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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…

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The Tour de Watts Gathers Momentum, Signals Good Things Ahead for Watts

A new form of leadership in Watts. Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Fredrick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A new form of leadership in Watts. From left to right, Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Frederick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While heading to South L.A. for the United Riders of South L.A.‘s Tour de Watts this past Saturday, I was reminded of a guest lecture I gave in a USC journalism class a few weeks ago.

For an hour and a half, I talked about how fortunate I felt to be covering South L.A. and how wonderful and welcoming the people there were. We talked about the problems, of course, and about the importance of taking a nuanced approach to get behind the typical perceptions of the area and its inhabitants. But, I thought I had done a pretty good job of painting a portrait of the South L.A. I know: the one that varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood; the one filled with good people whose ability to be good neighbors to one another is sometimes constrained by challenging circumstances; and the one that isn’t always easy to wrap your arms around but which rewards you tenfold for the effort.

Then, I got their evaluations.

Most had enjoyed the talk immensely and many even found themselves inspired to think about using a bicycle to get to know a community (huzzah!). But, the majority seemed to be incorrigibly wedded to the idea that South L.A. was a seedy and unsafe place.

Not because they’re terrible people, or racist, or even classist — I don’t believe they are. Simply put, that’s just how powerful the stereotypes surrounding South L.A. are.

What does it take to take people’s minds? I wondered as I pedaled down Avalon.

E.J. and Tiffany bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

E.J. and Tiffany of the East Side Riders bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sometimes I feel like I can write about how great the people of South L.A. are til I am blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference.

Part of the reason, I would guess, is that I still have to write about the problems I see there.

Crime, gang-activity, blight, intense poverty…those things are real. And, they do negatively affect the population.

In fact, just as I was rushing to meet up with the riders at the WLCAC, I ran into a young man I knew on the corner of Century at Ted Watkins park. His fixie had gotten a flat, he said, and he was walking to get his van so he could pick up the bike, which he had left at the park with friends.

What he was telling me, essentially, was that, even though he was a strong, grown man, walking a bicycle a few blocks down the street by himself on a sunny Saturday morning would serve as an invitation for people to take it from him and possibly hurt him in the process.

I nodded.

It’s a story I’ve heard a million times. The unfortunate reality for people in Watts and other parts of South L.A. is that the streets are not all that secure for pedestrians. Or for young cyclists, for that matter, if they are out riding on their own.

It is also a story I don’t enjoy telling because it seems to confirm the negative stereotypes of the area.

And, while it does confirm them to some extent, there is a lot more to the story. Read more…

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“They Never Do Things Like This in My Neighborhood!”: New Park Along Vermont Ave. Surprises, Delights Residents

A mini-park wends its way down Vermont Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A mini-park wends its way down the middle of Vermont Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

He was surprised when they put the bike lane in a while back, he said. But then this?

“They never do things like this in my neighborhood!” he laughed.

He was referring to the new mini-park that popped up around Thanksgiving between 88th and 92nd streets along Vermont Ave. — the Plaza Las Americas.

“I know, right?” I had to laugh with him. “It’s about time.”

Then, observing that he was sitting in the hot sun on the stoop in front of his building instead of under the shade of the gorgeous trees, I asked if he’d used the park yet.

“Nope,” he said.

But, he liked seeing it and knowing it was there for him.

It made the area beautiful and inviting, which are not words typically associated with South Los Angeles.

And, he added, it hadn’t been trashed yet.

Someone from maintenance cleaned it regularly, and it hadn’t been tagged up or desecrated in any way. Or, as he had feared, turned into a hotspot for drug dealers or a source of territorial dispute between some of the gangs that run in the area.

Instead, the teens that congregated there would just relax with friends after school or work out on the fitness equipment.

People took good care of it, he said, and really seemed to enjoy using it, especially in the mornings, when it was cool. And, he liked seeing the folks on horses ride through it at night every now and then. Read more…

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Dear Santa, Please Bring Us an Active Transportation Corridor Along Slauson. But Don’t Forget the Community in the Process.

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is nowhere near as empty as people passing through might imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

If you’ve ever driven or ridden the bus along Slauson Ave., you are familiar with how much of a wasteland the corridor appears to be.

