Now You’re Talking!

This week I am privileged to heap unmixed praise on LADOT for what they did in the southeast corner of Highland Park. For yesterday, on my way to South Pasadena (as usual for a Tuesday), I pedaled along the nearly-finished extension of the York Boulevard bike lanes. And part of them will be buffered lanes, as you can see in the first photo, though the markings aren’t quite done yet.

They now continue southeastward from Figueroa past Avenues 63, 64, 65, and 66, and San Pascual Avenue, and continue right over the York Boulevard bridge over the 110 freeway and the Arroyo to the border with South Pasadena.


The new bike lanes on York between Fig and the bridge…


And on the bridge itself….

Where that little city’s own bike lanes take over, albeit after a gap of a hundred yards or so.

This is great news for both local riders and commuters, as there’s a good deal of bike-borne traffic between Highland Park and South Pasadena, what with roadies, students, shoppers, and folks going to work and back.

I was told by a DOT engineer a couple of years ago (when I raised this issue to my contacts in the agency) that York (specifically the bridge) didn’t actually see much motor traffic there, and was over-engineered, with lanes to spare. This, of course, led to speeding and other forms of scofflaw driving, so the narrowing of the curb lane on the wide parts of York, and the removal of one motor lane on the bridge, will make the passage safer for all—drivers, cyclists, and folks trying to cross the street on foot.

Equally important is that it will further connect residential and commercial neighborhoods in that part of NELA with nearly door-to-door bicycle facilities, enticing the less-bold among us out of their fossil-fueled armor and back into the community.

Now the formerly isolated lane on San Pascual makes a bit more sense.

The big lack here is, of course, the missing lanes on Figueroa Street. But that’s not the DOT’s fault: the lanes had been funded, designed, and scheduled, but when Gil Cedillo replaced Ed Reyes as council member a few months back, he put many of his predecessor’s projects on hold, in an apparent frenzy of petulance. Now he has graciously scheduled a whole new round of community meetings to duplicate the dozen or so we went through over a year ago to win approval from both stakeholders and bureaucrats. Time (and public money) wasted….

Nevertheless, with lanes on Eagle Rock/Cypress from Fig to Colorado, fresh new lanes on Colorado, the now complete lanes on York from Eagle Rock Boulevard to South Pasadena, and lanes on Avenue 50, San Pascual, and other smaller streets, we have an actually usable if not quite complete set of bikeways serving both local and long-distance riders in and through the area.

And that’s worth talking about!

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York Boulevard Bike Lane: 528 feet of a failure to communicate


This one stretch of road, 528 feet long, merges 35+ mph cars with bike riders heading to the newly striped York Blvd. bike lanes.

528 feet, .1 miles, 160.9 meters. Anyway you write it, the distance between the newly striped York Boulevard bike lanes in Los Angeles and the bike lanes on Pasadena Avenue in South Pasadena is a full measure of a failure to communicate.

The York bridge has been a no-mans land for anyone on foot or on a bicycle for several decades. Poor street design has kept the communities of Highland Park and Garvanza in Los Angeles culturally separate from South Pasadena. The installation of a safe bike lane across the York bridge has the potential to turn South Pasadena’s derelict commercial corridor, and the lonely Ostrich Farm development, on Pasadena Avenue around. Those same bike lanes can help bring weekend bicycle tourists, and weekday bicycle commuters riding through to Downtown LA, into Highland Park’s many cafes and shops. Most importantly of all, Garvanza residents would only be a short bike ride away from beloved Trader Joes on Mission in South Pasadena.

So why didn’t this 528 feet of Pasadena Avenue have any amenity for bike lanes connecting to Los Angeles? It wasn’t helped by the City of South Pasadena’s decision to fire the talented Dennis Woods, the former Transportation Manager for the small city. Woods is responsible for the quick turnaround in bike planning, projects, and state bike project aid that came to an abrupt end with his sacking in October of 2013.

Pasadena Avenue should have had it’s four lanes narrowed from 11 feet down to 10 feet, taking the spare space and adding it to a westbound bike lane feeding into the York Bridge. 300 feet of Pasadena Avenue should have lost “car parking” (which I have never seen used in the 10+ years I’ve passed by this stretch of road) to connect the bridge with eastbound bike lanes laid down under Dennis Woods’ supervision a few years ago.

