Neighborhood Networks

One of the ills Kar Kultur brings with it is the fragmenting of neighborhoods, as blocks are sundered by wide streets teeming with fast and all too often deadly traffic. People are either coerced into driving by the contrived and complete absence of comfortable and safe alternatives, or they just stay home. And you can’t get to know your neighbors when all you see of each other is a shadowy figure behind the windshield of a speeding car. This inhibits commerce as well, since drivers don’t want to interrupt their momentum to scan the local storefronts. Instead, they just follow their fellow lemmings to the great financial cliff of a distant mall, sucked into the whirlpool of the parking lot to be spit out later, stripped of money and spirit by the sharp-toothed minions of distant corporations.

Building bike lanes, improving sidewalks, and slowing car traffic are not only proven ways to reduce road deaths and injuries of all sorts;they also build cohesive neighborhoods and support the local businesses that provide the majority of jobs in the US, and return much of the money they earn to the neighborhoods their owners and staff tend also to live in.

Such neighborhood businesses are better at funding government services as well, from administration to schools, parks, libraries, and emergency services, all dependent on tax revenues. The famous “Taco John’s” study is a good quantification of this effect; it shows how even a semi-decrepit pedestrian-oriented block is worth more to the community and the local government in cold hard cash than a glitzy automobile-oriented chain store taking up the same amount of space. I strongly recommend this well-written report on the study:

The Cost of Auto Orientation (Update).

Just don’t expect our local ostrich, Gil Cedillo, to dare to read it himself. It might upset his shadowy out-of-district backers if he did so….

Meanwhile, if you want to get a really close view of that corner of NELA known as Eagle Rock, which, unlike Highland Park’s Figueroa corridor, is blessed with bike lanes and traffic calming on its main drag, Colorado Boulevard, here’s a suggestion: get yourself over there on Saturday, August 23rd (the day after tomorrow at posting time), for the Eagle Rock Walking Tour. Put on by Walk Eagle Rock (which also advocates tirelessly for cycling facilities), it will focus on “community and civic engagement. Eagle Rock has a long history of being an active community and it certainly would not be as fantastic as it is today without the efforts of residents taking the time to participate, on all levels, to improve the neighborhood.”

Just the kind of neighborhood network building we need here in Highland/Cypress, to lay the groundwork for the onstreet networks we’re being denied by our so-called local leadership.

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The Perfect City Bike

Once the artisanal-bicycle aficionados got randonnée bikes out of their systems, they turned their attention to the City Bike: the bike made for short commutes, shopping, bar crawls, visting friends, and so forth, all in a relaxed manner regardless of traffic, night, or weather.

Well, although the artisanoids got the randonneuse down pretty well, generally copying the excellent models made by Alex Singer, René Herse, and Goeland during the heyday of randonneuring in France just after World War Two, when they tried their hand at the city bike, all too many of them tried much too hard to improve upon a design that had already been refined, with variations in different countries, for over a hundred years.

After all, city bikes have to take the knocks of being jammed into the corners of trains and elevators, of being locked up anywhere and everywhere, and of being loaded down with anything from groceries to microwaves as they bounce along often-shattered urban avenues.

And they have to do it in all weathers, and very often in traffic. Not everyone can live in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or Assen.

So the Dutch have their stately cruisers, the Brits the three-speed roadsters so beloved of filmmakers, the Japanese their mama-charis.

And the artisanoids have such bizarre concoctions as:

A fender-free, luggageless hipster whip that won the “Best City or Utility Bike” award at NNAHBS 2104, which, you may be amused to learn, asks the bare brake cables to double as levers, thereby raising the possibility of garroting your own fingers during a panic stop.

Or a strange effort that won the Oregon Manifest’s Bike Design Project’s “Ultimate Urban Utility Bike” award a few weeks ago; it uses shoe brushes for fenders and a snow shovel for a luggage rack.

Both bikes have only minimal lighting as well.

