Bike Your Child to Work Day: Silver Lake to Santa Monica.
Earlier this week I was wandering around a commercial shoot in “the valley” searching for an A.D. to tell me where to go. There was no A.D. to be found.
The production trailer, however, was parked at the end of a line of trucks. I figured that's probably where I'm supposed to be anyway and climbed on in. I could see a rack of clothes behind room dividing curtains where the stylist was obviously working, so I knew I was in the right place. I exchanged "hello's" with a couple of production people as I took a seat on the fancy couch.
Approximately fifteen minutes later, a Famous Person emerges from behind the room divider, fiddles with something in her purse; smiles, then pops back behind the curtains. That is the moment I realized I was in the Famous Person’s very own, private trailer and the "production people" were Her friends.
I quietly collected my things and snuck out of the trailer.
I know that there is one crucial piece of information that I excluded from the story that all of you are DYING to know:
Which form of transportation did I take to book the job?
Well, let me tell you. First of all, the audition, callback, and the costume fitting were all in Santa Monica. This gave me a chance to try out my very own version of Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. Although mine has a less catchy title: Red Lines, Expo Lines, Rapid Bus Lines, The F***ing 10 Freeway, and electric pedal-assisted Bakfiet. That’s right, I have tried everything short of a Space X rocket and a parachute to get my ass to Santa Monica with a four year old in tow.
DRIVING ON THE 10 FREEWAY
Unless it’s between 11:47AM and 11:49AM (the gap between the morning and evening rush hour): Hell, no. The “10” in the 10 Freeway stands for the number of lives I’ve wasted sitting on it.
BIKING/RED LINE SUBWAY/EXPO LINE TRAIN
I chronicled this option recently. As an update, the Expo Line is running three car trains now instead of two, so it is less packed. If I lived near the Expo Line I would absolutely just take the train and call it a day. But, to get to the Expo Line from Silver Lake requires 25 minutes of biking and subway riding. With all the loading and unloading of bikes and elevators and escalators - it’s more relaxing for me to just hop on the bus.
The Red Line 704 Rapid Bus runs from Union Station down Sunset Blvd through Silver Lake; then veers down Santa Monica Blvd all the way to the ocean. If you’re not someone who easily gets car sick, the big red accordion buses are quite comfortable. Unfortunately, on a sunny afternoon, the Parkman/Sunset bus stop could be mistaken for a solar oven.
Sunset Blvd. has been a major thoroughfare for what? A hundred years? Why does it not have any mature shade trees like a grown up, major city thoroughfare? Oh, that’s right. Because traffic engineers removed all the trees or prevented them from being planted in the first place in order to protect drivers when they fly off the road and hit them. Removing trees is actually recommended in road engineering manuals. Reason #2,520,396 why designing a city around moving cars through it instead of people living in it completely sucks.
With the exception of the lack of shade, hopping on the 704 is great. The picture at the top of the page is of the Little Dictator sleeping on the 704. Folded next him is the Brompton H6L. One of the best things about utilizing a Brompton when riding the bus is you don’t have to watch the front bike rack to see if someone is trying to steal your bike at every stop. You can completely focus on work or relaxation or a podcast for the whole trip.
The bus takes 60 to 90 minutes to get to Santa Monica depending on traffic. According to The Mobility Plan 2035, this line is supposed to get its own dedicated lane down Santa Monica Blvd. some day, so the bus won’t be sitting in traffic, but zooming past it.
Why hasn’t this happened yet? The 720 Wilshire Rapid bus carries more people down Wilshire Blvd. everyday than travel by private automobile. It also has its own dedicated rush hour lane. The 704 is an obvious candidate for the same improvements. Otherwise, on the way back east from Santa Monica, the 704 crawls in the same rush hour traffic that your car does with the added bonus of stopping every half-mile. Three hours-ish of time on a bus stuck in traffic is too much for a forty year old much less a four year old.
Although, on one of my audition days we did hack this option in a relatively pleasant way. Since I timed it right for the Little Dictator to nap on the bus into SaMo, I was able to get some work done. To lessen the pain of the return trip, we road our Brompton from SaMo back to Century City before hopping on the 704. This meant we only spent 50 minutes riding the bus in traffic on the way home. It also enabled us to take advantage of the safe, calm biking infrastructure in Santa Monica prior to entering the residential streets in Rancho Park. Riding the Brompton to the bus only saved me maybe five to ten minutes versus taking the bus the whole way, but it was 100x’s more fun.
Can you ride a bike with your kid the whole way? Yup. Here is the little dictator napping at a stoplight on Venice Blvd:
Google maps estimated a 52 minute drive time commuting east by car. We biked to my audition at Ocean Park Blvd & 26th in 61 minutes. It took us a whole 9 minutes longer. Of course, to keep my child safe I had to bike down south to Timbuktu then bike back north again in order to access cycling infrastructure. Had I pedaled a direct route to my audition I would've saved 1.4 miles each way and the travel time would’ve been identical to driving if not faster. Here was our route to Santa Monica in blue:
We beat the estimate by 12 minutes!
