A Sneak Peek at L.A.'s New Bike-Share Program

The author takes a test drive.EXPAND
The author takes a test drive.
Shane Lopes

A few years ago, before moving back to L.A. from Washington, D.C., I did what many people called absurd — I sold my car. But as someone who works from home, a casual cyclist and an avid proponent of public transportation, I knew I’d be OK. (Full disclosure — my husband has a work truck, which I have access to on weekends, if needed.) I’ve memorized the bike lanes of Hollywood and Silver Lake, learned the quietest side streets of surrounding neighborhoods and finally mastered the long-feared art of putting my bike on the bus.

Late this summerOn July 7, Los Angeles will join the rest of the civilized world with the introduction of a bike-share program (Copenhagen has had one since 1995, and three out of four of the world’s 1 million bike-share bikes currently can be found in China). The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority and the city of Los Angeles have partnered with contractor Bicycle Transit Systems to launch the pilot program, beginning with 65 docking stations and 1,100 bikes sprinkled throughout downtown L.A.

I’ll never be a Tour de France contender, but I am a bike enthusiast who makes a point to ride in other cities and countries whenever I can. I’ve mountain-biked mossy trails through Danish forests, toured Stockholm on a City Bike, did a bike-on-a-boat trip through the Gap of Dunloe in Ireland and even used Bay Area Bike Share while on a mini book tour a couple of years ago in San Francisco. Though my own 1988 model Specialized Rockhopper gets me where I need to go in L.A., I’m pretty stoked to see my city finally rolling out the rent-a-bikes.

I was lucky enough to be offered one of the Metro Bike Share demo bikes for a spin from Union Station (where two docking kiosks will be installed) to the Arts District (which will hold several).

It’s an easy route from the Gateway Plaza bus station area, crossing North Vignes onto Ramirez Street (which becomes Center Street), heading downhill under the 101 Freeway, veering right onto Santa Fe and taking another right onto Third Street. Unfortunately bike lanes do not appear until you hit Third, but once there, all of the shops and restaurants on Third and Traction are within reach, with Little Tokyo just a few more pedal strokes away. The 1.2-mile stretch took me five minutes total. Small hills handled well with the three gears, my bag stayed cozy in the spring-loaded front basket, and dynamo (energy-generating) hubs kept the safety lights lit in front and back. Other nice features include the adjustable cushioned seat, disc brakes and my favorite device for avoiding collisions — a bell! Future models will even have a cargo attachment behind the seat.

Like most bike-share bikes, Metro’s turning radius is a little clunky, and at 40 pounds, no one will be taking these things over any sweet jumps or hoisting the beasts onto the bike racks of a city bus. Metro deputy executive officer of transportation Laura Cornejo says they “discourage anyone from taking these bikes on the Metro” at all, as the intent is for the program to fill the first-mile-last-mile gap of a trip between a transit stop and your final destination. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that such “bike-share systems enhance modal choice and extend the existing transportation system by providing access to destinations off existing public transportation routes.”

Ideally, both tourists and locals will use the bikes, Cornejo says, and if usage is high in these stations from Chinatown to USC, the program will expand to other nearby areas.

The walk-up cost to rent a Metro bike will be $3.50 per 30-minute trip, with $20 monthly and $40 yearly flex passes that will cut the fee to $1.75 per half-hour. Cornejo says TAP cards will carry two separate balances — one for Metro buses and trains, the other for bike share. Smartphone apps will offer users real-time information about bike and dock availability.

Some have complained that the price is prohibitive, while others hate that this fleet does not link to Santa Monica, Long Beach or West Hollywood bike-share systems.

Still, the effort seems a pedal in the right direction. On top of reducing greenhouse gases and improving health through exercise, biking around town may have financial benefits for businesses, too. While bike-share programs haven’t proven to be hugely profitable in many cities, one study in Minneapolis shows increased spending activity near stations.

Overall, the Metro bike ride is smooth and seems perfect for bar-hopping, grocery shopping or seeing the sights of DTLA. It’s no fixie, but it feels sturdy and safe.

Maybe the coolest side effect of riding the bike-share bike was the interaction it caused with those around me. A security officer on his own bike admired it as he rode by. Another guy asked if it was heavy, like a beach cruiser.

“Is that one of them old bikes?” asked a dishwasher out on his break.

“No, it’s new,” I explained. “It’s going to be a bike you can rent all over downtown L.A.”

His eyes widened. “Oh, like they have in Europe?”

As I returned the bike to Metro headquarters, a woman wearing a bamboo Asian sun hat walked up to check it out. She said it looked “interesting” but shyly admitted she did not know how to ride a bike. Not a problem, as Metro transportation planning manager Avital Shavit assured her bike riding and safety classes will be offered by Metro and its partners this fall.

“In English only?” the woman inquired.

“No, Spanish, too.”

The woman smiled and asked when she could start.


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