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Ride Report: The Crenshaw Crush

Sunday's Crenshaw Crush drew cyclists from all over the city to Leimert Park, home of the Drum Circle, for a bike ride that introduced riders to the history, the culture, the politics and the people of the Crenshaw District.

Aubrey Provost, the 8th Council District representative on the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee, has spent years sitting in policy meetings discussing plans and proposals and finally he decided that the best thing he could do to improve cycling in Los Angeles was to simply get people on their bikes. He enlisted the support of the LA Greensters and the Crenshaw Crush was on.

A Crush is a great big hug and that's what 75 cyclists gave the Crenshaw Community as Ron "the Sherpa" Durgin of the LA Greensters led a 20+ mile tour that started with the Florence and Normandie epicenter of the LA Riots where Aubrey gave his first hand account of one of the lowest points in LA's history. It was a sobering moment that set up the highlights of hope and success that followed.

The cyclists included the East Side Bike Club, LA Grange, Real Ryda's, Major Motion  and Cynergy Cycles along with the LA Greensters  and a load of unaffiliated but new best friends, some from far away and others from down the street. They ranged in age from 7 to 70 and in skill level from beginner to core.

Jeremy Grant of the LA Greensters led a poker ride and at every fork in the road where Ron took the flat route, Jeremy would lead the poker riders on a mad hill climb, five in all, adding miles and hills and the Baldwin Dam to their journey. Somehow they caught the flatlanders at the pit stops every time.

Along the way, the Crenshaw Crush got some miles in before stopping at USC's Exposition Park and the Rose Garden. Aubrey regaled us with tales of days gone by when the Rose Garden was a race track and the uptown/downtown social center as well as the days when it almost became a parking lot. We took off and the Poker Riders disappeared while we took the long slow route to Crenshaw.

We pulled off a side street onto the sidewalk of Crenshaw and Aubrey gave a shout out to Marilyn of Marilyn's Soul Food and as she described her restaurants and her history in the neighborhood, she was joined by staff carrying huge trays of the largest and plumpest chicken wings, enough to feed an army. The aroma of fried chicken attracted a few pedestrians who couldn't resist joining the crowd. It was hard to leave Marilyn's.

The two groups rode together for a spell, exploring the Expo Line route and taking a pit stop at Dorsey High. The Expo Line has been quite a hot topic and there is a great deal of unresolved tension surrounding current plans for the pedestrian access in the area. For those who have been following the debates, the arguments and the hearings, all of the information pales in comparison to the understanding that comes from simply riding a bike down the quiet streets that surround Dorsey High or the Foshay Learning Center and then trying to navigate the busy streets that surround the community. It should be required that all planning debates are settled with a bike ride.

We stopped at the the new Fire Station 94 but the station was empty, all trucks were out on a traffic "incident" which is an all too common experience for this arterial-locked community surrounded by uncrossable streets and traffic that moves at freeway speeds alongside schools, rec centers, parks and residential neighborhoods.

In stark contrast to the intense traffic and midday heat, we rode to the Village Green, formerly the Baldwin Hills Village now a National Historical Monument. Built in 1942, the design theories that gave birth to the Village were known as the Greenbelt Movement and were a direct response to the need to provide moderately priced housing for a rapidly growing urban population while addressing the problems created by the automobile.

If only we knew now what we knew then!

Parking was invisible, we didn't see any cars once we pulled of Rodeo, and as we walked through the Village we could feel the air cool, such was the effect of the tree canopy. Almost 70 acres, two-thirds dedicated to green space, resulting in 80 buildings with over seven hundred units, all softened by the Urban Forest and open green space.

All community planning meetings should include a field trip to Village Green. Architectural students and artists continue to make the trip as if to remind themselves that it is indeed possible to build a community that separates pedestrians and automobiles, putting a people first focus on the community.

On the far side of Village Green, we looked up at the hill to where the Baldwin Hills Dam once stood, until it collapsed in 1963 and swept the community below, destroying the homes and killing five people. Aubrey was telling us a story of the Dam and how he came to live in the area but before he could finish the story, somebody yelled "Bike Race" and he took off to the top of the hill with others in pursuit. Meanwhile, some of us looked at the Village Green and contemplated a nap while we waited on the Poker

Once regrouped we headed out and passed a couple of Fire Trucks who invited us back to Fire Station 94 for some ice cream, finally! We fueled up and headed out for a tour of the Leimert Park Homes, in search of former Mayor Tom Bradley's home. This was perhaps the most surreal part of the Crenshaw Crush, streets so quiet that we could hear the conversations of cyclists in the distance, peaceful in a way that is rare in Los Angeles. The neighborhood was designed by Olmstead & Olmstead, the architect and master planner of New York City's Central Park. Each street had a different tree theme. One street had all Magnolia Trees, another had all Jacaranda, the next was all Palm Trees. Absolutely inspiring!

The Leimert Park Homes were restricted to white residents until 1948. Notable residents include John Singleton, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald as well as former Mayor Tom Bradley who lived ther until his death in 1998. His home, like all of the others, was modest in size but the tree in front was definitely the largest on the block!

We returned to Leimert Park where the Real Ryda's Lowrider Bike Club hosted a bike show featuring their full complement of lowriders and hoppers. Bikes and trikes and sound systems and chrome forever. Absolutely stunning bikes!

Along the way, kids on fixies tested themselves against the roadies on the poker ride, the lowriders cruised in style while the eastsiders corked the intersections and riders volunteered their stories of where they worked, were they lived and the history of their community.

Aubrey and his wife Melba were such great hosts, they inspired others to follow suit. Carlos Morales of the East Side Bike Club says plans are already under way for the "East Side Abrazar!"

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