Here is the most important thing you need to know about our newest Laker: LeBron James loves riding his bike.
During his time with the Miami Heat, James became well-known for riding his bike to games, crediting his performance to the two-wheeled aerobic warmup. He also rode to beat traffic, telling reporters it was faster than driving. James became a fixture of local cycling culture, posting his own photos of group rides to social media.
But let’s get serious about this for a minute. This is Los Angeles, where the expansion of the city’s protected bike infrastructure has slowed and more cyclists are being killed on our streets every year.
LeBron James—arguably one of the most famous athletes on the planet—could exert some sorely needed influence to make LA better for biking.
In Miami, James rode from his Coconut Grove home to the American Airlines Arena, which took him about 30 to 40 minutes. For some of his trip, he could use the M-Path, a paved, dedicated multi-use trail. The ride finishes with a protected bike lane on the bridge over the Miami River.
Let’s say hypothetically that James wants to ride from his house in Brentwood to Staples Center. It’s a much longer distance than his Miami commute—about an hour and 20 minutes—and it has little to no safe biking infrastructure.
Westwood Boulevard would provide the most direct route. But bike lanes along that thoroughfare were rejected by the Los Angeles City Council after homeowner groups said it would slow down their commutes.
On his route from Brentwood to the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, he would fare a bit better. Much of the ride would take him through Santa Monica, which has better biking infrastructure than the city of LA.
But then he’d have to take Vista del Mar in Playa del Rey, where a bike lane was installed and then taken back out after homeowner groups said it would slow down their commutes.
James would not have to go far from where the Lakers play to see what kind of safe biking infrastructure can be possible in LA with a little political will. The best bike infrastructure in the city of LA is right outside Staples Center, a four-mile stretch of Figueroa with new protected bike lanes—that took more than a decade to implement.
Now, imagine one of the greatest basketball players of all time—and one of the most influential people on social media—riding outside Staples Center, demanding a safer, healthier way to get around our city.
The number cyclists and pedestrians killed on LA’s streets has risen sharply. From 2013 to 2017, 489 walkers and cyclists were killed on LA’s streets. In some underserved communities, the increases are even more dramatic. In some parts of South LA, for example, collisions that involve bikes have increased by 70 percent.
James’s four-year, $153.3 million contract with the Lakers works out to about $38.3 million per year. That’s about the same as the city’s annual Vision Zero budget to eliminate traffic fatalities. In 2017, the city of LA paid out an additional $19.1 million just for cyclist injuries and deaths. Instead of settling lawsuits, we could be making another half-a-LeBron James-worth of safe streets improvements each year.
James will be playing in LA until 2022. The city’s goal is to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025.
People on bikes are among LA’s most vulnerable road users, but are treated like second-class citizens in this city. With few advocates among our city leaders stepping up to improve the situation, it’s time to look to star power.
Now, more than ever, LA needs someone who can stand up for the hundreds of people who are being killed and seriously injured while riding our deadly streets. We also need someone to advocate for Angelenos from all walks of life who are too terrified of the city’s dangerous streets to even give it a try.