Nightingale Middle School Students Ask for Safer Streets for Bikes

When students first approached Nancy Chou about creating a bike program at Nightengale Middle School, the school had a bike cage for one or two cyclists that was opened and closed once a day by school administrators. Today they have both the above pictured "Bike Zone" and an active advocacy scene. Photo: ## Bray Ali/Flying Pigeon##

Dream It.  Design It. Do It.

The 3 D’s are the ethos of the D3 Lab of Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park in Northeast Los Angeles.  The program is designed to help students learn to create change in their community.  Recently, the students waded into the world of bike advocacy in a campaign to create safe passages to their school along just less than a mile of road around their school.  Advocacy for school students is usually confined to Bike to School Days and bringing in bike rodeos, but the D3’ers in Nightingale want to take their advocacy on the street.

Specifically two streets that surround Nightingale: Cypress Avenue – from Pepper Avenue to Arroyo Seco Avenue (0.48 miles – immediately alongside NMS) and Avenue 28 – from Pepper Avenue to Figueroa Street (0.48 miles – one block from NMS).  The good news, both streets appear in the city’s Bike Plan and the five year bike implementation plan.  The bad news, there’s no plan to finish the streets in the near-term and the kids at Nightingale won’t be there forever.

After students expressed interest in a bike program, Nancy Chou, who heads the D3 Lab program at Nightingale reached out to the local bicycle co-op, the Bike Oven and local bike shop the Flying Pigeon Bike Shop to come talk to students about bike safety and advocacy.   Bike Oven founder and Flying Pigeon owner Josef Bray-Ali responded, and he brought CicLAvia consultant (and Streetsblog Board Member) Joe Linton to a student workshop on bicycling.

“I was really surprised to see all the interest in this.  There were a lot of kids at the bike rally and they’re interested in bicycling and making things better for their friends, for their school,” Bray-Ali said of the meeting.

After that meeting, the students began to set the agenda for safer streets themselves.  Jackson Huang wrote to Councilman Ed Reyes asking for the Councilman to take a lead in getting the lanes striped.”

“The LA City bike Plan of 2010 states that bicycle lanes of Ave 28 and Cypress Ave will be added. The reason why we need bike lanes is because there are kids in this area that are overweight or obese. Kids can get exercise while riding their bikes home and lessening the risk of obesity,” Huang pleaded.

Nearly a month later, Reyes’s office responded with a short letter that affirms the Councilman’s commitment to bicycle projects but wouldn’t commit to work on either of Huang’s proposed projects.    In an interview last week before Huang and D3 received the Councilman’s response, Chou informed Streetsblog that more and more students are writing letters and interested in safe streets.

For their part, LADOT wouldn’t commit to a timeline for implementing improvements on Cypress and Ave. 28, but they do imply that the ball is in the Councilman’s court.

“While these projects don’t yet have a date for implementation, Cypress Ave. and Ave. 28 are both in the five year implementation plan as Bicycle Friendly Streets, which does not preclude us from implementing bike lanes if bike lanes make the most sense for these streets,” writes LADOT Spokesman Bruce Gillman. “We thank the Nightingale Middle School students for their enthusiasm and we are happy to work with the Council Office to help prioritize these projects for early implementation.”

If the goal of D3 is to both empower and educate students in ways to improve their neighborhoods, bike advocacy is both a case study in what can happen and how frustrating it can be to make your case and wait.  Fixing Ave. 28 and Cypress Ave. are “low hanging fruit” according to Linton who has studied the Bike Plan and the implementation plan for both Streetsblog and the Eco-Village blog.  But the students’ enthusiasm hasn’t yet been enough to overcome  an LADOT that is waiting for leadership from the local Councilman and the local Councilman who has yet to understand the urgency of the projects.

But for the students at Nightengale, the need to create safe passages in their neighborhood.  During the spring break, one of the students active in the bike program was hit while riding his bike by two different cars.  While the student survived the crash and could be riding again soon, his friends explained to Chou that “these sorts of stories are pretty common.”

With a little more work by city staff and elected leaders, maybe it wouldn’t be.


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