See you in the streets

A ghost bike, DIY bike lanes and sharrows, and procession for Bizzy

The image above is from a vigil for “Bizzy” – killed by a speeding drunk driver at Marmion Way and North Figueroa Street.


This post is a response to a defamatory, slanderous, unhinged blog post by Sahra Sulaiman of Streetsblog LA published one week before the May 16, 2017 General Election for the Los Angeles City Council District 1 seat I was a candidate for. You can read Sahra Sulaiman’s biased rant here. My response was originally posted as a comment on Streetsblog LA but was labelled “spam” by Streetsblog LA staff.


I am still shocked that Sahra Sulaiman’s essay was published on Streetsblog LA.

First, because of the multiple instances of (what I interpret) as an intentional misreading of nearly everything I’ve written online. Second, because of the highly personal nature of this attack and its proximity to an election in which I was the “better” candidate for all the issues that Streetsblog LA was founded to support in local politics.

My disagreements with some, not all, of what Sahra Sulaiman has written and said in the past had to do with the practical politics of installing bike infrastructure, pedestrian projects, and generally building up (instead of tearing apart) the political alliances that have come to define whatever the Livable Streets movement was at a given point in time.

I felt, and I still feel, that several of her articles and some of her positions are counter-productive in a practical sense. For example, yes, I agree with her reading and description of unequal police response when it comes to traffic stops. No, I don’t think that is reason enough to stop forward momentum on the installation of bike and walk infrastructure in communities of color – which despite her protestations, is exactly what she’s advocated for regarding Central Avenue. I bring up the example of Central Avenue bike lanes to highlight that I have been consistent in my desire to see on-the-ground projects built and legal changes made. Saving lives and helping enable a measurably healthier, happier, and economically productive life for as many people as possible is why I got into this movement.

Sahra, I feel, often wants to highlight an ethical or moral failing either of a large system, or of an individual – and will do so quite effectively, but will sacrifice seeing what works to address issues of physical safety, physical and mental health, in order to achieve the communication of a larger injustice, or make an ethical or moral point. She is very good at what she does, but her results speak for themselves – there isn’t a project in this city, or a law or change in policy, that I’m aware of that can be chalked up to her journalism.

I’ll admit: I have a tendency to move to verbally stomp on anyone attempting to narrate the future of this city away from the endpoint of safer streets, healthier people, and a fiscally sound local government. This isn’t always the right move, practically speaking, but it is one honed through years of slogging through meetings, rallies, and events as a vociferous advocate rather than as a scared bystander – and watching friends, acquaintances, and neighbors die or be grievously injured in preventable car crashes while riding their bikes, or crossing the street. It wasn’t until I found a voice as a self-schooled transportation policy analyst and a rhetorical bomb thrower that my work started moving policy decisions, and peoples ideas about this city, in a given direction.

After the devastation I felt following the death of 17-year-old Andres Perez at Avenue 60 and North Figueroa by a city truck, I put that part of my personality aside. I have been desperate for change in the dangerous streets in my community, but attacking Councilman Cedillo rhetorically about traffic safety simply wasn’t enough. I had to broaden the attack, and build outrage for his term in office around more than traffic safety. In my run for city council, I was able to bring together several disparate political groups – including some of our local closet conservatives, by focusing not on righting injustices but on addressing practical problems we all want to see solved.

I worked to help people find common cause with those they normally would write off as being the wrong skin color, the wrong ethnic background, or wrong class. This problem of writing off the value of a coalition with “the wrong sort” of people isn’t limited to right-wing groups and people. In fact, many of our city’s self-proclaimed “inclusive” groups and leaders are deeply vested in insulting and walking away from working with anyone symbolically of “the wrong sort”. It isn’t easy to do what I did in a city this complex and diverse, and I’m proud that my door knocking efforts to sway voters by talking about repairing park bathrooms and making it safe enough for everyone to cross the street to buy something from the local store found success with voters.

As someone who has been a part of the conversation on Streetsblog LA from its beginning, a true believer in what the site and those who worked on it stood for, I cannot express how disgusted I am to have ever trusted the bonds I thought our shared efforts over the years represented. That a defamatory headline, a slew of personal attacks in the heat of a political campaign, would send all the “brave” and “fierce” and “courageous” (to judge by their Instagram and Facebook feeds, and my former opinion of some of them) safe streets advocates running for cover speaks volumes about what this “community” really is, how fragile our power was, and how badly it has been fractured, not by my campaign but by the intrusion of identity politics into our everyday lives.

