Wasted Space

Beverly Hills is a city trammeled by a lack of imagination. Poor, beleaguered Mark Elliot, of Better Bike, a Safe Streets advocacy group in the 90210, has been trying to promote bike lanes and bike parking for years, but the city has remained obdurately thickheaded about any concept that doesn’t require dedicating every public square inch and dollar to fawning over cars. Even to the point of completely ignoring not only the majority of public input but the bike lane consultant they hired a few years ago. Even to the point of losing millions each year providing free parking in their expensive multistory garages…to the richest people in California.

Their “bike plan” has so far consisted of putting sharrows along Crescent Drive&mmdash;a street that avoids most retail zones—and adding bike lanes to Burton Way. The latter was not too difficult, as the right-hand traffic lane on that street was originally around twenty feet wide. As for bike parking—in a city that claims to suffer from inadequate parking supply—well: after a recent “surge” of installations, Beverly Hills can boast of about thirty-three racks for the whole city. (At least there’s a rack-on-request program, consisting of a PDF you print and fill out….)

The form specifies that racks can be installed only on concrete. I hope this is not true—it certainly isn’t anywhwere else on earth—because the city has so much wasted space in the streets that could be put to use. Note the photos below, taken on the block of South Beverly Drive between Charleville and Gregory. This is Beverly Hills’s main shopping street for its south-of-Santa-Monica residents, anD one that is crying out for bike racks. There are all of four on this block. (For comparison, similar Larchmont Boulevard in Midtown Los Angeles sports about fourteen racks plus a bike corral.) But couldn’t there be a few bike racks in the empty spaces delineated by white lines that you see here?

Just saying….

It’s pretty sad to be about the only city in our county that is behind Los Angeles in bike parking! Oh Mighty 90210, you can do better!

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Riding a cargo bike with a kid to Dodger Stadium

In countless public hearings about bike projects across the country people stand up and testify that “it is impossible to ride a bike when you have kids and a family.” I’ve been living an “impossible” dream the past few years, I guess. Let’s go one step further. Riding your kid up a mountain to a car-oriented major league baseball stadium: is it possible? What is it like when you do it?

On Sunday, April 19, 2015, I saddled up with my kid and rode my dutch bakfiets cargo bike up to Chavez Ravine to watch the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 7 to 0.

The ride was pretty mellow. We walked through the ball park turnstiles just as the national anthem was playing, grabbed some Dodger dogs and a bag of peanuts, and made our way to our seats.

The ride down the hill after the game was great, though it always gets scary in that one or two block gap between congested stadium traffic and surrounding streets like North Broadway and Sunset Boulevard. On those larger surrounding streets drivers do all sorts of dangerous and stupid things after a game. This wasn’t our first bike trip to a ball game so we knew what to look out for, but it is cause for a little extra anxiety all the same.

The Dodgers have really done a great job of installing quality bike parking all around the stadium. Perhaps they haven’t installed enough! We actually saw a few of their small racks nearly full. I took a picture of a young couple from DTLA after the game unlocking and getting ready to ride home – the novelty of other people riding bikes to the Dodger game has not yet worn off.

I suffered through many a late evening traffic crawl out of the parking lot at Dodger Stadium as a young boy with my dad and brothers. The place still has an other-worldly feel to me when I ride up to it on a bike.

On a previous trip up the mountain, I rode my daughter in a Nihola-brand cargo tricycle. Tricycles and hills aren’t generally a good combination. Even though the Nihola is an excellent tricycle, it was still a slog – but a bearable slog. My bakfiets handled itself quite nicely, though my roller brakes are definitely due for a servicing soon and I should have checked my tire pressure – I found out later I was riding on half-inflated tires.

There are all sorts of cultural barriers that stand between most of us and a life riding a cargo bike around with our kids. Let this video be an inspiration to all you moms and dads out there wondering if you can make it two miles to your kids school in the morning. Generally, the answer is: yes!

I arrived at the upper deck ticket office panting a bit, but the ride was pleasant. All my school run commuting from LA up to Pasadena has got my hill climbing and traffic awareness skills up.

As for the way the Dodgers treated us as visitors to their ball park this was by far the BEST experience I’ve ever had at the stadium, EVER, after riding a bike to it. The bike parking is no longer beside the smoking sections. Parking lot staff are not hostile and everything else just feels relaxing and fun (like baseball games should!). It would be nice if the Dodgers picked one or two entrance routes and designated them as more bicycle or pedestrian friendly to ease up on the frayed nerves of walking and bike riding fans. This might help the local residents in the area around the stadium mellow out about game day traffic as they might get a nicer walking and bike riding experience out of it too in the off season.

