Viewpoints: In defense of new Northeast L.A. bike lanes

Cyclists riding to shop at Galcos, whose owner has voiced opposition to replacing traffic lanes for bike lanes. Photo courtesy Josef Bray-Ali/Flick

Josef Bray-Ali, a cycling advocate and owner of the Flying Pigeon L.A. bike shop in Highland Park, submitted this open letter to Councilman Ed Reyes

Councilman Reyes,

I am writing to you after reading a report in the Highland Park-Mt. Washington Patch regarding the recent Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) meeting held on May 2, 2013 and a vote the council took to recommend a ludicrous alternative to the planned bike lanes on North Figueroa Street.
Supporters of the bike lanes packed the room at a previous HHPNC meeting held on April 4, 2013 as they have at several previous public meetings and hearings on this issue. Tom Topping, editor and publisher of The Boulevard Sentinel, spreading a number of falsehoods regarding the bike lanes, ginned up a large group of senior citizens to pack the May 2 HHPNC meeting to loudly proclaim that they did not like bike lanes.
You have been a strong supporter of bikes as a means of transportation in this city. Your record and your achievements in this field makes you the most bike-friendly elected official in the City of Los Angeles.
 I hope the Tom Topping’s misinformed and angry anti-bike lane militia will not scare you off of these projects – which have passed through the EIR process, been approved by the City Council, have been funded and are slated to be installed soon.
 If you want to ensure that the community is heard from, please provide us with a process to give our input (which has technically already occurred back in February at the River Center EIR meeting on the lanes, but I digress). Topping blind siding you at a business mixer, and the pro-lane community being caught unaware that the HHPNC and Cypress Park neighborhood councils were voting on bike lanes should not put you off the project. We have brought out an overwhelming number of bike lane supporters when given a proper forum and at least a week’s worth of time to prepare and contact our neighbors and friends. The people we’ve brought out to speak are not just angry retirees with free evenings – we have brought out kids from local schools, parents, working families, local school teachers, local pubic officials, business owners, and our own population of pro-bicycle retirees.
We have brought out people who represent the demographic bulge in this community – the people who are between 15 and 34 who have the most to gain and the most to lose depending on whether or not these lanes go in. It isn’t worth emailing you a laundry list of health, safety, and economic development benefits to do these lanes – you have taught this community as much about these benefits as it could ever communicate back to you.
These lanes are the right choice to make, and they will restore the vibrancy that was torn out of our local streets when the street cars were removed and the right of way was converted into an automobile pipeline. Commercial vacancies, the loss of Ivers Department store and other retail anchors, and many squandered opportunities to reconnect this community with its business district have finally brought us to this moment. Please, stand up to Tom Topping’s last ditch effort of the old-guard status quo population in CD1. Support the lanes for the future of this area. It is the right and the righteous thing to do.

Josef Bray-Ali

Viewpoints is where Eastsider readers can express their opinions or start a conversation on neighborhood  issues  problems & ideas.  Click here to find out how to share your news & views.


  1. Right on! Opponents of the lanes: all we are talking about is paint on the road. If the traffic studies that show minimal impact on traffic and the studies showing the benefits to business of projects like this all turn out to be wrong, and the terrible consequences that you predict turn out to be true, it would be a simple matter to just paint the lanes back as they were. What are you afraid of in giving this a chance?

    We have all seen the status quo–high rates of collisions, constant speeding, people discouraged from taking health modes of transportation, etc. Literally every fact-based analysis shows that the proposed projects will hugely benefit the community with minimal downside. Why not give it a shot? If it works out, we will all benefit. If your nightmares are realized, then you will have been proven right, and you will have some very receptive public officials presented with the option of an extremely simple fix (scrape up paint, reapply).

    • We should change all the lanes to bike lanes. I’d bet we could fit 14 bike lanes on each side of the 405. We would all have fantastic legs, zero cholesterol, and no murders.

  2. Hear, Hear!

  3. Tom Topping doesn’t only use his terrible paper, The Boulevard Sentinel, to spread his anti-bike lane views. This neighborhood embarrassment even took to private messaging vaguely threatening personal attacks on Facebook because of my support for sharing the roads. Tom Topping is an idiot…a friggin’ idiot!

