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Ride On!: South L.A. Advocate Looks to Set Up Bicycle Co-op in Leimert Park

Ade Neff works on his bike in front of the Vision Theater in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ade Neff works on his bike in front of the Vision Theater in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As one of the few attendees at the recent Live.Ride.Share. forum from South Los Angeles, aspiring bicycle co-op founder Ade Neff said he felt frustrated by what he wasn’t hearing. While the many of the advocates on hand had fantastic visions for the future of transportation in Los Angeles, they often seemed to gloss over the more complex needs of lower-income communities of color and deficiencies in the existing transit system that those communities already depended on.

“My daughter’s bus stop was in the bushes!” he said of the absence of infrastructure at the stop where she and her classmates disembarked near their school. “Nobody is talking about that…” or basic things, like finding ways to make the uncomfortable daily struggle of transit-dependent parents to get on and off crowded buses while juggling children, strollers that need to be folded, and multiple bags easier.

And, he felt, the kinds of mobility hubs he was hearing about — and could possibly be established at sites like the coming Leimert Park Metro station — featuring bike share, a repair shop, and other amenities could be great for visitors and those of means but nowhere near sufficient to address the needs of residents like himself.

Beyond the lack of bike infrastructure and poor connectivity of existing networks either within South L.A. or linking it to other communities, the lack of affordable resources to support lower-income cyclists can make obtaining and maintaining a quality bicycle a real challenge.

“Right now,” he explained, “I have to travel 8 miles to get to a [bicycle] co-op.”

There are a few shops in the vicinity of Leimert Park, but parts and repairs can be costly. So Neff, a recent graduate with a Masters in Urban Sustainability, Capoeira teacher, and father to a middle-schooler who has to watch his budget, makes the trek to toward Venice to visit the Bikerowave.

He, at least, has the ability to get to a co-op and knowledge of what he needs once he’s there. Too often, when the bikes of those of lesser means break down, the bikes go into the garage and stay there. Repairs can be put off for months — even if it is something as simple as a flat tire or a slipped chain that they could have fixed on their own. Folks that have no other means of transportation sometimes make crude DIY fixes and continue to ride around on unsafe bikes.

Recently, when helping out a bike clinic at a charter middle school near Culver City, Neff said he was dismayed to see the problem extended to younger kids, as well.

“No matter how much I adjust the brakes,” he mimicked braking on one of several unrideable bikes he worked on, “it’s not gonna stop [this] bike.”

In his head, he began creating a list of each of the things the kids would need to make their bikes street-worthy before he realized there was no point. Most wouldn’t have the money for those kind of overhauls.

That absence of affordable resources in his community, Neff said, is a key reason he’s looking to launch a co-op in Leimert Park Village some time in the next year.

But it’s not the only one. Read more…

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Long Beach Announces Open Streets Event

BeachStreets
Photo above from Los Angeles’s CicLAvia. Photo by Brian Addison.

It’s official: Long Beach will have its first ciclovía, dubbed Beach Streets, on June 6 thanks to $260K from Metro’s Open Streets Program handed to the City of Long Beach last year. (As noted by Streetsblog, Metro has become a major sponsor for open streets events, allocating millions in event funding for July 1, 2014 through June 30th, 2016.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 2.36.16 PMThough it was lamented that Downtown didn’t score a ciclovía—many felt the imagery of DTLB paired with its density, attractions, and biking/ped infrastructure, would have better served for the city’s first time in the ciclovía spotlight and led to more ciclovías from here on out with much more ease—Beach Streets will run up north and serve and feature a far more marginalized community.

Well, somewhat. The route is solely along Atlantic from Houghton Park at Harding in the north to Wardlow toward the south. This means it is strangely connected only to the Wardlow Station, effectively disconnecting the Del Amo and Artesia Stations. Understandably, three road closures simply for Blue Line access would be both expensive and taxing, but that is not what I am suggesting. Del Amo lies smack in the middle of the route and the semi-closure of Wardlow only reads as politicking the ciclovía under the guard of safety and affluence (given the majority of the route runs through the entirety of Bixby Knolls).

The proposal for the North Long Beach Beach Streets was the highest scoring bid out of 21 high scoring proposals when it proposed last year, with twelve events scoring funding. What is even more awesome is that Long Beach ranked high for three proposed events at the time, including the aforementioned Downtown Beach Streets (#4 on the list).

As for programming, Mobility and Health Coordinator Nate Baird explained that applicants seeking money to do certain things along the route will be available soon. Those applications will then be reviewed by a panel of people chosen by each council district member and funds will be dispersed to those applicants. While the information remains vague, it seems that come June 6, a ciclovía will be indeed happening—and that is something to cheer about.

Let’s just all band in on this together, yeah?