Flanked by industry or warehouses on either side for much of its trajectory, and running parallel to defunct and unkempt railroad tracks that are liberally adorned with debris, graffiti, and enormous mud puddles when it rains, it doesn’t seem like the most human-friendly place.

And, if you’ve ever felt reckless enough to ride the street on your bike, you would probably attest to that observation. There is no shoulder, traffic moves fast, regardless of the time of day, and on the north side (along the tracks), the road can be rough on your tires and quite dark at night.

Empty and desolate as it may appear to be, however, Slauson actually slashes its way through a series of neighborhoods that are chock full of families. You just don’t see much evidence of them thanks to the 30,000+ cars, buses, and trucks that rumble through there daily, lack of mid-block crossings and other pedestrian infrastructure, poor lighting, graffiti, and general filthiness of the corridor. The unhealthy and unsafe conditions serve as yet one more strike against community cohesiveness by discouraging residents from being out and about in their neighborhoods.

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. (map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks (in black), starting at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, turning west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. They would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence (map taken from 2008 Harbor Subivision study).

So, it is incredibly exciting to know that plans are slowly moving forward on the proposal of County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina to convert the 8.3 mile corridor between Huntington Park and Crenshaw into an active transportation corridor.

Not just because transforming the right-of-way along the tracks into bike and pedestrian paths would make passage safer for the thousands of people who want to connect to transit in the area (i.e. the Vermont/Slauson stops see more than 3700 boardings per day).

But because, if built with the surrounding community in mind, it could be a tremendous boon to those who must traverse the corridor on a regular basis and who have few safe and welcoming recreational spaces available to them.

With those aspirations in mind, I attended the first public briefing announcing Metro’s feasibility study for the project last Thursday.

I came away with somewhat mixed feelings. Read more…

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Filed Under: Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

The entrance to the 4th Ave. pedestrian bridge from the north side and what remains of the landscaping, post-plant heist. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A few days ago a sad message popped in my inbox.

It was from a West Adams neighbor decrying the heist of approximately $300 worth of plants that members of the community had lovingly put in at the entrance to the 4th Ave. pedestrian bridge spanning the 10 freeway just last month.

The landscaping effort — carried out by volunteers one fine Saturday morning — had been intended to send a signal that the community both cares about the bridge and is mindful of what goes on there.

The neighbors had come together because homeowners living near the bridge have long-complained that the bridge attracts all sorts of unsavory activities. Some have claimed it is a haven for prostitution, dangerous drug use, gang activity, and those seeking escape routes after committing crimes, as cars can’t follow.

Although crime data does not seem to bear that out — there was only one recorded petty theft and one vehicle break-in on the south side of the bridge and no incidents on the north side in the last 6 months — it is also true that numerous neighbors have long-reported being frustrated that police are slow in responding to their complaints.

Some of the plants put in last month. Photo: Yvonne Ellett, ECWA Recording Secretary

Late night parking restrictions had originally been instituted to deal with some of the issues the police seemed slow to address, but neighbors still complain of having to shame folks into leaving the area or of finding evidence of late-night encounters in the morning (i.e. beer bottles, condoms, empty prescription weed containers, Rollin’ 20s graffiti, and most commonly, human feces).

At a meeting at Herb Wesson’s council office earlier this summer, those that had had enough were vociferous in their demands for the closure of the bridge. Seeing that as the last resort, however, Wesson’s office offered a compromise in the form of the installation of cameras and improved lighting. Other neighbors suggested the institution of volunteer clean-ups and the possibility of late-night walking patrols.

Although the meeting was quite contentious at times, it was exciting to see that neighbors were willing to take ownership of the bridge and build connections with other residents in order to make their own neighborhood a better place. Most recognized the bridge as an asset, one heavily used by kids going back and forth to school or the park around the corner on 2nd Ave., and they were willing to put even more time and energy (some had already been active in keeping it clean for some time) to ensuring it remained a safe and clean place.

Which is why it was so disheartening to see that it only took a few weeks for someone to squash community spirit by ripping out the landscaping. Read more…

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By the Numbers: Counting Bikes and Pedestrians in Watts

A boy walks in front of the Watts Obelisk. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As the cloud of sarin gas descended on the scene, party-goers once happily doing the Carlton dance were suddenly writhing on the ground in agony.