So, is it possible to ride a kid in a cargo bike to Dodger Stadium? Yup, it sure is. It is actually a fun and healthy way to get to the stadium and it leaves you more money for Dodger dogs!

Want to know what route we took to get to the game? Riding from Cypress Park (where our shop is located) it took us about 30 minutes to get to the top of Dodger Stadium. Here is the path we took:

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And the Beat Goes On….


Yesterday was cold and cloudy all morning, which is perfect bicycling weather if you ask me, but…people who think in shallow clichés might be surprised to see folks out on bikes when it isn’t shorts-and-flipflops warm. I am glad to report that LA seems to be growing beyond its reputation as a sump for weather wimps.

The local powers-that-be still can’t convince themselves that bikes are actually transportation devices that deserve accommodation on our public roads, and every bit of infrastructure that we do win, no matter how modest and disconnected, seems to be cause for celebratory blog posts, Tweets with half the character limit occupied by smilies and exclamation points, and semi-organized tours of the latest quarter-mile-long door-zone bike lane and squad car parking zone. Yet when a smidgin of room is reluctantly sequestered for the use of bicyclists, an amazing thing happens: bicyclists use it!

They not only use it, they also use the community around it: shops, offices, restaurants, and, as in the photo above, LA’s growing transit system. The rack array you see is a Metro installation at the South Pasadena Gold Line station, which you can see in the background. The image may look familiar if you read this blog, because I’ve photographed this rack many times. The intersting thing is that it is always full. South Pasadena is only three and a half square miles, but this capacious (for Los Angeles) bicycle parking facility is always full. This is good for the cyclists, good for South Pasadena (whose little streets can’t handle much car traffic), good for the Gold Line, and ultimately good for the region, as more people free themselves from the confinement of cars, and at the same time free their cities from the expenses, both fiscal and environmental, that private driving imposes on the citizenry.

Not to mention the health costs of sitting in a car so much: Great Britain estimates that raising its bicycle mode share from 2% to 10% would save the National Health Service £250m a year, simply by getting people off their buts and cutting smog a bit.

And the beat goes on: as more and more bicycle infrastructure inches its way onto LA’s public thoroughfares, people start to use it, and life gets better. We still have a long way to go, but study after study shows that it’s a trip worth taking…on your bike.

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Our Own Day Here by Richard Risemberg

Cover of book Our Own Day Here by Richard Risemberg

The cover for “Our Own Day Here” by Richard Risemberg, published August, 2014.

It can be hard to live in a big American city, or any car-dominated place, and maintain a healthy understanding of your identity, the natural world, and your status when you’re walking, riding the bus, or a bike everywhere you go. It is easy to describe yourself and your life from the perspective of those driving by you at 45 mph in their glass boxes on wheels. How do you form a self image on the other side of the windshield – from the sidewalk, bus stop, or bike lane?

Our friend Richard Risemberg recently published a book of essays, Our Own Day Here (Crow Tree Publications), which sometimes rants, sometimes reaches for the heady and philosophical, and sometimes stuns with funny moments that are simply out of reach for the people stuck in the modern Happy Motoring mindset.

The reading is ideally suited for those in-between moments of your day – waiting for a bus, on your break at work, or a quiet stop on a long walk or a bike ride. I worked my way through Risemberg’s essays as I lived my version of some of the moments he writes about; I feel safer for reading his essays about things in life I haven’t been through yet but now could see arising.

Risemberg’s an author whose time has come – for a younger generation rising up to meet him and for his own generation, looking back on the last 40 years and questioning our trajectory and the myths we tell about ourselves. Get on this bus!

Our Own Day Here (Pocket Edition) by Richard Risemberg is available from our online store!

Richard Risemberg is a photographer, writer, clothier, cyclist, and one of the sharpest wits on two wheels in Los Angeles. Hailing from the far shores of Argentina, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. as boy and put down roots in Mid-City. His writing can be found online from various outlets (including this very blog!) but, importantly, the bicycle clothes he manufactures here in LA can only be found in the Bicycle Fixation online store.

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Save the Date: May 1st!

