When the first large-scale bike share in Los Angeles was unveiled a little over a week ago, environmentalists rejoiced at the opportunity for the city to finally lower the burdens for bike use in the city and hope to relieve some of the overwhelming traffic congestion that has come to define the area. And though Breeze Bikeshare seems like an innovative solution to the massive public policy problem that is Los Angeles’ over-reliance on cars, it is smart to remain skeptical about whether this new program will be used enough to render it a significant change to transportation in Los Angeles.
Technical issues with the bike share program, for one, could pose a serious obstacle to its overall success. As the Metro publicizes its own independent bike share program, Breeze Bikeshare could conflict with the Metro’s bike share infrastructure. Two simultaneously running bike share programs in the city would just add more expensive confusion into the chaotic mess that public transit in Los Angeles already is. So without a cohesive, unified program, a promise to finally integrate bike share into the fabric of Los Angeles life will remain unfulfilled — especially considering the annoyingly stubborn affinity that Angelenos have for their cars.
Given its recently unveiled — and highly contested — transit plan, which significantly increases bike lanes around the city at the expense of car lanes, Los Angeles is trying to rebrand itself as a more bike-friendly city. And that’s commendable. But even more room on the road and bike share programs might not be enough to convince people to ditch their cars for bike rentals. More truly large-scale infrastructure changes — for example, repaving L.A. roads and making biking safer in certain parts of the city — are necessary before biking as a form of transportation can be widespread.
Moreover, planners also have to take extra steps to ensure that their program caters to an audience that will use it. USC students, for example, are unlikely to use bike share, since so many Trojans have bikes already, and they overwhelmingly prefer other methods of transportation for longer distances away from campus. For those that drive to work, biking — or a combination of biking and using public transit — must be both more economical and faster than driving for them to shift to using bike share on a daily basis.
Bike share has the capacity to truly revolutionize transit in Los Angeles. But policymakers have to take a critical look at whether they’re fixing the problems at hand rather than enlisting a tech startup to be the cure-all of an incredibly complex and unsustainable transportation system that currently pervades Southern California.
Despite our perpetually blue skies, disturbingly sandy beaches and iconic lush palm trees, Los Angeles is still the nation’s smoggiest city. It’s time to applaud the city’s attempt to change that. But as citizens, we should also watch closely to what comes next. It could be either the next stage in Los Angeles’s evolution to a sustainable city — or it could be an unmitigated disaster.
Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in political science and policy, planning, and development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” ran Mondays.