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How the Lure of Spending Keeps Dumb Highway Projects Alive

Decades ago, Ohio officials drew a line on a map — the Eastern Corridor, a highway for commuters living in Cincinnati’s eastern suburbs. No matter how much time has passed and how little sense it makes to build that highway today, that line can still seem like destiny.

An image used by the village of Newton to oppose the Ohio Department of Transportation's $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway plan. Image: Village of Newton

This is the message from the village of Newtown about the Ohio Department of Transportation’s $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway plan. Image: Village of Newtown

The Eastern Corridor began as a 1960s vision for a highway connecting bedroom communities in mostly rural Clermont County to downtown Cincinnati, roughly 17 miles away. There is not much appetite for it: As soon as Ohio DOT dusted off its plans and started laying the groundwork to build this $1.4 billion project in 2011, communities along the corridor revolted.

The project lives on anyway. Last week, it seemed like state legislators were poised to reject the highway, but the thought of turning down a big construction project — no matter how wasteful and unwanted — was too much for some lawmakers to bear. The Eastern Corridor remains a looming possibility, a case study in how highway projects can develop a nearly unstoppable political momentum.

The outcry against the Easter Corridor has been growing since the moment ODOT told the public what it wanted to build. Along almost every section of the planned road, residents, neighborhoods, and whole towns tried to stop the project.

The most fiercely opposed sections involve rerouting State Route 32 through Newtown and Mariemont — two small, relatively affluent inner-ring suburbs. The road would cut through the heart of tiny Newtown, where the leadership is adamantly opposed, saying it will destroy the town’s business center. In Mariemont, it would ruin a park referred to as the South 80.

The Eastern Corridor also calls for a poorly-conceived rail line, expected to cost as much as $600 million and draw as few as 3,000 daily riders. The region’s rail advocates oppose it, calling it a waste of money.

Even farther away suburbs are not exactly thrilled about the highway. Andersen Township Trustee Russell Jackson told the Cincinnati Enquirer that “nobody in the local communities really sees this incredible benefit to building this thing.”

There are pockets of support for the project, including rural Clermont County, but overall, public opinion against the Eastern Corridor appears to be strong enough to sink it. Jason Williams at the Enquirer wondered last week if it was “on life support.”

Read more…

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South L.A. Voices Speak on Link Between the Arts, Recreation, Food, and Social Justice

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Fun in the sun!” Watts resident William Fabian wrote under the prompt “My South L.A. is…” created by organizers of the Visions and Voices panel, “Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement,” at USC last night. The panel was the second in a three-part effort by USC to engage some of the advocates doing work in the South L.A. area while taking stock of its role in the civic and community life of the area as it undergoes expansion.

“Fun in the sun” is generally not what first comes to mind for most people when they think about South L.A., much less Watts. But it helps illustrate why it is so important to hear directly from residents in marginalized communities, particularly communities that have been much maligned in the media.

Urban planners and others seeking to diagnose the problems facing communities like South L.A. sometimes seem to assume that the problem is, in part, one based in a lack of vision of what a functioning community or public space should be. And that “teaching people that their streets can be sites of recreation” is part of the remedy.

Panelists Ben Caldwell (artist and founder of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), Karen Mack (of city arts organization L.A. Commons), Neelam Sharma (of food justice-oriented Community Services Unlimited, based near USC), and Javier “J.P.” Partida (founder of Los Ryderz Bike Club in Watts), put those notions to rest by making it clear that reclaiming the public space has always been central to their efforts to nurture and celebrate culture, identity, community, health, artistry, and innovation. And that they and others in the community have been doing that work for quite some time.

For Karen Mack, who founded L.A. Commons in 2002, that work involves bringing people together to communicate their experiences via the arts in the public space.

There are many narratives about L.A., she said, but they have tended not to be inclusive. Instead, because the areas that are richest in culture are often the most resource-poor, those voices are generally not heard. By actively engaging those voices and empowering them to speak to each other — as in the case of a mural project where Latino students interviewed African-American business owners about the Crenshaw community both now shared — communities can grow stronger from within. And because the project outputs often include traveling murals, story-telling summits, and/or community walking tours, L.A. Commons offers outsiders opportunities to connect with both the home-crafted narratives and the residents that were responsible for bringing them to life.

Ben Caldwell, filmmaker, artist, ethnographer, local historian, and all-around creative, also believes the arts can be deployed to build more vibrant, healthy, and inclusive communities.

“People think we only have ‘Boyz n the Hood,’” he said, chuckling.

While those youth are indeed present in South L.A., “we see them differently, too.” They are part of the community and have something to contribute, when engaged properly. Read more…

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“I’m a Cycle-Path”: Los Ryderz’ Founder Joins other South L.A. Superheroes at Visions and Voices Panel Thursday

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier "J.P." Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier “J.P.” Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options hosted by Community Services Unlimited. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“If it weren’t for J.P. …”

Ask any of the youth from the Los Ryderz Bike Club how they feel about the club and that is usually one of the first things to come out of their mouths.

