#BikeLA

Donate 2014 Charity Dollars To Make Bicycling AWESOME

LABT2014

Make your 2014 charitable dollars work! Help us reach $50k to develop the mobile app HERE

2014 Accomplishments:

While most of our programs are focused on Los Angeles, we’re also working to bring these fun and helpful learning tools to other cities – and countries! In February 2015 executive director Nona Varnado will be speaking in Bogota (ciclovia) and Medellin (World Bike Forum), Colombia on how to bring DIY bike culture to communities to create positive social change.

The mission:

Bicycle Culture Institute is a non-profit organization focused on mentorship, developing a resource library and broad media attention for a diverse range of voices about bicycling. We help other non-profits, coalitions, co-ops, ride groups and large companies focus on their primary mission by developing high quality education programs, workshops and training.

Based on 15 years of innovative cycling culture projects including: race development, community organizing, brand development and traditional advocacy. We believe in making friends, learning from other cities and individuals around the globe to build connections between people.

You can support BCI’s general operating fund or make sure your donation goes 100% to the #LABIKETRAINS mobile app. We’re pretty excited that this little project has some big potential to transform cities like LA into great places to ride for everyday transportation.

Not into paypal? Checks can be written to: Bicycle Culture Institute and mailed to 5918 Willoughby Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Gratitude.

We need you to keep the good work up. Social media likes feel nice, but they don’t keep the wheels moving. To say thank you to anyone who contributes financially, we’d like to offer:

  • Any donations over $50 get a handwritten thank you note
  • Over $250 special 1:1 bike ride (1 hr) in Los Angeles with any active LA Bike Train conductor (pending scheduling)

Over $500 you can choose:

  • Get your logo on the L.A. Bike Trains jersey
  • “Special Valet Service” with founder Nona Varnado
  • the official L.A. Bike Trains ‘Conductor’s Kit’ a reflective saddle bag with Lezyne brand mini-pump, tools, lever/patch kit, energy snack and first aid items.
  • Invitation to private events, rides and parties in 2015

and Thank you. Paying attention and helping us spread the word is a HUGE help. If you can’t contribute $ this season, consider offering some of your time and talent. email us at: info @ LABikeTrains .com

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L.A. Bike Trains on ‘TakePart’

Say Good-Bye to Riding Your Brakes—Biking to Work Is Easier Than Ever

L.A. Bike Trains, and groups like it in cities across the country, are helping employees get to work without getting into a car.

(Photo: Courtesy LABikeTrains.com)

October 27, 2014

For the past two years, cycling advocate Nona Varnado and a handful of overworked, enthusiastic volunteers have been building the social infrastructure and training for every Angeleno to bicycle to work and school.

Yes, bicycle—in traffic-plagued Southern California, no less, where drive-through restaurants were invented because apparently, cars were so beloved that Angelenos wanted to eat meals in them.

Despite her past as a bicycle messenger in New York City, Varnado found that if she wanted to cycle safely in Los Angeles, she’d need a friend to personally show her the routes, show her that it was possible to get around the city without the protective metal cage of a vehicle.

“I get it. Cycling can be terrifying. There’s freeways coming up to the streets, and all my friends in L.A. live 20 miles away,” Varnado said. “I know that if I didn’t have the experience I did with a friend showing me around, even I, an experienced cyclist, wouldn’t have taken the chance. The only way to get people to change their heart is to have these one-to-one experiences.”

L.A. Bike Trains is an extension of that experience, the friend who shows you it’s possible. One morning every workweek, 10 volunteer “conductors” meet to safely shepherd newbie commuter cyclists across the city to work for the a.m. commute. If your quitting times align, you can join the train again for the ride home or just ride back the same way you came.

Varnado calls her riders her “ducks,” and the program is free for anyone with a bike (and presumably a helmet), and for your first few rides, your conductor will personally pick you up at your house and show you the best route to get to your meeting spot. Conductors carefully select their routes to be the optimal experience for a cyclist of any experience level, figuring in hill grades, bike lanes, and even scenic beauty. Routes run from Pasadena to downtown and from Silver Lake to Santa Monica, a daunting 15-mile, cross-city route made accessible by expert conductor Wesley High.