If a decade of actions and words, what amounts to the central project of my entire adult life, can’t stand up to partisan sniping before an election and whatever motivates Sahra Sulaiman to produce unhinged rants – you can expect the pace of bike lanes and sidewalks to continue to slow, the pace of street deaths to increase, and for the winds of politics to wipe away the political and cultural opportunity that had opened for a more livable Los Angeles.

That is certainly the case in Los Angeles’ 1st District for the time being.

See you in the streets.

1 Comment

On our own, once again, like always


My comments are being blocked on Los Angeles Streetsblog while the words of my critics (on other posts) are left up. Why? Who else is being silenced in the livable streets community?

I suspect my comments are being blocked because the site, at this point, is little more than a black hole for tax deductions and ego stroking for their miniscule well-heeled donor base. The last thing the site exists for is working towards solving any of the problems in our local transportation and land use system.

My existence, my voice, and the voice of anyone complaining “Hey, isn’t this about safer streets and a more livable city?” is a threat to the often bizarre meta-narrative of divisive, tail-chasing, identity politics the site has been sidetracked on for several years now.

The reporting from the past couple of years has turned into either bystander journalism (e.g. “I attended a public meeting! My NGO friends are great!”); evoking an “Oh dear!” and little else from the readers; or, worse yet, silencing real conversation and debate by making any questioning of a blog post a symbol of how hopelessly gauche, dishonest, or racist the questioner is.

Every other week the site presents one great injustice after another with no means of moving forward other than trusting in the executive directors of other tax deduction puppy mills or lighting candles to the technocrats in some obscure office in Downtown.

My recommendation: if you are a donor, take your money elsewhere.

If you are interested in livable streets in Los Angeles, for the time being (and like always), you’re on your own once again.

Leave a comment

So, what comes next?

It has been over a year since I hauled the last box of stuff from the Flying Pigeon storefront; just a few months after that my campaign for city council went down in flames.

I was falsely accused of racism, homophobia, transphobia, fat hate, anti-Mexicanism, anti-Americanism and had a horde of intellectual gate-keepers in this city screaming at me to apologize and disappear.

People with whom I had worked for years, people whose causes I had donated time, passion, and money to, people whose values I thought I shared denounced me on the basis of a series of pre-election partisan attack pieces.

So, what comes next? For me, pretty much nothing. I’ve been doing more housework; repairing appliances; dropping off and picking up my kid. For the bicyclists and safe streets advocates in LA, the answer is simple: we’re mostly screwed from now until at least 2020 and most likely 2022 and beyond.

The Drop of a Blog Post

Like government officials and politicians, non-profit executives and journalists get paid if things stay broken and their donors only give when things are.

Whatever political hand we held in local politics has been exposed as an empty bluff. Our self appointed “leaders” in livable streets politics will ignore years of actual work, building political coalitions across mainstream political lines and across economic and cultural divides; our “leaders” will walk away from practical politics at the drop of a blog post in order to score invisible points in a fight for temporary moral high ground in the pot-holed field of identity politics.

Perhaps this is why the bike community held some sway for a few years: we used to get together and coordinate blog posts.

We also used to get together for more than drunkeness and drug abuse on two wheels.

What ails this country now ails the bike community in Los Angeles as well – and that is how it will go for the foreseeable future. We will continue to die and be injured on the streets. Our elected leaders will mock our deaths as they mock our lives and what little power we have. Our power, as cyclists collectively pushing for safe streets, will dwindle as paid advocates in non-profits work diligently to silence and contain any legitimate, and easily addressed, grievances with accusations of “white fragility”, structural racism, equity, and bigoted arguments against our views based on characteristics like our biological gender or the color of our skin. On the other side are all the same old red herrings protecting the status quo: car-only streets are “more efficient”; “Get a job, hippy.”; “This isn’t [insert city or region where streets are safe].”; “Tax bicycles!”; “Bike lanes will slow emergency response times.”; “Idling cars means more pollution.”; “Lance Armstrong wannabes.”; etc., etc., etc.

There is no escape from the trap that we have laid out for ourselves other than to do what cyclists were doing in the 1990’s – developing in each individual person the skills and knowledge to pass on the humble flame of hope on two wheels. The time has come again to wait, and watch, and prepare. The doing season is over.

What comes next? Just one call out blog post, civic catastrophe, and ecological calamity after another until we see a chance to break through again with the dream of a city that is built to respect human needs over motorized transportation.

