The Two Figueroas

As you probably know if you read this blog with any frequency, the MyFigueroa project, which would convert a traffic-harried stretch of the other Figueroa, the one linking USC to Downtown, into a multi-modal greenway with a showpiece cycle track, has been threatened by business-as-usual blindness among some stodgy but influential entities along the street. Chief among these has been the Shammas car dealer cabal, which instituted a lawsuit against the plan to open Figueroa to transit users, cyclists, and walkers. However, USC and a museum or two in Exposition park also got itchy over the feeling that they would no longer have a car bong sluicing visitors into their corporate gullets…even though there are now three Expo Line stops between the school and the park, with more capacity than any street. And the bikeway itself, once folks got used to feeling they were actually permitted to ride on Fig, would be able to bring more people in than all the turgid traffic jams that car salesmen must dream of in their smoggy somnolence.

This area’s council member trembled with fear when he heard the wheeler-dealers whining (perhaps fear of losing the campaign contributions of the corridor’s fat cats), and for a long time it looked as though the MyFigueroa project would not be able to start before a Federal deadline attached to its funding, and so lose its grant.

However, as Joe Linton reports in Streetsblog LA, a strident public outcry led to some backroom dealings (fortunately involving steady supporter José Huizar of the city council and hard work by technical staff, plus the personal involvement of Mayor Garcetti), further bolstered by a meeting last Tuesday packed with a compelling variety of MyFig supporters. After the public comment period and a show of hands, leading to the revelation of the secret deal (but not of many details), it looked as though the project now has a decent chance of moving ahead. That is, as long as we the people spend some more public money on redundant studies assuaging the anxieties of the corridor’s backwards-looking bigwigs. Let’s keep our attention on developments; it ain’t over till it’s over. (And sometimes not even then, as users of the formerly-green Spring Street lane can attest.)

But there’s another Figueroa, the one NELA knows and would love to love, if it weren’t so abusive of neighborhood residents and businesses. This is North Figueroa, championed by Fig4All, born out of the very same Flying Pigeon LA that hosts this blog.

With the terming-out of Ed Reyes and the ascendancy of the petulant Gil Cedillo, the project—which had been ready to sail ahead—finds itself in the doldrums. Cars continue to speed at far over the limit on a bleak street lined with schools and struggling businesses, and cut-through motorists are structurally privileged over merchants and residents. The street is overbuilt for the traffic volume it sees, and so drivers ratchet up the horsepower and blow past storefronts and through crosswalks all day long—as well as any pedestrian hapless enough to dare crossing the asphalt desert that the smeared windshield perspective of past decades has burdened us with. Despite repeated public meetings, announcements, and straw votes always overwhelmingly favoring a simple and inexpensive road diet and bike lanes for this neighborhood corridor, the project drifts.

It’s particularly ironic since the sole major institution in the area is Occidental College, alma mater to: Janette Sadik-Khan, who revolutionized New York City’s transport priorities to favor walking, bikes, and transit, and so boosted the local economy; our own ur-advocate Joe Linton; and well-known community organizer Barack Obama.

Considering that North Figueroa is bracketed by a four-lane freeway on one side, and a major light rail line on the other, there is no human reason to keep it as yet another car bong driving local communities and commerce into the gutter.

Mayor Garcetti was a major force in the development of the growing consensus on the more-glamorous MyFig project. Perhaps it’s time for Hizzoner to take a jaunt around Elysian Park and help out a struggling neighborhood that is waiting for a Complete Street of its own on North Figueroa to bring it back to life.

We are LA too.

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2 Comments

  1. Melanie Freeland
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    YES! I couldn’t agree more. What can we do to make our voices heard with Gil Cedillo? I’ve been writing him every month asking when the project is moving forward and each time his staff responds that they are going to have ‘community outreach period’ even though we know that has already happened. I’m very willing to volunteer time. We can go business to business and get a letter writing came started? Start a petition and get signatures? Other ideas?

  2. MaxUtility
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    @Melanie – There will be community meetings in April and May for this project. I think getting good turnout in support will be critical to moving this forward. You can email alek@la-bike.org to ask to be put on the announcement list. I’d also recommend writing to the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council which has an upcoming vote to support/oppose. http://www.asnc.us