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Open-Air Bike Tune-Up Session Brings Community Together in Leimert Park

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I know you!” I laughed, pointing at soon-to-be 9th grader Cortez Wright. “You were the reason the [King Day] parade got stopped!”

Back in January, the young man and three of his friends — all experienced cyclists — had taken the opportunity to join the Black Kids on Bikes‘ (BKoB) parade “float.” It was a pretty informal affair, essentially consisting of the group riding in slow circles along the parade route, occasionally doing tricks, and letting community members try out their bikes, if they were so inclined. The larger goal was to put a young and dynamic face on cycling in the South L.A. community, both to change negative stereotypes around cycling and to attract new people to the movement.

And it was all going very well until an overzealous police officer used the helmetless Wright and his friends as an excuse to stop and harass the group, asking if they were supposed to be there. Minutes later, that same officer stepped in front of the Real Rydaz, claiming he had to stop the bikes because of the kind of “chaos” that kids like Wright and his friends were causing.

“I still don’t have a helmet…” Wright nodded.

But he had stayed connected to the Black Kids on Bikes — a group he looked up to — and jumped at the chance to hang out with them when he saw the notice about the free tune-up session in Leimert Park hosted by Ride On! posted on the group’s Facebook page.

It was easy to see why. When I arrived a little after noon yesterday, the plaza was bustling.

Erik Charlot works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erik Charlot (left) works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Music blared from some speakers set up at the corner by some of the weekend vendors and the DIY co-op was in full swing. Members and their supporters had brought their portable bike stands, tools, and cleaning supplies from home and set up under the shade of the plaza’s enormous fig tree.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As the group grew in size, so did the sense that a community was being built. Read more…

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Today in Two Steps Backwards: USC Discontinues Rideshare Subsidy Program for 3000+ Employees; Offers Parking Passes as Consolation

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as "the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles." Source: USC

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as “the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles.” Source: USC

The letter sent to the more than three thousand faculty and staff that participated in USC’s Rideshare Subsidy Program this past June 16th started off happily enough.

The USC Rideshare program is growing and continuing to evolve!  In 2015, we recorded our highest-ever Air Quality Management District (AQMD) survey result – an AVR (average vehicle ridership) of 1.92. This is a phenomenal result – nearly 2 people on average in every car that comes to our campuses – and represents USC’s seventh consecutive year-over-year improvement in this important metric.

Not bad, right? Carpooling is happening. It’s improving every year. And, on top of that, more than three thousand of the faculty and staff (out of a total of ~17,000) are choosing some form of transit or rideshare to get to campus. Despite the Reason Foundation’s dire predictions about the Expo Line, people are taking advantage of the three USC stops. Things are looking up. Good on you, USC!

Metro gave USC three -- count 'em, three! -- stops.

Metro gave USC three — count ‘em, three! — stops. Jefferson/USC, Expo Park/USC, and Expo/Vermont.

So, the logical thing is to reward that and encourage more rideshare, right? Because building and maintaining parking lots is expensive. The university already owns and/or manages ~16,000 spaces and is currently in the process of building some surface lots and two more structures — one at the main campus and one at Health Sciences in Boyle Heights — containing a total of 2,000 spaces. Using the median construction cost of a single above-ground parking space in Los Angeles, calculated at $19,355, it looks like those 2,000 spaces alone will cost approximately $38.7 million to build. And that is without factoring in the opportunity cost of constructing more facilities for students on what is rather valuable real estate.

All of which makes the next part of the letter that much more confusing. Read more…

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Great Streets, Tactical Urbanism, and the Challenge of Flipping the Traditional Planning Process on its Head

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central's important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central’s important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When, in mid-May, the Mayor’s Office put out a call for proposals offering up to $20,000 in Great Streets Challenge Grants for applicants seeking to foster community via imaginative uses of public space, I’ll admit my heart sank.

Not because I have anything against imaginative uses of public space or money for community improvements.

But, with the due date for those proposals set for the end of last month (and winners to be announced next week), I did wonder if the Great Streets program was getting a wee bit ahead of itself.

At least in some parts of town.

Scroll through the Great Streets challenge grant application manual or listen to the recorded webinar on the application process, and you’ll see that the goals of “creat[ing] a program that empowers communities to propose innovative and creative projects for their own streets,” “finding a way to connect community leaders with funding and support for projects…,” and piloting “a participatory planning process that will offer new opportunities [between stakeholders and innovators] for collaboration early on in a project development process” are all front and center.

