Whose law is it anyway?

November 4, 2009 LA Bike Plan Meeting – 1st Edit from Arthur Schlenger on Vimeo.

The people of North East Los Angeles have lined up in public comment queues for half a decade now to speak out in favor, or opposition, to bike lanes on North Figueroa Street. Most of us in favor of the bike lanes imagined that, if we could only share the lessons learned in other parts of Los Angeles (and the world) about the improved safety, human health, happiness, and business prospects that can come with a proper connected urban bike lane project that surely we would fare well in City Hall.

During the last term of Councilman Ed Reyes that seemed to have worked. Since the 2013 election of Gil Cedillo, our techniques to incite change have not worked. Is there a way to get the North Figueroa Street road diet going again?

The bike lane on North Figueroa Street was included in the 2010 Bike Plan. The project passed through the gates of a full Environmental Impact Report and emerged with a city council vote adopting the report. Money was moved from Measure R sales tax dollars into a special bike project fund for North Figueroa.

There is a cancer at the heart of Los Angeles’ bike plan, like there is a cancer at the heart of every plan that passes through the city council in Los Angeles.

The cancer I am talking about reminds me of the old improv comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” which always began with the phrase: “The show where everything’s made up, and the points don’t matter.”

The cancer in LA’s bike plan is this: it isn’t law. If an individual city councilmember, e.g. Gil Cedillo, doesn’t like a part of the plan that the full council approved, or doesn’t like the way a department is implementing a plan the full council approved, that individual councilmember can order all work on that portion of the plan to be stopped.

This flies in the face of the City of Los Angeles’ Charter, Section 242. Conduct of Business (b) which states:

"The Council, by ordinance or resolution, shall establish a sufficient number of committees to enable it to carry out its duties. The duty of the Council and its committees is to become fully informed of the business of the City so as to oversee all the functions of the City government, and to report to the Council any information or recommendations necessary to enable the Council to properly legislate. Committees shall have the power of investigation, but shall have no administrative control over the various functions of the City government. The administration of the City government shall be vested in the officials designated in the Charter to perform those functions[.]"

The full council has the power to pass ordinances "[u]pon any subject of municipal control, or to carry into effect any of the powers of the City." (Los Angeles Administrative Code, Section 2.14.)

How can one individual councilmember stop parts of a plan approved by the full city council? What are the powers of an individual councilmember in Los Angeles? As far as I can tell the full council is vested with all sorts of fancy powers and rights. Individual councilmembers, however, have no real power … and yet the road diet on North Figueroa Street appears to be cancelled.

The game is made up and the rules don’t matter.

Gil Cedillo has no statutory power to stop the LADOT from installing a road diet on North Figueroa Street. The LADOT doesn’t legally need to stop work at Cedillo’s request – so why have they stopped working on the North Figueroa Street road diet?

In Los Angeles, if a department messes with one council office they risk messing with the whole council. This city sprawled so far beyond its ability to maintain itself two generations ago that getting a sidewalk paved, water main fixed, trees trimmed, or street swept requires some sort of influence peddling at election time by those smart enough to get connected with a local councilman’s office. Elected in off-year, low-turnout, elections; councilmen face no serious electoral challenges (barring scandal) if they dole out the limited number of favors they can afford to their election year supporters.

In order to trade in favors in a chronically unmaintainable mess of a city, councilmembers allow each other to wave full council action in front of departments working on small enough projects contained mostly within their districts.

“Do what I want or we’re going to go after you in the budget next year.”

“Build that portion of your project in my district and the council is going to make your job, specifically, illegal within Los Angeles city limits.”

It never needs to gets to this level these days. The system is so formalized that city departments send their envoys to lie and cajole council offices, bribe them with give-aways to the recipients of the councilmembers choice, and come away with the informal approval of any project a city department wants to build. When things break down, like they have with the road diet on North Figueroa Street and Councilman Gil Cedillo, the department backs down and waits either for a groundswell of support (Ahem! Cough! Figueroa For All. Cough!) or simply lets the project die.

Notice how none of the legal and pseudo-legal hurdles most of us local politics junkies talk about matter here? We’re not even talking about legal powers of the council offices anymore – we’re talking about a game-theory of local governance in Los Angeles.

It is a game – except, unlike “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, our lives are at stake, our health and happiness is on the line. Unlike the improv TV show, the points do matter in local politics. Either we get a safer street or we keep a stupidly designed status quo stroad.

How do we win this game?

