Duty Now for the Future

“Duty Now for the Future” was the title of a Devo album from way back in ’79, and of course it was redolent of the cynicism and pure snark that pervaded much of New Wave.

But we can look at the phrase a little differently today, now that Bernie Sanders has shown us that the “Audacity of Hope” Obama spoke of can really make things better…if we raise the level of audacity.

Sanders really did fail to gain the nomination; there was no fix. He says so himself. But he got close. Just as Trump’s swell of race-driven nationalism (and when have we seen that before?) exposed the morass of fascism that underlies much of the US mindscape, so Sanders’s progressive populism showed us that our diverse polity has stronger urges towards compassion than towards hate.

Hillary Clinton, however much, and for whatever reasons, you may dislike her, will keep us from going backwards eighty years and to another country. Meanwhile, we can work on the future—a future in which the human scale supersedes the economy of scale.

This future is beginning to blossom in the most unlikely of places: Germany—a country with a history of militarism , fascism, and corporate domination, but one now the world leader in modern environmentalism. A country which is likely to pass a law banning all new internal-combustion vehicles by 2030, and one which recently ran a full day almost entirely on renewable electricity. Clean energy is real and routine in Germany.

It’ snot coincidental that the Green Party holds significant power in Germany. And they got there by running candidates for councils and mayor’s office in towns large and small for decades.

Doing the groundwork, in other words.

Here’s where you come in. Because “third party” candidates will get nowhere nationally till they get somewhere locally. And you’ve got one running for City Council right here in your own front yard. (You may have encountered him literally in your own front yard in recent weeks!)

Joe Bray-Ali, owner of the Flying Pigeon bike shop, former white-hat developer, once an aide to an Assembly member, and now candidate for City Council, is running in District 1, which he’s called home for over a decade.

A true progressive, champion of local businesses and neighborhood empowerment, safe streets and transportation diversity advocate, and probably the one soul who knows the LA Municipal Code better than anyone else.

You want a future that belongs to neither the pinstripes nor the brownshirts? Bray-Ali is your man. But he won’t get into the council chambers unless you vote for him.

Look at his campaign website, and you’ll see why you want him to win.

So get ready to vote for the next four years in November…and for the next forty in March, when the city votes for local offices.

And sling Joe a bit of cash if you can. Or better yet, volunteer, hit the streets, and change the world.

One council seat at a time.

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Misplaced Opportunity

I’ve been taking a bit more transit than usual these days, as a bit of a change of pace from pedaling the Brompton absolutely everywhere.

(My changes of pace, by the way, never involve a private motor car, which I drive for or five times a year under marital duress; I’ve put in enough miles behind the windshield—that is to say, over a quarter-million or so—to know exactly what I’m missing by avoiding the driver’s seat, and it is absolutely nothing. Physical and emotional stultification just don’t tickle my innards….)

So there I was on the Wilshire Rapid, making good time to my dentist’s office in SaMo, when we crossed Westwood Boulevard. And of course the intersection hosted a lineup of people on bikes, waiting to proceed to UCLA. A cyclist had just gotten off the bus, presumably for the same purpose; bikes were rolling up and down Wilshire ; and the bike racks around the intersection were full to overflowing.

It naturally brought to mind the lack of bike lanes connecting UCLA with the new Expo Line station at Westwood. This vacuity comes to us, of course, courtesy of chairwarmer District 5 council member Paul Koretz, who has been kowtowing so vigorously to a cabal of Cheviot Hills homeowners that he probably needs a live-in chiropractor. The Chevioteers failed in their attempt to block the entire Expo Line—yes, they tried to hold the entire western half of LA County hostage to their fear of “those people” crowding onto the train to steal their porch decks—but cyclists are an easier target than ethnic groups, especially since “cyclist” is often (in white pseudo-suburbia) a code word for “dark.” Saving car lanes and parking was the ostensible excuse, but that excuse flew out the window when Ryan Snyder presented a bike lane plan that removed no car lanes or parking, cleverly entitled the “Remove Nothing Plan.”