In essence, via Great Streets and the grant program, the city is testing the waters on institutionalizing tactical urbanism.

Inspired by unsanctioned, bottom-up, do-it-yourself interventions used by some communities to reclaim public space, tactical urbanism has been embraced by planners as a way to “flip the traditional planning process on its head” and engage communities by helping them visualize how interventions could reshape urban spaces. Plazas, parklets, and other low-risk temporary projects, the argument goes, offer residents the opportunity to experience their communities in new ways. They also offer civic leaders the tools with which to approach “neighborhood building and activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies” that are potentially more inclusive, less intimidating, and better at facilitating discussions around the future of a neighborhood than more formal open houses and forums. Should residents’ experiences with a project prove positive, many feel, it can fuel momentum for more permanent efforts to transform the space that build on those interventions. Should the projects fail, they can be ripped out without much consequence and planners can return to the drawing board with lessons learned already in hand.

In this vein, it was reiterated several times in the challenge grants webinar, the funding is intended to offer communities the opportunity to test out some of those projects on the designated Great Streets, assess their viability, gather data on community buy-in, and make it easier for the city go after funding to make those projects (and/or their outgrowths) permanent down the line.

Even L.A. Department of Transportation head Seleta Reynolds recently touted the grant program, writing for Crosscut that it “cements the city’s faith in the community to drive its destiny” and can “leverage untapped resources in communities: the expertise of those who live, work, and play in them.”

Except that Great Streets has yet to meaningfully engage many of the very communities it has sited for transformation about the grant program or any plans for the future of their streets.

***

Read more…

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Saturday! Leimert Park Celebrates 2nd Annual 20|20 Vision Charette with People St Plaza Launch

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson -- "chain link" -- at bottom right) and "Except for God" (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson — “chain link” — at bottom right) and “Except for God” (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. The Plaza officially opens this Saturday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It is noon on a Monday.

The weekly Leimert Park Village (LPV) stakeholders meeting has just finished, and Sherri Franklin, founder of the Urban Design Center, and Romerol Malveaux, former Field Director for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, are leading a small group of people on a walk around the village streets.

Map in hand, Franklin is taking note of existing issues with the sidewalks, trees (or lack of), pedestrian lighting, planters, and street furniture. The notes will be used to help determine how the Prop 1C dollars Leimert Park received should be deployed to improve the streetscape.

It’s not an altogether uncommon scene.

Since the launch of the Leimert Park Village Stakeholders 20|20 Vision Initiative in January 2014, it seems there is always work to be done.

The 20|20 Vision Initiative was born out of the LPV stakeholders’ desire to harness the change the Leimert Park station will bring to the area when the Crenshaw/LAX rail line is completed in 2020. The nearly 200 stakeholders in attendance focused on developing an overarching vision for the area and what they would need to do to make that vision a reality. Participants debated how to make Leimert Park a destination, deepen relationships with sister cities or communities, attract investors looking to build partnerships with local artists and cultural caretakers, support black creatives and foster development from within the community, and the possibility of turning the space in front of the Vision Theater into a car-free plaza.

Since that initial charette, LPV stakeholders have been meeting every Monday morning to hone those plans and move forward on their implementation.

A year and a half later, their People St Plaza project is set to open in a ceremony this Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m.

But instead of the Plaza symbolizing the end of the journey and cause to take a breath, it seems more like a beginning. Or maybe a benchmark. But definitely not an end. To wit, the ceremony will be taking place during a break for those attending tomorrow’s Second Annual LPV 20|20 Vision Initiative Charette, “Harnessing Our Cultural Economy.” Read more…

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Ron Finley’s Da FUNction Kicks Off Effort to Transform South L.A. Food Landscape

Support for the transformation of the state of South L.A.’s food landscape seems to be gaining some traction.

As we noted two weeks ago, food justice crusaders Community Services Unlimited will be opening an organic produce market, cafe, and community gathering space in the coming months to fill the much-needed gap in healthy options in the area.

It’s a cause that even Aloe Blacc was able to get behind, as seen in the video below.

But CSU is not the only one looking to improve the food landscape in the area.

Self-described “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley — the man whose quest to create a “food forest” in the parkways outside his South L.A. home eventually led to a city ordinance allowing the curbside planting of produce — has his own project targeting the Vermont Square public library.

