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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 Sulaiman’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A.

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Gentri-flyer Sets Off Social Media Storm in Boyle Heights

Behold: the most tone-deaf flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several facebook pages).

Behold: the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several Facebook pages. Click to enlarge).

When I first saw the flyer at left pop up in my social media feeds yesterday morning, I actually thought it was a joke.

Touting Boyle Heights as a “charming, historic, walkable, and bikeable neighborhood” where you could put down “as little as $40K with decent credit,” it invited Arts District neighbors to join in on a (free!) hour bike tour followed by a discussion and artisanal snacks.

No one who knew anything about Boyle Heights — a predominantly Mexican-American working-class community with a long history of political and social activism — could possibly think this was a good idea, right?

In one fell swoop, the flyer embodies every single one of residents’ worst fears: a passel of hipster outsiders coming in to stake their claims while munching on “artisanal” snacks because Boyle Heights’ own offerings did not appeal to their more refined sensibilities.

Few things have ever screamed, “I have no interest in getting to know this community!” quite so effectively.

And, it didn’t help that the flyers had only been distributed in the Arts District (just across the river from Boyle Heights), meaning that residents were finding out about it secondhand and thus left to construct their own narratives about who was behind it and what their intentions were.

Hoping to figure out what the story was, I immediately reached out to Adaptive Realty and spoke with Bana Haffar, a realtor and the organizer of the event.

It was before noon when we spoke, but she was already getting pushback about the event.

The negativity seemed to have taken her by surprise. She had looked at a tour in a community she liked as a positive thing. And, as an immigrant from an embattled community herself, she felt she understood the value of community, being a good neighbor, and not pushing others out.

And, she noted, she was only tapping into a reality that is already well underway — property values are on the rise and turnover has been happening in the area for some time. Boyle Heights is no longer just an Ellis Island for new immigrants. Beyond acting as a refuge for those looking to escape high rents elsewhere around the city, it is also serving as that first gateway for transplants to L.A. I just met four of them on the train this weekend, incidentally. They knew so little about the community that they had convinced themselves that their pad near Mariachi Plaza was in the heart of East L.A.

As part of a small real estate group dealing in smaller holdings, Haffar seemed to believe they might be able to help make positive contributions to the area (i.e. being better landlords to local renters) and bring in people who also were interested in building community.

I spoke to her at length about some of the changes that the area had undergone in recent years and where people’s concerns, at least as I understood them, lay. We talked about the challenge of ensuring a community benefited from changes it was undergoing. Then I connected her with a few people I felt she might benefit from hearing from about those issues, if she were serious about the notion of being a more conscious neighbor.

Watching the debate evolve on social media, I saw that many of Boyle Heights’ residents were grappling with some of the same questions we had discussed: Who is a gentrifier? Do outsiders sometimes bring positive change? What is the cost of them doing so? Must it always be a loss for the community? How can we make it a positive thing? What can we do better than outsiders? Are we doing enough of it? How can we do more?

And, as the very notion of gentrification never fails to stir up intense passions, I also watched with some amusement as the troops rallied and people discussed plans to crash the tour or call upon their homeboys to stand around and look menacing.

Sometime in the afternoon (I didn’t spot it til late), however, things took a turn. Read more…

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Empowering Communities to See Streets as Sites of Recreation: What does it Take?

Sin and redemption. Despite it's long-standing status as a stroll, Western Ave. has at least two churches on almost every block. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sin and redemption. Despite it’s long-standing status as a stroll, Western Ave. has at least two churches on almost every block. A passerby teased the elderly gentleman at the corner who had just left the church by suggesting he was hanging out along Western for other-than-godly reasons. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“We need to empower people to see their streets as sites of recreation.”

It’s somewhat of a city planner mantra.

And, it tends to drive me crazy.

