Interview: Ted Rogers of Biking in LA

Words and photos by Chris Klibowitz

According to a 2008 report by the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Work Bureau of Street Services, “With a street network comprised of approximately 6,500 centerline miles of streets and 800 centerline miles of alleys, the City of Los Angeles not only has the largest municipal street system in the nation, but also the most congested.” Cycling with the city limits can be so daunting, that most who make it a regular practice are looked upon as crazy. Even crazier are those who fight against the engrained car culture, for those who chose to ride in LA. Ted Rogers is one such crazy person—the man behind the popular website Biking In LA—and boy does he have his work cut out for him.

What is your place within the cycling community?

A voice crying in the wilderness.

What was going through your head when you sat down at your computer and started your original blog in 2007?

I looked around Los Angeles at what was going on with bike lanes and bike safety and I thought, “we’re all getting screwed.” It was an outgrowth of my fall at the beach—I ran into a swarm of bees, lost control, wiped out, and spent a couple nights in the intensive care unit. I realized at that point that I was closer to dying than to being born, and if I wanted to accomplish something, I need to do it now. Everybody wants to change the world. I realize that I can’t change the world. I just don’t have that power. But what I can do, is I can change Los Angeles. I can make it safer to ride a bike in Los Angeles. I discovered that there were a few other people that were also as angry as I was, and it just snowballed from there.

The early posts dealt with things like poorly designed bike lanes, and telling personal stories and experiences. Is that what you’re still doing?

Rule number one was always that it was not about me. It’s about bicycling. Everything I do is in furtherance of bicycling, bike safety, somehow. I wrote it as a personal blog for about six years, and I had a feature at the bottom where I would link to stories about bicycling that I found online. That was my education in traffic planning and bike safety—I didn’t know squat when I started. I had to learn, so I went online and found all these stories and read them and figured others would be interested too. Gradually, the links started taking over, and I finally said, “Let’s make this a news site, rather than just my own opinion. I’ll keep throwing my opinion in there, because that’s who I am, that’s not gonna stop.”

Ted Rogers

At some point after that switch happened, you began to report on—and tracking—cycling deaths in the area. How did you become the unofficial keeper of that information?

I’m the death master of Southern California cycling. I’ve been accused of having a morbid interest in death. But it’s actually just the opposite: I’m obsessed with safety. I want everyone who leaves on a bike ride to come back home again in one piece. A lot of advocates say you shouldn’t focus on that, you should talk about all the good things and get people to ride their bikes. To me, that’s like a realtor selling you a house without telling you about the black mold in the basement, or that it was built on a Native American burial grounds. If you don’t know the problem is there, you can’t fix it. First, any one who dies on a bike should be remembered. Second, the reason I started keeping count, was that nobody—no government agency in southern California at that point—could tell you how many people died in their jurisdiction while riding a bicycle or crossing the street. They didn’t know.

Seems like something they should all know.

Something every government should do. They can’t provide for safety for anyone unless they know what is happening on their streets. So I got in their face, I said, “This person died in Newport Beach. That person died in Los Angeles. Here’s where they were. This is what happened. Pay. Fucking. Attention.”

Are they paying attention now?

They are paying attention now. If someone is killed on a bike, it usually makes the news somewhere. I take some of the credit for that, but there are other advocates who are raising a stink too. We forced the newspapers to pay attention, and the newspapers force the governments to pay attention. If it wasn’t for people like me saying, “this can’t go on,” then it would still be going on. Well, it is still going on, but at least they know there’s a problem.

So, do you still think Los Angeles going to change?

L.A. is a tough nut to crack for bike advocacy. In San Francisco, if they say, “Here’s a problem, we need a hundred bicyclists to turn out,” then a thousand will turn out. In L.A., if you say, “Here’s a problem, we need a hundred bicyclists to turn out,” then ten will. I have no idea why that is, and it’s been driving me crazy for years. The one thing that really bothers me now, is we are seeing a lot of very experienced bicyclists saying, “Enough. It’s just not safe on the streets, I’m done.” That’s really disturbing. We can’t lose those people. They’re the committed cyclists and if they’re walking away, it means that we have failed. Still, I think things are going to move forward. L.A. has adopted a Vision Zero plan—which I advocated for—with a goal of no fatalities by 2025.

What would make you happy to see accomplished in 2017?

More protected bike lanes. But we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, bikes lanes should be protected, but we need more bike lanes, period.


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