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In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues impact the health and character 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. Sahra Sulaiman is the Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and is leading our coverage efforts in these communities. This page serves as a place to read Sahra’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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Rail-to-River Route Through Huntington Park, Bell Emerges as Best Candidate; Community Meeting December 8

A map of the Rail-to-Rail-to-River bike and pedestrian path planned for the Slauson corridor in South and Southeast Los Angeles. Source: Metro

A map of the Rail-to-River bike and pedestrian path planned for the Slauson corridor in South and Southeast Los Angeles. Source: Metro

Next Thursday, December 8, Metro is hosting its second set of public forums on the Rail-to-River bike and pedestrian path planned for the Slauson corridor. One is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. and the other for an hour later, from 6 to 8 p.m.

For those unfamiliar with the project, the Rail-[to-Rail]-to-River active transportation corridor is a bike and pedestrian path planned for the now mostly abandoned rail right-of-way (ROW) running between the Crenshaw Line, the Blue Line, and, eventually, the L.A. River. At present, the 6.4-mile Rail-to-Rail segment straddling the two light rail lines is fully funded (in green, above) and scheduled to open in 2019. A community meeting to discuss the design of that segment will be held in the new year, somewhere in South Los Angeles.

Because the December 8 meetings are meant to inform residents about the ranking of alternative routes for Segment B – the routes east of Santa Fe through the Southeast Cities – they will be held at the Bell Community Center (6250 Pine Avenue Bell, CA 90201). And a live webcast presentation will be made at 6 p.m., for those who cannot attend in person: www.tinyurl.com/MetroR2R.

If the December forum is similar to a recent Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting for the project I participated in, attendees will hear about how the options for the southeast section of the ranked in terms of mobility and connectivity, access to major destinations, local community needs, cost effectiveness and ease of implementation, and impact on traffic, transit, trucks, and parking. They will also be able to consult route maps and offer feedback on the options presented.

Spoiler alert: of the four options Metro is considering, the Randolph Street option (B4) has ranked the highest. Not only would it help connect residents to more schools and other important community destinations, it would be able to provide residents with the safest way to reach those destinations. Best of all, it would add over four miles to the bike/pedestrian path and connect users to the river and the existing bike path there. Read more…

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Controversial Reef Project Approved via Consent Calendar; Residents Denied Opportunity to Engage Councilmembers

The massive billion-plus-dollar luxury housing and hotel project The Reef has planned for the corner of Washington and Broadway has the potential to anchor a major transformation of Historic South Central Los Angeles. Source: The Reef

The massive billion-plus-dollar luxury housing and hotel project The Reef has planned for the corner of Washington and Broadway has the potential to anchor a major transformation of Historic South Central Los Angeles. Source: The Reef

Putting on Your “Big Boy Pants” v. Putting Together a Good Project

“Let me take a minute to applaud Mr. Price for this incredible project,” First District Councilmember Gil Cedillo said as the Planning and Land-Use Management Committee (PLUM) began deliberations on the fate of the billion-dollar luxury residential and hotel project planned for 1933 S. Broadway in Historic South Central on Tuesday, November 1. “Because this is what real progressive change looks like!” [PLUM audio, agenda can be found here.]

As boos erupted from some in the crowd, Cedillo took aim at the residents who had stepped forward to testify about their fears of being displaced, “This is real! This is not a demand, or a slogan, or a chant,” he said dismissively.

“We can complain about” the fact that “this project doesn’t…cure cancer,” he continued sarcastically, but “five percent affordable [housing] where nothing exists? We’re told [this] is somehow a bad thing. I don’t see it that way.”

By his calculations, he said, The Reef’s $15 million contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) would allow the city to extend affordability covenants on as many as 500 existing units at-risk of being converted to market-rate housing. Together with the City Planning Commission’s recommendation that there be approximately 26 on-site affordable units, he argued, that “represented a 37 percent affordability on this project” and made Ninth District Councilmember Curren Price someone who, “in [his] brilliance, in [his] leadership, in [his] genius,” had managed to “put on his big boy pants.”