Part of it has to do with my having been an academic in my previous life, where I spent years observing efforts to “empower” refugees, displaced persons, sex trafficking victims, genocide survivors, and the desperately poor to take charge of their circumstances. The focus on modifying individual behaviors precluded dialogue on the mix of structural and individual interventions that might have yielded more comprehensive solutions to what were, essentially, deeply-rooted structural problems. As a result, outcomes were often superficial and/or unsustainable at best and irreparably damaging to people’s livelihoods at worst.*

Yet “empower” soldiers on, both abroad and right here at home.

I hear it all the time.

I heard it most recently at the well-attended Community Planning Forum held at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center on Western Ave. in South L.A. at the end of March.

It was all I could do to keep myself from dragging the poor person outside to show them the street was already very heavily used for recreation. Just the wrong kind.

There are a few sections of Western — including areas in close proximity to the park — known as “strolls.”

Day or night, rain or shine, you can find a girl on the street that can help meet your “needs” for a few dollars.

They sit at bus stops, stand on corners, walk up and down the block, dance by themselves on quiet side streets just out of the glare of the main drag, brazenly post up like sentries at the driveway entrance of the Mustang Motel — they are ubiquitous.

While a number of them are older and may be working independently and/or feeding drug habits (especially north of King Blvd., according to some residents), many are just teens, coerced into the trade by men claiming to be their boyfriends, rapists that abused them and turned them out, or their own history of sexual abuse and neglect. The hold their pimps have on them can be tremendous. It is not unusual for girls show up in juvenile detention centers with their pimps’ names tattooed onto their ribs and so thoroughly victimized that they fight anyone trying to help them get out of the trade. Some don’t believe they could ever be valued for anything other than their bodies, especially after being abused. Others believe their pimps love them and refuse to say anything that would incriminate them.

But, the pimps clearly do not love them.

Spend any time along Western and you’ll see them, stationed in parked cars at corners (and, occasionally, on mountain bikes), perfectly positioned so that they can see everything happening on the street. They are ready to menace their girls or anyone who takes too much of an other-than-recreational interest in their charge(s) at a moment’s notice.

The intense level of neglect a street — and, indeed, a community — must experience (this was the stomping ground of the Grim Sleeper, after all) for it to be able to function so openly as a market facilitates other forms of unhealthy activity, too. While long-time residents tell me that things are much better than they used to be, gang activity and substance abuse, particularly that of those living on (or making a living on) the street, are still major issues in the area.

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The combination of these factors can make locals paranoid about interacting with outsiders for fear of being seen as snitching.

And, it can certainly go a long way in keeping a family from feeling comfortable about taking a stroll through the neighborhood, waiting at bus stops, getting to know their neighbors along the Western corridor, or being outside too late in the evening. Read more…

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Location, Location, Location: Contested Public Space Means Moving Watts School Could Deny Some Education

Carlos Penate speaks to the crowd of INSPIRE students about what the school means to him. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Carlos Penate speaks to the crowd of INSPIRE students about what the school means to him at a rally yesterday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“They say they care about our safety, but they’re putting us in harm’s way!”

It is a refrain I’ve heard several times over the last month from students of INSPIRE Research Academy, a state-subsidized continuation school based at YO! Watts that offers 17-24-year-olds a free education and a rare second chance to get their high school diplomas.

The students are referring to Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s bid to take over the city-owned YO! Watts building (housing the offices and staff of YO! Watts and INSPIRE), and possibly the old library on the same lot (currently utilized as a rec center, classroom, all-purpose community room, and storage area for the bike program’s bicycles) and Firehouse 65 (a building attached to YO! Watts that is structurally sound but which has been boarded up for the last several years).*

His offices are currently located next door, in the Chase Bank Building, where the city pays $126,000 in rent.** The potential sale of that building and the desire of the councilmember to lay the foundation for the re-creation of the Watts Civic Center, find a home for Operation Progress, and offer the community more services from a city-owned building where rent would be minimal are all behind the decision to relocate.

