November 13, 2019

Honoring Julian Katz, Cycling King of Hermosa Beach

Julian Katz

You usually need to be famous to get a street named after you. Really famous. Consider the recent renaming of Los Angeles’ Rodeo Road in the Crenshaw neighborhood as Obama Boulevard. 

Julian Katz’s name recognition doesn’t come close to that of former President Barack Obama, but in his longtime hometown of Hermosa Beach, Katz was something of a celebrity and, by all accounts, a universally beloved one. So earlier this summer — on the one-year anniversary of his death at the age of 88 — the South Bay city honored Katz by naming a 1.3-mile sharrow the Julian Katz Bike Lane.

Dozens of friends, acquaintances and fellow cycling enthusiasts came out for the official unveiling of street signs for the shared lane markings along Hermosa Avenue. Royal blue was Katz’s favorite color, thus the signs’ bright blue background. The color also was chosen as a nod to his love of sailing, while the curlicue design at the top is evocative of his trademark mustache.

It’s a fitting honor for the late aerospace engineer who traveled everywhere and anywhere he could by bicycle, and did volunteer work for many years to make Hermosa Beach and the surrounding communities more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. He did so motivated by concern for the environment, his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and wanting to get others out of their cars, off their screens, and exercising and engaging with the world.

“He could be incredibly persistent about the things he believed in. But he was never self-righteous.” — Jeff Duclos

“This idea of making our city more bike friendly, adding dedicated bike lanes, it’s not easy,” said city councilman and former mayor Jeff Duclos. “He was the voice. That’s a really difficult position to be in, going against the status quo, trying to bring about a change but you don’t have a position of authority. He was the first person to get the city to dedicate a street as a shared roadway.” 

Katz’s efforts included having boldly painted bicycle symbols and arrows on the street. “[This] was important because, just that marker on the roadway, we have learned over the years, changes the behavior of people driving their cars,” Duclos said.

Katz also was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the South Bay Bikeway Master Plan, an ambitious undertaking still in the works that aims to nearly triple the network of bikeways in seven South Bay cities (the new Julian Katz Bike Lane is part of this network).

For Katz’s widow, chaplain Gila Katz, the bike lane naming and attendant fanfare have brought a lot of emotion.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s all mixed feelings,” the Israeli native said. “On the one hand, there’s tremendous happiness and pride in all that he was able to accomplish. And then it’s very painful because he’s gone. There’s tremendous appreciation for the love and care this community has shown to Julian, and the fact they are committed to continuing this work and committed to continuing to put in bike paths in Hermosa and the other cities.”

Calling her late husband a “really unusual man,” Gila added, “One of the things that was so unusual about him is that he could convince people to do things. He had a great sense of humor. He was very gentle. He didn’t quit. He had such a nice way about him.” 

Locals held Katz in such high esteem that one of the South Bay Bike Coalition leaders, Jim Hannon, adopted a well-known acronym and attributed it to Katz.

“WWJD,” Duclos said. “What Would Julian Do? I think he had that impact on people. He did it the right way. He could be incredibly persistent about the things he believed in. But he was never self-righteous. He was never preachy. He lived his life in a way that was not just admirable but to be emulated.”