This “vision of shared prosperity, not shared poverty” that Price had cobbled together, Cedillo concluded, had established a model process by which a developer and the community could work together to ensure “the rising tide will lift all boats.”

It was a shameful soliloquy of ignorance from a member of a committee tasked with making at least a minimum effort to assess the extent to which the benefits of a proposed project outweighed its potential harms.

It was also unsurprising.

On paper, The Reef sounds like a livability wet dream. The project proposes to transform two surface parking lots near the convergence of two rail lines into 1,444 units (549 of which would be for rent, including 21 live-work lofts), a 208-room hotel, ground floor restaurants activating the sidewalks, a grocery store, pharmacy, gallery, and fitness center in a community that has so few, a public bike hub (with showers) and improvements to the DASH service, an open plaza with gardens and outdoor performance spaces, and micro-enterprise spaces reserved for small businesses and entrepreneurs from the community. In a town where the housing crunch is so dire that the mayor has prioritized seeing 100,000 units permitted by 2021 and regularly sends out press releases tracking his progress on that front – what’s not to love?

Add to all this a Development Agreement (DA) and community benefits package featuring $15 million in contributions to the AHTF, 5 percent on-site affordable units, $3 million to fund health, safety, education, job training, and recreational programming in the community, street trees, a community garden, a local hire agreement, as well as (added in at the PLUM hearing) a community relations ombudsman, quarterly reporting on hiring and procurement to ensure accountability, and the promise the project won’t be flipped without permission from the city and payment of all community benefits first.

Then consider that few developers have been willing to take a chance on investing in South Los Angeles. And that even the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) once thought that the best South L.A. might hope for on those lots was a big box store and a surface parking lot, according to Reef attorney (and, conveniently, co-chair of the effort to revise the city’s outdated zoning code) Edgar Khalatian of Mayer Brown LLP.

If you knew only these things, you, too, might conclude that the councilmember and The Reef had taken a uniquely community-oriented approach to development.

A deeper probe into the way these agreements came together and the extent to which area residents are actually likely to benefit from these concessions, however, elicits a somewhat different set of conclusions.

The thoroughly cynical way in which both the developers and Price leveraged community benefits to play divisive racial and socio-economic politics, downplayed the magnitude, complexity, and urgency of the housing crisis in Historic South Central, and oversold the extent to which city’s affordable housing tools can actually address the needs of those most likely to be impacted by this project is profoundly troubling.

More troubling still is the precedent that such a project sets.

A massive luxury development catering to a well-heeled clientele doesn’t constitute a “win” for housing when it is situated on the edge of a neighborhood that is both one of the poorest in the city and the most overcrowded in the entire country. Nor it is a win when the developer’s “generosity” is not only an overt bid to avoid having onsite affordable housing but it also leaves a community bitter, divided, and more vulnerable than it was before. It is most certainly not a win when the entire reason such a massive project is viable is because of the extent to which decades of disinvestment and disenfranchisement of the community have depressed land values and stripped the community of political power. And it is absolutely not a win when such a project promises to not only change the character and composition of a historically marginalized community forever, but opens the door for other projects to do the same in similarly distressed communities in the name of revitalization.

With a City Council vote on the project hurriedly scheduled for today (Tuesday) (possibly to exempt the project from any conditions proposition JJJ might impose), it is imperative that the councilmembers fully understand what a vote in favor for this project means for the community and why.

With the City Council moving the project to the consent calendar this afternoon [and later approving it, when Paul Koretz arrived]* residents were essentially denied one last opportunity to engage elected officials on what a vote in favor of this project means for the community and why.

Read more…

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Election Reflections: “Law-and-Order,” the Resilience of White Supremacy, and You

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Families along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Where do things stand now?” I asked Adonia Lugo as we organized potential discussion themes ahead of this Sunday’s Untokening event.