Leave a comment

Psst! Wanna Buy a Pigeon?

A Flying Pigeon bike shop, that is. Central location between a Gold Line stop and what could be one of LA’s most significant bikeways and all-around shopping street, if Joe Bray-Ali wins his race to replace “Roadkill Gil” Cedillo in CD1.

Joe’s put the renowned Flying Pigeon LA shop that sponsors this blog up for sale, and the proceeds will go right into his campaign. If he wins, the North Figueroa road diet that a previous incarnation of the City Council approved in a unanimous vote will be built. It was funded, designed, and ready to go, and only Cedillo’s petulance has kept Figueroa the Slaughter Alley of Northeast.

And if Joe wins, you win: your shop will be a centerpiece of a street that will blossom with retail life—as streets worldwide have done after road diets, bike lanes, and better sidewalks slowed down the cut-through traffic and made room for rollers, strollers, and neighborhood shoppers instead. People will no longer be afraid to cross the street for a cup of coffee, a new shirt, or their next bike.

Imagine a Figueroa with no more blood in the gutter….

Buy the shop, and you might become not only an entrepreneur but a neighborhood legend, just like Joe!

Contact Joe at info@flyingpigeon-la.com. The fifteen grand asking price gets you a much-loved name, a built-up shop with seven months still on the lease, a website, and a bit of inventory. Oh, yeah, and a revitalized city council that will work hard to keep small businesses such as yours thriving in healthy, happy neighborhoods!

If you’re not quite ready to become an entrepreneur, you can just donate directly to the campaign through ActBlue.

Either way, you win!

1 Comment

More than the “Bike Guy”

The Joe4cd1 campaign has been pretty happy over getting a mention in the LA Times this week.

However, this is not unalloyed good new: the article’s editor felt compelled to pigeonhole our Joe as “an outspoken bicycle advocate.,” and his candidacy as a response to incumbent Cedillo’s having “angered bicycling proponents by canceling plans for bike lanes in his district.”

This plays right into Cedillo’s claim that Joe represents a (mythical) entitled minority who just want to play with their grown-up toys on NELA’s streets.

This is simply not true. Although bikeways are definitely a significant plank in Joe’s platform, they are really an enabling technology for neighborhood transformation, along with many other proposals: better sidewalks, rational parking requirements for new construction, encouragement of human-scale developments. These, along with slower, safer streets, nurture the kinds of locally-owned small businesses that cater to neighborhood tastes, rather than try to reshape them to corporate convenience. Businesses that provide more and better-paying retail and service jobs than the retail behemoths typically bring in.

The campaign’s slogan isn’t “Bike Lanes Everywhere.” The slogan is “Safe Streets, Strong Neighborhoods.”

Streetscape changes supportive of active travel, transit, and a busy public life on the sidewalks of the Figueroa Corridor mean a physically, socially, and financially healthier neighborhood. Bike lanes have long been shown to be a tool that both slows down deadly traffic and promotes a lively mixing of the public and private realms in our common spaces. Besides letting neighbors get to local stores without being coerced into the material encumbrances of cars.

In other words, Joe Bray-Ali isn’t the “bike guy.” He’s the “community guy.”

Don’t forget that. Not when you vote, not when you talk with neighbors. Joe’s here for you.

Comments Off on More than the “Bike Guy”

Actual Usefulness–OMG What Next?

I saw something last Sunday in our little neighbor to the west that impressed me mightily…. I was in Santa Monica hunting down a couple of bags of Caffe Luxxe coffee beans as a gift for my wife when I passed by a Breeze bikeshare doc.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in SaMo—the docks are everywhere—but what particularly impressed me was that this dock was in the middle of a purely residential area, surrounded by blocks of low-rise apartment buildings. Right at 4th and Washington; that’s it in the photo above.

This makes sense—if you want to make bikeshare a viable replacement to car trips, users have to be able to start from home, or at least a short walk from home. (In my neighborhood, the Miracle Mile, drivers often park their cars a ten-minute trot from the front door. How about bikeshare, here, to help folks transition to transit?)

I haven’t yet seen too much of that from Metro Bike Share, the system serving the City of Los Angeles. There is one very large dock in front of the glitzy Promenade Towers complex at 2nd and Figueroa, just outside the famous tunnel, and it seems to be well-used, but it also seems to be an exception. I hope I am wrong, but I haven’t yet seen much attention to purely residential placements of bikeshare racks.

