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In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues are intertwined with the health, culture, livability and strength of a community, Streetsblog and The California Endowment teamed to bring Streetsblog’s coverage to a hyper-local level in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles. Recently, Sahra Sulaiman was promoted to Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and will oversee work in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Her work, that of our former Boyle Heights specific writer Kris Fortin and a team of freelancers can all be found here.

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Boyle Heights Takes to the Streets for 5K and Munchkin Run

Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

With the installation of the jogging path around Evergreen Cemetery in 2004 and the more recent rise of the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners (now celebrating their first year anniversary), Boyle Heights has become a much friendlier place for those who prefer to get their exercise by pounding the pavement.

But there generally haven’t been that many races or other running events in the Boyle Heights area for those enthusiasts to participate in. And while there was an attempt to hold one recently — a Mariachi 5K run — it hit a stumbling block this past August when businesses and residents complained that the organizer hadn’t worked with them, hadn’t hired local mariachis, and that the “mariachi” theme would invite parodies of the culture (see Seattle’s Fiesta 5K Olé! controversy).

Organizers of this past Saturday’s Boyle Heights 5k Run/Walk and Munchkin Half Mile hope that dynamic will soon change.

And they're off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

And they’re off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Lead organizer Juan Romero, owner of local café Primera Taza, spoke of his desire for runners and families to have an event of their own that celebrated health, family, and community while raising proceeds for those in the area in need.

The race was an idea many in the community had been tossing around for the past few years, he said, but no one had been able to take the lead on getting it off the ground. This past March, hoping to finally see that idea come to fruition, Romero decided to take on the responsibility himself.

The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page

The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page (click to visit)

In collaboration with White Memorial Hospital (whose health resource fair immediately followed the race) and the Variety Boys and Girls Club (the recipient of race proceeds and the provider of insurance for the event), he encouraged schools and local organizations to put together race teams.

Then, he wrangled donations from resident Jaime Perez for iPad minis for the male and female 5K winners (see results here), got 20 chromebooks from the i.am.angel Foundation for the school that was able to put together the biggest team (congratulations, Mendez Jaguars!, at right), got 200 bike helmets to kids, and was given 400 medals for the runners by the House of Trophies.

Even with all that planning, the event was more successful than anyone had anticipated. Read more…

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Final Sixth Street Viaduct Model Showcased at Public Briefing; Expected Completion Date, Early 2019

Cyclists, pedestrians, and cars will all have a place on the Sixth Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Cyclists, pedestrians, and cars will all have a place on the redesigned Sixth Street Viaduct, slated to open in 2019. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“How was the meeting?” Juan asked me as I came out of the multipurpose room at the Puente Learning Center.

He was just leaving his evening English class and had missed the public briefing on the design of the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement given by Councilmember José Huizar, Architect and Principal Designer Michael Maltzan, design-build firm HNTB, the Bureau of Engineering, and Project Contractors contractors Skanska and Stacy and Witbeck.

“Have you seen it?” I asked.

“No,” he shook his head.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him into the multipurpose room.

“Wow,” he said, impressed. “This looks really nice!”

He was right — the 47-foot model was pretty amazing.

Architect Michael Maltzan describes the 47-foot model of the bridge at a packed public briefing at the Puente Learning Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Architect Michael Maltzan describes the design elements of the 47-foot model of the bridge at a packed public briefing at the Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Soaring forty-foot arches book-end a “ribbon of arches” that “weave [two disparate] communities together” via a massive multi-modal structure. Thirty-foot arches run the length of the rest of the 3500 ft. span of bridge, with the exception of two sixty-five-foot arches which will be accessible to pedestrians (one is visible in the top photo, at left) looking to either climb high above the structure or access the businesses and park space (to be created as part of the project) below it. Dedicated bike lanes run along either side of the traffic lanes. And the wide pedestrian walkway is both protected from traffic by a concrete barrier and unimpeded by light poles, thanks to the LED lighting that will be embedded in the arches and light both the street and the sidewalks.

Embedded LED lights illuminate the walkway and the street. (Source: Michael Maltzan Architecture)

Embedded LED lights illuminate the walkway and the street. (Rendering: Michael Maltzan Architecture)

The combination of the grandiosity of the design and the accessibility of the structure, project architect Michael Maltzan said, was intended to celebrate the notion that bridges were powerful “city amenit[ies] that should not be underestimated” (please take note, Glendale-Hyperion bridge project).