“Remove Nothing went nowhere. Koretz and his puppeteers ignored it, and Koretz went further, saying he would permit no study to be made of any plan including bikeways of any sort on the southern portion of Westwood.

People will be riding bicycles on Westwood anyway, and probably slowing traffic in a way they wouldn’t with a bikeway in place. Angelenos old and young, of every shade, will want to get from the Expo Line to UCLA, and, of course, the many delectable restaurants along the way. Fewer will choose to do so lacking a bikeway; a number of those will opt to use cars, further clogging traffic. Stoopid, ain’t it? Opportunity misplaced.

I won’t call it a lost opportunity, though, because I think we can find it again, and soon; it hasn’t been lost, but simply hidden from view for a while. After all, Jesse Creed is running against Koretz for the council seat in CD5, and he is a strong supporter of transportation choices, including bikeways. He himself endeavors to pedal anywhere within a two-mile radius of home.

Remember that, come March and the election. If you live in CD5, Creed’s the real deal.

Naturally, if you live in CD1, the home district of this blog, its Joe Bray-Ali, running to retire “Roadkill Gil” Cedillo.

If you live anywhere else, send a little cash to these two gentlemen. Two more progressive voices added to Huizar’s on the city council might be enough to transform LA. No more rubber stamp votes against the future! Bray-Ali and Creed for city council!

Grass roots vs. trickle down: which side are you on?

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Paved with Good Intentions

The Westside’s Expo Line bike path is, for the most part, beautifully made: smooth, wide asphalt with a “center divider” and sometime a marked walking path alongside it. It’s separated from both cars and the Expo Line itself (no dodging trolleys here, folks) for stretches of a mile or two at a time. Then you come to an intersection, and…things change radically.

The Expo Line crosses streets on a diagonal, for the most part, and LADOT and Metro (not to mention their contractors, who are often indifferent to cyclists’ issues) have never handled these well. “Design-build” contracts often mean that the contractors are more or less improvising as they go, and while they have experience building rail lines or busways, they seem not to know, or care, much about bike paths. As long as they can lay down an uninterrupted lane and hem it in with some pretty landscaping, they do well.

But the fact is that, at present, they do a piss-poor job of guiding cyclists across those busy and often complicated crossings that the trains usually soar over on the system’s bridges. Or even some of the more straightforeward right-angle intersections, such as Overland below.

Here are snapshots of two such treatments…. The first is of the Overland crossing, seen as you approach it from the east:

Signage is nonexistent on this side, but the path jogs left.

Once you cross Overland, the path goes up onto the sidewalk—although the sign seems to indicate a phantom pathway along Overland.

The sidewalk path ends up here…. There is a sign, barely noticeable, on the right. The bikepath actually moves onto the street to the left, and detours along a series of 6% grades, following widely-spaced sharrows till it eventually—and I do mean eventually—rejoins the light rail right-of-way.

Overland’s actually an easy one, because to get to it you had to cross the intersection of Pico and Exposition, which is really breathtaking in its absurdity:

Whe you get to it, there’s a tiny sign directing you across Pico here, in the crosswalk. And it’s a long way across—the photo shows about two-thirds of the crossing..

Once you make it across (if you do), another sign tells you to turn left, cross the street, and mount the sidewalk.

The sidewalk leads you past a strip joint and into another crosswalk, followed by another sidewalk.

I ran out of enthusiasm for phonecam documentation at this point, but way up ahead, under the bridge, a sign (inevitably small and inconspicuous) instructs you to turn right and ride the sidewalk under the train bridge. At the next corner—about sixty feet down—a sign does not exist to let you know you’re to turn left and cross the street, where the off-road path picks up again.

And so, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, it goes. In fits and starts, bits and pieces, fragments and segments, or whatever pair of words indicating discontinuity you might prefer.

