Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods can seem a long way from Beverly Hills, but a scrum over bicycle lanes there suggests that we have at least one thing in common: elected officials standing in the way of a worthy safe-streets effort. Our City Council may block bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. In Highland Park, LA councilman Gil Cedillo is tanking a plan to make Figueroa (that community’s main street) ‘complete.’ Where we differ: silence greets our Council’s opposition; in NELA Cedillo has stirred a revolt among bike advocates.
The Highland Park story may sound familiar to those of us who advocate for bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills: much-needed improvements that would make a street safe for non-motor travelers simply hits the chopping block when elected representatives decide to buck city policy, wave aside community sentiment, and fly in the face of common sense just to put the brakes on the installation of bicycle lanes.
In Highland Park, Cedillo single-handedly shut down ‘complete street’ improvements for North Figueroa Street, even though that project is included in the city’s bike plan (2011) year-one implementation program. A thousand people participated in the drafting of that plan; bike advocates have weighed in on implementation priorities; and riders have repeatedly turned out to public meetings to support bicycle lanes on busy Figueroa. But Cedillo says he knows best how to serve his constituents.
Or does he? Gil Cedillo stated his support for the Figueroa Street project when he was running for LA City Council, only to turn his back once in office. The about-face on this much-heralded ‘Figueroa for All’ (Fig4All) project sparked heated debate about politics trumping public safety. Consequently, a vocal contingent of transportation advocates has turned up the heat on ‘Road Kill Gill’ (as he’s known on twitter). There’s even a website dedicated to reviving the moribund Fig4All project.
Fig4All Is Worth the Fight
‘Figueroa for All’ would remake North Figueroa as part of a broader basket of complete street improvements (40 miles of them overall) that are already earmarked for implementation in year one under the city’s bike plan. The project is described succinctly in the environmental impact report:
From the SR-110 ramps to Pasadena Avenue, though the existing lane configuration could be retained with bare minimum widths to allow for bike lanes, the proposed project would remove one southbound lane to allow for buffered bike lanes. From Pasadena Avenue to York Boulevard, the two southbound lanes would be reduced to a single southbound lane, still allowing for buffered bike lanes. From York Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard, both northbound and southbound lanes would be reduced from two to one, allowing for standard bike lanes. – Figueroa Streetscape Project Draft EIR (emphasis added)
A planned ‘road diet’ right though the heart of Highland Park between Pasadena and York would reduce the number of travel lanes on Figueroa to calm traffic and provide sufficient room for bicycle lanes on this regional corridor. (Some segments would even include ‘buffered’ lanes to provide an additional safety margin for riders.) For pedestrians, enhancements like curb extensions would shorten crosswalks on this busy street too.
Indeed there is good reason to remake Figueroa for the safety of riders and pedestrians. Households in the community are less-likely to own a car. Household income is lower than more advantaged neighborhoods in the city, making auto ownership a luxury; and a higher incidence of immigrant households also depresses ownership. But as important, the community has been well-served by rail: Highland Park sits aside the Gold Line (just off Figueroa on Marmion Way) and long before that was a stop on the Pacific Electric.
But to be a walker in Highland Park is to understand that Cedillo’s pedestrian constituents are poorly-served by faded crosswalks, which put us in harm’s way as drivers speed through town on the way to Downtown. The prevailing speed makes this corridor a good candidate for bike lanes too. But there is another reason to make Figueroa safe for cycling: there is an influx of younger folks and they are less likely to drive than generations before them.
The changing nature of mobility and demand for transportation alternatives are reflected in the city’s bike plan. It puts the emphasis on safe multimodal mobility:
A ‘Figueroa for All’ would seem to be a win for everyone then. Upgraded intersections and calmer traffic would make it safer for pedestrians; bicycle lanes would be safer for riders and less-stressful for drivers; and for business owners in commercially-depressed Highland Park, any uplift in transom traffic generated by local shoppers arriving via bicycle, say, could only help bootstrap the nascent commercial revival.
And it would benefit brick-and-mortar shops like the Flying Pigeon (“beautiful bikes for everyday life”). Owner Josef Bray-Ali champions the project, and not only because his shop may pick up some new business; a ‘complete Figueroa would be good for greater Northeast Los Angeles.