Join us on Friday, May 1, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop (located at 3404 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90065) for a reading and question & answer session with author and photographer Richard Risemberg. Risemberg just published two books, both of which will be available the day of the event: the first, “Our Own Day Here by Richard Risemberg at Flying Pigeon LA” is a collection of essays about urban life; the second, “The Dust Will Answer” a work of noir fiction set in the pre-gentrification area around downtown and the LA River.

May Day is coming, and, though you might not have heard of it in today’s Ammurrica, it’s one of the oldest holidays in the northern hemisphere—and one of the newest.

It began in the Roman days as a spring festival, and even then it was probably an older holiday absorbed into the dominant culture of the time. As Europe changed, so did May Day, the most common image of which is the Maypole and May Queen of English country habit—reflected in the structures of Renaissance Faires to this day. In any case, the holiday persisted even as Europe devolved into a rigid theocracy, and was still often celebrated with drunkenness and sexual abandon.

More recently, the holiday became associated with workers’ solidarity movements, which is why it is studiously ignored in Ammurrica, Central HQ of the Global War on Labor…and which is one reason we’re holding my little book signing at Flying Pigeon LA on that date.

Yes, as you may know, I have gathered a number of the essays I’ve written over the last seventeen years into a book called Our Own Day Here, which explores the meanings and functions of community, transportation, work, love, and neighborhood in the modern city, and which does not disdain making statements about government, the economy, the corporate world, and how it all relates to the ways we get around on our streets and sidewalks, and, in LA’s case, how we treat our river.

I’ll be reading from this book, and signing copies (which you can buy at Flying Pigeon LA) for anyone who wishes to increase the value of their purchase by the value of the ink deposited in the signature.

I’ll also be signing copies of, and possibly reading from, my urban noir mystery novel, The Dust Will Answer, which is set among the homeless camps and abandoned warehouses of the LA River where it passes through downtown, an area huddled under the shadow of creeping gentrification at the time of the story.

I’ve even figured out a clever way to “sign” e-book copies of either work, which you’ll be able to order through your smartphones right there if you wish. (I’ll sign little gallery-quality cards with the cover image.)

However, if you want a signed material copy of the mystery, which is not part of Flying Pigeon’s inventory, you have just enough time to order the paperback if you, as the radio ads like to shout, “act now!”

You have your choice of corporate behemoth Amazon or cozy family-run print-on-demand publisher Lulu; same price at either venue. Lulu gives your poverty-stricken author a bigger cut.

So come on down to the legendary Flying Pigeon LA on May 1st at 6:30PM, indulge in some old May Day wine and some new May Day comradeship, listen to some urban yammer, and maybe buy a book to get autographed.

It’s spring, and time to renew the world yet again.

Richard Risemberg Book Signing
Flying Pigeon LA
3404 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90065
May 1, 2015, 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Wine & nibbles

Pigeon Politboro with Richard Risemberg May 1 2015
I plan to lead a bike ride to the Pigeon from Union Station that night; details later.

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When the Force Isn’t with You

Yesterday I detoured through Downtown on my way to South Pasadena. I took the Fourth Street Not-a-Greenway to K-Town, then switched to Seventh and its fine little Door-Zone Bike Lane till it vanished a block or so before Los Angeles Street. Los Angeles Street would take me to the Union Station, where I was hoping to retrieve som cash value trapped in an expired TAP card. (Turns out you have to do that by phone, for some reason.)

Los Angeles Street sees a fair bit of bike traffic, but its bike lanes reach only from Union Station at Alameda to First Street—and then, sad to say, they are often blocked by scofflaw drivers. If you’re heading eastward, though, they open up with great promise at First:

Yes, a buffered and even protected lane…for seventy-five feet. Then it devolves to a paint-buffered lane, which however does not stop the scofflaws from parking in it:

At which point you might think about flagging down one of the many cop cars scurrying about the neighborhood, where there are several LAPD facilities. Until you get a little closer and note that…the cops are the biggest offenders:

Not only are two cop cars blocking the bike lane just beyond the little white sedan, but…the posted sign says “No Stopping at Any Time.”

So I swerved out into the mixed traffic lane and rode on 1970s-style, wondering just what had changed since I first began battling city traffic on my bike forty years ago.

No wonder the cops are so rarely helpful when we’re injured by criminal driving: they just don’t give a damn about us, if they can’t even be bothered to inconvenience themselves to obey their own laws. Laws designed to protect and to serve people who ride bikes.