This often-beautiful path coulda been a contender. But…we’re holding back the distribution of cigars for now.

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Really, The Earth IS Round….

I have had the misfortune to be elected to the board of my local Neighborhood Council, which is involved in promoting a road diet for the Miracle Mile’s Sixth Street, a one-mile stretch of roadway that saw 135 recorded collisions between 2011 and 2015, including one death, and several more deaths since then. Note that many minor crashes are not reported to the CHP’s database…

Naturally, a handful of particularly blustery sorts are aghast that traffic might actually be slowed down by a road diet, and predict every sort of calamity to ensue should it be approved. Of course, they ignore the very real blood-and-bones calamities that occur nearly every month on this stretch. So I shall reprint for you the letter I just sent to our Nextdoor group, where the self-righteously indignant have been raging….

When you look at ACTUAL road diet implementations, you find that they do not increase congestion–in fact, they often alleviate it slightly. I have previously posted links to the dozens of studies from all over the US and the world that support this assertion. The intuitive is rarely related to actuality. The Federal Highway Administration recommends road diets for streets such as Sixth as “a proven safety countermeasure.” Bike lanes are often used, as I have mentioned several times, as techniques for creating road diets, but, although several of you would “never ride” your bikes on Sixth, I do, every day, and so do many dozens of others. It is a major bicycle commuting corridor.

Convenient tax-subsidized parking and saving a few seconds on a one-mile passage are not valid justifications for terrorizing all the pedestrians and cyclists who use the street, as well as the many motorists (and even building owners) who have suffered property damage and injuries, including severe ones, caused by Sixth Street’s “dangerous by design” configuration,.

Barbara G. presented her proposal, and went far over the time allotted for comments, getting more of her say in than anyone else, including board members, but the majority of the attendance was not convinced.

I have been studying road diets and related interventions for twenty years, and I am convinced that it is right for Sixth Street. I have lived near Burnside and Sixth for sixteen years now, and I have personally seen the carnage.

Listen, if you hate the road diet, write Ryu. If you support the road diet, write Ryu. His email is david.ryu@lacity.org.

I have seen the bodies. I have heard the testimonies of fear. Neighbors are afraid to to walk on the sidewalks–on the sidewalks! A handful of people shouldn’t have the power to condemn their neighbors to death and terror for the sake of a few seconds’ “convenience.”

And for your further delectation, this all-too-appropriate comment from Minnesota, entitled, “A Cure for Fear of Parking Loss.”


The Politics of Pettiness

Ah, Council District 5’s so-called representative, Paul Koretz, is at it again. As the Daily News reports:

Jonathan Weiss published a letter two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Daily News slamming the councilman’s leadership on the Westwood Greenway, a planned 800-foot park in Koretz’s district.

The park, first proposed by Weiss in 2009, would rise near the Expo Line’s Westwood/Rancho Park stop.

Weiss’s letter outlined his support for Jesse Creed, Koretz’s opponent in next year’s race for City Council District 5, because Weiss believes Creed would be better at getting projects completed.

Several days later, Koretz’s environmental deputy Andy Shrader sent an email to those involved in the Westwood Greenway project, notifying them of backing for the project from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.

Shrader also mentioned Weiss’ letter to the Daily News and said the Cheviot Hills attorney had “raked” the councilman “over the coals.”

“Mr. Weiss will no longer be invited to our meetings going forward, but I am happy to continue meeting with you all and look forward to seeing this project through to its fruition,” Shrader wrote.

In other words, don’t you dare criticize the ruler of your fiefdom, lest you be banished, even from a project that you yourself founded.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but I see this attitude as sufficient reason in itself to support Creed, whom I’ve met, and who would make a stellar council member if he carries out half of what he stands for.

Koretz, who presents as an affable teddy bear of a man, turns more literally bearlike when his position as king of CD5 is questioned.