Gil Cedillo raised $2.1 million in his bid to become a city councilman. He spent, combined with so-called independent expenditures, about $200 per vote in the general election that saw him squeak by his opponent with a margin of less than 800 votes. There are nearly 82,000 registered voters in Council District 1 out of about 250,000 residents. Cedillo was elected by 10,152 voters. His opponent lost with 9,389 votes and only spent half the amount of money Cedillo did.

We can’t afford to buy ads on the size and scale Cedillo can. We can’t afford to use campaign cash and city council money, robocall machines, and staff time to advertise our point of view the way Cedillo has.

What we can do is come together, as we have for years now, and agitate for change within our community. Our bike rides, our parties, our parade entries, walking tours, secret stair climbs, protest marches, petition gathering surveys, tabling of large public events, attending community meetings, voting in Neighborhood Council election – it all adds up.

Combined with the efforts of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Figueroa For All has directly touched the lives thousands of real people in NELA. These are people who have participated in an event or signed a petition for the North Figueroa Street road diet (probably both!). We have done it with no campaign funds, no independent expenditures. Despite or $0 budget, the number of people signing the petition in favor of a Figueroa For All grows by the day. For example, on a normal business day I get 5 to 10 signatures on the petition I leave out on the counter of the Flying Pigeon LA shop.

Every cell phone number and email address is potentially another real person in the community who will walk, bike, and vote with us on street safety measures and candidates. It costs us $0 and our movement grows itself.

Councilman Cedillo stalked by Reverend Fig4All at a Latin Jazz Festival on August 23, 2014. The Rev.’s sign reads “REPENT CEDILLO”. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Cedillo, like most candidates who’ve won election in Council District 1 in recent history, ignored the most significant public safety issue facing his district: unsafe streets for walking and bicycling. He has nobody on his staff of 20+ who has passed even an introductory course in urban planning, civil engineering, or design. He is flying blind, pulling counter-arguments out of thin air.

He is scared. He picked a political fight with a group of people who, in fighting for a road diet don’t get burned out – we actually get stronger, feel better, and enjoy our lives more when we come together to celebrate our dreams for a safer, more humane, community.

Whose law is it anyway? It is the law of the American political jungle. Don’t let Cedillo’s spite and apprehension with the 21st century slow us down! Get together! Have fun!

We’re planning a big pedestrian and bicycling festival in November and December. Keep your eyes peeled for a 30-day, crowd-sourced, free, livable streets festival called Si Se Mueve. If you want to get involved in the Figueroa For All campaign leave a comment below and we’ll add you to our email list, join our Facebook group, or sign the LACBC’s change.org petition for a North Figueroa Street road diet.

LADOT compromises on North Figueroa Street bike lanes

Rendering of LADOT proposed N. Figueroa bike lane looking north towards Avenue 26 near the intersection of N. Figueroa Street and  Avenue 22. By Nathan Lucero.

It is easy to come away from a discussion about bike lanes on North Figueroa Street thinking that this is a “bikes vs. cars” issue. Heck, our local councilman, Gil Cedillo, had his entire office working on that tired narrative the past 3 months (prior to ignoring the issue after being elected in May of 2013).

When you look closer at the facts, this narrative breaks down completely.

The way the LADOT has designed the North Figueroa Street bike lanes will not have a noticeable impact on peak hour car travel times, and will have no impact whatsoever during off-peak hours.

Why is that?

Rendering of LADOT proposed N. Figueroa bike lane looking south towards Avenue 22 and the 5 Freeway from just past the Avenue 26 intersection with N. Figueroa Street. By: Nathan Lucero

The most car-congested intersection of North Figueroa is where it meets Avenue 26. It is common to see a clump of 40 to 60 cars waiting at Avenue 26 to enter either the 5 South or the 110 South in the morning on weekdays.

The LADOT’s planned bike lanes will keep all the existing car lanes on North Figueroa from Avenue 28 down to the intersection with the 110 South – which means that there will be no added car delay in this portion of North Figueroa when bike lanes are installed.

Is this what Figueroa For All wants? Not really. We would prefer a cycle track and much better intersection design running the length of North Figueroa.

Here is an example of what Figueroa For All would like to see:

You can read more about cycle tracks and protected intersections by clicking here.

Now that the LADOT has compromised on its original vision of a buffered bike lane running the length of North Figueroa Street, will those opposed to the lanes accept this compromise? Will Councilman Cedillo call off his staff on their crusade to scare people away from safer streets?

Figueroa For All members outside a community meeting called by Councilman Cedillo on June 12, 2014.

For the sake of quality of life and safety on North Figueroa let’s hope the LADOT’s compromise design and these renderings get a bike lane installed soon.

