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Cycling is Best Way to Discover Downtown Santa Monica

By Frank Gruber

June 16, 2014 -- Not that I’d noticed before I started writing this article about bicycling Downtown, but this spring marked an important 20th anniversary in my life: it was in the spring of 1994 that I began commuting by bike from my house in Ocean Park to my office in Downtown Santa Monica.

I am an entertainment lawyer, and in 1993 I was practicing in Beverly Hills when my two colleagues and I decided to dissolve our partnership. There were various reasons, but one of mine was that I had a 3-year-old back home in Santa Monica, and I wanted to spend more time near him and less time commuting.

In the spring of 1994 I moved into the Clock Tower Building and began my career as a commuter cyclist. In 2003, I moved into the Central Tower Building and continued pedaling to work.

My commute is short, about 10 minutes in either direction. From my house in Ocean Park I ride up Sixth Street, jog over to Fourth, take a left on Broadway, and park behind the office.

I usually go home by way of Main Street, past City Hall and Tongva Park – to be honest, while I don’t mind going north on Fourth Street between Pico and Colorado, cycling south on those same blocks is scary. The road surface is bad, and the cars go fast. (Northbound cars don’t go so fast because there is usually a line to get on the freeway that “calms” the traffic.)

Why do I commute by bike? People tell me that it must be great exercise and commend me for what I’m doing for the environment, but those aren’t the reasons I bike.

My commute is so short that my wife (a great believer in working out) rolls her eyes when I try to categorize my commuting as exercise. Nor do I ride from any great sense of environmental responsibility: if I drove, my commute would be so short that my carbon footprint would still be minimal compared to that of most American commuters.

No, the reasons I bike are entirely self-gratifying: cycling is a lot of fun, and it’s the best way to get around Santa Monica.

Santa Monica is paradise for cyclists. The city is relatively flat (I go to great lengths to avoid the hills on Pico and Ocean Park boulevards) and, no surprise, the weather is perfect. Did I mention not having to find a parking space, and that cyclists never get stuck in traffic?

I also like having my bicycle at the office. I love it when I have a lunch or a doctor’s appointment in the eastern half of town because a 15-minute bike ride in the middle of the day is the perfect antidote to sitting at a desk staring at a computer.

Another benefit is how efficient having the bike makes getting around Downtown. My father lives in an apartment on Sixth Street, about three blocks from my office. I often go there for lunch. It’s only a six or seven-minute walk, but by bike it takes less than half the time. If I want to add an errand, say a trip to my bank at Fourth and Arizona, it’s a snap.

That said it’s hard to use a bike for everything. I have a briefcase that attaches to my bike like a saddlebag, and it holds a lot. I also have shopping bag-size saddlebags, but if you want to go on a shopping spree at the Farmers’ Market, unless you have one of those cargo trailers that are becoming popular among serious cyclists, it’s convenient to have a car.

A lot of people ask me if I feel safe riding a bike Downtown. I once had a serious bike accident, but it was on Ocean Park Boulevard. I have never felt nervous riding a bike Downtown.

Traffic is busy, but calmed. Motorists need to drive slowly and are looking out for pedestrians. You can’t ride fast, but it’s unlikely you’re going to be hit by a speeding car. I hope it goes without saying that I never ride my bike on the sidewalk – that’s not only unsafe, but in Santa Monica it’s illegal.

In more ways than one, bikes and cyclists belong in the street.

For more information on cycling, visit

Frank Gruber is a former columnist for the Lookout. His columns are complied in the book “Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal.”


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