After Hours: The bicycle activist
In this installment of "After Hours," meet Ayla Stern, a UCLA staff member who was recently appointed to the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee by L.A. Councilmember Paul Krekorian (San Fernando Valley District 2). Stern, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2007, is the only woman on the 15-member committee, which advises the city on issues relevant to bicycling. A resident of Sherman Oaks, she is a co-founder of a bike co-op, the Valley Bikery.
By Judy Lin
Originally published in UCLA Today
Title: Coordinator of UCLA’s Jumpstart Program in the Center for Community Learning, where she guides undergraduates who volunteer to help low-income preschoolers prepare for success in elementary school.
Surprised and happy: “I was already working with Paul Krekorian’s office on bicycle-related issues in the valley, but I’m still surprised about being appointed by him to the L.A. Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC). This definitely isn’t something that I expected to happen when I moved back to L.A. from Santa Cruz, but I’m happy it did.”
A valley girl: “I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and rode a bike as a kid, but I very much had an L.A. mentality about it — that it was just a recreational thing to ride your bike on the sidewalk or in the park. In high school, I never had a car and relied on public transit. It was terrible — it took me forever to get anywhere. It never crossed my mind to ride a bike.”
Cruising in college: “Santa Cruz is a really small town where there’s lots of bicycling, so I bought a bike and starting using it to commute. It was really great. It was fun, and I felt safe. I got more and more into it and even did a little bit of competitive cycling — a triathlon. That involved a lot of training that I had never done before, which improved my cycling skills.”
L.A. life: “When I first moved back to L.A., I found biking somewhat difficult, but now it’s become really enjoyable. I don’t have a car so I depend on biking and the bus or subway. At this point, alhough I have the option of getting a car, I’ve found that even in a city that’s not bike-friendly the way Santa Cruz is, cycling is still the most enjoyable and fun way to get around. I end up meeting a lot of really great people who also ride bikes. It’s my way of making a positive change in the world by living a sustainable lifestyle.”
Stern is a co-founder of the Valley Bikery.
Her wheels: “I have a Specialized Dolce road bike with 27 gears — enough to make it up some really steep hills. I also have a beater, an old road bike that was covered with rust before I cleaned it up and rebuilt it. I recently built a track bike for racing at the Encino Velodrome. That’s it. I don’t have space in my apartment for more than three bikes.”
Danger ahead: “My commute is about 9½ miles one way, a lot of it up extremely steep hills, so it takes me 40-50 minutes. Still, that’s the same amount of time it takes someone to drive during rush hour. Right now, I’m scared to take Sepulveda Boulevard because everything is a big mess since they started the 405 freeway construction. So I’ve come up with some secret routes that are more stress-free. Even though I am a very experienced cyclist, it’s hard to hold your ground in front of a car going 45 miles an hour on a busy street. Drivers will get behind you, honk and just wait for you to move. In the Westwood Boulevard bike lane, I’ve been 'doored' [when a car door suddenly opened], and the driver didn’t care at all.
"On campus, there are nice sharrows (bike lingo for share-the-road lanes), and Charles Young Drive is a really great bike route. But in general, getting to and from campus is extremely hard and dangerous from almost any direction. I’m part of the UCLA Bicycling Coalition, which is working very hard, along with UCLA Transportation and the Sustainability Committee, to make UCLA more bike-friendly. But there’s a long way to go.”
A cycling community: “I’m one of the co-founders of the Valley Bikery, a bike co-op. Santa Cruz has the Bike Co-op on campus and also a really great bike club called the Bike Church where I was a volunteer. These are basically do-it-yourself groups where people help each other learn how to fix or even build a bike. In L.A., there’s the Bike Kitchen in East Hollywood and the Bikerowave in Venice, but there was nothing in the valley. I was frustrated by the lack of resources and support for people who were biking. So, about a year-and-a-half ago, a couple of friends and I started doing mobile bike clinics at Lake Balboa and farmer’s markets. We would ride around Balboa Park and tell people, ‘Hey, come to this clinic and we’ll help you fix your bike.’
“Eventually we started working out of a bike shop in Chatsworth, but we’re still doing mobile clinics. The idea is to help people become more self-sufficient cyclists and to feel more comfortable and confident on their bikes. We do beginner bike rides for people who want to ride but are nervous. If you’re a beginner and start out on Wilshire Boulevard, you’re never going to want to get on a bike again. We take beginners on a nice, leisurely ride someplace in the valley. There’s music, food and other people, so it’s a lot of fun.”
The right priorities: “The main thing is to give people options. People shouldn’t have to think, ‘Oh, I have to go into debt paying for a car and gas because I have no other choice.’ You should be able to drive, take a bus, bike, whatever. L.A. is a car city, but it’s still a good place for bikes. We have these giant, wide roads, so it’s not a matter of space, but how we choose to use it. Are we prioritizing the movement of vehicles, or are we prioritizing the movement of people?”
The L.A. bike plan: “L.A. officials have implemented only about a third of what they said they were going to do in their bike plans, and drafts for new plans have not been acceptable to most of the cycling community. We are advocating for a backbone network, a grid of bike-friendly streets located every two miles that can get you to the same places as cars — like UCLA. Up to now, bike plans have basically directed cyclists to smaller residential streets instead of major thoroughfares, so cyclists have to wander around to get anywhere. And then when they do inevitably end up on the big streets — like Wilshire — those streets are extremely dangerous. The L.A. Planning Department came to [BAC’s] meeting last month and said it wanted to create the grid, but over 25 years at 200 miles of streets a year. I was pushing for them to implement the plan in just five years. But they said there’s no money or staff for that."
Mayor Villaraigosa's bicycling accident in July put a new focus on the safety of cyclists in L.A.
Help from city hall: "In August, Mayor Villaraigosa held a bike summit, and now they say they will do 1,600 miles by 2015. Up until then, I don’t think the Mayor’s Office was prioritizing bicycles … until the mayor got hit by a car on his bike. (On July 17, his elbow was broken in an accident in Venice.) I hope that with the mayor’s desire to make bicycling safer, we can plan not just for the extremely brave but for anyone who wants to ride a bike."
Published: Monday, September 13, 2010