The rec center (old library) is at left. The YO! Watts building is at center, left (the right portion of the building is a boarded up firehouse). At right is the Chase Bank Bldg., where the councilman's current office is located. (Google maps)

The rec center (old library) is at top, left. The YO! Watts building is at center, left (the right portion of the building is a boarded up firehouse). At right, is the Chase Bank Bldg., where the councilmember’s office is currently located. (Google maps)

However, a move into the YO! Watts complex would necessitate the displacement of all or part of INSPIRE, and possibly that of the Youth Opportunities program that has offered at-risk teens and young adults a vocational, educational, career, and social support system in the form of job readiness training, GED/college/SAT preparation, paid internships, occupational skills training, tutoring, life-skills training, and mentoring at that site for over a decade.

Perhaps cognizant of what a blow this might be in an area with tremendous need but precious few resources for older teens, both Buscaino and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Jacob Haik, suggested to Fox 11 in April that a move would offer the school the much-needed opportunity to grow and flourish.

Citing “keep[ing] student safety as a primary concern” and “provid[ing] them with a solid, safe learning environment” as being among their priorities, they claimed that the school had outgrown its facilities when enrollment jumped from 25 to 200 in just two years.

And, despite efforts by INSPIRE staff to set the record straight about enrollment – it has never exceeded 150 and currently stands at 121 – Buscaino’s office has continued to make the case that the buildings are overcrowded, that students packed into the basement set of offices and computer center in YO! Watts constitute a fire hazard, that the YO! Watts building may not even be up to code, and that the current set-up in the rec center – where heavy draperies are all that mark the partitions between class “rooms” – constitute a less-than-ideal learning environment.

While it is true that the school’s facilities are far from ideal on paper, current students, INSPIRE staff, and those speaking off the record from YO! Watts (who have been told not to speak on the matter by the city) question the extent to which youth welfare is a genuine concern of the the councilmember’s office and whether any solutions they offer will be truly attuned to the youths’ needs.

This is due, in part, to the condescension with which they believe they have been treated. Read more…

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Kickball to the Rescue!: How Active Programming in Parks Makes Communities Safer

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When I first visited Ted Watkins Park at 103rd and Central in 2001, I didn’t stay very long.

I was exploring the community with my boyfriend of the time, who happened to be white, and we caused quite a stir. A few people even jeered at us, with one asking if we had “come down from the hills” to grace Watts with our presence.

Despite it being one of the few “neutral” sites everyone could access (not located within a housing development or claimed by a gang), the 27-acre park itself didn’t seem particularly welcoming, either. The equipment and facilities were in bad shape and the place felt rather dirty. There wasn’t really much of a picnic area where we could sit down and take everything in, and my ex was pretty sure no one wanted us to do that anyways.

Fast forward a decade and a $6.8 million renovation later, and Ted Watkins Park is a totally different place.

Bright and colorful, nicely landscaped, chock-full of picnic tables, playing fields and handball courts, and peppered with fitness equipment along the west side, it is a jewel of the community.

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the sun and the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

During daylight hours, you can find many people working out on the equipment and jogging or walking around the outer edge of the park (there is even a path through the tree-lined fitness area on the west side, so folks don’t have to make their way past the guys selling used cars along the park’s edge on Central). The handball courts, skate area, and children’s play area are also always bustling with activity.

With regard to programming, the Watts farmers’ market can be found there Saturday mornings (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), there are often formal soccer games or informal practices and games happening at one or more of the playing fields, and, in summer, the Parks After Dark program lets people enjoy the park until late into the evening.

While both the renovations and programming play an important role in the park’s success, my observation is that programming plays a bigger role than you might imagine. Read more…

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MyFigueroa Achieves Consensus, Auto Group Withdraws Appeal

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015.

MyFigueroa multi-feature design for new bus platforms on Figueroa Street. Agreements this week enable this project to move forward with construction anticipated to begin in early 2015. image: MyFigueroa.com

This week, stakeholders hammered out an agreement that allows the MyFigueroa project to finally move from design to on-the-ground implementation.

MyFigueroa will arguably be Los Angeles’ premiere “complete street.” The three project streets will be inclusive: welcoming to pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and drivers.