Which sounds great. Except it apparently almost didn’t happen. Read more…

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The Ultimate First Street Guide to CicLAvia: Where to Eat and Who to Meet

Lupita Barajas sits in front of her restaurant, Yeya's (across the street from Mariachi Plaza), with her grandson, Julian. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Lupita Barajas sits in front of her restaurant, Yeya’s (across the street from Mariachi Plaza), with her grandson, Julian. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

CicLAvia! Bicycles! Hipster Invaders! Gentrification!

Made you look!

Probably provoked some strong emotions, too, given the way recent headlines (see here, here, here) in asking whether activities assumed to be the purview of “hipsters” could be compatible with lower-income communities, have inadvertently re-ified the “us vs. them” framing that guides too much of the conversation on gentrification.*

Very little productive dialogue tends to come of that approach, regardless of how well-intended the question is. For one, it is incredibly effective at enticing all the angry, underwear-clad racists, classists, and all-around terrible people with Internet access out of their caves. But even among those who seek a more elevated debate, that framing almost guarantees that the highly complex issues surrounding community transformations will devolve into unpleasant wranglings over who has the right to make claims on a place based on creative interpretations of history and sweeping generalizations about “culture.”

Behold, the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo source unknown)

Behold, the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo source unknown)

That is not to say that bike lanes, bicyclists, CicLAvia, or even “hipsters” aren’t touchstones in gentrification debates. The gentri-flyer heard ’round the world (at right) made clear that they certainly are.

But, as I tried to illustrate in the stories penned on the storm the flyer generated (here, here), it’s not those things, per se, that provoke such a strong reaction. It’s the processes and power structures they represent.

In other words, people are often looking at current efforts to engage their communities in the context of the long history of discrimination, deliberate disinvestment, displacement, and exclusion from the planning processes those communities have endured and asking where they fit.

From that perspective, it becomes easier to see how residents with a lengthy list of unaddressed infrastructure and other needs might wonder exactly who lower-priority concerns like bike lanes (or an event like CicLAvia, staged in their community by non-residents) were intended to benefit. Particularly since investment often seems to not be directed at a marginalized area until after turnover is already underway and developers appear prepared to “ride the wave of increased gentrification”** by snapping up homes, apartment buildings, and retail sites.

Students from around the area speak about how memories and family define what home on the Eastside means to them at an Activarte workshop led by artist Omar Ramirez. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Students from around the area speak about how memories, family, relationships, and struggle define what home on the East Side means to them at a recent Activarte: Detouring Displacement workshop led by artist Omar Ramirez. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Of course, none of this means that people don’t want to see investments, improvements, events, or even “outsiders” in their communities. On the contrary — a number of the small business owners I’ve spoken with feel that more investment in the area and greater exposure to a wider customer base are necessary for them to survive and flourish.

They would just prefer that when that happens, investments will be directed at existing businesses and local entrepreneurs so they can grow and adapt to a changing landscape, the community will be treated as a partner in planning, development will be respectful of the character, history, and culture of the area, improvements will address the needs and aspirations of the long-time residents — especially those on the margins, and the existing residents’ ability to remain in their homes will be safeguarded so they can reap the benefits of any growth or change that results from that process.

Activarte participants discuss what "home" means to them and prepare to make signs bearing their ideas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Activarte participants discuss what “home” means to them and prepare to make signs to communicate their ideas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

So, some of the community’s stakeholders are hoping to help visitors and city officials to see the value of that approach by inviting participants to explore the length of 1st St. during this weekend’s CicLAvia, get acquainted with the small businesses, and learn about how culture, history, food, and family play into their vision for the future of their community.

They’re going to make it super-easy for everyone to do so, too.

Most of the businesses along 1st are family-run. Yeya's has been there four years, although owner Lupita Barajas worked in restaurants along the street for 15 years prior to starting her own business. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Most of the businesses along 1st are family-run. Yeya’s has been there four years, although owner Lupita Barajas (holding the baby) worked in restaurants along the street for 15 years prior to opening her own. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Thanks to the work of Aldo Medina of the East L.A. Community Corporation, who is working to organize the businesses and offer them technical assistance, Chris Pina who nurtures the growth of small businesses via Business Source, and Juan Romero, the owner of cafe Primera Taza, 1st st. will be hosting the equivalent of one very long block party. There will be food, music, art, live painting, food, outdoor tables and chairs, awesome people, and food.