SaMo’s homely Breeze dock in front of the sort of places everyday folks can afford is exactly what all bikeshare systems need. SaMo’s are on a street with bike lanes—but that seems to be about half the streets in that city. The Promenade’s dock is also on a street with bikelanes, though if you’re heading west on 2nd they disappear within less than a mile. In the other direction, the tunnel takes you to the busy and very crowded center city, as well as Grand Central Market and loads of other destinations, so what we have here would be a good model for other, high-density but not wealthy parts of LA. I will dare to feel optimistic.

Even more so because this morning I saw a Metro Bike Share dock across the street from Evans Adult School—another good placement. At last bikeshare is getting away from the parks-and-offices-only placement paradigm.

Who knows? Given a few more progressive City Council members, and LA, the region’s 800-pound gorilla, might be able to lead the change to a cleaner and more equitable future…instead of always playing catch-up.

3 Comments

Will North Fig Return from the Dead?

North Fig may be back from the dead, it seems. For a long time, the long-planned (and approved, and funded, and…) road diet for NELA’s main drag has languished, treated with malign neglect by DC1’s malignant Gil Cedillo, and considered, if at all, with resignation by our city’s battered bike advocacy world. Only Joe Bray-Ali has kept it in the news much at all, with this blog and his Fig4All campaign….

But now, The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition seems poised to make some sort of statement on the issue, though what it might entail, we don’t know yet. Could be a bold push, could be a timid accommodation. But, we have a chance to find out!

The LACBC’s Tamika Butler has announced a “Meetup with Tamika” at the Arroyo Seco library, the handsome riverstone building on Fig just west of York Boulevard, and North Figueroa will be one of the subjects to be discussed. This is scheduled for Thursday, December 8th, at half-past six. Yes, two days from this posting….

This is not, then, a meeting to miss if you’re a NELA stakeholder with any interest in bicycling specifically, and transportation issues generally. It will be a chance to let the county’s self-proclaimed bike advocacy leadership know what it is you, as NELA residents, want from them when they march into city offices on your behalf.

The event page shows only nine RSVPs so far; let’s see if we can make it ninety, with the grassroots advocates who have been working so hard on the North Fig Road Diet representing the community viewpoint. We don’t want two-block demos; we want the full-length road diet that the Council approved and funded years ago, before Cedillo’s ascension!

Be there, and make sure your voice is heard.

Meetup with Tamika
December 08, 2016 at 6:30pm – 8pm
Arroyo Seco Library
6145 N Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90042

With Joe’s campaign heating up, this is a good time to make another push for the North Fig Road Diet.

Because North Fig is a Near-Death Experience for every user now, even those in cars….

3 Comments

Building the Future, One Slice at a Time

Of course you want Flying Pigeon’s heart and soul, Joe Bray-Ali, to win the District 1 City Council seat this spring. After all. not only is he the “Bike Guy,” but he’s so much more: the “Safe Streets for All” guy, the “Thriving Small Businesses” guy, the “Development without Displacement” guy, the “Parks for People” guy, the “Strong Local Communities” guy, the “Good Schools” guy….

You might wonder how he’s going to do all this; you might have a few questions for him. Is he an easy guy to talk to? Yes, he is, when you can catch him. He’s out knocking on doors a lot these days, but you don’t have to stay home waiting him to turn up on your doorstep. Because he’s inviting you to his door, tomorrow, in fac. And he’ll even feed you pizza!

Check it out: You—yes, you!—are invited to a Pizza & Petition Party at campaign HQ tomorrow,Wednesday, November 30th, right in Cypress Park at 7pm, at 3346 N. Figueroa St.

Be there, and Joe will feed you body and soul…and you’ll get a chance to help him line up the petition signatures he needs to qualify for matching funds from the City—something that’ll really help move his campaign along.

Here’s the announcement page to keep you in the loop:

BREAKING ELECTION NEWS: FREE PIZZA

And if you miss that one, on December 10th, there’s a Joe4cd1 Campaign Party!

Same place, 3346 N. Figueroa St., at 6pm this time, and you can party on till 11pm. Meet Joe, question him, challenge him, dance with him, build a better future with Joe Bray-Ali.

It’s about time we took over now, isn’t it?

