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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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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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Metro Awards Contract for Environmental Study and Design of Phase I of Rail-to-River Bike 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 just took another step forward. Source: Metro

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

As bike month comes to a close, we have some good news for South L.A. cyclists. At yesterday’s Metro Board meeting, a $2 million contract was awarded to Cityworks Design to begin working on plans for a 6.4 mile segment of the Rail-to-River bike path project (segments A-1, A-2, and A-3, above).

The Rail-to-River bike path, as County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas described it last October, is an important opportunity to turn an 8-mile stretch of a “dormant” and “blighted” rail right-of-way (ROW) in a “historically distressed area” into a biking and walking path that could more efficiently connect people to transit while also bettering the local economy, health outcomes for residents, and the local environment.

Running between the Crenshaw/LAX Line station at Fairview Heights station to just east of the Blue Line station at Slauson and, in subsequent phases, to the river, the path will not only help connect cycling commuters to transit but offer the local residents of a neglected industrial corridor much-needed green space and a place to safely stretch their legs.

Yesterday’s development doesn’t mean the project is about to break ground, unfortunately. Instead, Cityworks Design has been tasked with undertaking environmental review, clearance, and design work for the project. Supporting documents describe Cityworks as specialists in environmental clearance and able to work within the time constraints of the project. Which is a good thing, as the TIGER grant requires the funds be obligated by September of 2017 and expended by 2022.

The project has been a few years in the making. Read more…

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Friday Corner of Shame: Burned-Out Structure Knocked Down, Remains Unremediated for a Year

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riddle me this: A dilapidated two-story apartment building in your neighborhood burns so brightly that as many as 70 firefighters from 36 units are dispatched to put down the fire. The structure becomes unstable. It is eventually knocked down so as to prevent it from collapsing on its own.

How long will the pile of toxic, sharp-edged, and otherwise dangerous rubble sit unguarded on the lot, spilling over onto neighborhood sidewalks and the yard next door?

A week?

A month?

Frustratingly, for those who live in Watts, the answer appears to be, “At least a year.”

The hot mess pictured above, located at 9254 Central Avenue, burst into flames at around 10 p.m. on April 17, 2015.

The cause of the fire was not known at the time. The building had been sold just one month prior for $460,000, and may have only had one occupied unit. [A call to the Fire Department has not yet been returned.]

Video captured that night by onscenevideo.tv, gives you a sense of how unstable the structure was – one side appeared to be buckling. The Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) was called because the structure was at risk of collapse and, according to the fire department, a private contractor later arrived to stabilize it.

Despite what appeared to be imminent danger, the house sat in its burned-out state for several months. I recall first passing by it last spring and hoping families hadn’t been displaced. Then, as the months wore on, I wondered at what point something was going to be done about the structure. It was boarded up, but otherwise not safeguarded in a neighborhood that was full of kids.

 The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.


The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.

Read more…

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Street Beats Inspires Spontaneous Episodes of Dance, Music, Joy, and Safety on Crenshaw Corner

Dancing to Street Beats on the corner of Florence and Crenshaw. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dancing to Street Beats on the corner of Florence and Crenshaw. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Street Beats team converted the extremely busy and often dangerous intersection of Crenshaw and Florence into a play zone.

No, really.

With the help of a grant from the Mayor’s Great Streets program and countless extra hours over several months dedicated to pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, and building relationships with local artists, community advocates, neighborhood block clubs, churches, and other stakeholders, the folks at Studio MMD, Ride On! Bike Co-op, Community Health Councils, and TRUST South L.A. managed to bring the neighborhood out to spend the day at a corner most of us would rather hurry through.

The idea was to engage Hyde Park neighbors on the kinds of street interventions that could help improve the safety of those that move through the intersection — be it on foot, by bike, by bus, or in a car. Using do-it-yourself bump-outs and a scramble crosswalk, they hoped to demonstrate just how much a simple design intervention could positively impact the way traffic flowed through a crossing, making it safer for all users.

