Becoming a Biking City: Showdown Over Fig4All

South Fig is becoming a "complete" street; North Fig may not, despite years of efforts to introduce a bike lane and "calming" measures on a dangerous stretch of road in Highland Park. A meeting tonight will bring out hundreds in a test of LA's progress in changing its infrastructure in keeping with changing times.

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South Fig is becoming a “complete” street; North Fig may not, despite years of efforts to introduce a bike lane and “calming” measures on a dangerous stretch of road in Highland Park. A meeting tonight will bring out hundreds in a test of L.A.’s progress in changing its infrastructure in keeping with changing times.

In our Becoming a Biker in L.A. series, DnA’s Caroline Chamberlain has been reporting on her experience as a young woman raised in Palos Verdes, going through the stages of becoming a cyclist in Los Angeles, moving from fear and trepidation to selecting a bike to mastering a 2 1/2-mile daily commute.

But she is learning that an Angeleno cannot become a fully-fledged biker without Los Angeles itself becoming a bikeable — and walkable — city; and that is a process that the region is currently going through as it densifies, urbanizes and grows its non-car driving population.

“Calming” traffic, putting roads on a “diet” or turning them into “complete streets” (semantically different terms for the same goal) through adding bike lanes, subtracting car lanes, adding pedestrian crossings and widening sidewalks is a process that has not necessarily come naturally to a place shaped since WWII into a suburbanized, far-flung autopolis in which uses were separated and roads served largely as multi-lane thoroughfares, siphoning drivers along as quickly as possible.

And it’s a process that has led to conflict, between drivers and cyclists who often see their interests opposed (as KCRW’s Kajon Cermak pointed out at our Mobility event, different road users have fought for primacy since the horse and buggy), and even between cyclists, who debate the best route to bikeability (whether bikes and cars should be separated or share the roads, and how best to separate).

Notwithstanding such structural and political obstacles, a combination of neighborhood groups, city planners, LADOT, Metro, LACBC, cicLAvia and politicians with an eye to the future have achieved great successes in “calming” streets from Santa Monica to downtown, and from Long Beach to Temple City in the San Gabriel Valley. In downtown alone bike lanes have been introduced on Spring, Main, 7th and 2nd streets.

Figueroa rendering_Fig4AllJust recently the MyFigueroa project for South Figueroa from 7th to USC got the go-ahead; among other features it will add a dedicated cycle track and integrate bikes with public transit. It’s a huge change for Los Angeles, psychically and physically.

And a go-ahead is what activists were expecting for a similar plan, Fig4All, for a stretch of North Figueroa, from North San Fernando Road to York Boulevard, that has become notorious for pedestrian and bicycle collisions with fast-moving cars.

Initiated five years ago by Highland Park’s Bike Oven founder and Flying Pigeon owner Josef Bray-Ali and folks in the North East LA area, planned by LADOT, and subject to an intensive community process, Fig4All was considered a done deal, until a political change delivered a setback. New councilman Gil Cedillo has reopened the public dialogue and following testy confrontations a second meeting tonight will reportedly culminate in a yay or nay for the project.

Bray-Ali ponders on the Fig4All blog, “Such a strange ‘process’ we’ve been through to get here! The bike lanes and road diet are already legally approved by the full LA City Council, they are already funded through a bicycle program set-aside in Measure R sales tax revenue, and they are already designed by the LADOT – how can Cedillo’s ‘approval’ even matter at this late stage? There are plenty of streets that underwent a road diet with the primary purpose of calming traffic and making the corridor safer. Note, the focus isn’t just to create a space for bicyclists, it really is meant to calm traffic.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the councilman told DnA that the meetings are mandatory and “we are not against the bike lanes per se but we are hearing concerns about bike lanes on Figueroa.” Fig4All supporters, outraged at the carpet being pulled from under their wheels, argue that the Councilman and his staffers lack the political will — and urban design vision — of his predecessor Ed Reyes, and moreover are failing to represent the interests of his Highland Park constituents, many of whom walk and cycle. To this the councilman’s office responded, “To say that the political will is not there is false” but “there are pros and cons (to dedicated bike lanes such as that on 7th). . . cons are that it slows down traffic a lot.”

To make your voice heard on the issue, go to the meeting tonight  at Franklin High School in Highland Park, starting 6pm.

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