Exploration and adventure, getting to know your city the right way


Author: Keegan McChesney

Ian Agrimis
Ian Agrimis

We live in Los Angeles, the second most populated metropolitan area in the entire country, yet many of us have barely stepped foot off campus. We live in a mega-city; it is time to get out and have mega-adventures.

While driving somewhere may have its advantages, biking and walking replace the luxurious advantage with adventurous splendor. Through the car window you may catch a fleeting view of your surroundings, but at the street level, the bustle of life surrounds you.

I have experienced the power of walking and biking around L.A. numerous times, but its importance only crystalizes with me under enormous stress. Finals week: low sleep and high anxiety. With a million terms to memorize, thousands of pages to write and four professors to please, a spin on my bike was the last thing on my mind. Then, like a joust between a locomotive and a monster truck, it hit me. Why sit in this library for another six hours of misery? I needed to get out. With my work still looming, I hopped on my bike and headed away–nowhere in specific, just away. As I flew down the hill, I knew I was right in my conviction to leave. The wind pressed against my face, I could feel my anxieties joining the dust trail behind me.

My first stop was Zweet Station on Eagle Rock Blvd., the local candy and soda shop. Blood still pumping from my ride and enjoying my new surroundings, I banged out the conclusion of my paper with record-breaking efficiency I continued on my excursion, savoring the journey far more than the destinations. A light breeze and the simple pleasure of using my muscles as my means of travel made the transition between study spots as memorable as the destinations. Relaxation quickly rose over it’s counterpart, stress. I reveled in the clarity I found between my stops along Eagle Rock and York. I was invigorated by how much I had accomplished for it. Before I knew it, it was dark outside, shops were closing up for the night, and I had diligently completed a large portion of my work.

The time lost for relocation was well worth the improved mental state. By simply stepping away from the monotonous Oxy architecture and the dreary finals-week campus atmosphere, my mind was able to catch a second wind and kick into full gear. Between the physical activity, the fresh air and the change of scenery, my Eagle Rock study adventure saved my finals week.

When I take to the streets, I observe things I never knew existed. I discover places that I want to show my friends and family. I make new acquaintances, experience chance interactions and see the city in an entirely new light. The choice to get off campus and the even bigger choice to avoid using a car have the power to change your perspective.

“When I teach the transportation and streets class, I have students walk, bike, take a bus and train and drive to experience their surroundings using these different forms of mobility. When we walk, bike or take transit, we tend to notice more details, see more and more diverse kinds of people,” Urban and Environmental Policy professor Mark Vallianatos said.

On a bicycle you feel the breeze in your hair, the sun on your skin. You have time to take in your surroundings, experience your street scape, be submerged in your community even as you are just passing through. In a car, you get into your metal box, fully equipped with complex gadgets, strap up, turn some knobs, press some buttons and voilà! In no time, you have arrived at your destination. You whiz by your community. You eliminate the journey. As the Buddha advises, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” When you deny yourself the journey, you miss out on the adventure. L.A. has much more to offer.

If you don’t know your way around the city, there is no better way than to get out and explore. Some of my fondest, craziest, most memorable moments in L.A. have occurred while biking. Each little trip, be it to farmers markets, the train station, downtown events or just a simple errand has left me with a story to tell.

One of my favorite cycling adventures last year was the Los Angeles CicLAvia festival, which my roommate and I attended as one of our first chances to get out into the city. For this event, Wilshire Blvd is cut off to motorists and exclusive access is given to pedestrians and cyclists. Thousands of Angelenos come out for the festivities and everyone is in high spirits, it is an incredible way to experience the soul of the city. The next CicLAvia festival is Sunday, Oct. 6th.

CicLAvia is part of an ever-evolving movement to make Los Angeles a more walkable and bikable city. Groups from all parts of the city are coming together to encourage the government to make walking and biking in L.A. more accessible, practical, inviting and safe.

This movement is building steam. The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition conducted the third city-wide L.A. Bicycle and Pedestrian Count last weekend. In September 2011, the same project found a significant increase in the number of cyclists across the city. Last weekend, Occidental students from Professor Mark Vallianatos and Professor Bhavna Shamasunder’s Urban and Environmental Policy classes–along with hundreds of other volunteers–took up assigned posts all across the city. Their task: sit, count the number of cyclists and pedestrians that crossed a given plane and record their findings. The data will be used to build a case for increased public funding of projects to make the L.A. more pedestrian and cyclist friendly.

“I got to get up early and got to watch the street come to life,” Matthew Swanson (senior), who took part in the count said. “This experience made me more conscious of how people interact with the roadway.”

When compared with the 2009 data, the 2011 count produced some interesting findings: there was a significant increase in the number of bicyclist across the city, bicyclists at the target intersection increased by 32 percent, streets that received new bicycle infrastructure saw major increases in ridership. Unfortunately, the number of female bikers hovered around a stagnate 20 percent, an indication that streets have not improved in terms of safety for cyclist and pedestrians.

According to the Southern California Association of Governments, 12 percent of all trips in the region are made by bicycling and walking, yet only one-half percent of all of our transportation funding is allocated for bicycle and pedestrian improvement.

“With a city as large as L.A. it can be extremely hard to get a good feel for just how much it has to offer, but from the bike count I really got a great sense of just how many people take advantage of biking in this bustling city,” Jarron Brady (junior) said.

So, join the movement. If you don’t have a car, embrace it. Open yourself up to new adventures. Travel well by savoring your journey, on foot or by bike. If you don’t have a bike, there are great resources you can take advantage of. Occidental Bike Share is open Tuesday and Fridays, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Rangeview (Berkus) parking lot.

Escape the bumper-to-bumper; embrace the face-to-face. Don’t confine yourself to the view behind the window of a car; embrace the street level experience. A simple spin can change your whole perspective, it opens you up to endless possibilities for adventure.

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