When the Big One Hits, We’ll Be Mobile

An email I received from the office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) regarding earthquake preparedness left me at a loss, and (this time) I figured out why. It suggested preparing the typical things, like strapping water heaters and having water supplies. Those are good ideas.

Enough supplies to stay at home, but not enough to carry on...

The kit suggests enough supplies to stay at home, but not enough to carry on living.
We have to get around!

But what about transportation after a disaster strikes?

I’ve lived through the aftermath of one major earthquake as an adult, the 1994 Northridge quake. It brought down the Santa Monica Freeway. Street-level motor-vehicle traffic in Los Angeles was a seriously impacted¬†for quite a while after, and forget parking your car in a multi-level parking lot until the engineers signed off that it was still stable.*

I poked through the links on the Senator’s email and, while I found suggestions that we keep our cars maintained, I couldn’t find anything about how we were supposed to get to work, or to school, or to the store, the doctor, the community center or any of the other places we might need to go after an earthquake.

What if roads are too damaged for driving, the traffic lights don’t work or there is little or no fuel? For everyone in my neighborhood it means a long walk to the closest store. But it would be a very nice bike ride.

We'll be mobile.

We’ll be mobile.

So, my email response to Senator Boxer:

“Dear Senator Boxer,

As a Californian, it is hard to imagine an earthquake preparedness kit without provisions for immediate transportation after a damaging quake. You will remember the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which destroyed Interstate 880 in San Francisco and the 1994 Northridge quake which brought down the Santa Monica Freeway.

When another earthquake large enough to do damage to our already strained California transportation network does occur, there would be no way for most of us to get to work or to school, stores, doctors, community meetings et cetera. This is because roads could be too damaged for cars to use, traffic signals may be non-functioning and gasoline supplies may be limited or cut off entirely. A bicycle will be the only reliable transport available, does not need gasoline and can manage the roads when they are too damaged for cars.

Your office should be recommending all Californians have bicycles in good repair for every member of the family, extra tubes and the ability to patch a flat tire. At least one bike per family should have a handlebar basket to carry briefcases, schoolbooks, groceries and other supplies.

Yours sincerely,


You may do the same here.

* Here’s a 2002 USDOT report on transportation issues in Los Angeles after the 1994 earthquake. Note, in Appendix A, Day 3, Metrolink went so far as to let bicycles on the train. We’ve come a long way!