A woman eyes up the scramble crosswalk that could take her through the intersection much more efficiently than she could normally go--something that is appealing when you are carrying a lot of stuff with you. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A woman eyes up the temporary scramble crosswalk that could help her navigate the intersection much more efficiently than she normally would be able to–something that is particularly appealing when you are carrying a lot of stuff with you or have young kids in tow. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But, as Studio MMD’s Michael MacDonald told me back when they first took on the project — people are not all that likely to come out to an inhospitable street corner on a Saturday just to talk street engineering and bump-outs.

Even ones as bright and fun as they envisioned (below).

The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.

The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.

And really, why would you want to put so much effort into bringing people together just to talk bump-outs? Read more…

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Ride4Love Rides Again: More than 200 Cyclists Roll for Unity, Love in Watts

Watts is LOVE. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Watts is LOVE.
Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“This is such a great turnout!” was something I must have heard come out of my own mouth somewhere between 20 and 30 times during the East Side Riders’ Ride4Love last weekend.

And it was.

I mean, they always get a good turnout.

Last year, just under 200 cyclists showed up for the event.

But I still clearly remember the days when it was a struggle to get folks to come to Watts — the days before people believed there could be such a thing as a South L.A. bike community and the days before the clubs around South L.A. and the larger Southland were so well-connected and supportive of each other.

So, I would not be lying if I said that seeing more than 200 riders of all origins, stripes, and ages rolling in harmony through the streets of a community I love so much made my heart feel like it might burst.

Decoration on the bike of a ride participant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Decoration on the handlebars of a ride participant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A bursting heart, however terribly cheesy it may sound, was actually quite apt for the day.

The Ride4Love is the East Side Riders’ (ESRBC) signature event, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day and intended to highlight both the beauty of and the challenges remaining in the Watts community.

Giving back to the community has always featured heavily in the event, either through more direct action, like feeding the homeless, or by setting an example of positivity for the community by showing that the African-American and Latino communities are stronger when they ride together as one.

Determination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Determination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Recognizing that they were a largely local group, the community was thrilled to see them. Read more…

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Well-Intended Proposal to Shame “Johns” Using License Plate Readers Could End up Shaming Entire Communities in South L.A., Valley

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. A woman watching the scene with me said she believed the girl was underage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. A woman watching the scene with me said she believed the girl was underage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

In the excitement of seeing the City Council rescind its vote on an amended Mobility Plan 2035 and re-adopt the plan in its draft form just before Thanksgiving, I managed to miss another item on the Council agenda from Councilmember Nury Martinez: a motion requesting that “the City Attorney report on issuing John Letters to the registered owners of vehicles that are seen driving around in high-prostitution areas in the City.”

As I write this, I realize you might be asking yourself why an effort to shame vehicle owners by notifying them that their cars were spotted in areas where prostitution was rampant and that they might be at risk for contracting a sexually-transmitted disease is a livability issue.

Quite simply, prostitution has a significant impact on the walkability and livability of neighborhoods.

If you are a female of any age in an area where sex workers regularly walk the streets, then it is likely that you or someone you know has been solicited on more than one occasion. And I can assure you that it generally is a less-than-pleasant experience. When it happens to me, it might be guys rolling up and making obscene gestures in lieu of verbal requests. Or it might entail being followed. If it’s my lucky day, I get both. The seekers of my imagined services range from delivery guys, to guys walking or biking along the street, to professional-looking guys in expensive SUVs. I’ve even been harassed by a pimp who thought I was an undercover cop — an experience that was actually more unsettling than being solicited.

Not only am I solicited every single time I either walk or bike through a known “stroll,” I find some men there are more likely to assume I am a service-provider, regardless of whether they are interested in my presumed skills at the moment. My mere presence on the street is enough for some to link me to the trade.

I am old enough to handle it, gross as it may be. But if you imagine me instead as a middle-school-aged girl living in the area who gets harassed by johns or a young boy who sees women and girls treated this way every day, you begin to get a sense of how treacherous and unfriendly the public space can be.