Did I mention food? Read more…

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Ticketing of Ovarian Psyco Sparks Questions About How Group Rides Should Manage Safety

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday’s Clitoral Mass ride with the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles, one of the ride marshals had a run-in with the police.

I did not witness the event, but was told by multiple sources (including one of the officers) that the Ovas had blocked traffic so that riders could continue through a red light on 7th St. in the Skid Row section of downtown. When the officers moved into the intersection to stem the flow of riders, one of the marshals went around the car. She was subsequently pulled over and cited.

Witnesses felt the officers had been a little overzealous, with the female officer nearly knocking the rider over with her door, and both preferring to hand the rider a full-fledged ticket rather than the warning she asked for.

By the time I arrived a few minutes later, the female officer was already writing the ticket out.

The exchanges between the officers and the riders were calm and courteous, with the male officer freely offering his name and badge number to those who requested it and neither officer seeming to be perturbed by the fact that they were being recorded by several people with cellphones.

That doesn’t mean the organizers and supporters of the ride weren’t frustrated, of course.

While the officers had likely felt obligated to do something about the blocking of traffic because it happened right in front of them, they could have just given the ride marshal a warning. But they made it explicit that they were choosing not to do so in this case.

I finally approached one of the officers and asked what the solution to this kind of situation was. Read more…

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Reclaiming Public Space for Marginalized Communities: Bikes Don’t Fix Everything, But They Can Help

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. as part of a Unity ride on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The recent tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and here at home in South L.A. have served to underscore just how hostile the public space can be to people of color, particularly those of lesser means.

For those that live that reality day in and day out in Los Angeles, that is not news.

I’ve documented their frustration with law enforcement officers that would rather harass and arrest than protect and serve in a number of dedicated stories (here, here, here, here). More often, however, concerns about officer misbehavior are interwoven in stories on a wide range of topics simply because they are that much of a constant in the lives of the communities I cover (see here, here, or here).

And while some advocates might question the relevance of such concerns to the Livable Streets movement, I would argue that equal access to streets is a cornerstone of livability. There is no earthly reason that men of color should feel that the act of walking or riding a bicycle down the street is akin to extending an embossed invitation to police to stop, question, and frisk them, hand them bogus tickets (for not having bike lights in the day time, for example), or worse.

A young man is separated from his friends and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (photo courtesy of the young man in question)

A young man is separated from his friends, told to put his hands behind his back and face the fence, and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (Photo courtesy of the young man in question. His face was blurred because he feared retaliation for speaking up.)

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem.

Among many other things, the abuses of power by the police are facilitated by the de facto segregation of communities by race and/or class, narratives that criminalize members of marginalized communities, the effective disenfranchisement of those communities, and the years of neglect of the health and well-being of those populations.

The entrenched nature of these problems have forced activists to take matters into their own hands in order to chip away at the structures and narratives that have long been used against them.

In South L.A., for example, social justice non-profit Community Coalition worked to put an end to willful defiance suspensions in schools, just finished its third Freedom School summer program, and will host the third annual South L.A. Powerfest this Sept. 6th. In Boyle Heights, the non-profit visual arts center Self-Help Graphics has cultivated Latino and Chicano consciousness and creativity through its programming for 40 years, and just completed a summer session aimed at empowering youth to express their visions for their communities through art.

Other activists have taken to the streets.

Read more…

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Fun and Food in Boyle Heights and South L.A. this Weekend

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

If you like to get out and about on the weekends, there are some really great events you might want to plug into.

SATURDAY afternoon, women and those who identify as women are invited to join the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles on their third annual Clitoral Mass ride.

The first ride, held in 2012, generated some controversy for excluding men. But, the organizers held fast to their stance, arguing that group rides did not always feel like safe spaces for women and, in particular, women of color or those whose who identified as women.

The women seemed to agree, as they came out in droves — more than two hundred showed up for the first ride.

The Ovas are at it again, with a day ride this year. Meeting up at Grand Park (200 N. Grand Ave.) at 1 p.m. and rolling out at 1:30 p.m., they will take those identifying as women on a 30-35 mile tour of the city, and have a number of pit stops planned to invigorate and educate riders. People’s Yoga will prepare riders for the tour with a stretch session, Buyepongo will lead a drum circle, Comida no Bombas will provide dinner in Echo Park, activists will discuss gentrification at a stop at Mariachi Plaza, and a support car (with mechanics) will follow the riders. There will also be a condom mobile and lots of free snacks and water.