I say, no thanks. Look at the picture at the top of the page again: that is a Miyata “Commuter” model from about thirty years ago, one that could actually serve as a commuter, shopping, or general utility bike. It has fenders, to keep the rain and the much off you; it has a rack to carry things on, and it had lights, as you can see from the generator mount on the fork. In its original form, which you can view here on Flickr, it also sported a front rack for extra capacity, and a chaincase to keep your pantlegs free of grease. And it appears to be a three-speed as well, friendly to the less muscular—or simply more relaxed—amongst us.

This is more akin to an “Ultimate Urban Utility Bike” than either of the above overly-twee concepts, and millions of them are used in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, with similar designs prevalent all over the globe, from India to Africa to Austria and beyond.

The US infatuation with making an impression rather than making an actual bicycle has resulted in such bikes being hard to find here, but companies including as Public, Linus, and Beater do provide very similar but gently modernized versions, and at reasonable prices. (Since the Beater Bikes factory is taking an extended vacation, the Pigeon might be your only chance to pick one up for a while.)

And Flying Pigeon stocks Linus and Beater bikes, as well as genuine Dutch and Danish city and cargo bikes, all of which will carry you, your shopping, and often a friend or a brace of kids all over town in any weather, day or night!

Stop by and check them out. You won’t even have to get on a five-year waiting list to buy one.

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Spoke(n) Art Ride on Saturday, August 9, 2014

Join us for another Spoke(n) Art Ride bicycle tour of art galleries in NELA this Saturday, August 9, 2014!

Meet at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop (3404 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90065) at 6 p.m. The ride departs at 6:30 p.m. for the first stop of the night.

The Spoke(n) Art Ride is a slow-paced, free to the public, bicycle tour of artistic expression and events in NELA. It coincides with NELAart’s 2nd Saturday event – when galleries and other venues open their doors to art and community for free each month.

This month’s ride is going to have a live outdoor performance piece of spoken word, a photographic slide show, and son jarocho music (a folk music from Veracruz, Mexico) as part of the show at the Bike Oven, “Moving Target“.

Don’t have a bike? No problem! Flying Pigeon LA rents single speed beach cruisers with blinkie lights for $20. We have a fleet of bikes – just make sure to show up at or before 6 p.m. to ensure you get a bike! Things get hectic at start time, with dozens of riders congregating at the shop before we leave.

For more general information about the ride, please check out the Bike Oven’s Spoke(n) Art page.
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The Dogs Bark

Across the continent, cities of all sizes and characters are moving ahead with “Complete Streets” and bike lane projects, sometimes rudimentary, sometimes quite advanced. Here’s a short list culled from my own Tweets of the last few days:

I had to reach back a whole six days just to skim those entries from my Twitter feed.

And our own Los Angeles?

The last night I sat in on the regular meeting of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, which couldn’t even muster up a quorum, and so could not actually vote on any actions. We did, however, all did hear a litany of woes recited by LADOT’s long-suffering Senior Bicycle coordinator, Michelle Mowery: staffers leaving or transferred and not replaced, organizational malaise among even the usually stolid engineering staff in the face of reactionary politicians, and the very real prospect of losing Highway Safety Improvement Project funds as safety changes such as the North Figueroa road diet are stalled by the knuckle-draggers and reach their deadlines without groundbreakings—a situation that may disqualify the entire city from applying for HSIP funding going forward. The Federal Highway Administration, as you should know, promotes road diets as a “Proven Safety Countermeasure,” though NELA’s unrepresentative Cedillo knows better; he listens instead to his “gut feelings,” or maybe to the outside interests that support him.

Nevertheless, LA is slowly moving on. Ms. Mowery announced that, because of the complications our muddled politicos introduce, LADOT’s Bikeways is going to fund future projects with local money, which would allow more flexible timelines. We won’t get ahead as fast as we could have, and will continue to lag behind not only other major cities but even small towns, but we will make progress as we slog our way past the special interests that own our council members.

There is a saying from Arab culture that I think applies here:

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

In this case the dogs have nipped at the camels’ heels and slowed them down, but the caravan will still move on.

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The Way of the Armadillo

Well, I’m going to try to get through an entire column without writing NELA’s dreaded C-word…you know, the one that rhymes with “armadillo.”