As for the City of Los Angeles, where to begin? How hard is it to pick up the phone and call the tiny staff in the South Pasadena Public Works or City Manager’s office? Email works too. The city council office responsible for the project, the very bike-friendly office of councilman Jose Huizar, didn’t have the time or resources to connect with the road designers in South Pasadena to say, “Hey, can we help scrounge $10,000 to help you guys pay for 528 feet of lane restriping?”

I visited the South Pasadena Public Works department last week to ask them for a comment on the project and was treated to the delightfully frustrating experience of talking to someone, who shall remain nameless, with a low grade version of Aspergers syndrome who’d clearly been blasted by enough “constituent concern” over the years to be unable to answer the simple questions I posed (i.e. “Are you aware that the City of LA is going to connect bike lanes to Pasadena Avenue and what is your city going to do?”)

The bike lanes across the bridge are barely an amenity, and serve more as a gutter lane for broken down cars than as a safe means of travel between South Pasadena and Los Angeles. They do represent a brightening flame of community connection – but that flame is still weak. Two car lanes should have been removed on the bridge. A buffered lane on each side of the bridge should have been installed. Traffic volumes leading up to the intersection of York and North Figueroa are shockingly low.

I am not going to address the huge design flaws of the bike lanes at the intersection of York and North Figueroa. I’ll leave that to the LAPD responding to what I am sure will be numerous fresh car vs. everything collisions.

Just a short gap in lane striping keeps LA disconnected from South Pasadena.

Just a short gap in lane striping keeps LA’s new bike lanes disconnected from South Pasadena.

So, 528 feet. The full measure of professional incompetence. The York Boulevard bike lanes are a huge leap forward from where we were, but still come up dramatically short. The good news is that the money required to restripe 528 feet of Pasadena Avenue is quite a small sum. The political will and the ability of two dysfunctional city planning apparatuses to execute that restriping is what has got us here, and has me still worried for my life, and the fate of our civilization, when riding between the two cities.

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Spoke(n) Art Ride on Saturday, April 12, 2014

Join us this month on another Spoke(n) Art bike ride on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 6 p.m. at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop.

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.

Meet at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The ride will ride depart at 6:30 p.m. to tour art galleries and other happenings in the community. The ride will return to the Bike Oven (3 blocks away from the Flying Pigeon) at about 10:00 p.m. for an after party.

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 over 100 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.

We obey major traffic lights on this ride, we are polite to gallery owners and the general public on this ride. 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. 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, 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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Afterglow

What, no photos of CicLAvia?

Nope, not a one. The event is so popular and so well-documented four years on that I felt I could attend as a civilian, as it were, for the sheer joy of it. CicLAvia has plenty of momentum now, and even the city’s often thick-witted officialdom seems to understand that it brings nothing but benefits, and plenty of them, at a very minor cost in automotive convenience for a very few people.

My favorite illustration of that is at the car crossings, where what at first looked like a vast crowd of cars represented, if you did a quick count, maybe fifteen or twenty people waiting to cross the route. Whereas, when traffic officers blocked the way to let those motorists through, they held back the progress of several hundred people on bikes and on foot.

Health, pleasure, and booming business followed the happy hordes as they pedaled, skated, strolled, or ran along Wilshire—while the unliberated streets of the city just saw the usual parade of speeding, honking cars eternally headed somewhere, or perhaps nowhere, else.

So rather than riding with my attention focussed on finding photo ops, I just rode, under a shining spring morning, along a route that I ride often but on which I am usually on red alert, scanning traffic in all directions for the inevitable clueless fool who might take me out of this magnificent world.

We started off with our “feeder ride,” possibly the shortest one ever scheduled for a CicLAvia: three hundred feet from our driveway to the corner, since we in fact live in the Miracle Mile. I was nominal leader, with Gina on my wing, and our downstairs neighbor Ali on one of our Bromptons following after. Scooting left to the marquee of the El Rey theater, we picked up another rider and headed east.