The tour will end where it began, in Grand Park. For more information about the ride, see a previous article about the ride planning here, or visit their event page, here.

If you are not woman-identified or just feel like stuffing your face instead, head over to the L.A. Taco Festival in Mariachi Plaza from 2 – 8 p.m. on Saturday. Read more…

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CicLAvia Begins Outreach Process in Boyle Heights for Oct. 5th Event

CicLAvia volunteers conduct outreach along Cesar Chavez Ave. in Boyle Heights. Erick Huerta/Streetsblog LA

CicLAvia volunteers conduct outreach along Cesar Chavez Ave. in Boyle Heights. Erick Huerta/Streetsblog LA

¿Conoce CicLAvia?” (Are you familiar with CicLAvia?) and “¿Sabe qué es una ciclovía?” (Do you know what a ciclovía is?) were two of the questions SBLA writers Erick Huerta and Sahra Sulaiman found themselves asking Boyle Heights residents and business owners while canvassing the area with representatives of CicLAvia recently.

The goal of the first round of outreach for the October 5th event, set to run from Echo Park to East LA by way of the heart of Boyle Heights, was to give business owners and residents along the route time to prepare alternate parking or business plans around the street closures.

To that end, Volunteer Coordinator Henny Alamillo had armed volunteers Christopher Cameron and Jon Leibowitz with multi-lingual flyers that explained CicLAvia, touted the significant spike in revenue experienced by businesses that engaged event-goers, presented the map of the route, and suggested the myriad ways residents could participate in the event.

All of which would seem to be enough to get the message about CicLAvia across.

But, as Sahra and Erick ascertained (while serving as volunteers/translators), while cycling enthusiasts are largely familiar with the car-free, open streets event, it is still an unfamiliar concept to many, and to non-cyclists, non-English speakers, and lower-income community members, in particular.

The lack of familiarity with CicLAvia in Boyle Heights should not be all that surprising.

Casual observation (supported by some, albeit limited, data) would suggest that the majority of participants in such events are not lower-income and/or minority residents (although, this appears to slowly be changing over time, as well). And, as many of those same residents have limited Internet access and/or are not regular followers of livable streets issues when online, they haven’t seen much in the way of CicLAvia’s outreach campaigns.

While volunteers left notices taped over mailboxes at residents, Sahra knocked on doors to speak with those that were at home. Erick Huerta/Streetsblog LA

While volunteers left notices taped over mailboxes at residences, Sahra knocked on doors to speak with those that were at home. Erick Huerta/Streetsblog LA

But the reactions of the community were about more than just a lack of familiarity with the event.

Sahra found that those residents along St. Louis St. that had heard of CicLAvia weren’t sure that it was something they would be able to participate in. As Boyle Heights is a more family- and pedestrian-oriented community, the association of the event with bicycles made many think they might have to sit on the sidelines and watch as others rolled through their neighborhood. Others thought it might be a race.

For this reason, the one-on-one conversations with folks turned out to be key.

Being able to open the conversation with a description of the event as an effort to convert the streets into a park that families and children could stroll and play in for a day helped make it more relatable and accessible for residents.

In response, those that had small children with them often pointed at the kids and described the challenge of finding spaces where the kids could play safely. The poor condition of the area’s sidewalks, many said, made it hard for kids to use their riding toys around their homes or while the family ran errands.

The conversations were also important in helping people digest the information on the flyers. Read more…

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Planning for Third Clitoral Mass in Full Swing

The Ovarian Psyco-Cycles have spent the last few months planning this year’s annual Clitoral Mass ride with one thing on their mind: creating a safe space for “solidarity between womyn, queer, femme, trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirited individuals from different walks of life to promote solidarity in bicycling, encourage safety, health in our communities, and taking back the night.”

The Clitoral Mass Route Committee has been meeting every week with a dedicated core of members that have taken the lead on coordinating logistics, volunteers, scouting the route, and making sure that everything is on point for the upcoming August 16th event.

The lessons learned from the two previous rides and feedback from participants have been instrumental in the planning of this year’s ride. I sat down with Joan Zamora, Alejandra Ocasio, and Amoxeh Tóchtlí, three of the leaders on the planning committee, to talk about the planning process and some of the changes being made.