There are large swaths of the trip that feel pretty stress free. Especially, the tree-lined streets of Windsor Square along 4th Street between Koreatown and Rimpau (with the exception of crossing the unmarked crosswalk at Rossmore where local residents successfully blocked a crosswalk from being installed in order to discourage people like me from biking with my child down their quiet, safe street).
Unfortunately, at the end of Rimpau you get dumped on Pico Blvd. near San Vicente. I still haven’t figured out how to access the Venice Blvd. bike lanes from Rimpau efficiently and safely yet. Google wants me bike down Pico to La Brea. Yeah, right. Stick to the unpleasant sidewalk here.
Cars drive too fast on Venice for me to consider it an ideal bike route, but it has a very wide bike lane with a fair amount of distance between you and the cars, so it's not perfect, but acceptable. That is until you reach Culver City. Then the bike lanes become much tighter “door zone” bike lanes where taco trucks force you to merge into a car lane then re-enter the bike lane. Honestly, by the time I got to my audition I was pretty sick of riding in traffic. I would be willing to take the 4th/Rimpau/Venice Blvd. bike route with a kid for a straight shot to Venice Beach on a weekend, but this route is too stressful and inefficient for a trip to Santa Monica during rush hour.
The next time I bike to Santa Monica I will take 4th through Koreatown and Windsor Square all the way until it ends at the Park La Brea apartments, then cut south to the Wilshire Blvd sidewalk. I'll stay on the sidewalk traveling west until I cross La Cienega, then slip down to Charleville. I'll ride on Charleville all the way across Beverly Hills then hop onto the Santa Monica Blvd. bike lanes till I get near Sepulveda where I will cut up north one block to Ohio and ride calm streets down to the ocean. That's the safest route.
Editors note: Safe streets advocate and all around man about town Don Ward suggests taking 4th to where it dead ends at the Park La Brea Apartments then take a left on Cochran. But, instead of getting on the Wilshire sidewalk to Charleville like I recommended above, continue on Cochran south of Wilshire two more blocks to 8th, then travel west on 8th. Snake through Carthay Circle till you can access Gregory Way or Charleville to cross Beverly Hills to the Santa Monica Blvd. bike lanes. This sounds like it could be the safest route yet. I am excited to try it. I'll report back to you on the route. It would look something like this:
It would be even safer and more efficient if the 6th Street road diet ever gets implemented. 6th Street between La Brea and Fairfax is a deadly section of road that has been waiting for a road diet since at least 2012 when a high speed crash hurled one car onto the sidewalk and killed a pedestrian on its way to smashing into an apartment building. Besides making 6th Street safer for motorists and pedestrians, bike lanes here would add an essential piece of missing infrastructure by bridging the safe cycling gap between Park La Brea and San Vicente.
DRIVING & BIKING
After I booked the commercial, I had to travel to Santa Monica for the fitting. The production company warned me that parking was very difficult in their neighborhood. Hah! We laugh at your silly, little parking problems. The Little Dictator and I drove our cheap electric car to Virginia Park, plugged in at one of the free charging stations, unfolded the Brompton, then biked a mile through Santa Monica’s lovely, calm streets. The free electricity makes this transportation option very tempting.
After my fitting concluded, we pedaled back to the car while my son enjoyed watching the planes landing at Santa Monica Airport. I moved our re-charged car to another parking lot, then we had a fun evening riding around Santa Monica for dinner and play time at the Santa Monica Place play structure until traffic died down. The drive home was mostly painless by then.
The city planners have managed to undermine every option, but driving a personal automobile across the most dense neighborhoods in the city. The Expo Line sits in traffic. The buses sit in traffic. The bikes have to ride in traffic or take inefficiently circuitous routes across the city. Gee, why do we have 80% of Angelenos car commuting to work, the most poisonous air in the country, criminally high childhood asthma rates, elevated deaths from sedentary lifestyles, elevated traffic deaths, lower income people allocating a ridiculously high proportion of their income to maintaining a personal car, and dangerously high greenhouse gas emissions?
Until the subway to the sea gets built or the 704 gets its dedicated lane or we get a London style “bike highway” separated from cars, driving is the option we will be forced to take most often when traveling from Silver Lake to any neighborhood west of Beverly Hills. Even though a bike with a kid on board averages THE SAME SPEED OR FASTER than a car during peak commute times.
Simply riding a bike across the city saves a ton of time if you include not having to go to the gym, a ton of money, a ton of pollution, integrates us into our communities, encourages shopping at local businesses, and on and on and on. But, the city planners and the people who elect them choose to make biking and public transit unsafe or inefficient or both. Consequently, LA Bike Dad will be rarely biking to Santa Monica and taking the rapid bus only occasionally. Unfortunately, we will usually be adding another car to the gridlock on the 10.
I’ll pack my Brompton and have adventures with my son while we wait till traffic dies down…
*Once again, I receive no payment of any kind for the above links - I simply want to encourage supporting local merchants who stock family bikes.