This is great news for Los Angeles livability. Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District (BID) head Steve Gibson describes it as “good for the district, for the bike community, and for the city.”

Mayor Garcetti, one of MyFigueroa’s stalwart proponents, described this week’s victory as follows:

I’m excited that our work to bring stakeholders together to air and address concerns has cleared the way for MyFigueroa to finally move forward. This is a critical initiative for Downtown, South L.A. and especially the corridor in between, and the result will be a better mobility balance and a higher quality of life. This is a prime example of our Back to Basics agenda for Los Angeles, which is focused on the core building blocks that strengthen neighborhoods. I want to thank Councilmember Price for working with us to convene stakeholders and resolve their concerns, and our dialogue with the community will be ongoing.

City Councilmember Curren Price, who represents the area, further stated:

Because of the conversations that were held between the City and stakeholders we will now have a groundbreaking project in the New Ninth that all members of the community will support, without compromising the integrity of the project.

It hasn’t been easy making big changes in one of the city’s most iconic corridors. Figueroa is already a thriving place with many world class features: sports venues, entertainment centers, and longstanding cultural, religious, and educational institutions. There are great historic landmark buildings, and notable new development. Figueroa is home to businesses and residents. Heavy traffic, wide streets, proximity to the the 110 Freeway, and proliferation of parking lots/structures seem to keep the Figueroa Corridor from being a truly thriving walkable place. In recent times, many of the great destinations along Figueroa Street have tended to turn inward — away from the noise and congestion of Figueroa Street.

With transit connections to Metro’s Red, Purple, and Expo Lines, Figueroa is well-positioned to be the place where Los Angeles takes a big step into a multi-modal livable future. Figueroa leaders saw this, and, nearly a decade ago, started a process to bring it into being. Two local BIDs worked with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to pursue funding for what would become MyFigueroa.    

The MyFigueroa project will be Los Angeles’ first large-scale “complete streets” makeover. It creates a street that’s truly welcoming and safe for everyone. The project features widened sidewalks, wayfinding, landscaping, pedestrian-scale lighting, improved bus stops, and the city’s first protected bikeway or cycle track.

MyFigueroa weathered a somewhat difficult midstream hand-off when the state dissolved the CRA. The Los Angeles City Department of Transportation (LADOT) picked up the reigns and became the lead city agency. MyFig later stalled due to a legal appeal filed by the Shammas Auto GroupAt a March 2014 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, it appeared that a newly-established stakeholder working group, convened by Mayor Garcetti and City Councilmembers Curren Price and Jose Huizar, was nearing a consensus that would allow MyFigueroa to proceed.

This week, the working group bore fruit.

In a letter dated April 30 2014, the Shammas Auto Group’s attorney wrote:

[T]he Shammas Auto Group [...] hereby withdraws all his previously filed appeals related to the above-referenced [Figueroa Streetscape] project.

From the city staff report, it’s clear that a great deal of work went into making this happen. Representatives from the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the LADOT have been busy.

Read more…

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And So It Begins: Crenshaw Sees Major Street Closure and Reconfiguration Starting Friday Night

A boy walks past the staging area for the Crenshaw Line at Crenshaw and Exposition. Recently erected sound barriers can be seen along Exposition. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A boy walks past the staging area for the Crenshaw Line at Crenshaw and Exposition. Recently-erected sound barriers can be seen along Exposition. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Taking shelter from the hot mid-day sun bearing down on Crenshaw Blvd., I struck up a conversation with a security guard that had worked in the area for a number of years.

As we surveyed the evolving stretch of the boulevard sprawled out before us, we talked about the pending Friday night closure of the boulevard between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Stocker St. for reconfiguration, the new “District Square” development slated for the site at Rodeo and Crenshaw, and the fact that Crenshaw Square, a massive structure hosting a number of local businesses just south of the District Square site, was for sale.

