Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 8, 2018

Two-Wheeling in Los Angeles; Can You DO That?

Foreign visitors to my city, Los Angeles, are often daunted by the requirements of getting around in this vast metropolis. Not every traveler wants to rent a car and brave our legendary freeways.

LA 110 - 105 interchange Brad Nixon 4290 (640x469)

Public transportation options here are limited. Until recent years, they were virtually nonexistent, beyond the relatively large network of bus systems operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) and other LA-area cities.

The cityscape is changing. Metro now operates several light rail lines that converge at LA’s Union Terminal on the edge of downtown, like the Blue Line from Long Beach.

Long Beach PO metro Brad Nixon 8770 (492x640)

When I came to LA 25 years ago, there was NO light rail system. Progress!

Bicycle Sharing Gains a Foothold

Transportation in most American cities has been predicated on the notion that the majority of people drive everywhere, even to and from the termini of rail and bus lines. That’s changing in the form of bicycle sharing systems, which are multiplying rapidly to provide “final mile” connectivity to destinations.

I never expected to see it here in LA, despite the mild weather and the fact that much of the city is relatively flat. We’re drivers. However, we’re witnessing the introduction of two approaches to bicycle sharing: docked and dockless.

What’s Up, Dock?

You retrieve a docked bike from its station by entering your passcard, credit card or other ID at a kiosk, ride the bike and return it to a docking station. That’s the approach adopted by the LA Metro Bike Share pilot program.

Cabrillo Metro bikes Brad Nixon 9043 (640x453)

The docking stations are being tried in four areas: downtown, Pasadena, Venice and the Port of LA. The one pictured above is at Cabrillo Beach, at the southern end of the port near the ocean, near the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. From there, you can cover the waterfront, including the LA Maritime Museum and the Battleship Iowa, 2.7 level miles north.

Dockless (Even on the Bay)

Many bike sharing enterprises operate without docks. Bikes reside almost anywhere — on sidewalks or parking areas, campuses, transit stations, bus stops. Users unlock them with a mobile app, ride, and park them wherever they end up. That’s the approach taken in LA by private operator LimeBike. Below is a group of LimeBikes parked 100 feet away from the above-pictured LA Metro docking station at Cabrillo Beach.

Cabrillo LimeBikes Brad Nixon 9059 (640x419)

The bike sharing trend is good news to travelers looking for a better way to navigate urban areas. Downtown LA, for example, is a fascinating place, not nearly so dense or extensive as New York City (which also offers bike sharing). One could reasonably pedal from Union Terminal to the happening area around LA Live, or to Little Tokyo, the Fashion District and other parts of downtown, reducing walking, eliminating struggles with bus routes. You could ride from Union Terminal to the bike dock at Broadway and Third in just a few minutes. Right there, you could visit the Bradbury Building.

Bradbury Building Brad Nixon 3433 (640x458)

Once you’ve gawked at that location of the final climactic scene of Blade Runner, cross the street to eat something at Central Market (lots of hip options), exit the other side of the Market and ride the 1901 Angels Flight funicular up to Grand and see Disney Hall!

Angels Flight Brad Nixon 3449 (640x480)

Some limitations of docked bikes are obvious. You have to return the bike to a dock. That requirement kept us from trying the Biketown system in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.

PDX Biketown Brad Nixon 7853 (640x469)

There was a dock down the street from our apartment, but not enough places to re-dock them specifically where we wanted to go in PDX.

Undocked bikes solve that problem. But you’re at the mercy of locating one or more available bikes on your mobile app, and they could be anywhere … or nowhere.

One advantage seems clear: cost. Like the system in Portland ($2.50 per trip), the LA Metro Bike Share is more expensive than LimeBike’s $1 per ride: $2 for the first 30 minutes and $3.50 per 30 minutes after that.

China has sparked a revolution (pun!) in dockless bikes: 15 million of them. When I was there a dozen years ago, I thought bicycle use was already high, as here, in Shanghai.

20050427 Shanghai street w bikes 2

Those millions of new undocked bikes have made ridership soar further. It’s a trend that could even affect us here in car-obsessed LA. A bicycle won’t get you comfortably from Venice to downtown, but it will help bridge the gaps in local areas.

A lot will have to change, though, including how drivers deal with cyclists.

Caveats: Cycling in a U.S. City

American city drivers aren’t acculturated to cyclists, which are sometimes viewed as intruders in the land of the automobile. By law, cyclists are entitled to use traffic lanes (except on freeways), but motorists aren’t habituated to sharing the road. Legally, a driver must allow 3 feet (one meter) of clearance between her car and you if she passes you. Regulations are fine, but they won’t help you if you’re struck by a heedless, careless or impatient driver. Take care.

There are an increasing number of bike lanes on the streets of LA area cities, but not everywhere. Again, drivers are not yet accustomed to a cycling culture and may turn across your bicycle lane without paying attention.

Helmets typically aren’t available with rideshare bikes. In LA, helmets are required for riders younger than 18. You must provide your own. Rules vary by state and city.

On the other hand, the weather here’s excellent! Far better than rainy Amsterdam and not nearly so smoggy as Beijing (really). Let’s get on our bikes!

I have not yet ridden either an LA Metro Bike Share bike or a LimeBike. I will, and I’ll let you know what I think of the relative merits.

Have you ridden either one, or other bike share systems? Suggestions, likes/dislikes, recommendations? Leave a comment.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. Interesting posting on cycling in Los Angelees. It seems hard to believe the mass transit system was that bad until recently. I’ve seen those bicycle renting things in Montrreal before which has an excellent biking culture.


    • LA had the largest electric urban railway in the world in the 1920s. The automobile took over. One could spend all one’s time studying and writing about transportation here (and many people do). We traded rail lines for freeways, the interurban was done by 1950, and here we are, clawing back. A convoluted history.


  2. I love bicycling through cities to explore, so it’s great to hear that L.A. is starting to have some options in this area. My favorite place to try rental bikes has been Copenhagen, Denmark where it felt like there were more bikers than buildings. They rule the streets there and everyone else must heed them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that comment. Glad to have the benefit of your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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