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.


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.


  • Melanie Freeland

    “slows down traffic alot.” Exactly 42 seconds more slower if Cedillo had down his homework and read the EIR report. I didn’t realize seconds were considered ‘alot’.

    • Bryan

      A person’s life is certainly worth 42 seconds.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Cedillo’s really not looking good in this episode. What’s his problem?

  • ubrayj02

    Here is the data from the LADOT’s traffic analysis of their original design- with a total of 2.88 minutes of delay with the bike lanes.

    The LADOT has revised their designs – and have kept two car lanes in each direction at the intersection that would have been the most heavily impacted. Now that re-deisgn is taken care of, predicted delay is 1.29 minutes or ~77 seconds.

    77 seconds of added delay. WTF planet are we on when this is a “concern”?

    • ubrayj02

      Here is the image I tried uploading with my comment.

    • Bryan

      And, don’t freak out people, that estimate would only apply to a car travelling the FULL length of southbound N. Figueroa, only at 7-8 am – from Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock, all the way down to San Fernando Rd in Cypress Park … which is not most drivers. It should also be noted that the 110 and 5 freeway onramps which most people are headed to, are the actual constraining factor which causes the traffic backup – since they are one-lane onramps anyway. The rush hour congestion is caused by many cars waiting to get through “a little hole” (onramp), no matter how many car lanes are on the street. So if that’s not going to change, can we just restripe and save some pedestrian and bicyclist and motorist lives please? Thank you. It’s kind of important.

  • ubrayj02

    And just one small thing: I have been, perhaps, one of the bigger advocates for a bike lane on North Figueroa but even back in 2008-2009 the push was coming form a group of people in NELA involved with the Bike Oven.

  • Bryan

    Excellent write-up, kudos to KCRW for needed coverage of this issue. The response from the Councilman’s office is exactly the same as what many of us have encountered when trying to discuss with Cedillo’s staff. The community points to a street that is “dangerous by design”, with 9 pedestrian/bicyclist fatalities over 10 years and numerous collisions with cars; the LADOT created this plan to correct a roadway where people speed. The actual predicted delay presented in the meeting by LADOT tonight were clear: Only at 7-8 AM during peak rush hour traffic, only in the southbound lane, will cars possibly experience 42 extra seconds, only at York & N. Figueroa. Northbound will be unaffected because the two lanes are not changing. All other hours of the day should be relatively fine because volumes are manageable in the southbound solo lane. If the Councilman’s office does not believe the LADOT’s traffic modeling predictions, then what is their prediction, and where is their evidence? …otherwise they are scaring people on baseless conjecture. The Councilman’s office should lead by example and select the plan which will save the most lives. The LADOT’s presentation made it clear that “Option 1” – Buffered bike lanes will do that with an expected 30-35% crash reduction rate. It is the only option presented that will lower unsafe speeding, and encourage more people to try bicycling because of actual safety in a separate lane.

  • Bryan

    Since a majority of the Councilman’s staff depend on driving, some commuting from long distances, it is understandable that they have a personal interest in how traffic is affected on N. Figueroa St. in front of their field office in Highland Park. The problem is, so far they seem to believe this project will create “Carmageddon” when in fact the LADOT who designed it confidently forecasts dramatic gains in safety and major reductions in collisions, for a very manageable slight shift in car speed only affecting the southbound lane. I am a Highland Park resident and a car driver 95% & I am fully willing to drive a little bit slower to make sure I am not hitting pedestrians and cyclists and other cars in the road. Can’t the Staff do the same, they are public servants. I applaud the Councilman’s staff for fighting traffic congestion; I suggest they lead by example. I asked several staff if they live in the District – no, they live in South Pasadena and Boyle Heights. Oh nice, so you take the Gold Line in? No, we drive. 🙁 … That’s Gold Line to Gold Line guys. They are actively adding to the traffic congestion that they fear. Our district is so multi-modal – N. Figueroa St. is the most bicycled corridor in Northeast Los Angeles (LACBC bike count 2013), we have the Gold Line, 2 major bikeways (Arroyo Seco and LA River Greenway) … If their goal is traffic reduction, let’s try taking cars off the road and encourage transit, biking, walking? If their goal is preventing more people from being hit on N. Figueroa, let’s try restriping the lanes and start saving lives? Because unless someone’s taking cars off the street, the traffic is still there whether there’s one lane, two lanes or 6 lanes. If we add bike lanes that’s more people who can leave their car and feel safe going to the store, to work, etc. How can the staff make a decision for people who depend on bikes for transportation when they themselves have not felt how scary it is to have inconsiderate drivers speed past you, honk, cut you off, throw things at you, drive too close? Perhaps if the Staff gave it a try they would have more empathy to people who are actively changing transportation in LA but risking their lives. Let’s all get home safe together: #Fig4All!