Of course, compared to CD1’s lamentably entrenched Gill Cedillo, Koretz is a piker in pettiness. Both lords have arbitrarily cancelled safe streets projects in their districts, the North Figueroa road diet in Cedillo’s case, the Westwood Boulevard bike lanes in Koretz’s. Koretz refused to consider the Ryan Snyder plan, which retained all the car lanes and al the parking, and refused even to permit a study of the street, saying he would veto any and all changes.

But Cedillo did him one better, by singlehandedly cancelling a road diet that had been unanimously approved (by the entire pre-Cedillo city council), funded, and engineered and approved by LADOT. As it happens, the Charter of the city of Los Angeles states that agency-approved projects can not be cancelled by individual council members…but what’s a silly little point of law amongst cronies, anyway?

The election in districts 1 and 5 comes next March. Instead of complaining, vote the bastards out. Let’s try Jesse Creed in CD5. Let’s try Joe Bray-Ali (the sponsor of this blog) in CD1. And who knows? Now that CD7’s Fuentes has vacated his seat to become a big-time lobbyist, we may even get an actual human being to run for that seat too.

If we all get out and vote, we could create a City Councll that works for the city instead of its own fat egos…but it won’t happen without your help.

Learn. Volunteer. And vote!

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Back to the Future

Last night I sat through a four and a half hour meeting of the Mid-City West Community Council. Sitting for an hour, let alone four, is not my preference, but a few months ago, friends and neighbors urged me to run for the Council’s board, and I finally acceded to their wishes. I indulged in exactly two (2) hours of campaigning, but, much to my dismay, I won anyhow. So there I was, along with thirty-four other board members, and a roomful of contentious neighbors.

Contentious because of, among other things, a proposal to implement a road diet along that deadly part of Sixth Street that runs through the Miracle Mile. Crashes, caused by speeding, swerving cars, are a weekly occurence there; injuries are frequent, and there have been deaths. Neighbors just trying to get home or to the store or the park. A woman was killed standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, her body broken by cars spinning away from yet another collision….

Everyone agrees that cars must be tamed along Sixth, but not everyone agrees on the means. Many people’s immediate reaction to a road diet is to assert that reducing the number of through lanes will “of course” increase congestion. This is not, in fact, true, as dozens, perhaps hundreds, of real-world observations have revealed. But in this sad time of “truthiness,” flat-earth theories are given respect that other hypotheses have had to work for. The evening was long.

But many people, on and off the board, spoke at length about both the mechanics and the benefits of road diets, and in the end…the motion passed!

The board will now send its recommendation to the LADOT and the local council member, David Ryu. Whether he will continue his predecessor LaBonge’s suppression of the road diet remains to be seen.

Yes, continue it: because this is not a new road diet. It was first proposed years ago. LADOT’s analysis and most of its design work have been done. In fact, just about everything has been done except actually doing it. Meanwhile, cars crash, neighbors die, and people at a recent town hall said they’re afraid even to walk along Sixth on the sidewalks!

Maybe, just maybe, Ryu can show some spine and support what will, despite overwhelming local support, be a contentious project. If he caves to the naysayers, in the time-honored way of LA council members, well…the gutters will continue to run with blood in the Miracle Mile.

As one of the other board members put it, “This is a moral issue. People are dying while we argue.”


Spreading the Word

You may know Nick Richert as the producer of the “Bike Talk” podcast, featured on both KPFK And Killradio, but, besides being a regular rider and fervent bike advocate, he is dedicated to literacy. Though himself a man of few words (at least when he’s away from the microphone), he knows and respects the strength in words to spread both information and enlightenment.

Reading is empowerment; it connects you directly to the thoughts of others throughout time and space, in their own words, and your own skill with words lets you judge them without having to depend on someone else to tell you what to think. Dictators throughout history have sought to control access to literature and critical writing. Caesar’s army burned the library at Alexandria in 48BC; Hitler burned books in the last century before he started burning humans; and today, Texas fundamentalists are trying to restrict the range of books allowed to students, lest they pick up habits of critical thinking.