One of the biggest adjustments this year is that of the start and end points of the ride. The planning committee has always looked for sites that were accessible by public transportation and bicycle. While everyone that participates is encouraged to take those modes of transportation, some still can’t avoid having to drive to the starting location. In the past, that presented a problem of individuals needing to get back to their cars safely from other parts of town at the end of the night.

So, this year’s ride will begin and end at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. It is also going to to be a daytime ride, with a meet-up time of 1 p.m. and a roll out of 1:30 p.m. Ocasio said that this should help attract a bigger turnout and make it easier for participants to plan and coordinate for the ride. The Metro Civic Center Station located at the west end of the park and numerous bus lines adjacent to it make it an ideal location to start and end. Read more…

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Filed Under: (Mostly) Rad! Skate Park to Open Thursday in Hard-to-Skate-to Hazard Park.

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A lone security guard ensures no skateboarders get in an early run at the new skate park before the official opening on Thursday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Skateboarders are generally not the first people you think of when you think about livable streets.

Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I rarely hear discussion of them, their needs, or their aspirations come up in planning or other forums.

I find their omission kind of odd, given that skaters are perhaps the most active and creative users of public space — they take great joy in finding new and exhilarating ways to interact with every-day infrastructure.

The skateboard is also a cheap and popular form of transportation for urban youth, helping them move safely and swiftly through areas they might otherwise be reluctant to walk through.

And it can give youth in troubled neighborhoods a buffer from the pressure to join a gang. Knowing skaters keep to themselves, gang members tend to leave groups of skaters alone, even if they are from outside the neighborhood (as long as they look like skaters, that is). So, even when skate parks are located in areas of intense gang activity, it is not unusual to see a wildly diverse mix of kids from around the city gathered there, on a completely different plane from the chaos around them.

But, instead of celebrating the power of the humble skateboard, cities tend to move in the opposite direction. Public spaces are skate-proofed and skateboarders are seen as transgressive and regularly pushed out of public areas. In Boyle Heights, where skateboarding is prevalent, youth tell me that the Sheriffs often harass and demean them (sometimes with racial epithets, many complained) when they try to hang out in places like Mariachi Plaza.

Which might explain why I found a young skater staring forlornly at the newly-renovated but still fenced-in skate park in Hazard Park yesterday.

He had seen a picture of it on Instagram, he said, and it looked so beautiful that he had to come by and test it out.

He explained that the previous skate park there had been so cracked up and poorly maintained that nobody ever went there to skate. Instead, he and his friends would head over to Lincoln Heights. It was usually overcrowded, he said, but there were few other places they could go.

“What about the one in Hollenbeck Park?” I asked.

It was for more expert skaters, he explained. And it was small, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to play around and learn. The new one at Hazard Park looked like it was still on the tougher side of intermediate, but it would give him and his friends some place to go in their own neighborhood and a chance to learn new tricks.

He sighed again.

“The picture I saw didn’t show any fences around it. And the security guard just did this [he makes a waggling motion] with his finger when I asked when it was opening.”

I reassured him it was opening this week.

My only concern, I said, was that skaters would have a hard time getting there. Read more…

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Hit-and-Run on Cesar Chavez Sidewalk Kills 66-Year-Old Woman

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Click to enlarge. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Normally, you think of a sidewalk as a relatively safe place to be.

They have their problems, and are often in pretty lousy shape, but they usually manage to provide a sufficient buffer between pedestrians and the cars whizzing by in the adjacent roadway.

Not so in East L.A. last Wednesday, when the driver of a Red Dodge Durango came barreling down the sidewalk at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Eastman, injuring two women, one fatally.

I first heard about the incident from Jon Leibowitz, who was doing outreach for CicLAvia along the October route. He was in shock from having seen a truck slam into people in a busy business district and keep going.

Shop owners in the area confirmed it had been a horrific scene.

The manager of the bakery (the far sign, at left) said she heard a terrible noise and looked up to see a truck flying past her shop’s window, scraping the bricks and damaging the security gates as it went.

It was so violent, she said in Spanish. So violent.

We heard screaming, she continued. My first thought was for my son -- he had just walked out the door. We ran outside and that’s when we saw the women.

The two pedestrians, aged 66 and 49, had been knocked into the street.

The driver moved back into the roadway and disappeared. Read more…