“…Who knows what I’d be doin’.”

“…I don’t know where I’d be.”

“…He’s like a second father – the father I never had. I call him ‘Dad.’”

They’re talking about the club’s founder and president, Javier “J.P.” Partida, a long-time resident of Watts whose cool and occasionally gruff exterior masks an enormous and very generous heart.

Partida will be joining other South L.A. superheroes Neelam Sharma (from Community Services Unlimited), Ben Caldwell (of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), and Karen Mack (of arts organization L.A. Commons) to talk about the joys and the challenges of bringing food justice, urban agriculture, community arts, and recreation to South L.A. this Thursday night as part of the Visions and Voices series at USC. (Event information here.)

Javier "J.P." Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they means to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

J.P. Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they mean to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I had first met Partida in 2012, at the CicLAvia South L.A. Exploration Ride through Watts led by the East Side Riders (above).

Seeing how the community responded to seeing 60+ cyclists riding through his neighborhood had inspired him to think about getting youth from the community on bikes, he said when he called me a few months later. Could I come down to Watts to talk with him about launching a youth-centric club?

Oh. Hell. Yes.

Watts is packed with young people who have nowhere to go.

There are no bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades, or safe spots in the public space where kids can just hang out and have fun with their friends. And even though the majority of the youth are not involved in gangs, the intensity of gang activity in the area constricts their movement. Parents may not even allow kids to hang out in their own front yards, wait at bus stops they feel are too exposed, or walk too far in any direction on their own. The kids that can afford their own bikes are often afraid (or not allowed) to ride alone or stray too far from home for fear of getting jacked while riding, or worse.

Given his own upbringing in that environment and the informal mentoring he was already doing with the kids that came through YO! Watts, Partida felt he couldn’t get a bike club off the ground fast enough. At our first meeting, he laid out a million ideas for events, logo designs, group gatherings, and even a co-op – and he wanted it all to happen right away.

“Just get the kids out on bikes,” I remember telling him at the time. “Start with that. The rest will fall into place.”

That turned out to be very true. At first. Read more…

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The 6th St. Viaduct Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground; Actual Breaking of Ground Is Yet to Come

Cyclists spiral their way down to the riverbed from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Cyclists spiral their way down what appears to be a skateboarder’s dream-ramp to the riverbed and park area from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“It’s not every day that you get to be present at the birth of a landmark,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti to the hundred-plus members of the press, city notables, transportation advocates, elected officials, and residents gathered under the slowly crumbling columns of the 6th St. Viaduct.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Although today was celebrated as the groundbreaking for the massive, $420 million 6th Street Viaduct Replacement effort, “groundbreaking” is a bit of a misnomer.

Earth was definitely thrown, via these handy ceremonial shovels (below), but we’re still a little ways off from seeing actual bridge-specific ground being broken. And the viaduct itself will not be completed until 2019, at the earliest.

The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A number of intersections in both the arts district (west of river) and Boyle Heights (east of river) must first be reconfigured to accommodate re-routed traffic before the existing bridge can be closed and demolition can begin.

According to representatives of the Bureau of Contract Administration (BCA), Central Ave. and Whittier Blvd. will be the first streets targeted for reconfigurations in the next few weeks. The remaining intersections will be upgraded shortly thereafter.

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)

Once that process is completed, the bridge will be closed to traffic and they will be able to begin demolition. Although currently looking at July for the tentative closure, the BCA representatives felt that might be an “aggressive” estimate.

The reason? Read more…

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LADOT Launches Smartphone App For DASH and Commuter Express Fares

At a press event this morning, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the new LA Mobile app that allows DASH and Commuter Express transit riders to use a smartphone to pay fares. The app is a collaboration between city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and Portland-based technology company GlobeSherpa, which is also piloting an SF Muni transit fare app later this year. Similar fare apps are already live in New Jersey, Boston, and Austin, and on some commuter rail systems.

For now, the LADOT app is planned for a one-year demonstration, with the long-term future of pay-by-phone technology unclear.

What LADOT's new LA Mobile App looks like. Image via GlobeSherpa

What LADOT’s new LA Mobile App looks like. Image via GlobeSherpa

The LA Mobile app requires that users set up a credit card account, then pay for fares on a per-boarding or monthly-pass basis. (Clarification: No single trip payment; users need to purchase 20-trips minimum.) Validation is performed via an animated screen shown to the driver while boarding.

The pay-by-phone app is available only for LADOT-operated transit: DASH and Commuter Express. These are by no means the workhorse systems for transit in the city of Los Angeles; that would be Metro’s bus fleet with 400+ million annual boardings compared to LADOT’s 2.5+ million (data from 2004-05). Nonetheless, LADOT transit ridership represents an important “sandbox” to work out any system kinks before wider implementation.