So Nick combines his two passions with the sporadic but relentless Street Libraries Ride, wherein a small group of cyclists pedals from one Little Free Library to another through Silver Lake and East Hollywood, stocking them with books culled from bookstores, public libraries, and their own shelves at home.

“Little Free Libraries,” for those that don’t know, are tiny structures set in front of stores, schools, apartments, and homes, and stuffed with books for neighbors to take. “Take a book, leave a book,” is the motto. There’s one in front of Flying Pigeon LA, which is where Nick usually starts his ride.

I joined the Nick and Jennifer Gill at Stories Books and Café in Echo Park, and Joni Young caught up with us a couple of miles later. We stocked libraries by the Micheltorena School, the Intelligentsia at Sunset Junction, and the LA EcoVillage. The EcoVillage, an “intentional community,” is, in fact, the birthplace of the Bicycle Kitchen, the home of Joe Linton and a couple of dozen other great folks, and the site of all manner of community events, as well as planning sessions for guerilla urbanism. It’s worth checking out.

And it’s worth joining us on a Street Libraries ride! Contact Nick via Bike Talk to get on his mailing list.


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News of the World

Just a few snippets to remind you that Los Angeles really needs your help if it’s going to catch up to the rest of the country and rationalize its transportation system. We desperately need to make it healthier, safer, and more supportive of community…as the following cities have been doing.

In San Francisco, that rich and ultra-liberal ville to our north, a SOMA intersection will be rebuilt to protect walkers and cyclists.

In Pasadena, that stuffy old-money city to the northwest, protected bike lanes are going in on Union Street.

Toronto, in Canada’s Midwest, has hired a data analysis firm to suss out the Bloor Street pilot projecttby looking at what actually happens on the ground, rather than doing a Koretz-style cave to NIMBY’s and refusing even a study….

Across the continent, New York dares to be honest with itself and accept that bike lanes and road diets not only boost safety; they lift up businesses and even smooth motor traffic flow enough that transit times for drivers decrease along with deadly speeding!

East of the Rockies, Denver opens a two-way protected bike lane smack in the middle of downtown for a good long trial run.

LA, not so much. Brave talk, lots of grip-and-grin photo ops, but the roads are still clogged with cars, and few options are made available to let people leave te cage behind.

What can you do ?

  • Go to the meetings announced here and on every other bicycling blog in LA. Let politicians and neighbors know that you support transportation diversity, local community, and local businesses.
  • Take over your own neighborhood council! Elections are usually every two years, and the NCs are a channel you can use to send ideas to your local council member, and to talk with your neighbors about how complete streets would benefit them.
  • Support progressive politicians such as Joe Bray-Ali, owner of Flying Pigeon LA, who is running to replace Gil Cedillo, the man who keeps NELA’s streets running deep with blood.

If you just sit back and moan, you’re helping the NIMBYs win. The future is yours…if you’ll make it.

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Brave New Runaround

Last Sunday i was heading down Venice Boulevard towards Santa Monica when I spotted a teensy little sign indicating that the Expo Line Bike Path ran thataway—diagonally away from Venice along the Expo Line tracks, and pretty much a more direct route to my destination.

Or so it seemed. It started off pretty nice—much of the path indeed looks like the later segment pictured above, with wide lanes, sweeping curves, and usually a walking lane as well.

The trouble is that, as in so much Los Angeles area bicycle infrastructure, the whole thing is rather fragmented. In fact, you might occasionally call it demented. Much of it makes no sense.

For example, the bike path keeps crossing from one side of the Expo Line right of way to the other. You’re pedaling along, happy and free, secure in your brightly-striped domain, when suddenly you come to a cross street, and…the path ends. You glance around, and finally spot a wee white sign with a little arrow pointing left or right. You cross the street and wobble along the sidewalk under the tracks and resume your ride. A mile or so later this happens again. And again. And Again.