High even records his Silver Lake to Santa Monica ride every day with a helmet-mounted GoPro to catalog how safe his routes are and adjust accordingly. Sometimes drivers cut him off and screech to a stop. Sometimes drivers angrily accuse him of taking the lane to personally ruin their day. The insults hurled can be mind-boggling, but High takes every possible measure to ensure his riders’ safety, going as slowly as needed and making sure every person feels comfortable enough to take the lane when necessary.

“Every rider is going to process angry drivers differently,” Varnado said. “But there’s safety in numbers, and we’ve had no serious injuries on our routes.”

The safety-in-numbers concept has pushed like-minded cyclists in other U.S. cities, such as New York CityPortland, Oregon; and New Orleans, to implement bike trains. The notion extends beyond commuters through the national organization Safe Routes, which uses parent-led bike trains to get children safely to school on bikes.

According to a 2014 report, bike ridership in Los Angeles has gone up 7.5 percent since 2011, with a preliminary count of 18,000 riders across the city.

That’s paltry compared with the half-a-million bikers in New York City. But the promising news is that L.A. Bike Trains has more permanent routes—and more on the way—than any other city’s bike train program, suggesting that Angelenos are interested in better cycling infrastructure.

L.A. Councilmember Mike Bonin used the report as an impetus to ask for more city transportation funds to be allocated to increase bicycle ridership. In New York City, the Department of Transportation implemented this type of plan in 2009 with a goal of doubling ridership by 2012 but reached the goal a year early.

For Varnado, who also works part-time with the nonprofit advocacy and education group L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, the L.A. Bike Trains program is already a success, because she’s able to see her ducks growing up and “graduating” to ride on their own. Some of these graduated riders have developed their own routes or institute programs in their workplaces.

The UCLA Bicycle Coalition, for instance, reached out to Varnado for a one-day bike-to-school event; it was such a success that the UCLA Sustainability department allocated resources and work hours for a permanent route to UCLA.

“I get emails all the time from people wanting to grow this project, thinking it’s already funded,” Varnado said. “It’s not. It’s me not fixing my teeth for two years.”

Varnado said LABT has collected hundreds of commuter surveys from former and current riders, and when it’s ready, it can use the data to help implement change and possibly get these programs funded. Right now, it relies on donations from people who can see the benefits without the hard data, and it’s hoping Los Angeles is a viable contender for a community grant from PeopleForBikes, a privately funded organization.

“If politicians don’t start realizing that young people, families, want safe communities that are not just bike accessible but walking too, then everything else will just be biding our time,” Varnado said.

And we’ll be biding that time in traffic.

A Wolfe has covered arts, entertainment, and politics for Good, Vice, Flaunt, and other publications.

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#LABT in the GuardianUK

Los Angeles bike trains – beating the traffic in a car-centric city

Nona Varnado was terrified of lethal LA drivers, but all that changed when she set up safe routes for group commuting

Cycling Venice Beach Los Angeles
Cyclists by Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Much of car-centric LA is much more dangerous for riding. Photograph: Christian Kober/Getty Images/AWL Images RM

However, after overcoming her own fears, Varnado founded LA Bike Trains – free, weekly rides led by proficient cyclists across the city giving would-be bike commuters the routes, the skills and the confidence to ride to work.

So, what it’s really like cycling in LA? Varnado says:

That would depend who you ask. I’ve lived without a car all over the world and I’m definitely in the category of what most people would call fearless.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I almost bought a car because I was so scared. I’ve been a bike messenger, and when I was younger I did fixed gear alleycat races, really crazy stuff, and so that was why I felt I could go anywhere and ride a bike, no problem.

However, Varnado says, LA was a different experience altogether.

I was experiencing anxiety, I stopped leaving the house. I realised I wasn’t doing things because in my mind everything seemed so spread out and the sprawl is so great, and the traffic is of a different nature.

There’s no regularity between how a lane is between one block to another and drivers are going from 30 to 50 miles an hour to get on the freeway. Trying to get anywhere you’re going to have to go past freeway on-ramps and you’re also dealing with cars that don’t expect a cyclist.

To me what is the most scary thing about Southern California is that drivers have this entitlement mentality. That means people don’t care if they kill you. It is as simple as that.

They’re trying to save two seconds, and if you need to die to save them two seconds they will kill you.