LA Mobile appears a little more complicated than just paying by tapping the phone to the fare box, available in Asia and given mention in Metro’s long-long-term app plans. Virtual ticketing is still a significant step forward. It could lay the basis for later upgraded convenience.

SBLA has not tried the LA Mobile app yet. How about you, readers? How is it working on your LADOT commute? Any glitches or rough edges in need of improvement?

For additional details, see GlobeSherpa article or Mayor Garcetti’s Press Release.

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It’s Finally Happening. Damien Will Appear on John and Ken Tonight at 5

kfi_logo,_social_logo_0_1361973278Tonight at 5 p.m., I’ll be appearing on the John and Ken show to talk about bicycling, the city council and the all-powerful bike lobby. Tune your radio to 640 AM, or point your browser to the KFI website, or visit I Heart Radio on your smartphone.

We’ll post a link to the audio tomorrow, even if they kick my butt.

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Take a Look at Houston’s First On-Street Protected Bike Lane

Photo: Barry Ocho via Twitter

Construction crews have begun work on a two-way protected bike lane on Lamar Street in downtown Houston. Photo: Barrett Ochoa via Twitter

Is that a beautiful sight or what? This two-way protected bike lane is all the more stunning because it’s in downtown Houston.

This weekend, construction crews began putting down green paint on Lamar Street for the city’s first on-street protected bike lane, which is expected to be finished by March 8. The three-quarter-mile bike lane will connect two important off-street trails. It will be separated from car traffic by low-lying plastic “zebra” humps and will have signals specifically for people on bikes, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The bike lane takes the place of a parking lane. Way to go, Houston!

Editor’s note: We first came across this item thanks to Jay Crossley’s morning news wrap-up on Streetsblog Texas. In the next few weeks we’ll be rolling out new ways to stay current with our partners at Streetsblog Texas, Streetsblog St. Louis, Streetsblog Ohio, and Streetsblog Southeast — stay tuned.

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Youth Rise Above Heckling to Win Concession for Community on Metro Projects at Neighborhood Council Meeting

Irvin Plata from YouthBuild Boyle Heights gives the thumbs up after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata gives the thumbs up as Canek Pena-Vargas (at left), Site Coordinator at YouthBuild Boyle Heights, debriefs with students after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“They’re not even from Boyle Heights!” heckled an agitated Teresa Marquez before the handful of youth from YouthBuild Boyle Heights that had nervously stepped up to speak at the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) regarding the fate of Metro-owned properties Wednesday night had even had a chance to make their comments.

Another woman, Yolanda Gonzalez, also jumped up to argue against listening to the youth, proclaiming angrily that they were too busy with ethnic studies to know anything about civic processes or economic development.

The women — both property owners known for being vocal in community politics (Marquez is also a member of Metro’s Design Review Advisory Committee for the Boyle Heights sites currently slated for development) — couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I spoke in Genaro Francisco Ulloa’s economics classes at YouthBuild last week, I found a group of young people who were highly engaged in questions of how economic development and public policy intersect in lower-income communities like theirs. Some even mustered up the courage to take a stab at speaking out at the January 22nd Metro-run meeting. Their discussion of how the social fabric of the area could be undermined by the erasure of important cultural markers and the displacement of existing residents and businesses was some of the most poignant testimony of the night.

Since that meeting on the 22nd, the youth had been working with their teachers and Joel Garcia and Cesia Domingo Lunez of the Boyle Heights Youth & Arts Stakeholders Committee to come up with a set of testimonies and concrete demands to present to representatives of the BHNC, Metro, and developers regarding the plans for the Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights.

It was crucial to speak up Wednesday night, they felt, because the BHNC was about to vote on whether to recommend Metro grant a “phased” or “interim” ENA (Exclusive Negotiated Agreement) to the developers looking to build affordable housing at 1st and Soto and Cesar Chavez and Soto.

They recognized that the phased-ENA approach — a new effort by Metro that would set aside a 3-month window for intensive community outreach and the incorporation of feedback into site plans before the full ENA is granted — was a step in the right direction. But they didn’t think it went far enough, given how outreach around plans for Mariachi Plaza — one of the most important sites in the community — had been completely neglected.

To that end, they had a few demands. They asked that Metro both extend the “interim” phase of the ENA to 6 months and revamp its current advisory committee process, which tends to rely heavily on the usual suspects and is not particularly transparent. They also asked that part of that revamping include hiring a local community group to do outreach to ensure that all sectors of the community — especially youth — were represented as well as “afforded the time needed to understand how these projects will impact their lives.” [The full list can be found here.] Read more…