What will the LADOT’s bike lane plans do to traffic at Avenue 26?

About 60 single occupant cars (and two empty buses) jam the southbound side of North Figueroa at Avenue 26 and N. Figueroa St. during morning rush hour on December 17, 2013.

What will the LADOT’s bike lane plans do to rush hour traffic at Avenue 26?


That is right, you read it correctly: nothing.

How can this be?

It is pretty simple really: the LADOT is going to keep two lanes of car traffic in each direction at Avenue 26.

Click this image to see a larger version.

In the LADOT’s original bike lane plans, North Figueroa was going to lose one car lane on the north side of the street. The traffic modelling the LADOT did showed that, with this configuration, at rush hour car drivers would have to wait an additional 95 seconds (1.5 minutes). Ruh roh.

This southbound stretch of North Figueroa Street will lose 7 parking spaces in order to install a bike lane. This will allow cars to flow at current rates alongside the bike lane.

How did the LADOT deal with this projected delay? They re-designed the project from Avenue 28 to Avenue 26 and kept car lanes in both directions in their new designs. Instead of taking away a single car lane, the LADOT’s new plans remove 7 parking spaces adjacent the Yum Yum Donuts/Big Saver shopping center. This new configuration would mean that bike lanes would have no impact on traffic at Avenue 26 – no added delay (!) at the expense of 7 parking spaces.

Want to see the LADOT’s original delay projections for the bike lane project on North Figueroa? You can read the city’s original traffic delay report here (see Figure 3-11).

What are we fighting for?

This Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at Franklin High School in Highland Park Councilman Gil Cedillo will hold a public meeting regarding the LADOT’s proposed road diet and bike lanes on North Figueroa Street. After the meeting, we have been told by Cedillo’s staff in personal communication, the councilman will render his verdict.

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?

We’ll leave that one to the Larry Mantles, Warren Olneys, and Raphael Sonensheins of Los Angeles County to figure out.

In the meantime, what is it that we’re fighting for? What I mean is, what is the LADOT’s proposed road diet going to look like? Is it really that radical of a departure from what we have now on North Figueroa Street?

Take a look for yourself at these volunteer-created renderings of North Figueroa Street:

North Figueroa at Avenue 28 in Cypress Park as the LADOT plans it. Please note: the buffer for the bike lane disappears and a car lane re-appears heading South to allow more cars to access the 110 South and 5 South freeway entrances nearby.

A photoshopped image of the what the LADOT’s proposed buffered bike lanes would look like at Woodside and North Figueroa (running alongside Sycamore Grove Park) heading South towards Downtown LA.

A photoshopped image of what the LADOT’s proposed buffered bike lanes would look like just past Cypress Avenue and North Figueroa (across the street from Nightingale Middle School) heading North towards Highland Park.

Here is one more image, this one is a bonus. This is an image of what Figueroa For All would like to see. That is, not just a buffered bike lane but a protected cycle track (!) with pocket parks, more crosswalks, curb ramps, bus pull-in areas, and some programs in local schools to get more kids walking and biking. We realize you can make a rendering of all that! Anyway, here is something to think about:

North Figueroa at Avenue 28 as Figueroa For All would like to see it: a design for everyone! Safety first! Humans and the best of city life at the heart of the design.



Gil Cedillo and the beleaguered LADOT Bicycle Program he just desimated.

Gil Cedillo and the beleaguered LADOT Bicycle Program Department he just threw under his City allocated Dodge Charger.

If you attended Thursday’s meeting, then you know how “Council District 1 Dysfunctional” it was. We demanded a safer North Figueroa and after badgering Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s office for nearly a year to take action on the already-approved North Figueroa Bike Lane project, he finally responds by hosting a meeting at Cypress Park’s Nightingale Middle School on Thursday, May 8th. Out of the 350+ attendees, the room was overwhelmingly in favor of the Figueroa Bike Lanes /Road Diet. Cedillo’s office split those chosen to give a one minute comment into groups of 19 In Favor, and 19 Against. Cedillo’s office furthered their “Neutral Opinion” on the project by enlisting anti-bike lane NELA authority figures to give their “Professional Opinions.”  In an event that was intended to bring the community together, many attendees described Cedillo’s Community Bike Lane / Road Diet Meeting as being “Rigged,” that they were, “Hoodwinked,” and “Bamboozled.”

