Tunnel of Love

With Second Street blocked off for road work south of Hill, there are fewer cars than usual using the tunnel out of Downtown, In fact, both times I rode through it on the nicely-buffered bike lanes today, there were NO cars in it. That is, none at all. I had, in fact, seen three turning left into it from Hill, but by the time I came to it, it was vacant. One run was at morning rush hour, when, road work or not, there should have been a steady stream of cars pouring onto Hill Street from Echo Park, Glendale, and beyond. Only…they weren’t there. All those traffic jams predicted by mouth-foaming motorists when the bike lanes went it haven’t materialized even with a complete blockage of the continuation of the roadway.

Nor were Third or Fourth Streets looking particularly busy. Maybe all those predictions were wrong, and the few traffic jams that did materialize would have happened anyway, from other causes? You know, such as too damn many cars?

I remember driving through the Second Street tunnel in the bad old days, and it was no great pleasure then. Substandard lanes all the way, you know. Today’s vehicular vacuity gave me the leisure to make an eyeball comparison of the buffered bike lane to the mixed traffic lane beside it, and it seems to me that, if you removed the bike lane and its kindly buffer, you would not receive a full-sized car lane in return. This tunnel may have been built for the Model A Ford, not today’s considerably fatter vehicles. It was designed during World War I, and construction began almost exactly one hundred years ago, in 1916. It shows its age, too, with many of its signature white tiles long since fallen and lost. Trash abounds in the bike lanes as well, sad to say—though it’s easy enough to swerve around it, now that velocipedalists have their own space.

And they use it: what I did see today was cyclists, heading to, through, around, and out of the tunnel, both during rush hour, and even more so around two o’clock, when I headed back to Hill Street. It’s a well-balanced facility now, with plenty of capacity for motor vehicles, and room for cyclists of every level of skill and courage. Downtown, as I have noted recently, is chock-full of bikes these days, and many more will be coming apace. One of my new work colleagues has moved downtown and will soon be shopping for a bike to serve as her primary transportation. A quick look around is enough to tell you that she will be far from alone….

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Downtown Flowering

I’ve had to spend most of the last week and a half in downtown Los Angeles, hanging around the Central Library. When I was young this would have been a terribly boring location—not the Library itself, as I’ve always been a bookworm, but the neighborhood. Now, though, I could hardly wait for breaks so I could get outside and explore Flower Street, Seventh Street, the Maguire Gardens at the west end of the library (once a parking lot!), the Bunker Hill Steps, and, well, just about everything.

I even walked one of the old pedways, elevated sidewalks that were supposed to channel pedestrians about and keep the streets safe for cars. That hasn’t happened, of course; fortunately, much of the area has been re-redesigned with street life in mind, and walkers abound everywhere. Homeless folk mingle peacefully with office drones, pompous managers, school tours, tradespeople, and no small number of tourists. There are many times more people in the crosswalks than on the bridges.

The Pershing Square subway stop, of course, brings hordes of human beings who then get about on their own two feet; and around the corner on Seventh is another stop where the Red and Purple subway lines join with the Blue and Expo line light rail routes. This means generally happy swarms of people walking…and bicycling.

In fact, bicycles are prominent, rolling the lanes or locked to the numerous bike racsk—which are not quite numerous enough, as two-wheelers are also locked to just about anything else that a U-lock or chain can embrace. Though you don’t see much of that in the break-time aerial heading the column, when you’re at ground level you see bikes, bikes, bikes.

Old rusty cruisers, ’70s bikeboom relics, shiny Linus commute bikes, carbon playracers, mountain bikes burdened with milk crates for and aft, armies of fixies everywhere, and even the occasional cargo bike. Just yesterday I saw what looked like a homemade flatbed bakfiets being pedaled serenely up Fifth Street in company of a fixie, both their riders sporting the messenger look and most likely, in that district ringed with law offices, actually at work.

Fountains, sculptures, bikes, and happy smiling faces all around, and the air clean after a rain. Not your daddy’s old Downtown LA, these days. Sometimes things do get better.

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Space Cases

Yes, you can barely see the bicycles in the photo above…and perhaps that’s exactly the point. The five bicycles take up so little room compared to the two-and-a-half cars! What’s more, in this case they take up room that would otherwise go unused: the little strip of walkway just inboard of the curb, where parking meters, signposts, lamp standards, and other minor street utilities make their home.

Four of the bikes are on two official LADOT sidewalk bike racks, and one is locked to a parking meter. There are five other racks to the west on this single block of Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile—two in front of the inevitable Starbucks, one in front of the Johnny’s New York Pizza, and two more in front of The Counter. They all accommodate customers and employees of the businesses in that large office building you see in the background, and they do it far more efficiently than cars can. Indeed, the building has a massive parking structure behind it, taking up a good half of the block—more land area than the productive building itself requires.

