By Jesi Harris, LACBC Organizing Director
Howdy, y’all. I’m Jesi and I’ve seen many of you at the advocacy events and meetings through my role as Organizing Director of LACBC. This is the first edition of a new series, Bikers’ Nod, where I dig into issues affecting Angelenos’ mobility and the livability of our neighborhoods by shining a spotlight on partners we admire in the field. Thanks for reading. Stay woke.
Last August, CSU San Bernardino released a study on hate crimes in Los Angeles which reported a high burden of victimhood within black and gay communities. As a black, masculine, visibly queer person riding a bike in LA traffic, I am emotionally aware of the racism and anti-gay bias that this statistic represents. As I ride daily, I constantly ruminate on how my identity dictates the care that automobile drivers take for my life. In the span of an LA moment, I watch a middle-aged driver accelerate through a yellow light, and wonder how bias will factor into their evaluation of my worthiness to exist on the road next to them. This swelling feeling of fear and frustration is a daily experience for many of us.
Urban Planning has long been an institution that has reinforced the biases of race, class, sexuality, and gender in the design of our cities, often literally cementing the ephemeral ideas that decree our lives. The practice of redlining, or determining investments based on a community’s racial occupancy, is just one of many key ways that our physical environment has shaped – and been shaped by – anti-blackness and classism. This results in vast health disparities, high rates of violence, environmental degradation, and lack of access to resources.
There is possibly no better example of this in Southern California than Downtown LA’s Skid Row, a downtown neighborhood standing between 3rd and 7th streets, stretching from Main to Central.
Six years ago, Skid Row community members first noted the remarkable lack of road safety features during community meetings about public health disparities which culminated in a 2013 report titled the Dirty Divide, a collection of facts and figures corroborating the lack of public health equity.
“We had to go out and paint our own signs, people had no other solutions,” said General Dogon, LA CAN’s Community Organizer, who focuses on human rights issues. In the report, LA CAN and their members call out the inexcusable lack of safety for the area’s high concentration of cyclists and pedestrians – mostly black and brown, noting that existing bike lanes stop at Skid Row’s borders. Also, north-south traffic lights are back-timed “so that drivers don’t have to stop and interact with a homeless person for 30 seconds,” explains Dogon.
This amounts to a high rate of traffic collisions, including an account in which bystanders watched a woman die in the street from a hit-and-run caused head injury. Tragedies like this are the reason why LA CAN began the Ride for Justice Campaign, a series of meetings and rides demanding “Skid Row bike lanes!”
Since 2017, LACBC has been working with LA Community Action Network (LA CAN) to bring bicycle infrastructure to Skid Row. Now, I’m happy to report, the community is one step closer to bringing bicycle lanes to 5th and 6th through Skid Row. LACBC and LA CAN have collaborated with with CD-14 staff and LA DOT who are partnered with the Weingart Foundation on an application for funding through the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities (AHSC) statewide grant program. The road has not been an easy one, but the community is excited about the possibilities of this new funding opportunity.
My inaugural bikers’ nod goes out to LA CAN. Join them for future Ride for Justice events Thursdays at 3pm at LA CAN Headquarters!