead Late last year the beachside neighborhood of Playa Del Rey got into a road rage over a road diet. Some car lanes were removed to slow traffic, and bike lanes were added. Drivers were not happy, and even launched a recall effort targeting Councilman Mike Bonin. The city backtracked and got rid of the bike lanes and restored the car lanes. But they added a number of features to better protect pedestrians, including new crosswalks with flashing lights, and “pedestrian head start” traffic signals. These compromises incensed road diet advocates in LA -- and chilled politicians. In December 2017 Councilman David Ryu rejected a full road diet on 6th Street in midtown, which had been sought by a coalition of advocates and neighborhood groups. He said the majority of his constituents wanted more traffic safety features but did not want vehicle lanes turned into bike lanes. All of this has called into question the future of two initiatives shaping LA’s transit future. One is the city’s Mobility Plan 2035, which calls for 100s of miles of street redesigns aimed at encouraging alternative transportation, and improving pedestrian safety. The other is a related effort called Vision Zero. That’s a city plan to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2025. One of powerful advocates for these goals is Seleta Reynolds. She’s general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. We visited her in her downtown LA office recently and asked what’s the future for road diets, after Playa del Rey. She says the outlook is still bright: “This one particular incident happened in a very specific part of the city under very specific conditions and has not changed that desire in many other neighborhoods around the city to come back and tackle those same questions. The outcome might be a road diet or it might be something else.” She poses the question: “who is the street for and how can we balance creating a street where people can get from A to B but also can protect everybody who's trying to use that street? And a street that moves at a human pace is also good for the neighborhoods through which through which those streets pass.” The road diet on San Pedro Street. Photo courtesy LA Department of Transportation.
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