The guard said he had high hopes that the changes would be positive and help people get to know the area. He wanted them to see what he saw, which was that “this is a nice neighborhood with nice people.”

No one is really sure what kind of transformation the new rail line will bring when it finally opens in 2019. But, they do know that they will have to navigate their way around a lot of construction in the meanwhile.

Much noise has already been made about the impact the removal of 150 trees will have on the community.

Trees come down along Crenshaw Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Trees come down along Crenshaw Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

But, this weekend, in particular, promises to be a bit chaotic, as Metro undertakes its first major (but very temporary) street closure. Read more…

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Plaza 2.0: When People St. Plaza Projects are More Than Just Plaza Projects

The future site of Leimert's proposed plaza. 43rd Pl., runs in front of the KAOS Network artspace (on the corner), the Vision Theater (under renovation) and, to the left of the ficus tree, Mark Bradford's film/art/community space (under construction). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The future site of Leimert’s proposed plaza, 43rd Place, runs in front of the KAOS Network art space (on the corner), the Vision Theater (under renovation) and, to the left of the ficus tree, Mark Bradford’s film/art/community space (under construction). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The request that I sign the petition for Leimert Park Village’s People St. plaza application that landed in my inbox the other day made me smile.

Of all the places in the city I can think of, 43rd Place is probably the most appropriate place for a plaza project and the most likely to be able to replicate some of what makes a space a plaza.

For one, the wide and quiet street, running alongside a sizable park space that already plays the role of public square and anchor of the monthly artwalk, will serve as the welcome mat for several important community arts spaces and galleries (see more about that here, here, and here).

As such, it has the potential to serve as a special-occasion spillover space for those venues, doubling as a temporary performance space, outdoor gallery space, or fitness space (capoeira, zumba, yoga, etc.), or play host other creative endeavors.

Mask festival procession in honor of the ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Mask festival procession in honor of the ancestors in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Second, the variety of programming an arts-heavy community offers can draw multiple generations of families. Events including the art walk already have a family-reunion sort of feel to them, as it is. More space to test out interactive street furniture, jump rope, or just play can enhance those events and keep the plaza active in between formal happenings.

Third, located within spitting distance of Crenshaw Blvd. — a newly designated “Great Street” — and the coming Metro stop, it will likely serve as an important rest and/or contemplative spot for those exploring the neighborhood.

For these reasons and more, community members have voiced a strong desire to see the creation of a permanent installation that celebrates the area’s cultural and architectural/art deco heritage while also reflecting their hopes for its future as a creative district.

The Sankofa Passage along Degnan St. is adorned with the names of important African-American artists. Their names are surrounded by symbols used to brand slaves. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Sankofa Passage along Degnan St. is adorned with the names of important African-American artists. Their names are surrounded by symbols used to brand slaves (and a Sankofa in each corner). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

It is an approach that puts them slightly at odds with the People St. framework, which offers year-long renewable permits for communities looking to install plazas, parklets, or bike corrals in their neighborhoods, and has a limited menu of standardized design options intended to make the permitting and implementation processes easier. While the program supports the eventual conversion of the installations into permanent fixtures, the initial project itself must be designed as if temporary (i.e. no permanent furniture or public art).

Cognizant of the limits of the program, but still thinking longer-term, the stakeholders appear ready to find the resources to fill in the gaps between what the city can offer and what they need to adequately showcase their community.

They’ve done this sort of thing before.

In late 2007, a five-year effort came to fruition in the form of the Sankofa Passage along Degnan Blvd. (running perpendicular to 43rd Pl.).

The block-length walk is embedded with the names of important African-American artists, stamped with folk art animals, and graced by terracotta African-style planters. The Sankofa birds — Akan (Ghana) symbols signifying the importance of carrying wisdom from your past with you as you move forward — and the slave brands emblazoned around the names of the artists effectively remind you of where you are and who walked before you. Read more…

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Got the Munchies?: South L.A. Market Conversion Project Takes Unique Approach to Health

Nelson Garcia outside his newly transformed corner store, Alba Snacks & Services. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Nelson Garcia outside his newly transformed corner store, Alba Snacks & Services. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I first met Nelson Garcia almost two years ago at an L.A. Food Policy Council (LAFPC) training event for small business owners looking to transform their stores into healthier community resources.

