My Story: Why I Support Finish the Ride

Damian running the LA Marathon

I don’t expect many to know, but Mr. CiclaValley also serves as Director of Education for Finish the Ride. It is an organization I’m proud to support and I want to share my personal journey to explain why my involvement is important to me.

My path wasn’t a direct one, but I owe it to a lifetime of experiences that slowly unmasked my inner desire to make the streets safe for everyone. It is a route without a road map, but so are the travels of life.

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To start, I was an employee at UCLA for sixteen years who despite being raised in the valley, lived mainly on the westside during my time at the university. I would bike to work, seeing how it was cheaper than driving, but cycling wasn’t as large as it was back then. I accepted riding as a second class citizen, trying to find space to move that most cars wouldn’t properly afford me.

Part of it was riding a slow, clunky bike, but the other was the attitude that cyclists were considered freaks for daring to use main roads.

The growing part of my cycling family.
The growing part of my cycling family.

When I met my wife and moved back to my valley homeland, I still wanted to bike to work, but knew my methodology would have to change to cover 26 miles round trip.

I ended up purchasing a decent carbon road bike and started to learn how to share the roads with cars. Before, I would either ride on the sidewalk or obliviously in the door zone just missing danger on both sides. Buying a faster bike gave me the confidence that my speed would give cars an ample amount of time to recognize my presence.

Even with the longer commute, I made the trip faster than driving even when factoring taking a shower. In the winter, I adjusted my schedule so that I would always ride in daylight. I chose routes that avoided the majority of traffic, which led me to buying a cyclocross bike to use some of the little known fire roads to cut my commute time even further.

It was a charmed life. My wife and I had our first child bringing a change in lifestyle, but a challenge we were ready to meet. Unfortunately, months after Elie was born, the university decided to close down my department.

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I don’t have to get very poetic. It was the very definition of the word crossroads.

While I did spend the majority of my life working behind a computer monitor, I wanted to move away from the whitish glow and interact again with actual lifeforms. I enjoyed meeting with clients, making presentations in front of large crowds and working with the many entities that make things happen in this city.

By this time, I had started following Ted Rogers’ blog daily to the point that I would hit the F5 key often eagerly awaiting the next post. I didn’t really know before that people did anything about cycling. I was not aware of bike lanes and even if I had, I didn’t have an idea who was involved. Over time, I started realizing there was a cycling community that was growing and growing. I wanted to be part of it.

El Pedal - LACBC Superhero!
El Pedal – LACBC Superhero!

Reading his blog, you would constantly notice the great strides the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition made in their advocacy work. This wasn’t just because he is a board member, but if something positive involved cycling in the news, the LACBC had something to do with it.

I finally initiated contact by going to my first open house. It was a fun event and met a mixture of people where everyone carried the love of cycling as our common bond. Immediately, I knew this was the place to be and I started attending the monthly valley ambassador meetings.

Now, the valley’s really large. Being able to tackle all of our issues is a herculean task. Reversing years of turning the 818 into a vehicular speedway is going to take some time, but you to start somewhere. I began my involvement by helping promote events and canvasing at local events.

The first I participated in was a health fair at Disney Studios sharing the booth with a couple of other LACBCers. One of our guys approached a woman and asked if she had heard about the cyclist who was dragged onto a freeway. I knew of the story, but when he got to the end and said, “..that was me”, I looked down and noticed the prosthetic. Oh yeah. He’s the dude.

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Other than seeing Damian speak at the start of the LA River Ride, that was the last I’d see of him for awhile. I wasn’t able to do Finish the Ride that weekend, but wished I had been out there.

Cicla2
Aftermath on Riverside Dr.

It was around this time that I wasn’t just looking for more bike infrastructure, but a safer environment where all could coexist. Something that I was influenced in my own backyard.

Mr. CiclaValley lives off of a section of Riverside Drive that had bike lanes added last year, but also an increase in speed limit at the same time. My wife was walking across the street with Elie when she was almost run over by an inattentive driver. A few months later, a couple of my friends were knocked over by a SUV as chronicled in the LA Post Examiner.

For some reason, these incidents get pushed aside as bad luck. People except these simple lapses of awareness as “accidents”. Part of the price you pay for being out on the road.

Soon thereafter, as we were coming out of Yom Kippur services, a car was rear ended as dozens of people were crossing the street right in front of them. Mind you, there were also two HIGHLY VISIBLE crossing guards slowing down traffic!

That’s three incidents I witnessed within months along a stretch of a mile. I now believed the design of the street played a role for this recklessness. When you have a 40 mph speed limit coupled with extra wide lanes, how fast do you think drivers actually go? The road might as well be classified as a freeway.

How long was I going to sit back? Would my daughter be safe growing up in this environment? I wanted to do something before something happened to me!

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In the middle of all this, my wife and I attended the LACBC’s Firefly Ball last October. We unintentionally split off during the reception saying hello and making new friends. When we sat down for dinner, she told me about meeting this guy named Damian and that he was looking for help for Finish the Ride.

“Have you heard of him?”, my wife asked.

Even after the inaugural Finish the Ride, Damian could constantly be seen in the news supporting safe streets and as a strong voice against hit and runs. In a short amount of time, he has become the one of the most visible cycling advocates in the city.

I did not see him again that evening, but I figured our paths would cross soon.

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Remember my cyclocross bike? The next month I showed up for the races at Griffith Park. Not to ride. I’ve already proven to the world that I’m awkward dismounting my bike. It’s far more fun to heckle. That’s where I shine!

After dispensing all my clever comments(taking seconds), I ran into Damian at the Finish the Ride booth. He did not remember me from our Disney experience, but the talk with my wife was still fresh. We spoke about the upcoming ride and set a date to discuss matters further at a place where 70% of all things get done in Los Angeles: a Coffee Bean!

Damian running the LA Marathon
Damian running the LA Marathon

We got down to business quickly. Going into it, I had no idea about what the organization looked like, but I soon learned that Damian was running most of the show himself, which is pretty amazing considering all there is to balance.

There were two main subjects we talked about. The first was obviously this year’s event, but the other was the formation of a new non-profit called Streets Are For Everyone or S.A.F.E.

The name pretty much tells it all and really speaks to my plight. As a person who has avoided his fair share of collisions as a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, making the roads safer for my family has been paramount. You want your children to grow up in a better environment than what was provided for you. Attitudes are changing and I knew it would be fulfilling to play a role in it.

I agreed to take on the role of Director of Education. Even though I may not have the perfect resume, Damian put together Finish the Ride without any prior experience either, so why not? In the world of cycling advocacy, there is no direct formula. Making strides is not easy, but unless you have the passion and drive, then you’ll be stopped by the many hurdles you’ll face.

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With Finish the Ride coming up this Sunday, I ask for your support. Do the ride. Volunteer. Show up to cheer.

Not just for Damian. Not for the many families that will be riding in memory for those unjustly taken away. Not even for the numbers of lives that can be saved.

This is more about you.

Cycling is a community. As much as Finish the Ride has high goals, no single entity will be able to do it all.

Start somewhere. The LACBC and their many chapters are a great place to go if you’re at square one. Get involved with other causes, like the Milt Olin Foundation, Yield to Life, Andy’s Law, the Conor Lynch Foundation and Ride2Recovery, that have a narrative of their own.

Follow Ted Rogers, Streetsblog LA, Bike the Vote, Flying Pigeon and the many other blogs that keep us informed. Visit your local bike shop. Attend a neighborhood council meeting. Find a club. Ride a Ciclavia. Just go.

Start being involved. Start meeting the people making things happen. Start being part of the change. Start Sunday.