For those of you not from Texas, let me explain what an armadillo is: it’s a thick-skinned, dull-witted beast whose only recourse when confronted by uncertainty is to roll up into an inert ball and hope its plate-like hide will protect it from whatever it fears. Even when there’s nothing to fear.

Or when it fears the wrong thing. Here in NELA, the real predator is the Speeding Motorist, sinking its fangs into residents, visitors, and businesses alike. Hordes of theses bloodthirsty fiends have been prowling North Figueroa for years, leaving literal blood on the streets and scaring away the street life that York Boulevard has been enjoying since the road diet tamed the animals. Other streets in the region have also undergone their own renaissances, including Spring Street downtown, Abbott Kinney in Venice Beach, and Main in Santa Monica, all by simply slowing down speeders and making room for cyclists, walkers, and humanity in general.

Meanwhile, the numbers for North Fig are grim, as this graphic shows:

And that’s for just one year, 2009. The long-term trend is no better:

The astounding incident just last week, when a speeding SUV flipped nearly in front of the local council office, shows that the beasts will even eat themselves, if no other prey is available.

So it seems to me that our armadillo is truly afraid of the wrong things. In “protecting” us from road diets, he’s insisting we all follow the way of fear itself when confronted with something new and better, and just curl up with our heads up our behinds, hoping no one will bite.

Those of you who are from Texas know better, though. The tarmac there is paved with flattened armadillos, who were protecting themselves the wrong way, against the wrong threat. We’ll all be roadkill, if we follow suit.


You Want Safety? You Got It…in Santa Monica

Yes, while CD1′s Gil Cedillo utters his blandly-crafted platitudes about”safety” while undermining an FHWA-approved safety project on North Fig, Santa Monica gets down to the nitty-gritty of making life better—and longer—for all its residents and visitors.

That city’s Main Street was put on a road diet long ago, with bike lanes providing high-protein nutrition in place of the empty calories of car traffic. The program has worked wonderfully: I remember years ago when Main Street was just a few dull blocks to pass through on your way to the Third Street Promenade.

Now, Main Street thrives, sidewalks and storefronts alike packed with happy strolling throngs eager to spend time and money on the most pleasant four blocks in LA County. Bikes are parked everywhere, in sidewalk racks as well as the once-a-week free bike valet that serves the farmers market, and they spin happily down the bike lanes that line the street. Car and bus traffic continues as well, and I haven’t noticed any of the numerous establishments that get my cash there running out of supplies because of a lack of truck access.

Nor has emergency access been compromised: in fact, it’s been enhanced, as when the sirens sound, the motorists can edge into the bike lanes and make room for even the biggest of fire trucks. Not that you see them much anymore: road diets make for fewer crashes, so the paramedics tend to get bored….

But Santa Monica never quite stays still, unlike LA with its stick-in-the-mud city council. Look closely at the photo: you will see the ghost of an older bike lane, which was removed…to be replaced with a wider, safer one. With a door zone buffer!

And the narrower mixed-traffic lanes reduce peak speeds a little further, making for a safer street, and one that is easier to park cars on.

Just as it ought to be. North Fig could be prosperous, lively, and safe as well—but it remains a deadly speedway killing residents and businesses alike.

Yet it coulda been a contender….

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Thanks for Nothing. . . .

Well, he killed it, after all. “He” being Council District 1 boss Gil Cedillo, and “it” being the plan to put Figueroa on a road diet and add bike lanes to it. His “rationale”—and I use quotes here because it has no relation to rationality—is that he is not sure the road diet would ensure “the safety of all those who travel the corridor.” Read his condescending and terminally mealy-mouthed letter yourself here, if you’ve a strong stomach.

This is nonsense, and in fact must be a conscious lie. I personally sent links to fifteen studies of actual road diets that were followed and analyzed for years, and which allow for no misinterpretation. His district director, Conrado Terrazas, whom I had met at a Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, emailed me back with thanks, stating that he had “forwarded this info to our policy staff.” So Cedillo knows that road diets are the best way of “ensuring the safety of all who travel the corridor.”