Election results were just starting to roll in from the East Coast, she replied, and they weren’t looking good for Hillary.

Perhaps we should relabel the event ‘The UnTrumpening,’ I mused.

We were already planning to raise the question of policing in communities of color as part of a larger discussion on street safety. But the potential election of a self-proclaimed “law-and-order” president suddenly gave that question a much greater urgency.

As a candidate, Donald Trump regularly described “the African-Americans” and Latinos as living in “hell,” promoted the (erroneous and harmful) idea that black-on-black crime is a thing, suggested Black Lives Matter advocates were troublemakers who help instigate acts of violence against officers, and sung the praises of “law-and-order” practices like stop-and-frisk. He even went so far as to deny that stop-and-frisk was in any way problematic, charging that the issue was not the policy itself (which disproportionately subjected black and Latino pedestrians and cyclists to opportunistic, invasive, and forceful stops, despite whites being more likely to be found with weapons or contraband), but that the woman who ruled it unconstitutional in New York was a “very against-police judge.”

The problem in our minority communities is not that there is too much police,” he said in August to an overwhelmingly white crowd of suburban supporters outside Milwaukee, a city whose poorest zip code is also the nation’s most incarcerated. “[It’s] that there is not enough police!”

Stop-and-frisk, he said on another occasion, “worked incredibly well” and was a solution he’d like to see deployed in cities across the country.

To many of those taken aback by the unrest seen in their urban cores and feeling threatened by black and brown voices and bodies pushing for change, this approach to governance is reassuring.

To many of the rest of us, it is terrifying. Read more…

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Metro Asks South L.A. Stakeholders: How Would You Use Rail-to-River Bike/Pedestrian Path?

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east continues to move forward. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east continues to move forward. Source: Metro

“They’ve started work on that bike path!” a South Central bike shop owner announced excitedly after noticing mounds of dirt piled up in the rail right-of-way (ROW) at Slauson and Normandie.

He couldn’t wait for it to be finished, he said. The Rail-to-River path – a bike and pedestrian path that would cut across South Central from the Crenshaw corridor all the way to the Southeast Cities of Huntington Park and Maywood using the Slauson ROW – would give him an easier way to get to work and a place he could teach his young son to learn to ride a bike.

Unfortunately, what he had seen was dirt and debris generated by the construction of the Crenshaw Line. It had been hauled to the ROW to await recycling.

“I hate to break it to you,” I said, “but they’re only in the environmental analysis and design phase right now. Construction is still a ways off.”

One of the young fixie riders who regularly hangs out at the shop shook his head and said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was never built. It took the city forever to do nice things for the community, he lamented.

But the Rail-to-River project is actually chugging along, albeit slowly. The community meeting I was told would be held this fall to discuss the design of Segment A (running the 6.4 miles between Crenshaw and Santa Fe) has been pushed back to the new year. The team working on the project wanted to have preliminary engineering and a draft design to present to the community, I was told, so that they had something of substance to engage people on.

In the meanwhile, Metro is looking to hear from the community on what they would like to get out of the project, and they’ve sent out a brief survey to be shared with area stakeholders. Because technology does not always make our lives easier, however, the October 21st email with said survey ended up in my spam folder and I did not find it until this morning. Which is very unfortunate, as the deadline to answer it is Wednesday (tomorrow). So, I apologize for being late in sharing it with our South L.A. readers.

Still, the survey is brief and can be found here (English) and here (Spanish) I have copied and pasted most of it below, in the event that the links are hard to follow or you wish to send your feedback to Metro via regular email (instead of the PDF doc): R2R@metro.net. Read more…

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My Figueroa Breaks Ground, Opening Anticipated June 2017

My Figueroa groundbreaking. Left to right are L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price, L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar, L.A. County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler, L.A. Walks Executive Director Deborah Murphy, LADOT Assistant General Manager Dan Mitchell, and Department of City Planning Director Vince Bertoni. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

My Figueroa groundbreaking. Left to right are L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price, L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar, L.A. County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler, L.A. Walks Executive Director Deborah Murphy, LADOT Assistant General Manager Dan Mitchell, and Department of City Planning Director Vince Bertoni. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today city of Los Angeles leaders celebrated the groundbreaking for the long awaited My Figueroa complete streets project. Construction is getting underway this month. The facility is anticipated to open in June 2017.