Things turned around for her when, working in an LA bike shop, colleagues showed her how to handle the traffic, and find the “secret” routes away from the main roads.

From designing women’s cycle clothes, and talking to women buying those clothes, Varnado saw what she describes as a “huge humanitarian need for activism”, the empowering potential of the bike, financial and otherwise. She also recognised the need for positive one-to-one experiences, like hers at the bike shop, to get people cycling. With protected cycle lanes LA would be a bike paradise, she says, but since she couldn’t build the infrastructure herself, the way to change was a social solution.

Cycling Los Angeles

Nona Varnado holds her bike high above the LA’s busy traffic. Photograph: Hal Bergman

Varnado studied other bike trains – where they worked and where they fell down, treating it like a business model. Through local campaigners such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Bike Week she found support and a pool of passionate volunteers.

Those volunteers were all very vocal. We just started getting people to try it, and they would talk about it with their co-workers and we got picked up on a lot of local transportation blogs. Once it got out that there was some crazy group of friendly cyclists helping people to navigate the city for free, with an emphasis on safety, it became a novelty and so all these media outlets were asking: how is this possible?

She believes part of its success is accessibility and fun.

There’s no obligation, there’s no pressure, it’s free, it’s not scary, we’re the nicest, most cuddly introduction to biking in LA that you could get. We don’t charge and we’re on schedule every week.

That reliability, she says, is crucial, as it is with any form of transport.

There are now 10 routes, with an online survey to test demand for more. According to Varnado about a third of her bike train commuters are what she calls graduates, people who build up their confidence and skills over two or three weeks and then leave, hopefully to become independent commuters. The rest, she says, are a diverse array of regulars.

This is the big success of LA Bike Trains: We get every shape, age, colour, income. We’ve developed a very flexible model that can go into any community in LA.

In younger communities, such as Silver Lake, the bike train is organised online. The south LA train, meanwhile, is run “almost entirely out of a park”. Some conductors (ride leaders) even put hotel-style door hangers on bikes, that look like love letters, to encourage new riders. There are natural fluctuations in numbers, with anything from two commuters upwards in each train. It’s intensive but clearly worth it for Varnado and her team.

What kind of people get involved?

Our conductors are the nicest, most wonderful people on the planet and they really do care about other people and about their city. They say: “I want it to be safe for my children to ride. I had to be a daredevil but I don’t want my daughter to have to be.”

Have there been any particular success stories?

There’s so many, it’s like picking bonbons from a jar. One of my favourites is Barbara. She hadn’t biked in many years, she was really out of shape, she didn’t think she could do it, she needed an incredible amount of help and now she’s a committed regular. Not only has her health improved, now she bikes her daughter to school, so that’s impacted positively on both of their lives.

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twitter: @nonavarnado

Bicycling Magazine

ADVOCACY

Nona Varnado on Bike Trains

Commuter Rail: Nona Varnado

Varnado transforms drivers into two-wheeled commuters, one bike train at a time

KALEE THOMPSON

(Photo by Mathew Scott)
To get more people riding to work in car-centric Los Angeles, clothing designer and bicycle activist Varnado founded a series of free citywide bike trains. A bike train is a scheduled ride to predetermined destinations led by a “conductor” who organizes the group and helps newcomers. Here, Varnado explains how she started hers—and lays out her plans for helping to transform American cities. Find more info on Varnado’s initiative at labiketrains.com.

Why bike trains?
I’d never been scared of bike commuting before, but when I moved to Los Angeles it felt like Frogger. I thought Google Maps was going to send me to certain doom. When I realized I needed one-to-one help, it occurred to me that everyone else does, too.

How are they different from regular group commutes?
Our conductors are volunteers who are committed to making people feel comfortable and safe. That human connection is what gets people motivated. When someone goes on vacation, there’s a fill-in. And we’re like a bus network. We run on time. We want people to be able to rely on us.

How big are the groups?
Between five and eight is ideal. That size feels fun, and you’re visible on the road, but it’s not so big that you need a second conductor or you need to worry about it spreading out too much.

Is it the same riders every week?
It fluctuates. For example, somebody who shows up for the first time might not know how to get around, how to clear an intersection. They participate for a few weeks and then disappear. It’s a beautiful thing for the conductor to see. We’ve created a new bike commuter.