Very simply put, cars waste space. Doesn’t matter if they’re powered by gasoline, electricity, or pixie dust, nor whether you’re driving them or Google is. And before you start: even robocabs use up a lot of room. They’re either taking up lane space delivering bodies, or taking up lanespace cruising for new bodies, or taking up space parked somewhere. Cars waste space. This is probably a bigger sin than pollution or even global warming, because, in taking up so much space, they require us to put all the human elements of our cities farther apart, comdemning us to longer (and usually lonely) commutes, and keeping us apart from each other in little metal cells. In short, cars destroy not only te atmosphere and the watershed; they destroy human culture itself.

This has recently been expressed most eloquently by my friend and colleague, J. H. Crawford, in a Washington Post article entitled, “The Car Century Was a Mistake. It’s Time to Move On.” Click on it for a good, short read on the subject. Crawford knows it well.

Meanwhile, if you see a spot on the block that truly needs a bike rack, , wherever you may be in the City of Los Angeles, just click on the link below and ask LADOT to put one in. Believe it or not, they actually will.

Sidewalk Bicycle Rack Request Form

If all goes well—and it usually does—a bike rack will appear within a couple of months.

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Horsin’ Around

As you may know, the City of Burbank recently knuckled under to one-percenter pressure and banned bicycles from the Mariposa bridge over the LA River. You now can’t even dismout and push them across: bicycles are not allowed in any way, shape, or form on this bridge. The reason: fear that they will “spook” the horses ridden by the ultimate in self-entitled privilege junkies, the Equestrian-unAmerian community infesting Riverside Drive. Yes, from up on their skittish beasts, they literally look down on everyone. So, no bikes on the bridge. Even though, according to a 1938 Burbank Daily Review article quoted in an LA Times’ report, this bridge “would be for ‘only equestrians, cyclists and hikers.'”

None of that mattered to the present-day pseudo-centaurs growling out bike hate: their horses are just too nervous to be anywhere near a bicycle. Somehow, though, horses have been trained to go calmly into war for millennia. Yes, they can put up with flying bullets, arrows, and spears, flashing swords and bayonets, roaring cannons, and screams of rage and agony all around, but they can’t see a bicycle without suffering a heart attack. Maybe modern-day equestrians are just too lazy to train their beasts?

In another extralegal assumption of privilege, horsie folks actually made up their own official-looking signs “banning” bikes from the bridge long before Burbank’s city council (which had originally approved a cyclists-dismount provision) finally gave in to their relentless kvetching. No surprise: I’ve actually had horse people teel me that hiking was prohibited on Sierra trails for the same reason. You know, just plain walking. This was untrue, by the way.

The equestrians’ main argument is that bikes are prohibited on the dirt trails of Griffith Park, to which the bridge leads. This is true. But, a few feet from the park end of the bridge is a paved trail (AKA a “road”) where bikes are permitted, and could be walked to. And, of course, the LA River bike path will soon be extended past the bridge.

However, as CiclaValley reports, last night the very same Burbank city council met to consider accepting Metro funds to build a bicyclist- and pedestrian-only bridge about half a mile west of Mariposa, connecting Bob Hope Drive to the park side of the river. This is in anticipation of the bike path extension.

No word yet on the results of this august body’s deliberations. Maybe they’ll quit horsin’ around and allow all the city’s denizens free access to the river and Griffith Park. Maybe they’ll cower in fear of the stirrup set again and let the opportunity pass them by.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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The Desolation Way

Look at the photo above: this is the heart of downtown Los Angeles, just after the morning rush hour. Between Union Station and La Placita on the one hand, and City Hall, the various administration and court buildings, and the financial center on the other, lies this concrete trench (crammed with cars), spanned by bland concrete bridges (crammed with cars), leading to streets crammed with cars. While some of downtown, notably Spring, Broadway, and Seventh, are lively with human beings walking to work, shop, or dine, too much of it looks like this. Angular gray expanses of asphalt and cement, filled with thunder and smoke and little metal cells holding fleshy work units. When Le Corb touted the glory of the automobile, he didn’t foresee this bland desolation. But eighty years of trying to make room for cars created exactly that: a place that no one wants to look at or stay in.

Think platoons of robocars will solve the problem? They’ll but make it appear more acceptable, and not-so-eventually they will expand like any gas to fill all available space. They may be able to drop you off in front of any door you choose but then, how likely will you be to discover a door you didn’t even know existed as you walk from a parking spot, or, better yet, from a transit stop or bike corral, where you have arrived in the company of your unknown neighbors? Sitting passively in little pods divorces you from the random meetings that make dense cities so attractive, so productive, so inventive. Cities that walk are cities that thrive. People mixing on the streets and in Third Places produce innovation. Cars mixing on the streets create traffic jams.