The library, located at 48th and Budlong Streets, sits on a rather large parcel of land that is underutilized. While the area immediately behind the library is sometimes used as a makeshift soccer field on summer evenings (thanks to the outdoor lighting), the grassy area beyond it tends to be used primarily by homeless folks.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park which is already a gathering space for the community.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park. Activation of the library land might help keep the park more active, too.

Hoping to make the space more active and accessible for all, Finley has re-envisioned the space as one hosting a garden, possibly a cafe, and ongoing health-oriented activities. To launch his effort to bring this vision to life, he is hosting (together with the L.A. Design Festival) a day of fun at the site. Read more…

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Rosa Parks Station on Track to Complete Environmental Review Process, Finalize Station Design

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook station, either to transfer between the Blue and Green Lines or to catch one of the nearly dozen buses that connect with the station, you know it isn’t the most user-friendly place.

Not only do the narrow stairs connecting the two platforms (used by 78% of all 30,000+ passengers that pass through the station daily) create a natural bottleneck, in combination with impatient Sheriffs, families with strollers, cyclists with bikes, and glitchy TAP validators, they can facilitate human traffic jams that inhibit people’s ability to transfer to transit.

Moreover, the narrow Blue Line platform can be quite crowded and uncomfortable in the heat of the day.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A calm moment at the transfer point between the Blue and Green Lines at the Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. Depending on the season and time of day, the Blue Line platform can be bathed in sun and very, very crowded. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is aiming to change all that with the (proposed) construction of a more open and welcoming community-oriented transit center it believes will be an asset to the neighborhood.

The revamped station will better connect transit riders to nearby education, cultural, health, commercial, and recreational resources via a Mobility Hub (and Bike Hub), more comfortable waiting areas and more sheltering canopies, improved pedestrian circulation via a new Transit Hall, a reconfiguration of the bus depot area, a new southern at-grade entrance to the Blue Line, and upgrades to the lighting, signage, landscaping, stairs, elevators, and escalators (see the project fact sheet here).

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: JGM)

The station will also feature a Sheriff’s facility, Metro Customer Service Center (to better serve lower-income riders), better integration with the Kenneth Hahn Plaza (KHP) shopping center to the south, and possibly a cafe.

Via a rendering from Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc. and design architects Hodgetts + Fung, it appears passengers will also enjoy a much more enticing, well-lit, and well-signaled connection to the Green Line under the 105 freeway (below). Read more…

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Metro Diary: When Contractors Don’t Get the “Off-Limits” Memo on Harassment

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you riding the train…?” came the voice over my shoulder.

It is perhaps one of the more terrible pick-up lines I have heard in a good while. Especially because I was standing on the Blue Line platform at Grand — a minimally furnished and poorly shaded station in the middle of an ugly stretch of Washington Blvd. that you must cross a very busy street halfway to reach. It is not a site one purposely seeks out as a rest stop.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line @ Grand). Google maps screen shot.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line station at Grand Ave.). Google maps screen shot.

Worse still, the line came from an armed private security guard hired, it appeared, to ensure construction workers there to upgrade the platform were able to do so in peace and to help travelers safely navigate the section of the platform being worked on.

He had not been hired to hassle the passengers.

But that was exactly what he was doing.

I had just watched him demand a young African-American man show him what he had in his pockets. The young man didn’t appear to be bothering anyone (I arrived in the middle of the incident), nor did he appear to be dangerous. His only crime appeared to be that he may have been homeless, and judging by the cardboard sticking out of the pocket of his hoodie, possibly carrying some garbage on his person.

As the young man tried to ignore him, the Afro-Latino guard paced back and forth in front of the young man, belittling him in front of the other passengers. “I’ll double it…Triple it.” he said, offering to up the money he had originally bet that the guy had something in his pockets.

Frustrated by the young man’s unwillingness to respond to his jibes and having spotted me, the guard now decided he had other fish to fry. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Law Enforcement Takes the Lane

Signs, signs everywhere signs...are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Signs, signs everywhere signs…are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Usually when I’m writing about the questionable behavior of law enforcement, I’m looking at how racial profiling and the harassment of people of color — in either its more traditional or more blatant forms — can negatively impact those folks’ mobility.

But sometimes the hampering of mobility comes in more basic forms.

Yesterday, it came in the form of a fleet of vehicles parked in the buffered bike lane on Los Angeles St. in front of the Parker Center Police Dept. building in Downtown L.A.

Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman's terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.

Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman’s terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.

In the event you are wondering if perhaps it was just that the lane was not that well marked, behold the clearly buffered lane as it runs in front of the police buildings in a Google Maps view from March of 2015.

Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.

Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.

And lest you think perhaps there was a major emergency and the vehicles had been parked there in haste, behold the Google Maps shot from a little farther up indicating that, no, this is just common practice.

Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.

Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.

And not only is it not a fluke, some officers apparently give little thought to the protection of the good people of Los Angeles from fires during this terrible drought, as evidenced by the vehicle below, blocking the fire hydrant like a boss.

Nope, still not a fluke.

Nope, still not a fluke. #parklikeaboss

And just because Homeland Security is not one to be outdone, three of their vehicles parked in the bike lane on the same street one block up (just north of Temple). Read more…

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Community Services Unlimited Set to Launch Organic Market in South L.A.

Students from Lincoln Heights and South L.A. finish up their morning work session in CSU's urban farm at the Expo Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Students from Lincoln Heights and South L.A. finish up their morning work session in CSU’s urban farm at the Expo Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When talking with neighbors along south Vermont Ave. a few weeks ago about the potential redevelopment of the lots at Manchester, the amenity residents were most excited about was the arrival of a grocery store.

Having something within walking distance was one reason — most of the folks I spoke with struggled with finding transportation to get to the store and lacked the means to be able to stock up on groceries in bulk when they did make the trip. But the other reason was that they felt the nearest grocery stores tended to have poor produce on offer for unreasonably high prices. So much so that, when they had the opportunity, many would travel miles away to more well-to-do neighborhoods just to have access to better options.

That reality is just part of what will make Community Services Unlimited‘s (CSU) new venture such a welcome addition to the community.

The long-standing South L.A. food-justice organization recently put down an offer on the Paul Robeson Center building and, in line with their motto, “Serving the people, body and soul,” are looking to convert the historic space into a model of sustainability and a health hub for the community.

This weekend’s party/fundraiser is part of their effort to raise funds to cover the down payment and costs of building out the first floor of the building, according to Executive Director Neelam Sharma. Plans for the first phase include a grocery market space to sell organic produce, herbs, jams, and their line of Beyond Organic products, and a kitchen where they can prepare their produce bags and host cooking demonstrations.

Attendees at CSU's Earth Day South L.A. celebrations take in a cooking demonstration run by Heather Fenney Alexander. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Attendees at CSU’s Earth Day South L.A. celebrations take in a cooking demonstration run by Heather Fenney Alexander. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Other plans for the site include an urban farm (where they can continue offering free gardening workshops), solar panels on the roof, a rooftop garden, a community space to be activated with daily health and wellness activities, offices and a gathering space for the youth from their From the Ground Up internship program, a few rooms that could potentially be set aside to serve as shelter for youth in need of a temporary space to stay, and a café. Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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A Plea for States Like Ohio to Wake Up to the “New Reality”

Ohio’s cities have been declining, and traffic congestion isn’t the problem. The highway system, if anything, is overbuilt.

Jason Segedy director of Akron's regional council of governments says Ohio is headed down the wrong road, transportation-wise. Photo: Akronist

Jason Segedy, director of Akron’s regional council of governments, says Ohio’s transportation policies make its economic problems worse. Photo: Akronist

But state authorities continue to prioritize highway building over every other form of transportation spending. Jason Segedy, the head of Akron’s regional council of governments, is sounding the alarm about it.

At his blog, Notes from the Underground, Segedy recently published “An Open Letter to Ohio’s Public Officials.” He says the state should shift focus entirely and immediately:

I no longer believe the dogma that is proffered by much of the mainstream economic development, planning, and engineering professions. The practitioners in these professions increasingly function as priests, rather than scientists. And I reject their statement of faith.

That statement of faith being: “More highway capacity is the path to economic prosperity.”

If that were the case, Ohio (the 7th largest state with the 4th largest interstate system) should be tearing it up economically. Instead, we are one of the slowest growing states in the union (44th); our economic growth lags far behind the nation as a whole (which is why our population growth is virtually non-existent); and our state contains (with the exception of Columbus) the weakest performing central cities of any one state in the union.

Our cities are bucking just about every major national trend when it comes to urban revitalization and job creation, and I simply don’t believe that more transportation infrastructure or less “congestion” (such as it is) is the cure for what ails them.

Our biggest economic problem in Ohio today is not the inability to get goods and services to market. Our biggest economic problem is economic inequality — a lack of economic opportunities for the poor and the working class — most of whom are clustered in our central cities, our inner ring suburbs, and our towns.

Read more…