After a decade-plus of LA City Planning, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, City Council, Neighborhood Councils, and Environmental Impact Report meetings, Gil Cedillo opened this meeting by saying the purpose of the night’s gathering was because the “2010 Bike Plan wasn’t sufficiently debated.” He then handed it off to LADOT Bike Program and LA City Planning to make their presentations on the great benefits of implementing the 2010 Bike Plan on Figueroa, and the lacking benefits of sharrows.

Following LADOT’s presentation, various senior city department employees were called on by Cedillo to give their “Professional Opinions” on how a road diet and bike lanes would affect their road use. (Note: NOT the OFFICIAL Policy from their given departments.) While his statement was hesitant and convoluted, NELAPD Captain Jeff Bert said, “Bike lanes would REDUCE response times.” On the other hand, Cypress Park-based, LAFD #44 Senior Captain, and Cedillo ally, Edmundo Elguea said that in his “Professional Opinion” the bike lanes would “Slow down their response time.” (Contrary to the official opinion of his department.) LADOT Parking Enforcement’s Sgt. Lucero Mesa said, “His bureau was not in favor of it.” (Bet that’s news to LADOT.) A senior officer from LACMTA’s bus operations gave the most neutral of statements, saying Metro would work with whatever was implemented. (It probably helps that he was a County employee and not a City employee.)

Cedillo’s Cheif of Staff, Arturo Chavez then moderated the public comment section by having 19 Supporters, followed by 19 Opponents speak for one minute on the project, no questions, just statements. It was chaos. It was as if a substitute teacher was dropped into a classroom of 350 hostile students hellbent on rebellion. It may not have been the “Consensus Building” event that Cedillo billed it as, but it was certainly entertaining. More details on what was said can be seen here: Fig4ALL flickr.

Following the event, KPFK’s Bike Talk interviewed Gil Cedillo, where he talked about this process being a “Robust debate,” that, “We need to come together and reconcile this.”

That this meeting, “Adds somewhat to where we were. …Important to have a more comprehensive audience. …Compels us more to a point of reconciliation of what I think are shared values.”

Cedillo also gave this gem on whether the Figueroa Bike Lane Project in his district is going to happen:

“My sense is that we have to bring EVERYBODY together and work toward consensus, and that takes time. I’ve worked on projects that have taken 16 years. I don’t know why it delayed, why it faltered… What I’m focusing on now is how we can bring these groups together.”

That’s our Cedillo, a man of action. And all this trouble for a paltry (by Los Angeles standards) 26,000 cars that use Figueroa daily.

The meeting shows that we have made progress. In what may be a first for any community bike lane hearing anywhere, none of the opposition speakers trotted-out the tired rant about bicyclist running stop signs and traffic lights. Another point of victory was the lack of outright anti-bike lane sentiment. Opponents spoke more about motor traffic and less about their hatred of bike lanes and cyclists in general. Many took the NIMBY route, saying they were in favor of bike lanes but just not here. What was especially encouraging were the new faces speaking on the opposition side who weren’t particularly against the project but expressed fear for themselves and their children’s safety. That is exactly what we are fighting for: Safety.

In response to this meeting, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition has called on supporters to engage with Cedillo by calling his City Hall office at (213) 473-7001 and his Highland Park office at (323) 550-1538. Cedillo stated that he is willing to meet with people on this, so let’s meet with him. Let’s “Take-The-Lane” of his Calendar and lobby our cause. Besides, the small staff in his Highland Park office at 5577 North Figueroa are lonely, the public hardly ever visit. Let’s stop in and give them a break from surfing the internet all day. As a bonus, the place is air conditioned, and has some great art from Avenue 50 Studio.

We need to more outreach like the Fig4ALL volunteers that walked Figueroa two weeks ago. Because, after nearly a year in office, Cedillo’s office is obviously not reaching-out to the Figueroa community. Ignorance and complacency is Cedillo’s best asset, while Education and direct action is ours. Because we ALL want to be safe using Figueroa regardless of whether we walk, bike, or drive, and this project is first and foremost designed to accomplish a safer Figueroa for ALL.

Links to more on the May 8th Meeting: 

KPFK Bike Talk

Streetsblog Los Angeles

Orange 20

The Eastsider LA

Biking In LA

The next Cedillo Figueroa Bike Lane Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 12th at 6PM. As of this post, Cedillo’s office is planning to use Monte Vista Elementary located at 5411 Monte Vista Street in Highland Park. Unless they’re planning for the meeting to take place out on the asphalt playground, there’s no way 350 people are going to be accommodated. Expect it to be moved.