Comments Off on Building the Future, One Slice at a Time

Ending the Runaround

Here’s a little something for Josef Bray-Ali to take with him to the city council when (wth your help) he takes over the District 1 seat currently occupied by Dr. Donothing, ie Gil Cedillo. It doesn’t address bicycling directly, but it would benefit active transport since it would minimize traffic on local streets in many high-density neighborhoods by eliminating most drivers’ perceived necessity to cruise the ‘hood in frantic search for a parking spot. It would also reduce resistance to road diets and other street rationalizations that might call for the “sacrifice of a few (tax-subsidized) curbside parking spots.

I developed this with my own Miracle Mile neighborhood in mind, and hope to shepherd it through our community council, on whose board I sit. However, it would work in most of the more populated neighborhoods of the city, which generally include extensive commercial areas, and would include Chinatown, Pico-Union, Downtown, and parts of Lincoln Heights in District 1.

Shared Parking Plan

Lack of parking is one of the major complaints I hear from residents in my neighborhood, ans fear of lack of parking is one of the reasons most frequently given for opposing higher-density development, even in TOD areas.

Yet most commercial areas actually have abundant parking, as has been shown in survey after survey. The problem is, most of it is hoarded by its private owners. So parking lots and parking structures remain half-empty all day, and almost entirely empty all night, while residents living a block or tow away, or even right next door, cruise needlessly round and round looking for an unencumbered street parking space.

This piles up vehicle miles traveled of the worst sort, for they serve no purpose at all, and it stokes resistance to healthy development.

Many other cities have begun to experiment with “shared parking,” wherein owners of private parking spaces offer excess capacity to the public for a fee. There is at least one building in our neighborhood that already does this, and before the lot behind the a nearby office tower was developed, the back two rows were rented to residents.

I suggest that our council develop a proposal asking that a formal protocol be developed to promote shared parking in high-density districts such as ours. The essential elements would be this:

1) A formal inventory of all off-street parking in a proposed shared parking district.

2) A city-maintained clearinghouse for parking data, matching verified residents with available parking.

3) Guidelines for fees to be charged, so that parking operators (who are often not the building owners) would be assured of making a reasonable profit that they would share with parking owners, so that everyone have a stake in the process.

4) A city-backed liability insurance plan protecting parking owners from claims brought by parking customers.

5) Persuasive materials detailing benefits of parking and building owners of the plan, such as:

a) Increased income to building owners and parking operators
b) Guaranteed customer flow twice a day, supporting retail tenants
c) Increased security from added neighborhood foot traffic in parking structures, and from watchful eyes of residential parking customers in buildings adjacent to lots they are likely to use

This is an incremental step towards a more sustainable neighborhood, increasing physical and social safety, reducing the need to cruise for a parking spot, and boosting business income in the area.

Comments Off on Ending the Runaround

Taking Back the Future

I hope you noticed, amid the sound and fury of the national campaigns, that Measure M passed in Los Angeles County.

That means an extra half percent of sales tax for the next forty years or so, all to be dedicated to transportation. Yes, your latte may cost you two pennies more, but we’ll get a healthier, more accessible Metro system, better sidewalks and bike paths, and even a bit of road repair done.

This is a very good thing, because Federal transportation support may dry up during the darkness to come. Sure, the Unnamable One promised infrastructure spending, but if it happens at all—given the draconian nature of the tax cuts promised—it’s likely we won’t be able to build so much as a plywood tollbooth with whatever funds are left after fattening the military and the security state.

Assuming we’ll still be permitted to travel, we’ll have to pay for it ourselves&heliip;and that is what we’ve chosen to do in LA. Like grown-up polities everywhere, we’ve assessed a tax on ourselves for our collective benefit.

The Teabaggers who engineered this coup want to take us back to medieval times, when starving peasants cowered around the lord’s fancy castle, waiting for a crumb or a whipping. Those knights of old that seem so romantic? They were the SS of the wealthy, who considered themselves anointed by a god that Jesus sure would never have recognized as Dad.

LA didn’t go along. We passed measures supporting not only transportation choice, but affordable housing all around and extensive help for our homeless neighbors.

But, we have to make certain the money is well-spent. And a big influence on how it is spent comes from the City Council. And too much of the City Council suffers from its own medieval mindset.

So I’m going to remind you once again: support Joe Bray-Ali’s campaign to take over the Council District 1 seat in March. Donate some cash, chase down signatures, walk door-to-door with Joe. And vote!

Don’t know whether you’re in District 1? Put your address in at this page and you’ll find out.

Want to learn more about Joe’s campaign and how to help? Got to Joe4CD1.com.

See you in the future!

Comments Off on Taking Back the Future
  • What's Up?

    We're closed!
    But the blog posts keep on comin'