I indulged the wishes of our entourage and pointed out the spectacular architecture along the way—the area hosts a number of Art Deco buildings, as well as some significant though less-appealing Modernist and International Style edifices, plus a good bit of vernacular architecture. Of course there was MacArthur Park, looking a bit fresher after a refurb, and Lafayette Park, and the towers of Downtown, the stunning sanctuary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (which was open to all), and, back at home, Hancock Park with its Tar Pits and (of course) LACMA. That area was crowded with erstwhile cyclists lazing on the grass. Pigeon Master Josef was there on his bakfiets, with kid Valentina in the box and wife Susan on a cruiser, as well as Jimmy Z and his kid in his own bakfiets…while up on the mound housing the Page Museum, Wolfpack Hustle’s Don Ward, aka “Roadblock,” led an advocacy meeting with Silver Lake and Atwater residents discussing the Glendale/Hyperion bridge.

The sun shone, the breeze blew, happy people laughed out of sheer delight, and the noise and stink of car culture were held at bay for a few brilliant hours.

Two more CicLAvias to go this year, with the hope of more in future years.

Who knows? Maybe someday, perhaps, we’ll catch up to Bogotá, Colombia, where it all started forty years ago. That city liberates seventy-five miles of streets for its ciclovías—and does it every week.

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Another OMG ATSAC article, should be WTF?!

 

“The relationship between Angelenos and traffic is a dysfunctional one. In a city without much weather, we obsess, instead, over traffic.

So a trip to ATSAC is sort of a traffic pilgrimage. ATSAC is the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control center located under City Hall East, downtown. The computerized system monitors and controls every traffic light in the city, making real-time adjustments based on traffic conditions at about 4400 intersections. ATSAC was first used to route vehicles around the Coliseum during the 1984 Olympics; now it’s one of the largest and most sophisticated traffic control systems in the world.”

-”Inside the nerve center of LA traffic surveillance” April 1, 2014 by Gideon Brower on KCRW’s Which Way L.A.

Every article on ATSAC takes a “gee whiz” angle to this story instead of the more appropriate “WTF?!” stance.

Let me explain:

Have you ever tried to build something in LA? It costs thousands to perform a traffic survey when you want to build something in this town. That is millions of dollars every year being spent every time someone builds something in LA paying to have some jerk on the side of the road, or some little metal box with black hoses crossing the street,  counting  cars passing through intersections.

ATSAC uses loop detectors to record this data and somehow we never “know” what car traffic volumes are in hearings on development – forcing people to waste time and money hiring someone to stand on a corner and do the same job that ATSAC is doing already.

Further, in Los Angeles’ city hall in meetings with the mayor or council (the highest level of local governance in the city) it takes at least A MONTH for a traffic survey to be performed by again sending some jerk to go out and count cars. ATSAC is, again, recording all this data continuously. The MyFigueroa project is right now being held up for a month, and for what? You guessed it: a traffic survey!

How much did ATSAC cost? It started with the 1984 Olympics and was completed under Villaraigosa’s term. It has cost us millions and millions of dollars to digitize and control traffic signals in LA and the maintenance costs for that system are not cheap either.

And yet … and yet we take all this data and we throw it in the digital dumpster every month.

If ever someone was looking for a sign that we, as a people, are stupid and feckless the ATSAC system and its use would be it.

There are multiple pHds in transportation studies and environmental justice, sociology, politics, fine art you name it waiting to be explored if we could look at this ATSAC data going backwards in time. If it was stored and we could see what happens when there are parades, earthquakes, new developments – so we can let reality help us make public decisions instead of stupid anecdotes about how much “traffic” there is in LA!

The ATSAC data needs to be:

  • Permanently retained
  • Published online
  • Be web-accesible with an API for coders
  • Integrated as a layer in Navigate LA

How hard would this be? If the mayor reached out, I am sure one of the academic institutions in LA would be over the bloody moon to host this data. Hell, let’s find out what the LADOT needs to pipe this data out to the world and we can DIY it in one of those coding festivals the iPhone and Prius crowd loves so much.

 

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Network Elegance


I joined the regular meeting of the Bicycle Plan Implementation Team just yesterday, downtown in the scuffed and dreary fluorescent-lit City Hall East building, and sat through three hours of quite intelligent yet ultimately discouraging palaver over the future for human-centric transportation in LA.

