Make a Little Noise, Get a Little Bus Stop Love: Random Thoughts on Mobility

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Oh, honey, no… I thought as I watched the obviously strung-out woman yank up her miniskirt and gesture insistently that passersby partake of her unkempt lady offerings.

It is not unusual to see ladies (and girls, unfortunately) of the evening working the streets on weekend mornings along S. Figueroa. It is also not unusual for them to be in questionable states of un/dress. But this level of desperation was a little out of the ordinary.

Ever the nerd, I wondered where curbing prostitution fit into the currently-open-for-public-review Mobility Element and Plan for a Healthy L.A.

Odd as that may sound, those two things were the reason I was out biking up and down South L.A.’s streets that morning. I had to be at a grand re-opening of a now-much-healthier convenience store on S. Vermont (story later this week) and decided a refresher tour of some of South L.A.’s main streets would help me put those plans into context.

As I’ve written many times before (basically, anything listed here), a neighborhood’s context is often more of a deterrent to mobility and health than whether or not the street has a bike lane. Not that infrastructure isn’t important — it absolutely is. But, if you see semi-naked ladies strolling up and down next to your school, rec center, grocery store, or home, all the bike lanes in the world won’t make you feel comfortable letting your kids — especially girls —  near those streets.

And, if they’re seated at the bus stops with their pimps, as several were this past Saturday, you may not feel comfortable letting your child take transit. While the ladies themselves can be quite friendly, their pimps can be volatile and the johns quite reckless. One nearly ran me over as he backed up at full speed without warning to get to a girl he had passed moments before.

All that said, things have apparently gotten better of late, according to one neighbor.

“It used to be like a drive-through here,” he said of the otherwise quiet stretch of 92nd St. in front of his home, where girls used to gather to avoid being seen getting into cars.

Some beautification efforts at the corner and a watchful neighbor who called the police any time he saw girls on the street, coupled with more regular patrols and the efforts of a nearby hall to ensure its parties weeded out the prostitutes that tried to mix in with the crowds has helped to limit unsavory activity in the area.

Which was good to hear, but rather depressing, considering how many girls you still see out and about at any given hour of any given day.

As I write this, I realize that these musings on prostitution don’t actually have that much to do with the reason I sat down to pen this article, which was to tout the fixing of a problem we highlighted last December — the lack of any bus infrastructure at a stop at Vermont and Gage.

The bus stop at Gage and Vermont in December, 2013, seemed like an afterthought. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The bus stop at Gage and Vermont in December, 2013, seemed like an afterthought. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

But, inevitably, when you spend time riding and walking around a geographic region like South L.A., where conditions can vary dramatically from street to street and neighborhood to neighborhood, you can’t help but think about how context impacts a community’s interaction with the public space.

So, as I ponder how to assess the fit of the Mobility Element or Plan for a Healthy L.A. for the communities I cover, I do have one thing clear: namely, there is no simple formula for how improvements and interventions should be prioritized.

What will do the most to facilitate mobility along prostitution-heavy areas of S. Figueroa or Western (such as pedestrian lighting, more police patrols, fewer motels, more eyes on the street, and programs to address the root causes of prostitution) is different from what is needed along S. Vermont, which might be better bus and bicycle infrastructure, more parks (like this new one), and fewer vacant lots. Vermont could also do with more reliable bus service — the young couple with a fussy newborn (below, at the newly paved Gage stop) had been waiting 45 min. for a bus that is scheduled to run every 25-30 min.

The bus stop as of last Saturday, with new sidewalk and repainted (and perhaps upgraded) fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The bus stop at Gage as of last Saturday, with new sidewalk and repainted (and perhaps upgraded) fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Along Cesar Chavez (as noted here), bus infrastructure and service matters, too, but pedestrian infrastructure and aid to small businesses for façade and other improvements might go a long way towards boosting mobility for families and elders. Those efforts would also boost economic development along an already important corridor, while indirectly making the street more welcoming for those using transit.

I’ll be looking at these sorts of things more closely with regard to the plans, their intersections with each other, and what they mean for the communities I cover in the next few days. In the meanwhile, I’d like to thank the powers that be for finally paving the bus stop at Gage. Small step forward as it may be, it is a massive improvement over the dirt mound that bus riders had to contend with before.

  • ubrayj02

    A program of facade improvements was done in Highland Park in the 1990’s under the Hahn administration and did little to improve retailers fortunes or the communities access to a wide variety of goods and services. We all know what a nice shopping district looks like – but jut making it look that way is not how you make a shopping district nice.

    The underlying economics along these boulevards is what keeps them looking so bad for commercial investment. The streets need to be re-oriented towards a smooth flow of traffic closer to the average car speeds (when you factor in waiting at lights, average speeds are in the 13 to 25 mph range). Once the highway-like aspects are dealt with, curb ramps, proper sidewalks, and places to linger will help get people who are walking to shop (likely the vast majority of shoppers at even the most sprawled-out strip mall) will feel more comfortable doing what they are already doing. Bike lanes can be a part of the street re-orientation or they can be ignored for a while – but either way the surface-street-as-interstate-highway design needs to go in the waste basket.

    To avoid gentrification displacing existing businesses through commercial property speculation I would take the money for facades and instead spend it creating a community land trust of some sort to keep rents low enough and prevent long term vacancies of key buildings while the property owners wait for some big chain to move in. York Blvd. has the Verdugo Pet Store site sitting vacant for quite a while now because the owner’s family wanted top dollar and so the new owners are forced to ask for rents at a ridiculous rate. The same is happening with Franks Cameras in Highland Park on N. Figueroa – the selling price of the building would require an incredible amount of rent to pay the new owner’s commercial loans they needed to buy the place.

    Commercial property speculation can freeze the entrepreneurs in a community out of even trying to make their ideas happen. A land trust can use rents to turn old buildings into repaired, functioning, spaces again without requiring a 15 or 30% return on investment.

    As for the prostitution … ?

  • DMalcolmCarson

    It’s crazy to me that you could get new pavement and a new fire hydrant, but not a bus bench or a shelter?

  • sahra

    I mention the facade improvements for Cesar Chavez in particular because it stands in such stark contrast to 1st street, where all the Metro-financed investments are happening but which actually sees less foot traffic than Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez was on deck for a host of improvements a few years ago, but that funding disappeared and everything was put on hold. As I mention, not all solutions work equally well in all communities. Because of HP’s geography, you have few main drags and need to think grander. In BH, you have several that run parallel to each other and might therefore be able to focus on the specifics within the larger picture. The Metro line along First should be an opportunity to introduce people to the community. But, if streets like CC, which have a rich history and culture all their own, are not assisted, it is unlikely that people unfamiliar with the area would trek in that direction. Or, if they did, be interested in coming back and spending their dollars there. And most business owners don’t have the access to capital (or even the proper leases sometimes) to be able to pull off improvements on their own. Facades don’t change everything, but incremental improvements done where appropriate can help. And folks along CC deserve a better ped/transit environment as it is… the sidewalks are in such poor condition and so crammed with leftover furniture and signage that they are not that great at attracting people to just sit around and enjoy the environment. Again, I’m not talking about one-size-fits all solutions. I’m just musing on the specifics of certain environments and building on the strengths and/or targeting their weaknesses to create a more livable environment.