  4. Thank you Josef

  5. Thank you for your advocacy Josef– the benefit of preventing crashes outweigh the ability of being able to speed uninhibited through our community!

  6. Couldn’t agree more. There are an awful lot of people with an awful lot of time on their hands complaining about these lanes.

  7. The studies show a marked decrease in level of service all along Figueroa, not a ‘minimal impact’. Even though the bicyclists would like to demonize drivers by claiming they ‘speed thru the area’ and race from light to light, using Figueroa as a freeway (some of us live in Highland Park), the point is that cyclists can already use the road currently. Removing capacity and decreasing bus service for dedicated bike lanes or buffered lanes is insane.

    Simply put, the decrease in pollution from cyclists forgoing cars will be far outweighed by increased emissions from idling cars and buses waiting in one long lane from Colorado to San Fernando going south on Figueroa.

    Please note that I am a fan of bike lanes and road diets. The York bike lanes work nicely. The Colorado lane makes sense. Figueroa does not. Also, side note, if the lanes are installed, is the city planning on repaving the 5 miles of Fig? That will be millions of dollars. They are not just going to sandblast and repaint this corridor with the current crumbling pavement?

    We shouldn’t waste money putting them in and seeing how it works. We know how it’s going to work – that’s what the traffic study that shows a LOS of F is for. The City can’t even maintain the infrastructure it has, you think they can afford paint, traffic control and design to stripe and restripe at the whims of the cycling community.

    • oh, don’t be using common sense now. what next?

    • I would dare anyone who claims that “cyclists can already use the road currently” to invite a few of their friends on a leisurely ride down Figueroa. You will be met with looks of horror and astonishment.

      Sure, the very devoted, very brave, or very foolhardy can bike Figueroa in its current configuration. But to normal people, biking on that street seems absolutely nuts.

      Installing a bike lane will mean that regular people, newcomers, and casual riders will finally have access. That’s all anyone wants: for everyone to be able to share the road equally, and for no one to have to take their life in their hands simply to run an errand to Galco’s.

      (Also: if you believe a LOS analysis that even the LADOT admits is flawed & ignores the possibility that some drivers will change modes once the lanes go in, well, I’ve got some stock in Enron I’d like to sell you.)

    • Josef Bray-Ali

      The added delays to motorists will total 3 minutes and 36 seconds on top of how long it takes on average for someone driving the length of the street today during peak hours. Most car drivers do not drive the length of Figueroa – most drive on it for a few blocks then get on the 110. Most motorists will have an additional 30 to 40 seconds added to their peak hour trips, assuming that there is no mode shift (i.e. assuming that the same number of people will be driving the streets after the bike lanes go in).

      In exchange we’d have a street with cars with lower top speeds and a street that is easier for pedestrians to cross. We would get a street that helps get locals riding and walking to work and school.

      To most reasonable people, this isn’t “insane”. This is a really good idea.

      • Possibly. I don’t think so. The traffic studies do not take into account changing demographics and density of the Figueroa corridor. More and more urban professionals are moving to the area – most of the people are not going to bike to work, but will add cars to the current traffic mix. Additionally, denser housing projects are planned along the corridor to capitalize on the light rail access. These will bring additional cars into the area.

        Hey, if the lanes go in, it’s not the end of my world. You are a cyclist and I am a driver, we are each equally entitled to our opinions. As a driver, I am fully cognizant that I share the road with transit, cyclists and pedestrians, and I am a respectful, gracious driver. As a cyclist, you are advocating a complete overhaul of our street system to relegate automotive traffic to an afterthought. It’s just not realistic, and until that ideal is met, we shouldn’t implement traffic measures (like the bike lanes) that will make life more difficult for the vast majority of Highland Parkers.

        • As a landlord I interview a lot of prospective tenants and I can tell you that most of the urban professionals moving into the neighborhood don’t have 9-5 jobs. They work in the film industry or the music industry or from home and they tend to be around the neighborhood more. Their preference is to shop locally. And among the 9-5ers some don’t even have cars. They like Highland Park because they can hop on the Metro and be downtown in 20 minutes.

