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Cyclists Go Positive Against Mis-Information Campaign in Northeast L.A.

The past few months has literally been a battle as the LADOT readies to begin implementing the 2010 Bike Plan by adding bike lanes to a Northeast neighborhood in LA.

After reading the Boulevard Sentinel's (a local weekly paper) opinion on the negative impact bike lanes would have on this small community, I wanted to show what the positive impact would be. When I heard that Josef Bray-Ali, owner of  Flying Pigeon Bike Shop, was having a friendly bike ride to support local businesses and bring positive cycling awareness to the area, I decided to see it for myself. 

Photo: Bergman Photography##

Passionate and energetic, Josef Bray-Ali is cycling a enthusiast, a father and fellow neighbor to not only the residents in the area but also the businesses. He and his brother opened Flying Pigeon in HIghland Park in 2008. In 2012 they moved the shop down the street to Cypress Park.  He describes Figueroa as an "old streetcar suburb arterial road" which used to have two street cars running up and down. 

Photo: Bergman Photography##

In April 2009, Josef and others organized 200 people at Romona Hall to bring to alert city staff that their neighborhood was being ignored in the 2010 Bike Plan.

In the proposed bike plan, there were "planned, but unfeasible bike lanes" throughout the Northeast. Together, they insisted on LADOT putting in the bike lanes properly. To their shock, LADOT realized the pro-bike community was not going to be silenced, so they added new lanes into the plan which will be implemented in June of this year.

Colorado Boulevard will undergo a road diet. The improved Colorado will have two car lanes in each direction instead of three making way for the added bike lane. Figueroa will have one southbound car lane taken away, leaving two car lanes going north and an added bike lane on both sides.

The proposal for the new lanes was completed only a few months ago, after holding an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) Meeting, which centered on the environmental clearance for any major development or change to the right of way that would impact traffic and the land use pattern.

Josef attended the meeting. Among the speakers, fifty-six people voiced support for bike lanes with four speaking against. Josef was ecstatic.

"They held an official public hearing and we knocked the socks right off them! We gave advance notice. We brought people from across the demographic spectrum from junior high schoolers to high schoolers to young parents, college students, home owners, business owners, retirees - from all over the neighborhood to bring positive awareness to bike lanes in their area."

From there, the proposals were heard by the Neighborhood Councils and Josef was ready. He and the rest of the Fig4All team showed up with 80 plus pro-cycling neighborhood community members out numbering the opposition who had somewhere from 10 to 20 attendees. "We made a big stink in Eagle Rock, we went to two meetings consecutively: a neighborhood council meeting and an open forum in the Councilman's office to speak in support of the bike lanes."

A writer from Boulevard Sentinel went to this meeting and made a point in his article to call all the people there that were from the neighborhood and in support of the bike lanes, "outsiders" calling them, "young, hostile, mean people." You know, the typical bullshit that some people say when they want to create conflict within a community.  (Editor's note: The Boulevard Sentinel doesn't put every article online, but this one gives you a good flavor for their coverage.)

Outraged to be called an outsider in a neighborhood where he lives, works and owns a business, Josef watched as "Boulevard Sentinel shopped the story around the neighborhood telling businesses that the bike lanes are going to remove all the lanes for cars except one, that there's going to be hours worth of delays when even the experts estimate, even as a worst case scenario, there will be a three to four minute maximum delay during of peak hours."

"There has been a lot of disinformation and a lot of name calling from the other oppositions side saying that the cyclists are a minority group, that we don't represent the main stream interest in this neighborhood."

Photo: Bergman Photography##

In response, Josef programmed a bike ride to visit some of these busineeses. The May 4th ride, started at Flying Pigeon Bike Shop around 3pm in the afternoon. Over the years, Flying Pigeon created a group of riders who regularly attend their three monthly rides: The Brewery Ride, The Art Gallery tour and The Dim Sum Ride. This month, all of them will be directed at supporting the lanes and  "bringing people to the businesses who oppose bike lanes, shake the owners' hands and look them in the eye to say, "I'm from the neighborhood, I shop here, we love you, please take that disgusting sign 'with the slash through a cyclist' out of your window."

"The thing is that these bike lanes are going to have as much impact on the car lanes as planting street trees would. Where one person will say, it's going to mess up the sidewalk and a kid is going to say, but I can't ride my scooter there and everyone else is going to say, "But we love trees." And we're at that level of controversy: street trees, right? That's how I look at it."

But instead of keeping it at that level of debate, there are people writing stories and spreading lies and disinformation about basically what's going to happen on Figueroa and Colorado.

Photo: Bergman Photography##

So, now I'm curious. I ask Josef what he thinks will happen when the bike lanes are implemented?

He doesn't miss a beat, "I'll tell you what's going to happen," He says with such excitement. "Not a lot is going to happen. I think we're going to get a modest increase in cyclists. The noise and pollution on Figueroa will drop, maybe perceptibly, a little bit. I think that the gentrification of the retail businesses - and what I mean by that is the businesses are going to get a reinvestment by mixed ethnicity, middle-class business owners moving to the neighborhood serving an upper income clientele. I don't think there's going to be much more than that. I don't think the car traffic is going to go to hell, I don't think the bike riders are going to come flooding through.

But once we get the connection from this neighborhood to Pasadena and Downtown we're going to see some serious ridership gains and (the area will become) more livable. I think that immediately outside of any other business or bicycle interest, the street will become safer for everyone involved."

Figueroa was the sight of 56 crashes in 2011 alone with two to five pedestrian and bicycle deaths a year. "I think what we will see is these numbers will drop significantly, the reckless speeding will stop and we'll just work from there to build a broader social movement so the energy will be there and we will have the protected bike lanes in two to three years."

Interesting note from Josef: York boulevard was studied by Colin McCormick in 2010 and he found that after surveying 50 people, 25 in the road diet section of York and 25 in the non-road diet section, and found that over 75% of the customers shopping did not drive.

Photo: Bergman Photography##

"The bottom line on bike lanes for me is that, I just want a nice, quiet, pleasant street to match the nice, quiet, pleasant neighbors I live with and I work with."

To be kept up to date, you can follow Josef Bray-Ali on twitter @flyingpigeonla. 

And if you live in this neighborhood, please write a letter in support of this movement to Jose Huizar and Councilman Ed P. Reyes. 

Councilman Jose Huizar                                Councilman Ed P. Reyes

200 N. Spring Street                                          200 N. Main Street

Room 465                                                             Room 410

Los Angeles, CA 90012                                    Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 473-7014                                                   (213) 473-7001

(Full disclosure: The Flying Pigeon Bike Shop is an original advertiser on Streetsblog L.A. and has hosted three fundraisers for us with another planned for June 14.)

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