Los Angeles might have a notorious reputation as a driving city, but the city closed some of its roads Sunday in order to make room for vehicles that don’t guzzle gas.
The occasion was CicLAvia, a semi-annual public festival designed to transform the congested, polluted streets of Los Angeles into a safe place to walk, play, skate and ride a bike.
Dubbed “LA’s largest block party,” CicLAvia offered extraordinary appeal for USC students — this time, the final stretch ran parallel to campus — but beyond a brief Dept. of Public Safety email informing students of a road closure, the event was hardly advertised by USC at all.
Though USC, and its students in particular, could benefit immensely from engaging with the burgeoning L.A. bike culture represented by CicLAvia, the university seems intent on keeping its distance.
For example, USC’s participation in the festival did not extend beyond coordinating traffic regulation with CicLAvia organizers, in contrast with the involvement of a variety of small businesses, restaurants and landmarks along the route.
The university does little to promote or publicize the multiple other biking events that take place in Los Angeles each year, including LA Critical Mass — the largest community bike ride in the country, which takes place on the last Friday of every month.
Even within our own walls, the university frequently portrays biking as a nuisance, despite its crucial role in meeting USC’s housing needs in buildings farther from campus. Every year it seems the amount of space in which students can legally ride their bikes on campus decreases. The University Park Health Center reports that 33.4 percent of students use their bicycles on or around campus at least once a week, but cyclists were only apportioned about a fifth of Trousdale Parkway during the construction of bike lanes last summer.
This makes little sense. USC prides itself on positive community engagement and on making Los Angeles a healthier, better city. Promoting bike culture is a cheap, easy way to accomplish these goals through pollution reduction, diversification of city transportation and the growth of an underappreciated recreational activity that can contribute beneficially to fitness, peer bonding and mental health.
By embracing the L.A. bike scene, USC would also expose its students to a segment of L.A. culture of which most Trojans are woefully ignorant.
Los Angeles is ideal for biking. Good weather year-round means bikes are always a viable option for cheap, long-distance transport or an alternative workout. Bike racks are readily available at or near the vast majority of businesses, restaurants and public parks, as well as on the front end of every bus in the city.
Southern California, meanwhile, abounds with opportunities for student cyclists to take a break from their typical recreational pursuits and to get to know their community better. These include de facto street festivals like CicLAvia; city cycling hubs like the Bicycle Kitchen, where visitors can learn to repair or build their own bikes using spare parts; and cycling races, like the UCLA “Shut Up Legs!” Road Race that took place in February.
Too often, I hear students complaining about how they can’t explore Los Angeles because they don’t have a car. I’m more afraid of missing out because I don’t own a bike.
USC openly and actively promotes engagement with Los Angeles as a means of bettering itself, its surroundings and the experiences of its students during their time here. But we’re missing out on a distinctly Angeleno cultural revolution happening all around us — simply because we haven’t given biking the chance it deserves.
Though it might be too late for us to grab our bikes and parade down the middle of Figueroa Street for CicLAvia, movement forward is just getting started. If we start exploring bike culture now, who knows? We might even turn things around in time for next year’s block party.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column “Open Campus” runs Wednesdays.