He did not remember this when I mentioned it to him at the grand re-opening of his newly renamed Alba Snacks & Services store at 60th and Vermont in South L.A. last week.

That’s not surprising.

I had attended the training to familiarize myself with the corner market landscape. He had attended because his businesses are his life.

He, like many there that day, had been focused on absorbing as much information as possible from the variety of presentations aimed at walking business owners through the steps of the market makeover process. And, in the debriefing session at the end of the day with LAFPC Director of Policy and Innovation Clare Fox, he had been eager to speak about the hurdles he faced making the suggested investments in his store.

The permitting process to sell produce was lengthy and expensive, he and others had lamented. The Department of Public Health (DPH) required that they have certain equipment in order to properly store produce, and the costs of acquiring it (plus the permits) were often more than owners in low-income communities could scrape together at once.

Or, as another owner complained, the interface with DPH could be confusing. They might hear from one inspector that they needed a particular piece of equipment, only to purchase it and later hear from another that it was the wrong one or that they had been misinformed about proper placement/spacing of equipment within the storage area.

It was a lot of trouble to go through for a product with a very limited shelf life and profit margin, and which begins to lose value the moment it goes out on the floor.

Their conclusions were disheartening to hear — Garcia and the other participants clearly had the desire to sell something better than flaming hot finger snacks to the good people of their communities. But it was also clear that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to get from A to B on their own. Read more…

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CicLAvia Highlights Need for Better Bike Infrastructure for Cycling to Grow as a Transportation Option

Rides at CicLAvia along Wilshire Blvd. (from last year. I took zero pictures this year). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Riders at CicLAvia (2013) along Wilshire Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Stay to the right!” rang out over the megaphone from a passing police car. “That means you, young lady!”

As CicLAvia came to a close and streets were being re-opened to cars, well-meaning police officers did their best to warn folks on bikes that their two-wheeled utopia was subsisting on borrowed time.

And, while I was flattered that they thought I was young, I was rather flummoxed at the notion that they would have directed me to move from an empty eastbound lane of Wilshire to the right side of the dozen or so cars queuing up to turn right onto Hoover.

Who told them it was a good idea to run cyclists in front of cars turning right? I wondered.

This moment — the instant that the streets re-open to motorized traffic — is both the most informative part of CicLAvia and the most depressing.

It’s informative in that you immediately get a sense of how well-equipped your average person is to navigate traffic on a bike and your average police officer to help them do so. And, it’s depressing because the answer to both of those questions is “not very.”

At Hoover, the officers’ admonitions directing bikes heading east along Wilshire to stay to the far right were entirely counterproductive (and dangerous). Those that took those directions as gospel headed straight for the gutter, hugging the curb as closely as possible. But, because there was no room to ride in the car-occupied lane, many soon moved up onto the narrow sidewalk, where they had to walk their bikes.

All those now-pedestrians crossed through the intersection on foot, creating a tremendous bottleneck along Wilshire. Meanwhile, police continued to direct people to ride to the right of the growing line of cars waiting to turn right, despite the fact that the eastbound lanes remained almost entirely car-free.

Along other sections of Wilshire that had been re-opened to cars, some people chose to ride on the sidewalks, wanting no part of car traffic. Others continued to brave it out in the gutters, slowly battling and weaving their way up hills, sometimes completely oblivious to — or utterly panicked by — the line of cars forming behind them. Still others, apparently lost in the bike-fest bubble, merrily blew through red lights with their children in tow.

This is madness, I thought.

Not necessarily because all these inexperienced people were out on the streets — although that can be problematic, too — but because they were there and they were not protected by better infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, I had been talking with cycling advocate friends about the next steps forward from CicLAvia. Read more…

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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. Read more…