Huh?

I rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m.

Thanks, NPR, for invading my weird retro dream.

I rubbed my eyes and stumbled toward my coffee maker.

Why did I agree to count bicyclists and pedestrians so early in the morning, so far away from my bed?

Early as the start to the day was, it made for a nice ride to Watts. The streets were practically empty and the air was fresh as I struck out around 5:45 a.m. I could almost feel the city yawning, stretching, and scratching its head.

As I parked myself along the train tracks near the intersection of Grandee and 103rd (the 103rd St. stop on the Blue Line), I looked around for my fellow counters. I didn’t see any. The busy site was all mine.

Even so, it turned out not to be too hard to keep track of the flow of people.

Foot traffic moved completely in tandem with public transport.

As soon as a bus pulled up at the stop in front of the Watts Station house, 10 uniformed kids would come walking in my direction. A train arriving would bring older students and people on their way to work.

Very few people passing through the intersection had walked or ridden their bikes from somewhere else in the neighborhood. Which turned out to be a good thing because, about 45 minutes into the count, I realized that there were two other counters kitty-corner to me, hidden behind a telephone pole about 1000 ft away.

Shit.

How did that happen?

I contemplated just staying where I was because it seemed clear that there would be little overlap. People heading to or from the Metro or bus stops that passed in front of them would reach their destinations without ever crossing my screenline.

In the end, I went over to check in with them. From there I went to a couple of other sites to see if they were in need of partners (they weren’t). Then I spoke with Martin from the LACBC and went back at my original post.

“Who are you?” demanded a woman wrapped from head to toe in a black hijab as I settled back in. “Who sent you here? Do you have permission from the MTA?”

Ah, hello, Wyjeah. Read more…

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A Case for the Incorporation of Questions of Access Into Planning for Complete Streets

Participants from the Complete Streets this ride with the Mobility Advisory Council included representatives of TRUST South LA, Community Health Councils, LA's First Five, the East Side Riders, Los Angeles Walks, the LACBC, city planning, LADOT, Biz-e-Bee Bikers, and a couple extra folks thrown in for good measure. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“David!” I yelled, gesturing at City Planning’s David Somers to come over and listen to what the residents playing cards in their yard were saying about the need for a stoplight at the intersection outside their front gate.

Too many people had come crashing through it, they told me.

And if it wasn’t their gate, they pointed across the street, it was the damaged stone wall kitty-corner from their yard.

Just so I could fully grasp how bad the intersection at 82nd and Hooper was, the woman pulled out her camera and showed me a photo of a large red SUV parked practically on top of the hot water heater outside her bedroom window.

She had been sleeping on the other side of that wall, she said.

“They didn’t even give him a breathalyzer!” another resident shook his head. “Even though there were beer bottles fallin’ out of the car!”

The driver had apparently tried to run away and hide, at first. Then, he came back and tried to drive the truck off (or something of that nature) before the Sheriffs finally stepped up and told him that wasn’t how things worked when you crashed into a house.

Hooper’s just too fast of a street, they all reiterated. Wide open and curvy, people apparently feel like they can slalom along it, especially after they’ve had a few drinks. Which never ends well for anybody. And by “anybody,” I mean the residents in the area. Read more…

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Infrastructure, Access, and Passage: Neighbors in West Adams Debate Fate of 4th Ave. Pedestrian Bridge

The pedestrian bridge that crosses the 10 freeway at 4th Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“We’ve all stopped and wondered, ‘What kind of poop is this?’” a man said of the surprises the 4th Ave. pedestrian bridge sometimes holds for residents of Jefferson Park and Arlington Heights.

That wasn’t reason enough to close the bridge, however, he told the crowd of concerned neighbors and homeowners that had gathered at Herb Wesson’s District Office Monday night to discuss the fate of the area’s lone remaining pedestrian walkway over the 10 freeway.

Take the case of his disabled son, he argued.

The boy was able to walk from the north side of the 10 to the park (located two blocks form the bridge) every day because of the bridge. Closing it would force his son to walk several extra blocks and likely leave him too exhausted to go regularly or play once he got there.

