The Little Dictator pre-gaming the Crash the Marathon ride.
The Crash the Marathon ride began as an anarchic middle finger to "The Man" back in 2010 when Don Ward, of Wolfpack Hustle fame, organized an unsanctioned bike race on the LA Marathon route in the middle of the night. In the ensuing years, as the Crash the Marathon ride became an annual tradition, the authorities threatened Don and the participants with arrest. Which still did not dissuade them. This year, the LAPD approached Don and asked him to organize a ride. If you can't beat 'em...
How do you get a preschooler to wake up at 4:30AM for a bike ride?
Step one: Have his mother deprive his palate of any joy from birth through the present day.
Step two: Promise the child waffles next to the ocean as the sun rises.
In truth, the four-year-old was excited to join papa on an early morning adventure. Also, with The Party Crasher waking up every three hours to feed, and my breasts being wholly unsuited to the task, getting the eldest boy out of the house for half the day so Mom could "sleep when the baby sleeps" was me accomplishing some Silver Star husbanding. Gold Star husbanding would've been me taking both kids, but I haven't been given permission to put the Party Crasher on a bike yet. (Although, I have a bakfiet with an infant car seat adapter ready to go when I get the green light...or when my wife leaves the house for an extended period of time and I feel like making her regret marrying me again.)
Fortunately for the 4-year-old and me, the ride started just a couple miles from our house at the corner of Fountain & Sunset. I strapped my co-pilot onto the rear bike seat; then pedaled through the misty night. The streets were empty with the exception of crews blocking off the marathon route and what appeared to be red fireflies converging on Sunset & Fountain. As we approached the start of the ride, the crowd of blinking, red lights had the beauty of a modern light sculpture or a fireworks show.
Amongst the hundreds of cyclists in attendance, there was a cross-section of teens and seniors with every age in-between. The ride atmosphere was family friendly with the exception of the skunky smelling smoke wafting past us. As a native Silver Laker, my child is already quite familiar with the source of that smell. The California state flower is the poppy. Silver Lake's official plant is cannabis.
Following a chance encounter with the always friendly Ciclavalley, I heard a cheer rise from the front of the peleton, then the people on bikes in front of us began to move...Here is what the ride looked like as posted on Youtube by another rider:
The rider who captured this video was much faster than the group of casual riders further back where I and my co-pilot were traveling.
Open streets events completely reprogram how residents interact with the city. For a limited period of time, we get to pretend that the local transportation engineers, city planners, and public officials have not conspired to prioritize moving cars through our neighborhoods over the health and welfare of those neighborhoods. Ordinarily, Los Angeles feels like this:
I would love to give credit to the creator of this work of art, but I don't know who drew it...?
Look at the picture above again. It perfectly encapsulates what if feels like to be an Angeleno.
Public space for people in LA is a skinny ribbon of cement between private property and the dangerous chasm that is the over-engineered, high speed road. According to UCLA Professor and planning guru Donald Shoup, Los Angeles uses SIXTY PERCENT of its land area for automobile transportation. Open streets events help you envision a future LA where a majority of public space is allocated to people instead of cars. Obviously, I need a Psychiatric hold for disseminating such a shockingly crazy idea...
City dwellers already gravitate toward built environments where there are calm traffic speeds and safe, walkable streets. In your mind's eye, compare and contrast Colorado Blvd in Old Town Pasadena with Sunset Blvd in Echo Park or Silver Lake. Historically, they were both stretches of Route 66 - the interstate highway route. Since then, Colorado Blvd, has been re-designed with people walking, shopping, and dining in mind:
Old Town Pasadena (couldn't find a photo credit)
Sunset has been engineered to move cars at fifty miles per hour past our commercial districts. The Google Map picture below shows the epicenter of Silver Lake retail in the late afternoon/early evening. There is not one pedestrian.
Would you rather be a small business owner with the foot traffic of Colorado Blvd or Sunset Blvd? Would you rather walk your child to school alongside calm, safe streets or where two women waiting for a bus were crushed to death by a driver who lost control of his speeding Ford Mustang:
The Echo Park retail district of Sunset Blvd
During the evening rush hour commute, no car is averaging more than 15 mph as it travels between Hollywood and Downtown. If engineering the street for highway speeds doesn't help anyone get home from work faster, then why do we engineer roads to kill people and small businesses?
If we designed our streets around our communities then shopping malls would not exist. People gravitate toward malls because they have been designed for us to walk and shop in the absence of speeding cars. We have decided as a society that the only two places a parent can allow kids to safely run free is a park or a mall (Of course, we can't access either of these places efficiently and safely without driving to them.) Other cities have pedestrian promenades that belong to all citizens. We have private malls encircled by parking garages like a walled medieval city. Instead of privately owned corporate pedestrian zones representing one percent of the city, why don't we make the city a pedestrian zone? Downtown Pasadena is repurposing one of its malls into a medical school because their "main street" was too successful for the mall-based big box retailer to compete.
Re-engineering our streets to pedestrian and business friendly speeds is like planting a seed. What we will reap is a safer, healthier, more livable, more equitable, and more prosperous city.
Okay, I'm sliding my soap box back under the desk for now...
I was pleasantly surprised how much the Little Dictator and I enjoyed the bike ride together. I had feared that disrupting his sleep schedule would invoke crankiness, but he stayed awake pointing out the city sights to me. Hollywood Blvd past the Chinese Theatre and the Sunset Strip were the biggest treats for the four-year-old. Spotting Carney's, a restaurant inside a train car, expanded the possibilities of this world for his train obsessed brain.
All was right in the world until the back wheel of my bike started to feel a little slippery as we passed through Beverly Hills. I pulled over...Yup, a flat tire. This is where I have to admit that I don't know how to change the tube on the rear tire of a Dutch bike. It is far more complicated than a "regular" bike. I have resolved to rent some time at the Bicycle Kitchen to learn how.
I reluctantly called my sleep deprived partner to rescue us at 6AM. Then I walked the flat-tired Dutch beast bike two miles to Westwood to help our rescuer avoid the street closures.
So much for my Silver Star husbanding...
Our wounded, Dutch beast about to get transported to a diner with waffles for The Little Dictator.
It wasn't the ideal end to our adventure, but it was a great adventure nevertheless.
If you or your spouse are reticent to put your child on a bike, an open streets event like CicLAvia or Crash the Marathon is an excellent gateway drug to biking with kids. Be careful though, riding bikes on streets separated from cars will expand your mind. You may start questioning why society is trying to force you to transport your kids from home to school encased in a minivan stuck in traffic. You may even start showing up at city hall agitating for a safer, more livable city...