The high profile street makeover will make Figueroa safer, more vibrant, and better for walking, bicycling and transit. My Figueroa connects with numerous high profile destinations, including Exposition Park, the Coliseum, USC, L.A. Trade Technical College, the Convention Center, Staples Center, L.A. Live, as well as Metro’s Blue, Expo, Purple and Red Lines.  Read more…

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Equity 101: Bikes v. Bodies on Bikes

Ceebo Tha Rapper shoots a video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police, answering critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ceebo Tha Rapper (at right) shoots a rap video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police. The video was to answer critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Ceebo (DaMonte Shipp) was arrested later that summer on a burglary charged and sentenced to 17 years.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“You’ve Been Whitesplained!”

“Maybe you didn’t catch that you jumped into a convo specifically about transportation/police issues?” the self-described “police/community relations specialist” and bike advocate tweeted at me.

“You’ve been whitesplained!” announced the cheery AOL-style voice in my head.

It’s the voice I hear every time I am told by a white person that race and class have no bearing on a conversation. Which happens way more often than you probably think, by the way.

But to answer her query, I was very much aware that I had jumped into the #moveequity conversation to engage the prompt, “How can community groups and residents partner with law enforcement to build trust and create safer, fairer communities?”

I did so specifically because the thread, part of a national Twitter chat hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership last week, was quickly racking up semi-vague statements about the importance of building relationships.

The vagueness, to be fair, was partially due to the fact that the medium was Twitter, and you can only go so deep in 140 characters. Also to be fair, none of the suggestions offered up were necessarily wrong. Stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police must absolutely be forged if the country is to heal and move toward a more just state.

But in a week when we had all watched yet two more Black men die in a hail of bullets on our screens, the absence of depth, urgency, and specifics in the conversation felt jarring.

So, when I spotted the tweet arguing the best way forward was to “Develop trust and engagement via long-term relationships based on mutual respect. Can’t just make demands,” I decided to ask the most logical and pressing question: How do we do that?

In communities where there has never been any sort of trust, where the relationship is so toxic and so suppressive that residents speak of law enforcement as the equivalent of an occupying force monitoring any and all movement through the public space, and where young men join gangs because they feel so vulnerable and unprotected in the streets, how do you begin to undo that harm?

We had to go beyond bike corral projects and barbecues with officers and collaborate with city agencies to transform the culture of policing from the top down, I argued. Preventive police work and meaningful community engagement had to be valued over the number of drug or gun busts. And any and all work had to be grounded in the understanding that the deep distrust stemmed from the suspicion and brutality with which African American and Latino people were regularly treated in the public space, not the fact that they were on bikes when they were mistreated.

“Please go troll someone else,” came the reply. “I work every day to make my city better for Everyone. Peace out.”

Bikes v. Bodies
That I would essentially be #AllLivesMatter-ed and subsequently blocked by a bike advocate in a conversation specifically dedicated to transportation and policing was somewhat strange, but not surprising.

There exists a pretty significant chasm within the mobility advocacy community when it comes to issues of equity and justice. At the heart of it lies the question of where one anchors the frameworks that guide their thinking: on the bicycle or on the body moving through space on those two wheels. Read more…

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Justice-Oriented Mobility Advocates to “Untokenize” Active Transportation Movement at November Convening

spicy shoes

In lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, cycling is largely a matter of necessity, not choice.

The Token One
He was so glad I had “talked about people of color committing violence against other people of color,” he gushed, shaking my hand.

My eyebrows shot up.