I wonder what the folks who promote the “broken windows” theory would make of this.….

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Spoke(n) Art Ride on Saturday, April 11, 2015

This image of the old Bi-Rite sign in Lincoln Heights I took in May of 2013 will come back to haunt you on the Spoke(n) Art Ride this month.

Magic? You want magic? Join the Spoke(n) Art Ride this Saturday, April 11, 2015 for a very special art gallery tour of North East Los Angeles and opening at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop. This month we’re starting the ride with an art show in our shop (!!!) featuring the work Highland Park-based artist and musician Timothy Sellers​. Here is a link to the Facebook event for the Timothy Sellers opening.

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

The Spoke(n) Art Ride is a slow-paced, monthly, tour of galleries open for NELAart’s Second Saturday – a special night when area galleries and studios open their doors to the public until the wee hours.

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.

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

This ride is about art, community, the city, conversation, and living the good life without damaging the lives of others. If you want to “get faded” and “mash” – please do go on another bike ride.

We obey major traffic lights on this ride, we are polite to gallery owners and the general public on this ride. Seriously, this is Saturday night, you are free to do as you please. Don’t ruin our fun and we won’t ruin yours.

If you want to keep up with the ride online, or post updates and photos of it using your phone, we will be doing the same! Use the hashtag #spokenart on Twitter and Instagram or spokenart on Flickr and we can all check out your perspective on the night.

There is a Facebook Event for this ride.

Any questions? info@flyingpigeon-la.com or just leave a comment below.

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LAUSD School Board Elections Matter to Commuters, Property Owners, and People with Lungs

Parents outside of Aldama Elementary in Highland Park wait for their children to be released.

Parents outside of Aldama Elementary in Highland Park wait for their children to be released.

Why vote in a local school board election? If you don’t have kids it doesn’t matter, right?

Wrong.

First, the quality of local public schools can drastically affect the value of surrounding private property.

Second, schools generate lots and lots of car trips and in California schools are exempt from air quality and traffic congestion laws that apply to most government agencies and private entities alike. In other words: your commute time, quality of life, and air quality are in the hands of the school board.

A homeless man under a bridge during a 2009 LAUSD teacher protest.

A homeless man under a bridge during a 2009 LAUSD teacher protest. All rights reserved by dogwelder on Flickr.

It should not take me pulling out reams of data and economic studies to prove the truism that quality public schools have a direct and positive impact on local property values. A quick google search turns up lots of great academic literature confirming this relationship. If you own property near a school it is in your direct interest to ensure that school is doing a great job. Putting aside all other concerns (charter schools, school bond oversight, labor negotiations, disabled access to education, common core, standardized testing, etc.) if your local school is failing so too is your investment in real estate adjacent to that school. Having public elections for the people who set the budget and policies of your local school is your one direct means of making sure your local school has what it needs to keep your property values up.

Beyond the interests of property owners and the value of their land and buildings are the interests of the common working stiff. We come in all shapes and sizes and most of us are stuck in single occupant cars. Some of us take buses or trains and a few of us walk or ride our bikes to work each day.

Have you ever noticed how, during Spring Break at your local school (it is Spring Break for LAUSD this week),  the roads are practically empty? How traffic no longer queues up for a few blocks at every major intersection?

Tell me again how management of your local schools does not affect your every day life.

School districts in California are exempt from a lot of air quality laws. Think about that for a moment. If you work at a large employer in the state, every year the HR department sends out a survey to ask how you get to work each day. If your company or public agency doesn’t reduce the number of single occupant car commuters it faces financial penalties and legal trouble. School districts get to skip over many of these laws and as a result they can off load all the costs of their bad planning and decision making onto the public streets and the surrounding air.

There are no incentive programs to help faculty and staff at local schools walk, ride a bike, or take transit to work. There are no parking cash-outs, or bike commuting incentives for district staff working in offices or schools across the county and in Downtown LA. There are no systematic efforts made by LAUSD to get streets and sidewalks around schools clean and safe enough to allow kids to walk or ride a bike to school.