The plan itself is quite well-thought-out (though that is in great part the result of the city’s current bicycle community rising up against the perfunctory and inadequate first iteration of the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan). It comprises overlapping webs of long-distance routes along watercourses, striped lanes in arterial connector streets, a “Neighborhood Network” of low-stress side streets, and even some intended cycletracks.

However, as the meeting developed, it began to seem that this was really a wish list, not a project timetable by any means. We were warned that City Planning has no real power beyond advising the Council of what it considers to be worth doing, and that any individual council member can push through or entirely blockade any project.

Those of you who have been following any of the various bicycle and neighborhood blogs around town are all too aware of this: how council members have successfully stalled projects on Fourth Street, North Figueroa street, Westwood Boulevard, and Lankershim Boulevard, were stopped forme bike lanes from plans for the Glendale-Hyperion bridge refurb by a huge public outcry, removed most of the green from the busy Spring Street lane, and have threatened the future of the entire (already-budgeted!) MyFigueroa project.

Los Angeles doesn’t even have any real bikeway networks yet, except in part of Downtown and a corner of Venice Beach; we have dribs and drabs of bikeways scattered about like threads on a sewing-room floor, stuck in where the road was wide and the planning easy, but rarely tied together. (Though to be fair, this is scheduled to happen in East Hollywood around Virgil/Hillhurst soon.)

Meanwhile, European cities with far narrower roads have found room for bikeways weaving their neighborhoods together—and found health, happiness, and prosperity as well. And it’s not just Eurozone economic powerhouses such as Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands: our little neighbor Santa Monica is reaping the benefits of bikeways as well, and stepping up its program.

Look back at the photo that heads this column: while LA is still taking trembling first steps into the Bicycle Millennium, Santa Monica is refining the already-excellent network that knits its neighborhoods to its business districts: the long-established and hugely-popular bike lanes on Main Street now have green paint at intersections and other conflict zones, and sharrows are being placed in yet more left-turn pockets, to remind dunderheaded drivers that cyclists have full rights to the road.

Meanwhile, streets such as Fourteenth north of Wilshire have seen painted buffers added to their own facilities, and the little city is adding door-zone markers to many of its standard bike lanes.

SaMo is well into the second phase of its bikeway network, while its much richer neighbor LA is still scribbling sharrows onto forgotten backstreets to rack up miles for bragging rights.

It’s time for LA to concentrate on building usable, connected networks in parts of town that have dense neighborhoods surrounding retail districts and employment centers—which are everywhere in LA. No more tattered rags of bikeways dropped in lost corners of town when no one’s looking. A little network elegance will pay off big time, if we dare to do it.

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LA’s Mobility Plan 2035 is a morally bankrupt symbol of a crumbling society …

A feral cow munches on plastic bags near an open sewer.

The bottom line for Los Angeles’ Mobility Plan 2035? Anyone who supports the current plan shouldn’t be allowed into any house of worship.

Please, let me explain.

When you build a house in Los Angeles you have to follow the building code – fire alarms, proper sewer lines, hot and cold water to the house, electricity, a structure that will not collapse in moderate earthquakes, a structure that allows people to get in and out as safely as possible in a fire.

Some of the more byzantine building codes (why a 2.5″ diameter handrail when a 2.25″ is just as good?) are simply there to establish some sort of baseline level of safety and eliminate any guesswork or fudging by an architect, engineer, general contractor or building inspector. Other parts of the building code are there due to hard won experience in the building trades, urban planning SNAFU’s, and public health research – usually through tragedies later found to be easily preventable through proper design, monitoring, or maintenance.

The health and sanitation reasons for making it mandatory to, for example, close off all the sewer lines to the environment (i.e. no open air sewer lines feeding to the street, a trench, or a local stream) are obvious to us. Open sewers breed the conditions for large scale health problems in a human population – cholera, dysentery, malaria, typhoid fever, etc. Closing off what were once open trenches of human poop, kitchen waste, and animal waste pooling in trenches in many cities has led to longer human lifespans and happier lives for many people who would have died or lost months or years of their lives fighting an easily preventable group of diseases.

