Posters demanding safe passage for cyclists on Central Avenue adorn the walls outside of TRUST South L.A. They were created by South L.A. community members. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
“Bottom line is, citizens want to be involved, they want to be engaged in the process of figuring out how we reprogram our streets, how we reprogram our communities, making it more livable, making it more desirable, making it safer.”
So said councilmember for the 9th District, Curren Price, when interviewed by KCET’s Nic Cha Kim at CicLAvia: South L.A. in December of 2014 (minute 4:20).
It is a perspective that many who live, work, play, and move along the Central Avenue corridor in historic South Central share.
Given that the corridor communities have a median income hovering around $30,000, an average household size between of 4 and 9 people, a median age of 23, and little opportunity for economic advancement thanks to limited access to higher education, area residents are very much at the mercy of their environment. Rapidly rising rents and the lack of affordable housing around the city make it nearly impossible for them to move anywhere else. And the high dependence of many families on transit, cycling, and walking to get back and forth to work and school means that just going about their daily lives entails constant flirtations with danger.
Central Avenue, boasting the highest number of cyclists anywhere in the city during peak hours (and a very steady stream in off-peak hours), has seen nearly 300 collisions between drivers and pedestrians or cyclists over the last decade.
That we know of, that is.
Many of those who have been hit by cars have never reported the incidents to authorities, either because they preferred to handle things informally with the driver, the injuries were minor, or the incident was a hit-and-run and they saw no point.
So, even though more than three-quarters of residents are renters, the vast majority would tell you they are deeply invested in the well-being of their neighborhoods and would like nothing better than to see them become safer and healthier places for all.
A father runs errands with his children along Central Avenue after picking them up from school. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Thus far, however, efforts to get Councilmember Price to sit down and have that conversation with stakeholders about their needs and aspirations have proven futile.
Over the past year, the community has been shut out of discussions about Great Streets’ and the councilmember’s plans to remake Central Avenue in the image of Broadway (downtown) and to remove the Central Avenue bike lane planned to help bike commuters get safely between Watts, historic South Central, and jobs downtown from the Mobility Plan altogether.
The Great Streets plans for the street were only made available to the public after Streetsblog published an article complaining about the blatant steamrolling of the community. When local stakeholders tried to follow up by delivering letters to the councilmember’s office and approaching the members of the Business Improvement District, they were still not able to get any response from Price to their demands for a bike lane.
Fed up with failed attempts at peaceful engagement and concerned that Price would once again try to see Central Ave. removed from the Mobility Plan at tomorrow’s city planning commission hearing, residents took action. Gathering their signs, courage, a megaphone, and a banner to be hung on Price’s building, they stormed the councilmember’s constituent center at Vernon and Central yesterday.
Members of TRUST South L.A. hang a banner from Curren Price’s constituent center. Photo: Ashley Hansack
“We’re tired of coming to you!” said resident and safe streets advocate AsSami AlBasir El.
“When are you going to come to our* office?” he continued. “I’m asking…when are you coming down to have a dialogue?…What solution do you have?” [*He was referring to the conference room at TRUST South L.A., where residents, volunteers, and stakeholders regularly meet, discuss community problems and potential solutions, and plan community engagements as part of a mobility advisory council.]
Residents and stakeholders in the South Central community ask District Director James Westbrooks to help make their community safer. Photo: Ashley Hansack
Staff on site were not able to offer much in the way of reassurances.
When District Director James Westbrooks was asked by AlBasir El if he would be willing to tell the kids standing there — kids that are regularly transported back and forth to school by bike along Central Avenue — that “we’re not gonna have a bike lane,” there was not much Westbrooks could say.
Price made up his mind on the subject a long time ago.
Sadly, the logic used to reach that decision — detailed in a statement emailed in response to stakeholders’ action — seems rather questionable. Read more…