‘Road Kill Gil’ says he has a vision for Figueroa, and it primarily entails the installation of four blocks of angled parking in downtown Highland Park (his proposal is skewered in the illustration at the top). But that won’t make travel safe or calm traffic; nor will it spark a small-business renaissance. Instead it looks to an auto-centric past and takes Los Angeles in the wrong direction (according to the city’s stated mobility priorities).
Other reasons to oppose Cedillo’s plan: parking is the least of Highland Park’s economic challenges; and the plan runs counter to Metro’s complete streets policy, which provides money for multimodal mobility improvements. It is ironic that Cedillo wants Metro funding to implement his proposal. For Fig4All supporters, Metro grant money for ‘Road Kill Gill’ is bitter icing on a shit cake.
Look over at the Figueroa for All blog for a detailed chronology of Cedillo’s disappointments, as well as a peek inside the bureaucratic mechanism that should not allow him to single-handedly tank a worthy “shovel-ready project.” (< Remember that term? We don’t hear it too much anymore.)
Social Media Battle Heats Up!
Cedillo’s opponents have aligned against him and taken to social media to make their case. And he’s making it easy: in order to deflect attention away from his opposition to complete streets plan for Figueroa (improvements already paid for, by the way) Cedillo has staged his own ‘public participation theater’ this past summer. But he’s fooling nobody: the town hall ostensibly held to gather community input for Figueroa was instead baldly used by Cedillo to heap praise on himself and his staff.
Angry cyclists decried Cedillo’s cynical move, and leading the charge was Flying Pigeon bike shop’s owner, Josef Bray-Ali. He has assembled a posse to support a ‘complete’ Figueroa and to support candidates who say they prioritize street safety.
Stung by the persistent criticism, Cedillo doubled down and organized several more public forums earlier this month, again to ostensibly gather public input (this time with a sharpened focus on safety). But project proponents weren’t convinced: it was just more ‘participation theater,’ they say.
Next, Cedillo upped his anti-bike rhetoric at a mid-December City Council meeting. There the city was going to rubber stamp an application for Metro grant funds (including Cedillo’s diagonal parking scheme). But Fig4All supporters and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition together alerted the cycling community:
Cedillo is now asking the full City Council to sign off on his incomplete street and spend City staff resources applying for funding for a project that will be out of date before the ink is dry on the application. We ask you to write the City Council requesting that they uphold the integrity of citywide plans and refuse to include North Figueroa in the City’s funding application unless it includes a complete street.
They spoke out in City Council and via social media ridiculed Cedillo’s proposal:
But Cedillo told City Council that he would not be “bullied” by those whom he labeled “the 1%” – presumably referring to the small share of trips made by bicycle (which understates the increasing popularity of cycling in his precinct). Cedillo’s remarks triggered even more vitriol:
Of course the City Council deferred to Cedillo and rubber-stamped the Metro grant application.
Now Fig4All proponents pivot toward Metro and argue that the agency should not fund Cedillo’s auto-centric parking scheme with the county’s multimodal dollars. In the meantime, Cedillo’s Highland Park constituents wait for safety improvements but are practically held hostage to this elected official’s intransigence.
Why Mention Fig4All on a Site Focused on Beverly Hills?
Front and center here is a clash of visions between advocates for ‘complete streets’ and those who call for a return to auto-centric policies – the kind that prize diagonal parking (with its attendant blind spots), say, over bicycle lanes. And the forces working against complete streets and bicycle lanes in Highland Park are active here in Beverly Hills too: they’re opposing bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.
But that’s the tip of the iceberg: Beverly Hills has not even begun to plan for a multmodal future. While Los Angeles has been making significant strides, our policymakers ensure that our city still relies on a Bicycle Master Plan from 1977. Though our Sustainable City Plan (2009) and the General Plan circulation element (2010) say the right things about mobility and encouraging cycling, City Council simply hasn’t heeded that policy guidance.
We can change. In conjunction with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, we’re supporting a plan to include bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard because it’s the safe choice. We hope you will sign our petition and call City Council at 310-285-1013 to remind councilmembers that they need not follow Cedillo’s bad example.