Now we arrive at the problem I have with the Mobility Plan 2035 update in Los Angeles: the city’s streets produce the equivalent health effects of having open air sewers, except that it isn’t cholera or typhoid that is consuming lives and resources – we’re facing an epidemic level of obesity, growing rates of depression, heart disease, traffic injuries and deaths, and other negative social effects. These health problems are directly related to the way streets are designed and built. Just as open sewers lead to higher rates of fatal cases of diarrhea, the streets of Los Angeles lead to social isolation, excessively sedentary lifestyles, and all the miserable physical, psychological, and social problems that come with those conditions.

Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health knows the effects of poor street design so well that they issue clear recommendations in their annual reports. They perform community health surveys regularly and their data can be broken down to the city council district level and potentially census block. There is no excuse that “we don’t have the money to monitor this” since the County provides material a 2nd grader could understand about the effects of poor street design on community health. The City of Los Angeles doesn’t need to collect health data – but it sure as heck needs to make sure measured health outcomes are a part of the legal framework for street designing.

We can just about predict the rates of childhood obesity, adult depression, and heart attack rates based on the pattern of streets, intersections, and sidewalks in a community – the same way we can predict that untreated effluent mixing with stream water used for bathing and drinking will spread cholera and dysentery.

It is at the level of a moral crime to allow street design to proceed without saying “it is illegal for us to design a street that will predictably lead to the current rates of depression, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc.” It is a sin given how much we have collectively studied and understand the effects of a car-only road system.

Community health outcomes must be directly tied to the planning, measurement of performance, and continual reevaluation of our streets.

To support the Moblity Plan 2035 without these health measures is to commit a moral and ethical crime not only against your fellow human, but against civilization itself. We collect together in cities to provide for our mutual benefit. Our government is empowered with the ability to tax us, police us, take property, and adjudicate our affairs in the trust that it will provide for the good life to all citizens. If we cannot muster the courage to tie road and street planning to clear evidence of health epidemics that are tearing through our population, well, why have a city at all? What is the point? We need to get this right or I don’t see any reason to have a city in the first place.

You can get me down off my soap box in the comment section below or online @flyingpigeonla on Twitter or be sending an email to info@flyingpigeon-la.com

If you’d like to join in the morality play for the soul of our civilization at the heart of the Mobility Plan 2035 you can:

First, read through the plan by downloading a draft copy here.

Then, you can either bust out your laptop or your typewriter and email my.la@lacity.org

or

Send a snail mail letter to:
Los Angeles Department of City Planning c/o My LA
200 N. Spring Street, Rm 667, MS 395
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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Brewery Ride on Saturday, April 5, 2014

We’re going on another mellow bike ride to sample high quality beer. Join us! This month we’re making the trek to The Greyhound Bar & Grill in Highland Park.

Meet at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, 2014. We are going to roll out at 6:30 p.m. on a slow-paced cruise to a local purveyor of high quality beer – this month we’re heading to The Greyhound Bar & Grill in Highland Park.

We are going to ride on N. Figueroa Street to the doors of Councilman Gil Cedillo’s district office to raise awareness about the Figueroa For All movement to have bike lanes (which are being stalled by the cnoucilman’s office) installed on N. Figueroa. You can find out more at the Fig 4 All website.

The Greyhound is located right across the street from the councilman’s office and cell phone reception is great – so spend some time emailing, tweeting, or leaving a voice message for the councilman about your desire for a safe and bike-friendly North Figueroa.

Plan to be back at the Flying Pigeon LA bike shop at around 8:45 p.m.

Don’t have a bike? No problem! We rent them on our rides for $20.

More information about our rides can be found on our Shop Rides page.

There is a Facebook Event for this ride

Any questions? info@flyingpigeon-la.com

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Flying Pigeon LA inventory on March 24, 2014

More wandering around and talking about stuff in the shop like the eccentric Christianias we are trying to find homes for, used Gazelle Tour Populairs, Brompton demonstrator bikes, dynamo lights, Klean Kanteen bottles, and other good stuff.

Any questions? info@flyingpigeon-la.com

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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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