          On the other hand when I look at the opponents most of them seem retired senior citizens who should be in no hurry to go anywhere. They just find the presence of bikes annoying and confusing and they’d rather see them disappear all together, bike lanes or no bike lanes. Really. If you poll the same people if bikes should be allowed on public streets they will say overwhelmingly no.

      • It’s not true that it would add only a few seconds to your drive. Especially on Figueroa which is already congested. All you have to do is drive down York now compared to before the bike lane to see the terrible congestion of traffic. I don’t drive, I take the bus so don’t rant on me about environmental issues and too many cars going too fast. If more bike riders would take the bus it would solve all these problems. I’m not a young person, grew up riding my bike in the neighborhood. Now I take the bus & let me tell you, I’ve seen some close calls with bike riders trying to race in front of buses so they don’t have to wait. The streets are for everyone so let’s use them together respectfully instead of having a lane for this and a lane for that. Next we’ll have a bunch of one-way streets. That’s what happened in downtown LA when they increased bike lanes. They had to make more one way streets. I’ve worked there all my adult life and seen it change too, so don’t give me any of your BS excuses.

  8. Anyone who is convinced that adding bike lanes results in some sort of traffic nightmare should come on over to Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake, where we recently instituted a road diet; car lanes are reduced and we now have bona fide bike lanes. It is nicer for EVERYONE: cyclists and pedestrians are safer; driving a car is less stressful, and we all get where we’re going. People who are opposed to bike lanes keep saying “This city was designed for cars! It’s not conducive to biking!” Well, for the well-being of all of us and for the future of our planet, let’s change that.

    • Exactly. People were making the exact same nightmare predictions about traffic, pollution, etc. on Rowena before the new lanes went in. Now that they’re in… no traffic, less pollution, and a safer, more pleasant street for everyone. Seriously, check it out during rush hour–it’s no more congested than it ever was, and traffic flows more smoothly. The proposals on Fig are not crazy or unprecedented–similar changes have been done countless times all around the country (and, increasingly in the last couple of years, in Los Angeles), and when all is said and done they tend to be pretty great improvements for everyone. And if they don’t work out? Well, it’s only paint.

    • Lying liar. I drive it every day and have for years. Almost never even see a bike. That was a disaster.

      • How civil! I either drive or bike past it every day during rush hour, often see cyclists, and never see backed up traffic. Yesterday I saw a family with two small kids cycling to Ivanhoe Elementary. Last week, I saw a kid who looked to be about 12 cycling on his own to the Pinkberry. What a disaster!

  9. Dude you’re are nothing but a special interest party to this debate and most of the backers are fanatical fundamentalists who want to impose their self righteouse ideology on the rest of us. You’re all basically Taliban for bicyclists. streets are there for cars so people can get to where they need to go in a reasonable amount if time. I’m for bike lanes but not for cutting out the people that they where built for. You try riding a bike to work and showing up smelling like bum (oh yeah you don’t have a job). Selling some more bikes that’s what this is about. There is bike lobby that is trying to allow bikes in Elysian park and Griffith park as well. Compromise yes but eliminating lanes for cars is wrong and stupid and should not be influenced by these emotional agended special interests. Leave traffic to the engineers not fixies.

    • Josef Bray-Ali

      This is probably one of the best comments I have read about bike lanes on Figueroa! “Let’s leave bike lanes to engineers, not fixies!” Indeed. That is going on a t-shirt.

      Regarding riding a bike and ending up smelling like a bum … dude, you know you don’t have to make out with everyone you pass by while you ride to work. Scandalous.

      Taliban Bike Team is a cell in the Unitarian Universalist Jihad, no doubt.

    • Working Single Parent

      I agree, they are Anarchist Bicyclist and very 1 sided and don’t care about families that need to drive their children to and from school/ market, drive home to get to their families and or other such necessary drives.
      They only care about themselves and not the other motorist including the elderly.
      Los Angeles is so spread apart and I can not drive around in a bicycle with my small children.

      • Last I heard, there are plenty of other options for children getting to school other than driving. For instance, historically, many children have gotten to school either on a bus or a bike. Do you want to force kids into cars? Families should be big supporters of bike lanes, if they want their kids to have freedom!