Families that live in these often-densely residential areas find themselves regularly waking up to condoms littered in the street in front of their homes, having transactions go down within view or earshot at all hours of the day, having johns cruising back and forth in front of their homes, fearing retaliation from pimps for calling the police, having to wait for a bus on the same bench that a sex worker is sitting waiting for customers, and watching (often very young) women parade up and down their block.

These are all things that can keep residents from feeling free to walk up the block to frequent a local business, catch a bus, or take the kids back and forth to school. It can also hurt the larger sense of community in an area — neighbors and shop owners may be more likely to keep to themselves, not wanting to cause trouble with the pimps (or, in some cases, gangs) that control the trade in their neighborhood. And the level of neglect by the city needed to create the conditions in which prostitution can occur so openly means that prostitution isn’t happening in isolation. Illegal dumping, gang violence and the associated trauma, the selling of drugs and substance abuse, domestic violence, lack of access to a viable education or work opportunities, and disinvestment feed off each other and conspire to keep a community locked in an unhealthy holding pattern.

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

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

Read more…

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City Council Votes to Rescind/Re-Adopt Mobility Plan 2035; Substantive Amendments to Be Discussed in 2016

Representatives of the National Resources Defense Council, Investing in Place, Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, and TRUST South L.A., along with Don Ward/Roadblock, gather outside the City Council chambers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Representatives of the National Resources Defense Council, Investing in Place, Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, Los Angeles Walks, and TRUST South L.A., along with Don Ward/Roadblock, gather outside the City Council chambers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Midway through a rather uneventful City Council meeting — minus the dude pacing the aisle in what looked like a Klu Klux Klan hood made out of a pillowcase — the council took the next steps forward on Mobility Plan 2035.

You will recall that Fix the City — tireless crusaders against “lane-stealing” transit users and cyclists — launched a lawsuit against the city for not following proper procedure in adopting the plan to bring Los Angeles into compliance with Complete Streets principles via safe, accessible, and “world class” infrastructure. The council had adopted amendments to the plan and approved it without first sending it back to the City Planning Commission for review.

To remedy this problem, the council essentially went the route of a do-over. They would rescind their vote to adopt the amended plan, and then vote to adopt the original draft plan, as considered and recommended by the City Planning Commission and the Mayor last spring. The proposed amendments — now detached from the plan — would be sent to committee for review and discussion.

Using this approach, the Plan successfully made it through a joint committee meeting on November 10 and was sent back up for a full council vote.

Today’s vote, Councilmember Jose Huizar said as he introduced the rescind/re-adopt motion, would be more procedural than anything (given that the council had previously approved the original Plan in August). And the amendments which were more technical in nature (seeking changes in wording, for example) could be heard in December, while amendments seeking more substantive changes — greater community engagement or voice on implementation, the removal of bike lanes from the plan, etc. — could be heard in February, when there would also be discussion of the environmental impact of potential changes.

When Councilmember Mike Bonin stood to second the rescind/re-adopt motion, he said he was doing so to ensure that the Mobility Plan was on the soundest of legal footing going forward.

“But I also want to take a moment to remind us all of what this plan is about,” he continued. “This plan is about mobility in Los Angeles. This plan is about giving people an opportunity to get out of the increasing, soul-sucking gridlock we have in this city. It is about stopping the process we have now which forces people into their cars and [offering] them an alternative.”

It “doesn’t make a lot of sense in a city that has 300 days of sunshine and is relatively flat,” he said, that 84 per cent of the trips Angelenos make under three miles are made by car.

It also doesn’t make sense, he continued, that Los Angeles has such a “horrible, horrible track record…of pedestrian deaths.” The emphasis on safety, improved infrastructure, environmental protection, and improved access to transit would fundamentally change the way residents interacted with the city and each other. And “this plan, if fully implemented,” he concluded, “would put 90 per cent of people in Los Angeles within one mile of a transit stop. 90 per cent. That is a game-changing thing.”

Only two other councilmembers stood to speak. Read more…

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Equity Advocates Discuss Needs of “Invisible” Cyclists on HuffPost Live

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

Pedestrians and cyclists both take refuge on the sidewalk as they head south on Central Ave. in South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University published a story declaring that “Most Cyclists Are Working-Class Immigrants, Not Hipsters.”

