Justice

Bike Lanes for the Homeless? That’s the Demand on Skid Row

July 9th 2017

By:
Charles Davis

Which comes first: the bike lanes or the hipsters? As General Dogon and others on Los Angeles’ Skid Row see it: it’s the hipsters, for sure.

And when the even better off yuppies arrive, as they have just a few blocks away from the infamous tent city, home to thousands of the country’s most impoverished residents, that’s when the bike lanes get the gourmet finishing touches, like potted plants and cafe seating to line the way.

LACAN

“Just a couple blocks from here they’re sipping lattes,” Dogon, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), told ATTN:. “We out here fighting for our rights.”

On Saturday, July 8, the fight took the form of a group bike ride, led by the orange-haired Dogon, a black motorcycle helmet fitting his custom, motorized low-rider bicycle. Starting in the afternoon, under a 98-degree sun and to the sound of Queen’s “Bicycle Race” blaring from a portable speaker, around 50 people took to the streets of Skid Row and made their way to City Hall.

Their demand: give us the same transportation infrastructure as the yuppies in this case, bike lanes.

Helmet

“That’s part of the ‘dirty divide,’” Wesley Walker, an organizer with LACAN, told ATTN:.

Over by the coffee shops and pet stores, public safety doesn’t just mean police, but investments, like that barrier of potted plants, aimed at preventing deaths by vehicle in a city still very much dominated by cars. “When you get to the Skid Row area,” said Walker, “the bike lanes stop.”

dog ride

To those unfamiliar with this particular impoverished neighborhood, it might come as a strange request. In some other places, bike lanes are often fiercely opposed by locals in poor or mixed-income neighborhoods who believe them to be a gateway to two-wheeled gentrifiers pricing them out of their homes.

“I beg to differ,” Walker said. “We need to have the bike lanes here for safety. The traffic is really heavy. And that traffic is not all cars or bikes; with tents taking up much of the sidewalk, people pushing shopping carts must turn to the asphalt, too."

It’s not quite a bike lane activists here want, then, but bike-cart lane something that reflects the needs of those with the least.

sidewalk

“We don’t feel it’s a gentrification issue,” said an LACAN volunteer, Craig R., who declined to give his last name. “It’s a safety issue.” They installed buffered lanes downtown for that reason, he explained, “skipping over Skid Row. But Skid Row has the highest density of bike riders in LA.”

Bike lanes would also provide one less reason for Skid Row’s residents to interact with police. At Saturday’s ride, more than a half-dozen officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrived offering to escort the group ride around town. While police have no say over who gets bike lanes, one officer’s comments when told the purpose of the ride did cut to the chase as to why the part of town with the most bicyclists per block doesn’t get bike lanes like the one next to the new condos downtown.

police

“You know, Skid Row’s a different place,” said Sergeant Jheon. He wouldn’t provide ATTN: his first name, but did argue in a brief interview that one of the riders’ stated concerns that the lack of bike lanes leads to more police citations was unfounded. “We don’t usually do that here,” he maintained, echoing what he said about the lack of dedicated lanes for bicyclists: “because Skid Row’s a different place.” 

But people who are different who may be addicted to drugs or alcohol and coping with untreated mental illness do have the same basic needs as others. Society has failed to provide a crucial one, shelter, making Saturday’s call rather modest: if not a house, at least a lane for a bike.

Organizers said the ride would be the first of many.