It looks as though Cedillo, who long ago was some sort of liberal, is turning into a Tea Party denialist of everything that doesn’t support the self-indulgent fantasies of cut-through drivers, a decidedly outside interest that seems to be his real constituency. To these folks, any lie is good enough if it can keep them rocketing through your neighborhoods at twenty over the limit, and it’s just too bad if you get in their way. They’re important; you’re not: so please step aside or die.

The safety benefits of road diets are established fact, accepted even by such stodgy and formerly pro-speeding bureaucracies as AASHTO and the Federal Highway Administration, which refers to road diets as a “Proven Safety Countermeasure.”

None of that mattered to Cedillo, who is perhaps a cat’s-paw for some more-organized outside interest than the general mass of self-entitled road hogs he seems to be pandering to. Despite endless community meetings in which supporters of the road diet always outnumbered the reactionaries; despite the majority of neighborhood councils voting in support of the road diet; despite unanimous City Council approval; despite funding, planning, and widespread joy over the prospect of a safer, healthier and more prosperous North Figueroa…Cedillo stamped his foot and wailed, “No! I don’t wanna!”

And so the carnage will continue, and the prosperity and public health benefits the road diet and bike lanes would have brought remain on hold…till Cedillo decides to become an honest man, or at least till the election in three years.

How many more Highland Park residents will be killed or crippled in Cedillo’s name till then?

Thanks for nothing, Gil.


Bike Rack Hack Back on Track

I am notorious for calling in bike rack requests using the LADOT’s online form. Although the DOT claims not to keep track of who requested what and whether it was installed, they have told me I’ve gotten about two hundred racks put in on sidewalks all over town. About twenty of these have been, naturally, in the Miracle Mile, since I live here. Though I haven’t actually used any of these racks, since they are all within walking distance of home! As the photo shows, though, they get plenty of use without my patronage. In fact, we could use more.

There are over twenty racks on the Mile; some were here before I developed my obsession with bike parking, some were called in by others, and some LADOT put in of their own initiative. There are a very few privately-installed sidewalk racks as well, plus a large and well-used private bike corral at the Wilshire Courtyard building. That private corral is well watched by security via video cameras and proximity sensors, as a curious guard explained to me one day when he felt compelled to inquire why I was staring at the parked bikes. (There was a nice vintage roadster there that morning.)

However, not a single rack has been installed for about a year now. I haven’t stopped calling them in, and the need has certainly not diminished—more and more people are riding, and parking, bikes every day in our city. But two unfortunate happenstances coincided:

First, about a year ago, the city ran out of bike racks, and it took forever for the various interlaced bureaucracies to approve the purchase of new racks to replenish the inventory.

And second, just as the new racks came in, the rack installer retired.

Yes, there was just one man who put in bike racks—and he had to install the single-pole parking meters as well. He was a sinewy little old man named Richard, whom I met when he was installing one of “my” racks on Wilshire. I can understand that at seventy-two he might have lost his enthusiasm for manhandling a concrete drill and then swinging a heavy mallet to pound in bike rack mounting spikes.

Unfortunately, the procedure for applying for the position requires negotiating an intricate bureaucratic labyrinth, and even finding the web page listing the job so you can start is two steps short of impossible. I suggested to my neighbor, who is a mason, that he might apply, and to make it easier on him, slogged through the maze myself—which was a surrealistic experience indeed! My neighbor declined to apply in the end, but someone must have, for a day or two ago, when I wrote to what may have been the only person who actually knew what was going on (thanks to Senior Bicycle Program Coordinator Michelle Mowery, who gave me his email), I heard the good news: someone had actually applied and qualified, and the candidate is being reviewed by higher-ups right now.

It’s rather bizarre that a supposedly “progressive” (ha!) city such as Los Angeles could drop the ball on something as simple as installing bike racks for nearly a year, but it looks like the program will be re-started soon.

So put in your requests for sidewalk bike parking while you can, folks; who knows how long it’ll sputter along…before it stalls again.

