Saturday, March 20, 2010

Streeeeeet Summiiiiiiiiiit

(voiced in a monster truck rally announcer style)

I knew I would be late, so I rode fast on 7th to downtown from Koreatown, and then headed south to LA Trade Technical College, the location of this year's Street Summit and last year's Bike Summit.

As I approached I ran into two gentlemen cyclists I know, and we cruised into the bike valet area adjacent to Trade Tech's brand spanking new facility. It took me a while to extricate all my belongings from my bike, since I had an overstuffed pannier full of presentation materials and my video camera, along with my tripod strapped to the rack. I've been enjoying bike valet quite a lot recently (thanks LACBC!), and it certainly is nice to leave my bike in a safe area. I don't even have to tote around my helmet (although I do remove my lights, habit), I can just leave it on the bike.

Inside the breezy main hall of the new building (it had a cool jigsaw puzzle wooden ceiling), Carl Anthony of Breakthrough Communities spoke on environmental justice to an audience that spilled out the doors. I crept in and listened as he made connections between low income communities and the fundamentally unsustainable automobilized conditions under which they live. He pointed out that in a place like Oakland, long the home of a proud Black community, more and more families are moving to the suburbs. As they leave dense areas well-served by transit and situated on grids for cul-de-sacs far from services, they become more reliant on cars to get around. I didn't know there would be such an excellent prelude to the presentations I'd be involved in later in the day, where I would make clear my own commitment to confronting issues of class and race in alternative transportation and quality public space.

Soon we broke for lunch. The organizers incorporated street food into the event, since it is hip in LA to eat from food trucks and those trucks exemplify a more full use of public spaces. This meant I finally got to try Korean fusion tacos, something I've been hearing about for quite some time (Verdict: meh. I guess you might find them mind blowing if you're not accustomed to f-ing delicious carne asada, with which, as a So Cal native, I am more than familiar). I picked up my tacos and kimchee and made my way over to the artificially grassed lunch area, where I met some urban planning grad students. One studies billboards, and the other is developing a project on bicycles.

After that we reassembled in the main hall and listened to Charlie Gandy give an update on the legitimately awesome bike stuff happening in Long Beach, where urban planner Sumire Gant initiated remarkable cooperation between city staff, politicians, and local advocates that is changing the way bikes fit into the landscape there. Then there was another talk on the need to consider low income communities in alternative transportation, given by Lydia Avila of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC). Basically they want to stave off displacement of the low income, Latino community in Boyle Heights, which is being pumped full of redevelopment in the next decade.

(There's something funny going on with redevelopment, gentrification, quality of life, and burgeoning interest in alternative transportation among wealthy, educated people. More on that in another post.)

And then, finally, we moved on to workshops. I got to participate in cicLAvia's presentation, which went very well. Several people in the audience had attended ciclovĂ­as or similar events around the world, and shared their own enthusiasm about the concept. Now that we have a signed letter of support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and are fundraising to hold our first event on September 12 (fingers crossed so hard they might break!!!), it felt much more professional than when we presented at last year's Bike Summit (although that was also very fun and led to good things).

After that I had to rush in to wrangle with computers and projectors so that I could help present on City of Lights/ Ciudad de Luces, the outreach program I helped start last year that connects the bike movement with low income, Spanish speaking cyclists. I presented with Allison Mannos, the program manager and all-around superstar of City of Lights, and Andy Rodriguez, who organizes educational programming. We gave our history and current program spiel to a packed room and had some good questions about how to get started with connecting to low income cyclists in other areas (hooray!).

Unfortunately the Summit had only three workshop cycles, so since I presented during the first two, I only got to attend one other workshop. This was a presentation on walkability assessments given in part by urban planning student/ alt trans researcher extraordinaire Alexis Lantz, who showed pictures to illustrate common impediments to walkability and gave a vocabulary lesson on pedestrian improvements (chokers and chicanes for all streets!).

The closing speech for the day came from Ryan Snider, a transportation consultant here in LA, who was careful to preface his fiery call to action with the understanding that this was about advocacy, not policy. Then he proceeded to argue, persuasively, for a culture change at LADOT. Since the Street Summit's opening address was given by Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner of NYCDOT, we'd all been made painfully aware of the possibilities of a more progressive department of transportation. If our own DOT embraced the (sooooooooo obvious) need for a new approach to congestion and safety in Los Angeles, how much easier would it be to get simple and affordable bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects off the ground?

So then the day wasn't over, even though my brain was frizizzled, and we rode en masse to La Cita near Bunker Hill and enjoyed their back patio while decompressing. Then it was time to try out Angel's Flight (more on that later).

To see a more human Los Angeles manifested by the advocates who are working to bring this reality to more city residents inspires me to keep on plugging along.