  • 1Nameless

    Great article. I started riding my bike for local trips about 6 months ago, and I can’t even tell you how much it’s improved my driving. There is no reason to drive faster than 30 mph on commercial or residential streets – there are too many other users. And you don’t see the other users when you’re diving as fast as you can to the next stoplight. It’s really opened my eyes.

    • Bryan

      That’s so true! I’ve never heard it that way. Same for me – lifelong driver, newer bike rider in the past few years. Once your vulnerable little body is sharing space with giant speeding several-ton machines – you can’t drive the same. Thanks for sharing that point of view. That’s why we need to invite our Councilmembers and staff to try biking LA roads and see for themselves… “learning by doing”

  • Bryan
  • Pingback: Morning Links: 55 years to life for drunken hit-and-run, arrest in Eastdale hit-and-run, Fig4All drags on… and on | BikinginLA()

  • Frances Anderton

    Thanks for all these comments. I am a cyclist and a driver and I live near the newly calmed stretch of Ocean Park Boulevard. When I bike each day to work or walk my daughter to school it’s great. On the other hand when I drive, it is an annoyance because, yes, the traffic is slower to a point of stalling. At those times I have to remind myself that the change is for the greater good and that collective purpose, along with encouraging everyone to tap into their inner cyclist, has to be part of the education process attached to these infrastructure changes.

    • Bryan

      An honest reaction and reality while we’re in this transition phase across L.A. – the awkward phase if you will… As shown all over the world where bike infrastructure or transit expands to offer a robust network, ridership continues to increase as the network grows. I drive for my long work commute and because of that, have come to enjoy biking for as many local trips as I can: fresh air, exercise, and freedom.

      • Frances Anderton

        Hi Bryan, it’s great to get all your comments and I am glad you’ve fallen in love with bicycle commuting. Far better to entice drivers to try cycling, with testimonies such as yours, than vilifying them as the enemy.

    • Bryan

      I realized the other day while driving on the freeway at almost 80 mph – no wonder LA drivers become irate when sharing the road with bikes – we are used to having the roads all to ourselves, and travelling at such high speeds. The pace of biking is slower, as is the pace of walking, even more so, and that’s why I think it’s good to separate travel lanes for this reason. I find the speed of biking to be kind of perfect: fast enough to be fun and joyful, but slow enough to enjoy a slower pace of life (and not run people over). But LA drivers do seem to be learning as more and more bikes join the road – my friend commented that drivers seem to go out of their way to go around, give more room – I don’t find that to be so delightfully the case yet where I live in Highland Park – I watch my back with every car I hear – but I do feel like drivers are learning.

    • Bryan

      In Temple City where I grew up, they just created fabulous protected cycle tracks, and the cars now travel at a very civil speed and I must say, it’s very refreshing! It seems once car speeds get past a certain point on a street, it becomes inhospitable to anyone else – walkers, bikers, customers on the street, residents on their porch, etc. So traffic calming really does improve quality of life, and re-builds community. It’d be interesting to do a study on how much social interaction increases after traffic calming.

  • Sine Metu

    Single passenger cars are the future … in Cedillo’s dystopia. Change is coming and it’s always painful (and scary) to those unwilling to adapt.

    Cedillo won’t live forever, someone younger and more adaptable will eventually take over and the insane nostalgia for a time that never worked quite right, for things that served singular convenience will be relegated to memory. People will walk, ride bikes, take trains, cease the onerous ownership of machines that destroy fitness, natural systems, finances and spirituality.

    Cedillo senses this and it’s unnerving. He may be corrupt but he’s not dumb. The business interests and politics of convenience and sloth will have their way of course in the now, but even they will submit when the wave crests and people shrug off this terrible yoke of death and pollution.

  • I do think drivers should also cycle occasionally, if only to highlight the safety reasons. Once you’re on the other side of the coin, you really do think differently…

    Torsten @