Gil Cedillo’s Bike Lane Meeting 2014


The most hardcore cyclist on Figueroa: Every weekday, this Cypress Park mother of two, shuttles her children up and down Figueroa via bicycle between The Riordan Childcare Center and Arroyo Seco Museum Magnet School.


THURSDAY, MAY 8TH, 2014 6-8PM,

The Honorable, Gilbert Cedillo, Los Angeles Councilmember for District 1 is hosting a Community Meeting on Bike Lanes for North Figueroa at Nightingale Middle School.

As we recall, just last year there were several of these North Figueroa Bike Lane meetings with presentations by Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Los Angeles City Planning, and the neighborhood councils along north Figueroa. But that was last year. (When the bike lanes and road diet were supposed to be installed.)  Since then, Mr. Cedillo was elected as Councilmember to Council District 1, where North Figueroa languishes. As soon as Mr. Cedillo took office in July, he put the brakes on this approved project for Figueroa. Months passed without the slightest hint of action on the North Figueroa project. It has taken phone calls, petitions, emails, protest rides, and arm tugging to get his attention on this matter. He may have hoped we would go away, but we haven’t. So this May 8th we get a Community Bike Lane Meeting.

This is progress, but it’s not. According to Mr. Cedillo’s invitation, the LADOT presentation reduces the road diet and bike lanes length and proposes new (not in the 2010 Bike Plan) compromises.

First and foremost, the new proposal takes the North Figueroa bike lanes from Ave 22 to Ave 52 instead of York Blvd as planned last year, creating a one mile gap between the rest of the Northeast Los Angeles bicycle lane network. Also being presented from Mr. Cedillo’s office are no road diet alternatives that places Bike Sharrows on SIDE STREETS  such as Sycamore Terrace, Avenue 50 and Monte Vista instead of Figueroa. Make no mistake, this “Alternative” is an attempt to marginalize cyclists and pedestrians as much as possible and maintain the dangerous road conditions on Figueroa.

What’s more, is that this is called a Bike Lane Meeting, when it really should be called a “Road Diet Meeting.” Because, that is the ultimately the most important issue. It just so happens that this road diet is being achieved by installing bike lanes. It is important to stress that it is not just about giving cyclists a dedicated space to ride on Figueroa, it is about making Figueroa SAFER for ALL road users. It is about bringing North Figueroa up to 21st Century standards, it about matching the successful road improvements seen in more affluent parts of our city, it is about protecting the public, saving lives, improving property values, and bringing prosperity to the businesses of North Figueroa.

For all intents and purposes, Thursday’s meeting looks like just another bureaucratic hoop to jump through, only to be ignored again. However, it may turn out in our favor, ending with a triumphant proclamation by Cedillo, deciding to move ahead with the 2010 Bike Plan much like Jose Huizar did last year at the Colorado Blvd Bike Lane meeting. At this point, we don’t know. But we do know that we will not be going away. We will continue to press for positive change and safety improvements on North Figueroa for All.

Bike Lane Community Meeting
Thursday, May 8th, 2014 6pm-8pm.
Nightingale Middle School Cafeteria
3311 North Figueroa Street, Cypress Park 90065
Indoor Bike Parking
Metro Bus Lines 81, 84.

RSVP with the District Office at (323)550-1538 or go to: http://goo.gl/zsaZF9




Contrasts In Climate

Father and daughter ride in the buffered bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock on Saturday, February 22, 2014.

Father and daughter ride in the buffered bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock on Saturday, February 22, 2014.

Northeast Los Angeles made great strides with the 2010 Los Angeles Bike Plan last year. Bike lanes were installed on Cypress Avenue, Eagle Rock Boulevard, and Colorado Boulevard. More and more, people are discovering the new bike lanes and coming out to ride the avenues of NELA.  But the contrasts between Councilman, José Huizar’s CD14 side of NELA and Councilman, Gilbert Cedillo’s CD1 side cannot be more stressed than in these two photos taken almost exactly one week apart. The first one shows a father and daughter riding up Eagle Rock’s Colorado Boulevard in the new buffered bike lane, while the second photo shows a father and son riding on the sidewalk along Figueroa in Highland Park during a rainstorm.  One family is embraced, while the other is marginalized.

As People For Bikes, and Minneapolis’ Bikeways for Everyone reminds us, Every person biking on a sidewalk is really just casting a vote for a protected bike lane. That, wherever there are lots of people riding on sidewalks, there is a need for bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and bikeways. So even though you come out against bike lanes on Figueroa, your actions speak louder than words.


Father and son ride the sidewalks of Figueroa in Highland Park during a rainstorm on Saturday, March 1, 2014.