The focus of my talk at last October’s CalBike’s annual summit had been the extent to which the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of a community are inextricably intertwined with the physical one. Using the installation of amenities in a historically disenfranchised lower-income community of color as an example, I had explained how decades of disinvestment, discriminatory planning, suppressive policing, and denial of opportunity had generated chronic insecurity in the public space. And how, as a result, many residents were still unable to access these “improvements.” Our stories about mobility, I concluded, must therefore also engage questions of access, equity, justice, and a wider range of historical and contemporary barriers in order to be truly inclusive.

At no point did I ever offer support for the artificial and highly problematic construct of “black-on-black violence.”

And yet, here was this white gentleman in front of me, congratulating me for having done so.

The advocates of color I spoke with afterwards had understood exactly what I was going for. They got the placement of mobility in a community context. And they got the call to think beyond bicycles to the constraints contexts imposed on the actual bodies moving through space on those two wheels. These were frameworks they understood intuitively.

But much like the guy shaking my hand, many of the white advocates in the room had filtered the presentation through their own experiences. And what they had come away with was very different.

A few said they had never considered the idea that certain streets might not be accessible to some people for reasons that had nothing to do with cars. Was this really true? Others seemed to think certain communities were unapproachable. How would one even begin to engage people in such a community? How would you know who to talk to? some asked. It seemed so dangerous to some, but also kind of edgy and exciting to others. Are you giving tours?

I wasn’t sure I could have expected better.

Despite being spot-on-topic at the “Equity in Motion”-themed summit, my presentation had been a major outlier.

The panel had been focused on how to pitch stories about the positive aspects of cycling – the joy, sense of well-being, freedom, and links to community it can bring. But as a reporter whose beat is specifically tied to two transit-dependent and historically disenfranchised lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, mobility meant something different to me.

And given the theme, I had argued to the panel organizer, it seemed appropriate to explore the extent to which a choice framework both excluded those who cycle out of need – largely lower-income people of color – and rendered important questions of accessibility to the margins.

The organizer and the other panelists were enthusiastic about including an equity perspective. But in the weeks leading up to the event, it was clear that being open to including equity and actually creating the space for that topic to be properly explored are two very different things. And the more I tried to explain my critical approach to the organizer, the longer and more involved my emails became, and the more consternation I felt I was causing.

People don’t like to be told what isn’t working, I was admonished at one point.

But I didn’t see where I had a choice.

I have to speak to current frameworks to be heard. And I have to spend most of my time deconstructing said frameworks just to explain why I should not be dismissed out of hand. And every single time I have to proceed this way – every time I post another 3,000 – 5,000 word story trying to justify the incorporation of marginalized voices and realities, compose yet another lengthy explanatory email, or look around the room where I am speaking – I wonder if this will be the last time I will be invited to opine on this topic.

The More Things Change, the More They Really Don’t
It’s an odd thing to observe that the more popular the topic of equity has become over the last few years, the less genuine space there is to truly address it in a meaningful way.

Read more…

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Metro Explores Alternative Rail-to-River Routes Through Southeast Cities

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east just took another step forward. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the Blue Line to the east, along with the four options that could eventually connect the path with (or very close to) the L.A. River. Source: Metro

In thinking about the potential routes the eastern segment (B) of the Rail-to-River (R2R) active transportation corridor might take, stressed Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, it was important that the needs of workers, youth, and community members of the Southeast Cities be put front and center. Connectivity to job centers and schools should therefore be the first priority.

Through that lens, Lopez said, the bike path project could offer momentum for the creation of other potential “job trails” EYCEJ had already been thinking about, including connections to Vernon, and Commerce, a path along Slauson that would facilitate connections across the L.A. River and the 710 Freeway to the Bell Cheli Industrial area, and routes enhancing greater access to the river and green spaces like Riverfront Park.

A snapshot of Randolph street from above (center, running left to right). The ROW runs down the middle of the street, and could be made into a protected bikeway and pedestrian path. Source: Google maps.