In fact, in most of LAUSD, anything other than driving a car to work is discouraged. There is ample employee parking at district facilities and school sites, there are no showers, nor safe bike parking, and the same crappy sidewalks that discourage kids from walking also discourage employees from doing the same. At local schools, kids face reprimands, shaming, and disciplinary action for daring to walk, skate, or ride a bike to school. Teachers, PTA members, and staff stand out in front of schools with orange vests on in the morning; helping kid after kid hop out of mom or dads car in so-called “Safety Valet” zones. During pick up and drop off times, drivers make illegal u-turns, speed off into short gaps in congestion to unleash their frustration, and generally act in a lawless manner while behind the wheel. In the afternoon, parents double and triple park their cars, park in red zones, block crosswalks, and park in front of fire hydrants.

Once you pull the blinders off, it becomes apparent that local school management is deeply important in your day to day life. If your local schools are failing it is likely that so too will any real estate investment nearby. If your local schools continue to stuff our streets full of preventable car trips and our air full of pollution your health and your commute will continue to be horrible.

I have listened to, and read coverage of, our local school board elections for a couple of years now and nobody in the local media seems willing to talk about the significant impacts school have on our quality of life and economic fortunes. I can’t blame you for having blinders on given the horrible job the media has done in keeping us informed on how school district management impacts our lives. Now that you know, however, you have to stop pretending that school board elections don’t matter. They do matter – and not just to parents with children but to anyone with lungs, with property near a public school, or a commute in the morning that sucks.

There is a run-off election coming up on May 19, 2015 for 3 of the 7 seats open on the LAUSD school board.

You can find out more information about that election here:
http://www.smartvoter.org/2015/05/19/ca/la/ballot.html

You can register to vote here:
http://registertovote.ca.gov/

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Forget Jake…It’s Chinatown!

Yes, sometimes even in Los Angeles, good things happen on purpose.

Forget Jake and his cynical advisor from the film…the real Chinatown’s BID has installed a peculiar but extensive bike corral in front of 727 N Broadway, known to LA hipsters as the site of the latest iteration of Scoops artisanal ice cream (and affable owner Tai Kim is a genius at making ice cream, as well as a real artist). It’s probably even more famous among lovers of Asian cuisine as the longtime home of Wing Hop Fung grocery, Ocean Seafood, and a number of small East and Southeast Asian restaurants, most of them approved by Jonathan Gold. (If you cook, you’ve got to visit Wing Hop Fung….)

Maybe I can pretend I softened the target by cajoling the LADOT to install a scatter of sidewalk bike racks several years ago, but I suspect that the BID’s move came in response to the arrival of Scoops and the construction of a number of new apartment and condo developments. The truth is that, despite plenty of street parking and at least eleven off-street parking lots and structures, driving in Chinatown is just plain tedious, and there would be no way to make the tiny district accommodate more cars without tearing most of it down. In which case, what would be the point?

The Gold Line helps, but only bikes can add capacity for more local traffic—folks living in the growing high-density developments just outside of Chinatown, and others wishing to pop over from downtown offices on their lunch break.

And…bikes are steadily becoming the new normal in modern urban centers. This gives us hope that LA will, in fact, someday qualify as a modern urban center.

This little row of bike racks, angular though they may be, gets us one step closer to the future.

So…hop on your bike, and let’s eat!

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O Me of Little Faith

So glad to be proved wrong in my scorn of the private bike corral that appeared a while ago at new La Boulange near my home!

When they first opened the building, I noted that there was extensive bicycle parking in the broad walkway between the new building and the rest of the block…but that it consisted entirely of those hideous old wheel-bender racks, which you see in the photo below:


I didn’t even bother to complain to the management, figuring that we’d better take what we can get these days, with LA, and in particular its business community, still mired in muddy old ways of thinking. I expected that they’d just brush off my concerns. I know, I usually charge right in and start flapping my lips, but I must have been tired that day….

I did see that although the establishment saw a good number of customers arrive by bicycle, few of them chose to lock up to the fairly useless racks the company had provided. Most secured their wheels to the various street signs around the place.

Well, either someone on staff was sharp enough to notice, or some other cyclist did take the time to gripe, because a night or two ago I walked past and noticed…real bike racks, lots of them, beautiful, shiny, and new. The sort that don’t bend your wheel. The sort with which you can actually use a U-lock.

Here they are:


La Boulange started in San Francisco, where people think a little more effectively about transportation, and maybe that helped. Or maybe it didn’t. All I can say is that La Boulange stumbled on their first attempt, but recovered nicely, and is now a model for other LA businesses.

On Fourth and La Brea, in the Miracle Mile. Ride on buy and leave them some of your money. They got it right!

Though I do wonder how they arranged for the singing cowboy….

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