What about the routes? Are they expanding?
We initially developed all of these routes without a survey. We didn’t have a lot of data, we just did what we thought was going to work. Since then, we’ve been gathering commuter data and we have three new routes that will be starting soon. Two of the new conductors are women, both of whom will be leading lines to universities. It’s an exciting growth stage.

Do you think this will grow beyond LA?
I’ve been contacted by other cities. It would be great to serve as a model, but we want a set of standards. This has a potentially transformative effect and I don’t want to see it done poorly. We’ve established a nonprofit called the BCI, the Bicycle Culture Institute. Our aim is to create a library of workshops and projects and lesson plans and have it be a real resource, whether it’s for a bike co-op or a local bike coalition or just a local school or individual. We’ll charge a consulting fee, but on a sliding scale.

What’s next?
We’re hoping to launch the BCI website soon. We just produced LA’s first big bike festival focused on commuters. We had 10 workshops. It was very lively and we saw a lot of people we weren’t expecting to see—it was not the usual bicycling crowd. We’re developing a smartphone app that’s basically a NextBus for bike trains—you can hop on and hop off as we build our network. All of it is a way to make bicycling a bigger and better part of everyday life.

Update: You can now visit the BCI website at bicycleculture.org.

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twitter: @nonavarnado

#LABT on Voice of America [video]

Bike Trains Beat Los Angeles Traffic

Published February 03, 2014

Los Angeles is known for its car culture. The city is spread out and public transportation is either slow or limited. As a result, people drive everywhere, causing congestion almost any time of day. A small but growing group of bicycle enthusiasts is trying to change L.A. car culture with what’s called L.A. Bike Trains. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.

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L.A. Bike Trains on NPR’s “All Things Considered”

Nona-Varnado-on-NPRThanksgiving was extra exciting after finding out that the NPR piece for “All Things Considered” called: “Shifting Gears: Commuting Aboard the L.A. Bike Trains” went LIVE the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when basically everyone in the country was listening to the radio! Friends from all over the country contacted us to say, “Is that you? What a great project!”

Sadly the more common response is that while the story begins with a heartwarming story of Conductor Charles Dandino’s success with his rider, Barbara; it ends with a quote from Jackie Burke who loudly exclaims, “It’s very frustrating, to the point where I just want to run them off the road,” Burke says. “I’ve actually done one of those drive-really-close-to-them kind of things to kind of scare them, to try to intimidate them to get out of my way.”

And it kinda hiijacked the whole conversation and scared off a lot of people who might have given L.A. Bike Trains a try without it. So what should have been an epic pro-bike discussion, backfired. But it also gave us the NPR platform to encourage a follow up conversation, that could have a hugely positive impact on improving the national dialogue re: driver/cyclist relationships. Read L.A. Bike Trains founder, Nona Varnado’s response via The Bird Wheel.

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#LABT in Downtown LA News!

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Downtown Bike Commuters Find Safety and Fun in Group Rides

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 3:00 pm

By Ryan Vaillancourt

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – When it comes to riding a bicycle, especially on city streets, the rule of safety in numbers applies.

A group of cyclists pedaling at the same pace is simply more visible to car drivers. There’s another plus about riding in a group: It’s more fun.

Those beliefs led cycling advocates Nona Varnado and Bruce Chan to form L.A. Bike Trains, an upstart organization that hosts weekly morning rides between various residential neighborhoods and employment hubs.

By creating a group setting to ride to work, Bike Trains hopes to inspire people to ditch their cars and take to the streets on two wheels. It seems to be getting some traction: After launching in May with four routes, Bike Trains is now up to nine routes, four of which culminate in Downtown (other destinations include Long Beach and Santa Monica).

“Our number one target audience is the people who basically don’t feel comfortable riding by themselves,” Varnado said. “They might not have any experience or might not know how to get there.”

Here’s how it works: Would-be participants pick a route that corresponds with their commute (most rides start in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz area). Riders convene at a starting point and roll out by 8 a.m. Downtown destinations include Fifth and Olive streets and Seventh Street and Grand Avenue. Some routes pick up regular riders along the way

Each ride is led by a “conductor,” an experienced cyclist with safety training for riding in the street.

READ MORE

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