A rail right-of-way runs down the middle of Randolph Street and could be made into a protected bikeway and pedestrian path. Source: Google maps. Click to enlarge.

I had reached out to Lopez for feedback after attending Metro’s mid-afternoon session on the R2R project held last Wednesday in Huntington Park. The R2R project – a dedicated bike and pedestrian path that will stretch between the Crenshaw and Blue Lines, and to (or through) the Southeast cities to the east – is much-needed in the park-poor and truck-dominated corridors of the communities of South Central and Southeast Los Angeles.

Class i bike facilities. Source: Feasibility Study

Class I bike facilities separate and protect cyclists from cars. Source: Feasibility Study

But many of the participants, I realized as we gathered around the tables to decide how to serve Southeast residents’ needs best, were not from the area and/or not very familiar with where people worked or how they got there. All of which made speaking to Metro’s purpose for the meeting – discussing and ranking the four alternatives for Segment B of the active transportation corridor – somewhat difficult.

Metro’s own 2014 feasibility study had determined that the Randolph Street option should be prioritized. It would not necessarily be the easiest choice – the rail right-of-way (ROW) is owned by Union Pacific, meaning that the cost of acquisition could be quite high and the negotiations involved in acquiring the ROW could take some time. But factors in its favor included the length the route would cover (4.34 miles), user experience, connectivity, safety, transit connections, ease of implementation (see p. 76), and the fact that it would allow cyclists to continue on a dedicated Class I bike path (a separated and protected path, at right). And because the ROW is as wide as 60′ in some sections, it would allow for the inclusion of many or more of the amenities present on the western and central segments of the path.

Users would not have to move back and forth between busy streets and dedicated Class I facilities or lose the bike and pedestrian paths altogether, as they would with the Utility Corridor or Slauson routes. It would also offer users a safe, protected, and lengthy east-west connection through a densely populated and semi-industrial section of Los Angeles usually dominated by heavy traffic and large trucks.

Although, like Randolph Street, the Malabar route would be able to provide users with a dedicated and protected path, it narrows considerably (which would push pedestrians aside) as it makes its way north toward Washington Blvd. It would also move users through less secure industrial areas with fewer connections to transit, residential neighborhoods, commercial corridors, or educational centers. Also, as in the case of Randolph Street, the use of the Malabar Yards ROW would require negotiations with BNSF to get it to abandon its rights to the ROW east of Santa Fe Ave.

The Malabar route would move users north toward (but not reaching) the river through Vernon. Source: Feasibility Study

The Malabar route would move users north toward (but not reaching) the river through Vernon. Source: Feasibility Study

All that said, it was still not 100 per cent clear to me which route would better connect residents with their jobs. Read more…

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Vision Zero: LADOT, Focus Group Have Same Goals, Different Ideas About How to Reach Them

Detail of Vision Zero High Injury Network as it overlaps with equity indicators. Many of the streets highlighted in South L.A. are prioritized for potential safety interventions. Source: Vision Zero

Detail of Vision Zero High Injury Network as it overlaps with equity indicators. Many of the streets highlighted in South L.A. are prioritized for potential safety interventions. Source: Vision Zero

“Remember, the end goal is to get to 20% reduction [in traffic-related deaths] by next year, and then zero by 2025,” said MIG Consultant Esmeralda Garcia of the city’s effort to put together an action plan to implement Vision Zero.

Gesturing toward another consultant and Brian Oh of the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT), she told the ten attendees (myself included) at the South Los Angeles focus group meeting last Thursday, “Anything that will help [us] to get to that goal – that’s why we need to hear from you. That’s why this conversation is important.”

The statement made me feel very important indeed.

Then I remembered that I had not been invited to attend this gathering.

As Joe Linton noted in his coverage of Vision Zero’s first real stab at community engagement, the fact that it all seems to be happening rather quietly and out of public view is both odd and very much by design. Focus group attendees were nominated by a process that still remains somewhat shrouded in smoggy mystery. And the Vision Zero Alliance (LA0) – a diverse coalition of organizations explicitly formed to partner with the city on shaping policy and communications around safe and equitable streets – appears not to have been brought on early enough in the process to play a significant role in setting up the meetings.