  10. Figueroa is a principal artierial. Rowena is a minor arterial. You cannot compare them based on classification. Beyond that, just driving down the two streets, it’s pretty obvious that you are talking about two different kinds of streets.

    If the LADOT admits their study is flawed, then they owe it to all of the residents to conduct another one before getting everybody all worked up on both sides of the issue.

    Again, I love bike lanes and I love that LA is becoming a safer, friendlier place to bike. However, we can’t go around altering the road landscape half cocked because bikes are cool. The spillover effects are massive. Some are good. Some are bad. We all need to weigh the pros and cons. Putting them in and then removing them if they don’t work is a political and liability disaster waiting to happen.

    • Josef Bray-Ali

      It isn’t clear what separates a “principal arterial” and a “minor arterial” other than your use of them. Care to elaborate?

      If high speed auto travel is what ye seek, there is a freeway in yonder wash through the valley between Montecito Heights and Mount Washington.

      • You can easily google any of those traffic engineering terms that you don’t know (Marino, I am a traffic engineer, fyi). As the ambassador of this bicycle lane discussion, to the point that you are writing to Reyes and publicizing it on this site, I figured you would have educated yourself – especially since you are using that same traffic study to bolster your claim that the bike lanes will have a negligible effect on traffic and speaking with some authority on the traffic study.

        The 110 does not allow truck traffic. Buses need to use the surface streets. Those are types of vehicles that have no option to use the 110. But there you go again, demonizing drivers by claiming we seek ‘high speed auto travel’. Can you acknowledge the fact that most people are not slaloming down Figueroa at 50 mph, and are in fact trying to live their lives and run errands?

    • Rowena is a minor arterial?
      I’ve lived in Glassell Park for 20 years and Rowena has always been my shortcut to Silverlake and East Hollywood. Also Silver Lake Blvd another street with bike lanes.
      I drove on Rowena the other day. Smooth as butter.
      Who is calling us fundamentalists? NIMBYists are the new fundamentalists.

      And yes please leave traffic to traffic engineers. I don’t know why we have all these public hearings to prove to the flat earthers that Earth revolves around the sun. Walk ability, public transit, alternative modes of transportation. These are proven concepts implemented in cities around the world.

  11. Thank you, Josef.

  12. While I support bike lanes and I am in the market to buy a new one, given the discriminatory and ageist demonizing by Josef Ali-Bray, I will be taking my business some place other than the Flying Pigeon Bike Shop. Ali-Bray has been a complete boor with his insensitive language and attacks on those who have a legitimate differing point of view. Painting this as an intergenerational battle and then demonizing older drivers who DO have trouble perceiving and reacting to bicyclists who ignore the rules of the road, is the lowest of the low.

    • Have you been to the NELA bike meetings? It pretty much is an intergenerational divide. The opposition is primarily made up of people over the age of 50 whereas support is coming primarily from people between 20 and 40. The older folks opposed reason that they see bicyclists break laws, therefore bike lanes should not be installed. I kid you not, that is the logic used. They also scream that York Boulevard is a disaster (have you been there lately? It’s the coolest street in NELA– cooler than Colorado Boulevard). Conversely, those in favor are citing statistics that show bike lanes have a documented effect of reducing crashes and improving safety and reason thus bike lanes should be installed.

      I value safety, that’s my bottom line and as a result I favor bike lanes.

  13. This all boils down to the fear of change. Young people embrace it. Old people hate it.

  14. Older people are also less likely to ride bikes for physical reasons, and may feel they’re being attacked by the bike community. (Any bike-riding geezers who are reading this — don’t jump all over me. I’m speaking generally.) What I’d love for the old folks to understand is that bike lanes — and reduced car lanes — actually make it EASIER AND SAFER to drive a car as well as ride a bike. When you’ve got a single car lane, drivers aren’t constantly jockeying for position, zipping in and out in front of each other and increasing everyone’s stress level. There’s markedly less risk of a pedestrian being hit while crossing the street. Everybody wins! Yay!

  15. Thank you Josef for making LA a better place to live.

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