Sometimes, You Just Need to Set Aside the Data and Explore an Area by Bike

Some of the participants in the South L.A. Mobility Advisory Committee's ride gather for a post-ride photo outside TRUST South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

There’s a cool new group on the move in South L.A. called the Mobility Advisory Committee.

Spearheaded by representatives of TRUST South L.A. and Community Health Councils, with support from the LACBC, it has managed to bring together a diverse group of community activists to discuss and promote South L.A.’s interests with regard to all forms of mobility.

Which is actually more fun than it might sound.

Organizers have been diligent about linking the meetings to community events. So, after an hour or two of planning events or debating the kinds of updates we’d like to see in the Mobility Element of the General Plan, we are able to support other community organizations in South L.A. or hold our own, as we did this past weekend.

This weekend’s event was particularly exciting because we were joined by some of the staff from city planning and LADOT for a 12(ish)-mile bike tour.

Participants in the bike tour study maps of the proposed route. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

After discussing candidate areas for South L.A. pedestrian districts, we gathered around the maps of the route we would be taking. Organizers asked that we think about the kinds of improvements that would help make major streets like Vernon, King, and Crenshaw “complete” streets.

Lys Mendez, a planner working on the Health and Wellness Chapter of the Mobility Element, asked that we also think about health aspects and opportunities as we rode. Were there healthy stores or resources in the area that would complement complete streets improvements?  Could we snap photos of any such potential sites as we went along and send them to her?

While we weren’t necessarily successful in documenting the ride in photos (see here for some), it was valuable for all of us to get a feel for how streets were used, the assets they held, and how welcoming (or unwelcoming) particular streets could be to pedestrians or cyclists.

Bike lanes on 2nd Ave., for example, although part of a road diet, didn’t appear to slow down a driver determined to speed their way through.

The failure of the “improvement” to make a real impact on the driver’s behavior may have been why a resident (and sometimes cyclist) standing in his front yard seemed surprised to find that there was a bike lane on his street.

When asked how he felt about the lane and whether it did its job, he looked at it, puzzled, like he’d never seen it before. Unable to come up with a good answer, he pointed at the lines and said something about how lines meant that there was no reason for cars to cross them.

Throwing his arms up, he said that, lane or no lane, “Don’t hit the goddamn cyclist!”

The tour breaks along 2nd Ave. to discuss the extent to which improvements there had been successful. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

From 2nd Ave., we moved along 54th St., headed north on Crenshaw, and took a break in Leimert Park, the future home of a Metro station (finally!), thanks to today’s Metro Board vote.

While in Leimert, we were able to introduce some of the riders to Ben Caldwell, founder of the KAOS Network and the Leimert Park Art Walk (happening this Sunday), and talk about the importance of the site as the cultural heartbeat of the area.

Somehow, it had been left off the priority list for Pedestrian Enhanced Districts, despite being a key destination for book talks, open-air markets, drum circles, art and dance workshops, music happenings like Bananas, and the monthly art walk. While Leimert may not have the density of downtown or Hollywood, it regularly draws people from all over the city who are looking to connect to and celebrate the important role it plays in the history and culture of the black community in Los Angeles.

Tafarai Bayne (3rd from right) talks to the group about the history of Marlton Square and the community's aspirations for the space. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

From Leimert, we rode to Marlton Square — a site that has long been a contentious thorn in the side of South L.A. and which was most recently purchased by Kaiser — and on along MLK Blvd, where new lanes are slated to go in this year. Both along MLK and Central Ave. — our last major stop before heading back to the start point — we were able to see micro-business districts that could benefit from pedestrian and other enhancements.

Small business owners often don’t have the capital for the kinds of improvements they would like to make. The Central Ave. Business Association, for example, has been vocal about their struggle to fix up signs along Central and their desire to make the area appear more professional and inviting. If the city were to work with business owners and focus enhancements along the blocks that were business-heavy and adjacent to historic and culturally significant sites like Leimert Park and the Dunbar (along Central), it could do wonders for the well-being of those areas.

Namely, it could help attract new customers from outside the community, something that South L.A. shops struggle to do, as a general rule.

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Returning to TRUST, the group seemed to feel very good about what they had seen. There is a lot to be said for putting aside your regular analytical tools and just getting out in the open air to see how a community operates.

We, as a group, are convinced that South L.A. has an amazing array of assets that aren’t always well captured using traditional categories and methods. We look forward to continuing the work of bringing those assets to light in a ride scheduled for June 16th, when we’ll be exploring the southern stretch of Central Ave. You are invited to join us. For more information on that event, please click here.

*Special thanks to David Somers, Nate Baird, and Lys Mendez for taking time out from their regularly scheduled planning work to join us on the ride. And to Los Angeles’ Walks’ Jessica Meaney for joining us by bike. Perhaps we can return the favor with a walking tour somewhere down the line!

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