It comes from the fact that the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco is the same as the drive from Paris to Zurich. The interstate freeway system allows you to rapidly cross vast expanses of nothing that aren't common anywhere but Africa and Central Asia and in town, the roads are designed to emulate the interstate freeway system.
Find a bike path. Ride it. Google actually does a pretty good job of giving you bike directions these days. According to Runkeeper I've biked 3500 miles in the past two years. My total investment was $800 for the bike in 2009, three sets of tires, a replacement crank, sprocket and two chains.