If you spend any time in the streets and/or pay attention to cycling issues, this is something you probably already knew. At least, intuitively. It’s been a little harder to substantiate that claim using data, as the article explains, thanks to the way the Census lumps bicycle commuting to work in with motorcycling and taking taxis. The fact that the poor may also combine multiple modes to get from A to B (and C and D, depending on how many jobs or obligations they have) complicates the data. So does the fact that lower-income residents of color, particularly immigrants, are the people least likely to answer Census or other surveys or have habits that fit well into standardized categories.

The fact that the urban hipster persists as the face of cycling despite being the minority, author Andrew Keatts suggests, means that we aren’t dedicating enough time or resources to understanding and responding to the unique needs of the “invisible” majority — the cyclists that have the fewest resources or options at their disposal.

And then an interesting thing happens. Keatts reaches out to Adonia Lugo, former Equity Initiative Manager at the League of American Bicyclists, Sam Ollinger, who heads up Bike San Diego, the L.A.-based group Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), and Watts-based John Jones III of the East Side Riders Bike Club to ask about specific challenges that keep poorer cyclists from being seen, heard, or able to ride safely. He hears about gangs, fears of gentrification, lack of access to reliable transit at off-peak hours, lack of access to reliable bikes and safety equipment (e.g. lights), and the lack of time to participate in city planning processes, among other things.

But instead of broadening the analysis to think about transportation in a more holistic context that accommodates these issues, he seems to try to fit their needs back into a bike-specific box.

He ends the article by paraphrasing his conversation with Geoff Carleton of Traffic Engineers, Inc. (tasked with putting together Houston’s bike plan), who he says argues that “there’s a formula out there…for increasing bike safety and multi-modal access that fits what each neighborhood wants. In some places it’s better infrastructure, but in others, it’s finding a balance between safety, education and enforcement.”

But what if there isn’t a bicycle-specific formula out there? Read more…

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The Rail-to-(Almost)-River Project Gets Boost with $15mil TIGER Grant

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez, and Metro CEO Phil Washington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, Inglewood Mayor and Metro Board Member James Butts, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, and Metro CEO Phil Washington hold the ceremonial check granted to the Rail-to-River project set to run along Slauson Avenue in South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“[Let’s give] a big round of applause for Victor Mendez. He brought money,” quipped County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. Turning to Deputy Secretary of Transportation Mendez, he continued, “Come back soon and come back often!”

Preferably with another $15 million grant in hand, he joked.

He might have been referring to the fact that Metro originally anticipated receiving $21.3 million from the program — not $15 million. But the fact that L.A. got $15 million at all is still a pretty big deal.

There had been 627 applications from all 50 states and a handful of territories for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant (TIGER) VII program and only 39 grants handed out, Mendez told the small crowd of press and staff gathered in the east parking lot for the Metro Silver Line at Slauson and Broadway.

The Rail-to-River project, he said, had stood out as an opportunity to turn a 6.4-mile stretch of a “dormant” and “blighted” rail right-of-way (ROW) in a “historically distressed area” into a biking and walking path that could more efficiently connect people to transit while also bettering the local economy, health outcomes for residents, and the local environment.

The Rail-to-Rail-to-eventually-the-River project will turn a right-of-way along Slauson Ave. into a bike and pedestrian path connecting folks to the Crenshaw, Silver, and Blue Lines. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-Rail-to-eventually-the-River project will turn a right-of-way along Slauson Ave. in South Los Angeles into a bike and pedestrian path connecting folks to the Crenshaw, Silver, and Blue Lines. Source: Metro

Given projections that the U.S. population will grow by 70 million by 2045, that freight volume will grow by 45%, and that existing infrastructure will not be able to meet either of those demands, he continued, citing the USDOT’s Beyond Traffic 2045 report, the time for alternative transportation projects was now.

“Congratulations,” Mendez concluded. “Let’s get to work!” Read more…