Then, at one point, a slightly different sign, with the arrow angled, attempts to inform you that the path has suddenly been dumped onto the adjacent street. It doesn’t do a very good job of it, and so you come upon a barricade of steel pipes beyond which is an inexplicable forty feet of dirt, followed by a sidewalk.

You ride off the curb and into a painted bike lane—no buffer here—and proceed along the tightly-curved side street. The motorists, tempted by the curve into pretending they’re race car drivers, cut deep into the bike lane as they floor it round the turn. There’s no reason to do so; it’s a residential street with a stop sign almost immediately beyond said turn. Quite unpleasant.

Then there’s Cheviot Hills. Oh, the burghers of Cheviot Hills! How they railed against the train itself, and all the eager burglars it would bring! And how much more they hated the bike path—because you know that “those people” love to saddle up a bike when they ks the old lady and head out in the morning to rob, rape, and kill! Also, there were difficulties in fitting a bike path into the deep cut the train would run along. So the bike path detours far out of the way and takes you (if you don’t miss the tiny signs) right through the residential neighborhoods that so feared the influx of bike riders. Brilliant.

But they don’t get too many outside of the spandex set, because the bikeway is routed up and down several quite steep hills.

Part of this may be because, if I may judge from correspondence I’ve viewed, the Exposition Construction Authority didn’t actually want to build a bike path, and had to be badgered into doing so.

At any rate, it’s the same kind of lackadaisical, fragmented bicycle facility we’ve been getting here for decades. Parts of it are truly fine, but as a whole, as a transportation corridor, it doesn’t really work. I hope it does do a little something for local access to the Expo Line, but I gotta tell you, on a bright warm Sunday afternoon, it was nearly deserted.

I deserted it myself, at Gateway, where I picked up the faded old onstreet bike lane that took me into Santa Monica via Ocean Park. That’s when the going got good.


Walking the Vote

Do you support Joe for CD1? Do you believe in “Safe Streets, Strong Neighborhoods”? Do you want to see “Development without Displacement,” increasing housing stock for current residents of the district’s varied neighborhoods as well as newcomers? Do you want to see more local businesses thriving and spending their profits right back in the ‘hood, instead of sending them off to heedless shareholders, as chainstores do?

Then Joe is your choice—but he’s fighting an uphill battle. King Cedillo sits on his mountain of gentrifier cash and laughs at the peasants milling below with their pitchforks and torches. But the vote is a mightier weapon than any pitchfork…when people bother to use it.

It’s not enough to complain about the process: you need to control it to make change! And the control lever hinges on the vote.

If you want humanistic progressivism to win, you’ve got to get out and walk. You have to knock on every door in the district, talk to folks who might not like you, might not trust you, might just shut the door in your face. Cedillo barely squeaked into office last time, and that only because of a deal with third-ranked candidate Rosas (who seems now to regret it), but: he still got in. It’s a numbers game. Your job, if you’re serious about the place where you live or work (or live and work, as many do), is to get Joe’s message out to as many regular folks as possible.

Facebook posts won’t do it—your BFFs pressing the “Like” button under a repost of a news story won’t elect anyone. Twitter won’t do it, despite its undeniable facility for spreading mindless outrage and indignation. Blog posts like this one won’t do it, unless they get to you lace up your kicks and start walking with Joe. If you do one thing today to make your neighborhood great again, it will be to click on over to JoeforCD1.com and volunteeer!

We need people to walk Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, Echo Park, Pico-Union, Filipinotown, and parts of Downtown. If you’ve got strong legs, linguistic skills, and a genuine smile, as well as patience and kindness, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, sling a few bucks Joe’s way. If you can’t do either of those, at least repost this blurb on social media and hope for the best.

The world around you depends on…you. The election is in March. It’s a numbers game. And Joe is counting on you to help him win it.

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