The pollution cars bring may be the least of our worries: car culture infects you with a stultifying inertness. The only energy left you is to curse your neighbors hidden in their own cars all around you. In a city where people travel by transit, foot, and bike, transportation itself becomes a vast and highly-efficient third place.

Walkable cities, as Richard Florida noted a couple of years ago, foster democracy. Cars foster atomized populations easily controlled by demagogues haranguing them over their car radios four hours a day.

We don’t have to live in desolate isolation. It’s only a habit at this point. And habits are made to be broken.

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On the Horizon

Dissatisfaction with the imperious ways of do-nothing district boss Gil Cedillo is spreading…though perhaps it’s unfair to call him a “do nothing.” He has, after all, cancelled the Figueroa Street redo that would have boosted business and quite likely prevented the four deaths that have occurred on that street since his election; he has, after all, kept Reyes Park at Humboldt Street effectively closed (a narrow gate is open at each end, but the foreboding jail-like fences blocking the main entryways effectively keep the park deserted); and he has, after all, gotten the city to place a few of the same plastic trash bins it is placing everywhere else along Fig as well, generating one of Cedillo’s precious photo ops.

And, oh, yeah, he’s alienated more and more constituents, the latest of which is the No on 710 residents’ group, fighting to keep Caltrans from ramming a congestion-generating freeway extension through the neighborhood, one that includes a tunnel that would vent the exhaust of tens of thousands of vehicles into NELA’s air.

In this recent Facebook post, Charles Miller asks, “[H]ow can we in this group channel and support the groundswell of ill will in Council District 1 of Los Angeles?”

Miller links to Citywatch LA’s repost of the article I posted here last week, suggesting Josef Bray-ali as candidate. A commenter on the 710 group’s post suggested Gloria, presumably Molina, though I’m not sure she’d be the best choice, as she seems not to understand the concept of Complete Streets. She’s on record saying that what downtown LA really needs is more parking lots, and she’s suspicious of bike lanes. And anyway, Cedillo backed Molina in the last election. We hardly need a rehash of his obstructionism.

So come on, folks; post some comments. Who ought to run against Cedillo in the CD1 election that’s just visible on the horizon now? Josef? You? Anyone else? Someone from the community needs to step up. There’s been enough of outsider Cedillo and his outside-interests money, hasn’t there?

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Do You Feel a Draft?

A regular topic of discussion in NELA is what to do about rogue councilmember and carpetbagger-in-chief Gil Cedillo. His obstructionism famously keeps Figueroa Street a slaughter alley lined by scattered shops struggling vainly against economic desolation…while José Huizar’s York Boulevard, nurtured by its road diet and bike lanes, thrives. York’s shops and eateries host crowds that often spill out onto the sidewalks, where folks can actually dine, stroll, and window shop without feeling hemmed in by manic traffic. Meanwhile, Cedillo’s Figueroa sees firefighters mopping blood off the streets all too regularly, while his cabal of NIMBY ranters keeps him bloated with the odd turbulent pride of stubbornness.

Although the man has his supporters, the community, by and large, would love to see Cedillo replaced. The man squeaked in by around 800 votes, after a campaign whose promises he discarded like so much used toilet paper once in office. His campaign funds came almost entirely from outside the district, and real-estate developers of the more rapacious sort figured largely in his financing. His tenure in office has been marked by photo ops and “No” votes, though he did add some plastic trash bins to the streets…and now he wants to amend the city’s Mobility Plan 2035 to make it more of a Mobility Plan 1955, at least in CD1.

Clearly, Cedillo is not acting in the best interests of the district, or of the city as a while, and is perhaps in violation of the state’s Complete Streets Act.

But few locals want to run against him and his well-financed machine. The community may have to draft someone…and I won’t be the first to suggest that that someone could be Josef Bray-Ali, publisher of this blog.

True, Bray-Ali has written and said some immoderate things in the last couple of years—an understandable reaction to the betrayals and frustrations imposed on the community by Cedillo (watch this video of Cedillo, while in full prevarication mode, touting “real bike lanes,” Copenhagen-style, as a must for LA—even as he prepared to backstab us). One can understand a few flashes of verbal temper under the circumstances.

More to the point is Bray-Ali’s position in the community: he has lived in CD1 for over ten years, owns a small business on Figueroa, and was even a developer himself—not the sort building outsized megablock monstrosities, but partner in a firm dedicated to intimate, low-impact neighborhood-scale projects. He has even written about parking and development for the Los Angeles Business Journal (unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall).