The benefits to keeping the bridge open far outweighed the risks, he said.

He would be one of many that night who would suggest that neighbors needed to come together to take ownership of the bridge to discourage the kinds detrimental behaviors a semi-secluded and not-particularly-well-lit pedestrian bridge often invites.

Just what kind of behaviors are those?

According to some, prostitution, gang activity, crime (where the bridge serves as an “escape route”), drug use, graffiti, and urination and/or defecation.

“Close it!” muttered a gentleman who lives next to the bridge.

He was tired of the criminal activity and of people using his driveway (there are no curb cuts on the south entrance to the bridge). And, law enforcement was completely disinterested in dealing with the problems the bridge generated, he said, leaving him and other neighbors vulnerable.

People sympathized with his and others’ concerns and acknowledged the area had seen its share of problems.

What wasn’t clear, however, was the frequency with which these problems occurred or their relationship to the bridge. Read more…

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Hurray for Pedestrian Improvements! Now, If Only Drivers Would Respect Them…

A mother and her kids crossing with little problem at 112th and Wilmington, thanks to the new yield lines (photo: sahra)

Soon after taking some city planners on a tour through Watts, a new bike lane appeared along Central Avenue, between Century and 95th St. A week or two later, the owner of the Watts Cyclery, Stalin Medina, told me that parking had been removed from in front of his shop at 112th and Wilmington and yield lines (a row of solid white triangles pointing toward approaching vehicles) had been painted at the crosswalk there.

The improvements at Wilmington were especially pleasing, given that the crosswalk is often used by children in the area going back and forth to the elementary school that sits on that corner. The removal of parking ideally makes it easier for drivers to see children waiting to cross while the yield lines hopefully create more of a buffer between pedestrians and cars.

Da-yum,” I thought. “I had no idea the city was so responsive!”

It turns out they are not.

The improvements at Wilmington and 112th were the result of a separate investigation by the folks from the LADOT’s Southern District. Upon discovering it could be improved, they made the changes so the crossing would meet DOT standards. Similarly, the DOT’s Bikeways Section had been searching for opportunities to implement elements of the bike master plan, and the Central Ave. stretch had come up on NavigateLA.

Oddly happy coincidence or not, it was exciting to see the changes and a great opportunity to observe the extent to which new pedestrian markings had any impact on driver behavior. Read more…

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Taking a Bike Tour of Watts, with a Team of L.A. City Planners

Javier Partida (Los Ryderz) and John Jones III (East Side Riders) talk to riders from the Department of City Planning about the need to make Graham into a bike-friendly street (photo: sahra)

The young men watched the cyclists ride their way past the Watts Towers and post up at the corner of Graham Street.

Puzzled, they pulled me aside and asked what was going on.

What was the occasion?

I had to laugh. “You want to know what all these white people are doing in your neighborhood, huh?”

Nodding sheepishly, they laughed, too.

They weren’t the first people to be curious about our presence.

Even though our group was comprised of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, it was clear that many were not from Watts, and we caused quite a spectacle as we made our way around the area.

Strange as it may sound, in 2012, in a city as diverse as ours, it is still jarring for residents to see outsiders — particularly white people — in certain parts of the city. White folk are rarely seen just hanging out around Watts outside the vicinity of the Watts Towers. When they and other outsiders do come to the area, they tend to arrive in groups and there usually is a specific reason for the visit, so residents are not shy about asking what the occasion is.

I explained to the young men that some of the group were from the Department of City Planning and that they were interested in a firsthand look at how safe the streets were for cyclists and pedestrians.

We had enlisted the help of Los Ryderz and the East Side Riders, I said, to give the planners the best tour possible. Since both groups ride in the area and most are residents of Watts, they could offer the planners important information about how the streets are used and by whom, as well as how safe the streets feel at different times of the day.

Pointing in the direction of Chris Madrigal (one of Los Ryderz), I told them that he had been knocked unconscious in a hit-and-run on Wilmington in the middle of the day a few weeks prior. Because, like many such incidents along that street, it wasn’t reported to the police, city officials don’t know it happened and don’t know there is a need to slow Wilmington down.

“They have to see streets like Wilmington in person to really understand how dangerous it can get,” I concluded.

The young men nodded. Read more…