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09/10/2011: "Night and the Neighborhood"
I rode out last night to Flying Pigeon LA, a local bike shop in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles, run by ex-developer and longtime activist Josef Bary Ali. Josef's dedication to cycling and its place in healthy urban neighborhoods is (often to the detriment of his income) tireless and far-reaching, but last night's meeting kept it close to home, discussing what to suggest to the city to improve the currently rather dreary condition of figeuroa Street, on of northeast LA's main drags and its primary boulevard connection to downtown. (There is also the superb Gold Line train, as well as the ancient and miserable 110 freeway.)

The crowd was small (as is the shop, where we met) but enthusiastic, despite my own regular interruptions to suggest talking points or reference studies, and the food--vegan Vietnamese dishes from the Good Girl Dinette nearby--was delicious. It was beautifully obvious that everyone present really cared about street life and neighborhood commerce.

Figueroa is currently little more than a freeway with sidewalks, far too wide for the motor traffic it carries, resulting in audacious and oppressive speeding as potential customers zip past the hundreds of small shops and restaurants without a sideward glance. Bicycling on the street is uncomfortable, and crossing it on foot is deadly. A road diet, such as the city recently graced 7th Street with, is in order, and the discussion centered on how to make its benefits known to the neighbors and merchants who have never experienced anything but bleak streets and car traffic at the front steps.

Everyone thinks that all their business comes from drivers, though they are almost always wrong, and even the ones who incline to favor a new idea are hesitant. Merchants tend to be personally conservative, and no one wants to be first.

So outreach plans were the subject of the day, and a lot of good ideas went on the list to be refined and decided upon next month.

The ride home, on a soft and still-warm autumn night, was sweet. I rode along the newest stretch of the Los Angeles River bike path (most of whose lamps were not turned on, by the way; I'll email LADOT forthwith), and, followed by one of the other attendees who wanted to see new parts of town on the way home, wandered through Cypress Park, the back side of Silverlake, and East Hollywood before descending onto home turf near Hancock Park.

Free food, good company, loud talk, and a long ride home: a good way to spend an evening. And if we do well, we'll get to make a little bit of Los Angeles just that much more human after all.

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