He is the son of an immigrant, speaks usable if inelegant Spanish, has plenty of contacts at City Hall, and truly cares about the community and all its stakeholders. It would be an uphill battle, but he would be a very good council member, one who would keep the best interests of the district, the city, and the region (which are all, of course, tied together) always in mind. He’s far from being “just a bike guy”—I’d say he knows LA’s municipal code better than most people currently in the administration. Small business, traffic safety, neighborhood health, beneficial development, parking and transportation—Bray-Ali sees them all in the context of community . CD1 could do worse—and has.

Josef, do you feel a draft?

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Flying Pigeon LA inventory on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

First inventory video of 2016!

Highlights: cute dog sleeping in a box; Brompton folding bicycles, a 1955 Rhoson de Lyon touring bike for sale; a Soma Bart kids touring frame; a built Flying Pigeon PA-02 ready to go to a new home; ketchup from Camden’s in Portland; steel flasks with bicycle mounted flask cage; and, what else?! A bunch of other stuff.

NELA Kidical Mass happening this coming Sunday, February 21, 2016 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sycamore Grove Park in Northeast Los Angeles.

Any questions? info@flyingpigeon-la.com or on El Twitter @flyingpigeonla

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NELA Kidical Mass on Sunday, February 21, 2016

NELA Kidical Massive rolling in September of last year got us inspired to throw this party again.

NELA Kidical Mass is rolling again this coming Sunday, February 21, 2016 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Sycamore Grove Park (4702 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90065).

Facebook Event link? Click here and check it out.

Kids, bikes, scooters, hand wagons, skateboards; meet us at Sycamore Grove Park at 11 a.m. We’re going to play on the playground, eat snacks, dance, play, have a rolling wheel rally and bash open a pinata in a celebration of family, community, bikes, and each other.

Meet at the playground by Ramona Hall. No reservations required, nor sign up sheets, nor waivers, nor fees. Bring something to eat (and share!), a picnic blanket to sit on, etc. We’re going to set up a picnic area and get the kids riding around the park together or by themselves.

Ample street parking available at the park. Two public free lots also available at the park. Gold Line access right across the street from Southwest Museum station. Metro 81 bus access available 24/7 on Figueroa (show up early and camp out!).

There is a Facebook Event post for this party.

Any questions? info@flyingpigeon-la.com or ask us on Twitter @flyingpigeonla

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Sixth Street Shuffle

Sixth Street, in Mid-City Los Angeles, is, plain and simple, a dangerous street. From Fairfax to Rossmore, it’s four lanes with no center turn lane and few left turn pockets. Motorists use it as an alternative to Wilshire, and, as most of them are typical scofflaws, they speed, swerve, and blow lights with abandon. Several pedestrians have died on that stretch, many people have been injured, light poles are regularly knocked down by out-of-control cars, and it is common to pass by debris fields indicating a recent wreck, all along this stretch. I know; I live on a block abutting Sixth Street and travel it several times a day most days, usually on foot or by bike, sometimes in a car. I have seen bodies lying in the street. I have seen drivers speeding at over seventy on this neighborhood collector.

The city’s’ approach to Sixth Street has been unequivocally hypocritical: a road diet has been planned for it—but only from Fairfax to La Brea. an LADOT engineer I spoke to about this several years ago stated that, east of La Brea, Sixth was “too narrow” for a road diet.

But I noted yesterday during a personal survey of the road that the entire stretch from La Brea to Rossmore forbids parking entirely, thus making that segment of the street effectively wider.

In other words, it would be very easy to install a 4-to-3 road diet with bike lanes on the entire distance from Fairfax to Rossmore, thereby winning the road design trifecta by:

1) Slowing speed-demon drivers with a narrowed lanespace;

2) Moving the numerous left-turning drivers out of the way of through traveller 24/7; and

3) Providing an alternative to driving by making bicycle travel more comfortable through the district.

Road diets, it has so often been shown, often actually increase the average speed of motor traffic on a street, even if incrementally, and vastly increase its throughput of foot and bike traffic. This is no longer a matter of hope or conjecture; it has been measured repeatedly. Average speed is what counts; peak speeds between traffic clots mean nothing—except danger and delay.

So what is happening with Sixth these days? Hah! The road diet has been put on hold because of fears that it the subway construction in Wilshire will send “too much traffic” over to Sixth. Yes, rookie council member David Ryu has wrapped himself in the mantle of term-out Tom LaBonge and declared cars shall be your only god in the MIracle Mile. So he continues to hold back a simple painting project that could add capacity to this deadly street while preventing the carnage that has become typical in my neighborhood.

It’s a damn shame, especially in a city that loudly proclaims its adherence to the principles of Vision Zero.

Perhaps Ryu and the rest of the council’s Neanderthals think that that means zero cyclists on the road and no one ever crossing the street on foot. You could be excused for thinking so, since this malign neglect of Sixth Street is but one more example of LA’s backwards thinking.

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