Fight for Figueroa Bike Lanes Heats Up at Community Meeting

Crowd at Nightingale Middle School waiting for meeting to start. Photo by Nathan Solis

Crowd at Bike Lane Community Meeting at Nightingale Middle School. Photo by Nathan Solis

If there’s one thing that was made clear from yesterday’s community meeting for the proposed bike lanes on North Figueroa, it’s that Councilman Gil Cedillo is going to continue dragging his feet on whether or not the Highland Park community is going to get bike lanes.

Last night’s meeting at Nightingale Middle School, which was moved to the auditorium from the cafeteria because of capacity issues, had vocal supporters from both sides of the issue. At one point, it turned into a back-and-forth match between clapping and booing each speaker, regardless of their points of view.

The agenda for the meeting was simple enough: Cedillo and his staff welcomed the crowd and talked about the purpose of the meeting (to gather community comments), the Department of Transportation gave a presentation on the bike lane proposal that went from having bike lanes on a major boulevard, as originally planned, to instead having bike sharrows on side streets.

The presentation was to be followed by public comments and an explanation of the project’s next steps. Except those next steps never came. The meeting ended with no mention of what is to come. Instead, Cedillo gave everyone a lecture on how, in his 40 years of being a politician, arguing back and forth never got anyone anywhere…which raises questions about Cedillo’s decision to re-open a contentious public process on already-approved bicycle infrastructure.

If the Councilmember was hoping his “compromise plan” of placing Sharrows on different streets surrounding the Figueroa Corridor instead of traffic calming and bike lanes on the corridor was going to mollify the proponents of safe streets, he was disappointed. Perhaps it was because the compromise plan was actually the position put forward by the opponents of slowing down traffic or creating corridors that are safe for all road users during the last round of community outreach last year.

Gil Cedillo staff welcoming crowd to meeting. Photo by Erick Huerta

Gil Cedillo staff welcoming the crowd to meeting. Photo by Erick Huerta

The surprise of the night came from both the LAPD Northeast Division, the fire departments, and DOT Parking Enforcement Captains testifying that bike lanes on Figueroa would increase average response times from 6.9 minutes to 7.6, almost one extra minute. While the comments were made as individuals and not on behalf of their respective departments, the people presenting were in uniform, adding a veneer of authority to their opinions. No formal study or other information was presented to back their points of view.

If these issues weren’t brought up in 2010 during the discussions on the Bike Master Plan, or even during the official outreach that occurred when Cedillo’s predecessor was in office last year, why are they being brought up now?

Metro Transportation Manager Scott Page was brought in to talk about the issue of morning and afternoon rush hour bus services for students at Nightingale. He explained that extra buses are brought in during these peak times, the 251 and 81 lines specifically, to ease the congestion. He pointed out that the bike lanes could be an issue, but Metro would work with LADOT if the lanes were installed.

The comments given by the different captains and Metro only served as fuel for individuals against the lanes during the public comment portion of the meeting. Everything from emergency response times, increased traffic, less parking, public safety, and commuting times were touched on by both those testifying on both sides of the issue.

One of the most obvious divides in the on-going conversation for bike lanes in last night’s meeting was generational. The majority of those opposing the bike lanes were seniors that proudly mentioned how many years they’ve been living in the North East area of the city. Those testifying for the lanes were much younger in age.

One commenter even went as far as saying that not having the lanes “is for your own good,” much in the same tone of a parent disciplining their child.

Attendee at the meeting making it clear they don't want bike lanes on Figueroa. Photo by Erick Huerta

 However, there was an obvious imbalance in terms of the number of comments heard from both sides.  There were more commenters against the bike lanes than for them. Chief of Staff for Cedillo and moderator for the meeting, Arturo Chavez, explained that he tried keep a balance, but it was obvious that not everyone that signed up for public comment was given a chance to speak.

Chavez stated that he was trying to wrap up the meeting by 8 o’clock , but some in the crowd speculated Chavez was showing bias in his selection.

Either way, the conversation will continue dragging on till the next community meeting. When and where that meeting will be has yet to be announced.

You can also read a twitter recap of the meeting via Storify.