LADOT will likely dispute this last point, having reassured me that all proper protocols were followed with partners. Still, I think we can all agree that there are more efficient ways for the city to get feedback from its partners besides having them show up to focus group meetings at random locations around town. If only because when half of the attendees at a meeting are tied to the LA0 organizations already said to be in regular communication with LADOT, then LADOT is wasting its time getting redundant feedback while also not hearing from the wider community it is purporting to engage.

These concerns aside, the questions I found myself pondering had more to do with the purpose of the meeting and how any feedback gathered might actually be used.

To the best of my understanding, the purpose of the meeting was to support LADOT in its effort to develop an action plan governing the drive to reduce traffic-related deaths by 20 percent in the next year and a half. KPCC called the approach a “fine-tuning” of a plan that should be finished by September.

Except we were not presented with a formal plan.

Instead, we got: a) a good overview of what the crash data told the Vision Zero team; b) a look at the issues being considered and where those issues intersected with the many prioritized corridors in South Los Angeles; and c) suggestions regarding potential solutions to reduce fatalities using engineering, education, and enforcement.

Then, after each topic, we were asked for feedback: Did we get the data right? What are the highest priority traffic safety issues in your community? Will the sample solutions work in your community? What might be more effective? And, finally, how can the city “make it easier for you to engage on traffic safety?” and how can non-profits and individuals promote safety?

Those talk-back periods were where it became clear (to me, at least) that, while the city and the attendees were ultimately focused on the same outcome, they sometimes appeared to be envisioning deeply divergent ways to get there. Read more…

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Bike Talk: What Bike Advocacy Needs to Understand about South Central

Pedestrians wait to be able to cross Jefferson and continue south on Central along the sidewalk. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pedestrians wait to be able to cross Jefferson and continue south on Central along the sidewalk. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“What is the situation in South L.A.?” is the question Colin Bogart, Education Director at the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, posed to launch our discussion of the removal of a 7.2 mile bike lane planned for Central Avenue from the Mobility Plan 2035.

Both Malcolm Harris, Director of Programs and Organizing from TRUST South L.A., and I had to laugh.

“Alright…” I said, “You said an hour? We have an hour…?”

The question was posed half-jokingly, of course.

But, as you will hear over the hour-long conversation that unfolds, understanding the history of South Los Angeles, who comprised the community back in the day (and why), who comprises it now (and why), and what folks’ histories and relationships are with each other, the city, advocates, and law enforcement are all essential to understanding how the area responds to efforts to implement active transportation infrastructure there now. [If the link below doesn’t work, please click here.]

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As both Harris and I argue, too often mobility advocates coming into the community are unfamiliar with the history of the area, the racial, cultural, and socio-economic dynamics that define the community, or the variety of barriers that can constrain mobility there. And the local advocates and actors who do have that knowledge are generally not brought in until way too late in the process – long after planning, design, branding, and engagement around plans are already well underway – limiting their contributions to a rubber-stamp approval.

As a result, mainstream mobility advocates are often unable to speak to members of the community in terms that resonate with those stakeholders’ realities. Worse still, the language used to promote active transportation can be deeply alienating. Narratives about the benefits of bicycling, the extent to which “bikes mean business,” and exhortations for people to see their “streets as sites of recreation” border on insulting in neighborhoods where the presence of bikes signals a lack of resources and a history of insecurity in the public space forced people to look to private spaces to build community.

That disconnect between the approach mainstream advocates tend to take and the lived experiences of people in lower-income communities of color is what helps breed distrust of the city’s intentions. And with new infrastructure seeming to accompany new developments making incursions into historically neglected neighborhoods, both Harris and I explain, it is no wonder the first question we often hear from folks is, “Who is this bike lane really for?”
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