By Nathan Solis
CYPRESS PARK — A community meeting over proposed bike lanes on Figueroa Street was marked by heated exchanges from persons on both sides of the issue, prompting Councilmember Gil Cedillo to scold the audience for its “cat calling” and “poor behavior.”
The auditorium at Nightingale Middle School was packed Thursday night as participants came to discuss the addition of bike lanes on both sides of the street and the removal of one southbound traffic lane along a two-mile stretch of Figueroa from Avenue 26 in Cypress Park through Avenue 52 in Highland Park.
The proposed bike lanes have won the support of many cycling and pedestrian advocates, who said the measure would improve safety and create a more attractive environment along Figueroa. But opponents said the move would only clog Figueroa, the area’s main north-south thoroughfare, and hurt nearby businesses.
Representatives of the police, fire and parking enforcement departments who spoke at the meeting all opposed the installation of bicycle lanes, citing an increase in response time to emergencies. It was unclear if the officials were presenting their personal opinions or the official views of their respective departments.
Traffic engineer Tim Fremaux from the L.A. Department of Transportation said the addition of bike lanes and removal of a vehicle lane is certainly bound to impact traffic. “There’s no way around that,” he said.
Approved in 2010, the bicycle plan has seen many delays, with Cedillo’s election last year leading to further delays. The proposed project, meanwhile, has been reduced in scope, with the bike lane now going only as far north as Avenue 52 instead of York Boulevard, creating a mile-long gap between major cycling lanes.
Cedillo, who jotted notes in a black book during the meeting, said at the start of the gathering that he would like to hear from all of his constituents before making any major decisions on the matter. He opened the meeting by saying, “Let’s respect different points of views. It’s okay to disagree.”
There was plenty of disagreement. As some speakers exceeded their one-minute turn at the microphones at the front of the auditorium, the audience either cheered or waved their hands for those to step down.
Resident Morrill Garcia said, “Look at the mess on York,” referring to bicycle lanes in Highland Park on York Boulevard. One resident said that it was sad to hear that so many were not in favor of a pedestrian or bicycle friendly community. One Mt. Washington resident remarked, “All of you in favor of these bike lanes are young. I’m 50-something and I don’t think I would use those bike lanes.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Less cars, more bikes.”
Monica Alcaraz asked the audience to consider the bike lanes as a means to slow down traffic in Cypress Park. Bicycle shop owner Josef Bray-Ali said that the conversation in the auditorium should not be an ‘Us versus them’ type of debate. Miguel Ramos sees bicycle lanes as support for those who cannot afford cars.
Resident Rafael Lopez asked supporters of the proposed bike lanes if they were residents of Cypress Park. A majority of the audience resounded with a booming, “Yes!” and the energy of the room began to grow palpable, as more people shouted from the audience.
Jesse Rosas said: “You can’t force trucks onto the 110 Parkway, so those trucks take Figueroa. Bicyclists should take the river path.”
More jeers and cheers followed. Some waved banners in the audience. Senior citizens held their fingers to their ears as the noise grew louder.
“You’re not helping your cause,” Cedillo said at one point.
Figueroa could see bike lanes as early as late July if the proposal wins the backing of Cedillo and the DOT. This would mark Phase I of bike lanes on Figueroa Street, and Phase II would make its way into Highland Park. Phase II meetings are in June.
Alternatives to installing bike lanes included “sharrows,” painted emblems in the pavement signifying that motorists have to share the road. Other streets being considered for sharrows are Marmion Way, Sycamore Terrace and Monte Vista.
After the event, Mt. Washington resident Lin Cher stood outside Nightingale auditorium and shook her head in disbelief.
“The people who attended tonight’s event were certainly passionate. People were also a bit rude at times, on both sides of the issue. “
View North Figueroa Bike Lanes in a larger map
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.