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Slowly We Find Our Way

Yesterday, I attended the city’s quarterly Bicycle Plan Implementation Team meeting, and among the many questions with which I annoyed the good folks from LADOT and City Planning (during what must have been a long two hours for them) was one about wayfinding. This, as regular readers will know, is a subject dear to my heart—for what good are bikeways, when we get them, if you can’t find your way to where you want to go on them, for want of decent signage?

It’s hard for any one person to be intimately familiar with all the scattered neighborhoods of a city as vast as Los Angeles; even if you’re not a visitor, you may get lost following our bikeways now and then. Yet so often bikeway signage consists of nothing more than a flimsy tin rectangle stating that you are on a bike route or path, or in a bike lane. Which you probably already knew; the stripes aree kind of a giveaway&hellip.

When I’ve explored the bikeways of Portland, San Francisco, the East Bay, or Denver, I’ve been pleased to find that there are clear and informative signs letting you know what popular destinations lie how far off in which direction. Neighborhoods, shopping areas, rivers and hills, other bikeways, all listed on discreet but very obvious signs.

We have a few of these in the LA area, though most of them are not in the City of Los Angeles. The array of signs in the photo is on LA County land, in Marina del Rey. It is, however, very good, though a bit of a stylistic mishmash: one sign clearly indicates and names the two bike paths that intersect at this spot; another names the creek by which one is riding; and a third names nearby destinations, such as the shopping strip, the Coast Guard and Sheriff’s stations, and the Marina.

The best wayfinding I’ve seen so far in the city has been on the Chandler bike path connecting North Hollywood to Burbank. And some new signs have popped up along the Los Angeles River bike path in Elysian Valley—but those were placed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Agency, not the city.

But at the BPIT meeting, I finally received an answer I could be happy with: the LADOT has budgeted for a citywide wayfinding project, to improve (or in most cases simply add) signage along bike routes, lanes, and paths.

We know how LA works, so there is a likelihood that the effort will take a long time to implement, or may simply peter out, if we don’t keep nagging LADOT. But apparently it’s now a public commitment—which in itself is a sign that we’re headed in the right direction.


Gil Cedillo trades our park space for votes

It was way back in 2009 when I published my first post on the abuse of Lincoln Park by several local institutions and terrible management by the City of Los Angeles. That post, entitled “Campaign for a Car Free Lincoln Park, Pt. 1“, along with a couple of follow-up posts and videos did result in some positive changes in the park.

One problem that has persisted, however, it the abuse of the park’s lawn by patrons and employees at Plaza de la Raza. Instead of using the available curbside parking (which used to be restricted during peak hours, but now is open to the public), and instead of using the newly paved and re-striped parking lot on Selig Place (which used to be abused as shuttle bus storage by nearby El Arca, Inc, but is now open to the public), instead of taking the bus, or riding a bike, or walking; instead of any of those options the patrons and employees of Plaza de la Raza drive directly inside the park and use the lawn to store their vehicles.

Is this illegal? Yes, it is. Former councilman Ed Reyes erected an “Authorized Vehicles Only” sign at the entrance being illegally used by Plaza patrons and staff – but somehow the sign never did its job (big surprise).

With a new councilman in office, one Gil Cedillo (despoiler of bike lane plans in Council District 1), is change going to come to the abused landscaping and park space at Lincoln Park?

Hah! Hell no!

Cedillo’s endorsement list for his city council run in 2013 includes the name of one Fredy Ceja, President of the Board at Plaza de la Raza. Since being elected in May of 2013, abuse of the park has continued unabated.

So, along with being anti-bike, Councilman Cedillo is strongly pro-cars-in-the-middle-of-parks. How can this be a winning strategy for local office in Los Angeles in the 21st Century?

Councilman Cedillo is up for election in 2017 – so it’s at least 3 more years of LA’s new patron saint of pollution and car-dominated, unsafe, streets and shattered communities.

Go for a drive on the lawn and foot paths of a local Los Angeles park today! Councilman Cedillo will be there in spirit, smiling, as you turn the last refuge of neighbors desperate for relief from the freeway-throttled asphalt hell-scape  local streets into another symbolic offering to the gods of combustion engines.

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