A ceremony was held last week in Highland Park to inaugurate the installation of a new traffic signal on Figueroa Street at Avenue 55, where residents have complained of speeding drivers and unsafe conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.
First District Councilman Gil Cedillo represents the area and was joined at the May 13 installation ceremony by students, teachers and parents from Monte Vista Elementary School.
The new traffic signal is part of his effort to improve public safety in the district, Cedillo said.
“Accidents happen, there’s no question about it,” the councilman told the group. That’s why “we want to make a safe [North Figueroa] corridor,” he added.
Traffic safety on Figueroa is a hot button issue in Highland Park.
Lea este artículo en Español: La Seguridad del Tránsito Continúa Siendo un Problema para Cedillo
Some have sought to blame Cedillo personally for fatal accidents along the commercial corridor, such as those involving a speeding driver who struck Yolanda Espinoza Lugo in a marked crosswalk on Figueroa and Avenue 24, then sped away, and another involving a 17-year-old student from Montebello who was fatally hit by a city-operated semi-truck near his Highland Park school.
But according to Cedillo, since taking office in 2013 he has been actively working with the city’s transportation department to install safety enhancements – such as the traffic lights between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60 that give pedestrians more to time to cross the street and now the signal on Avenue 55.
Another traffic signal is coming soon to Avenue 51 and rectangular rapid crosswalk beacons will be installed on Avenues 35, 41 and 60, according to Cedillo’s Communications Director Fredy Ceja.
“As the local government, public safety is our number one obligation,” Cedillo said last week.
Highland Park resident Jessica Sevillano is the mother of one of the second-graders at the ceremony. She told EGP she thinks Cedillo is doing a good job, but added he could have made the improvements a long time ago and prevented some of the tragedies.
“There have been too many accidents,” she said in Spanish, pointing out that her mother was nearly hit while crossing the street with her son.
“Maybe he has too much work and he didn’t notice before, but this light is much needed,” she told EGP.
Traffic safety work has been done as fast as possible, counters Cedillo’s chief of staff Arturo Chavez. He told EGP that from planning to installation, a new traffic light usually takes two years: “We did it in nine months,” he said about the signal on Avenue 55. “But when accidents happen, there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent them. A light is not going to prevent them, a crosswalk is not going to prevent them,” he said.
It’s the same point the councilman made an article published by EGP earlier this year. Cedillo told EGP people must take responsibility for their actions. You cannot drink and drive or be texting while driving or walking, he said, explaining that distracted motorists and pedestrians are a safety hazard.
While Cedillo supporters tout his efforts to improve the district, citing his work to clean areas filled with debris and to remove bulky items and make streets safer, others complain that he’s more interested in what big donors to his campaign want. They say he needs to be more hands on and visible.
A local bike activist who often takes to social media to launch barrages of criticism at Cedillo, particularly on traffic safety, has decided to challenge the councilman in the next election. Josef Bray-Ali owns the Flying Pigeon bike shop in Cypress Park and says he has decided to turn his anger into activism.
About two weeks ago, Bray-Ali, 37, filed with the LA City Ethics Commission to start fundraising as a candidate for CD-1 in the March 2017 Primary Election. He hopes to open his campaign office a few doors down from his store by the end of the month.
According to Bray-Ali, he tried for nearly two years to meet directly with Cedillo to discuss the safe-street plan, but could never get past his staff.
“I went from the chief of staff to the field rep to receptionist, and I wouldn’t pass from there,” he told EGP Monday. “We have become a bunch of nobodies in our own neighborhoods,” he complained.
Among his chief complaints was the councilman’s decision to halt plans to build dedicated bike lanes along Figueroa. The proposed “road-diet” would have run from Colorado Boulevard to San Fernando Road. It was shortened to run between York and San Fernando but was eventually completely cancelled per Cedillo’s request to LADOT, according to Bray-Ali.
“There’s a lot of negative emotions that I have towards him as a politician because of the fight that we put to try to get the bike lane along Figueroa,” Bray-Ali said, “and the councilman stopped this project for reasons that are not clear.”
While running for city council, Cedillo expressed support for the road diet, dedicated bike lane plan. But after taking office and holding community meetings on the topic, he dropped his support for the plan, citing the complaints of people who travel the corridor and businesses along the route that reducing lanes for cars will cause traffic tie-ups and increase emergency response times.
Bray-Ali’s and other bike lane supporters’ social media postings, using the hashtags #chaleconCedillo and #RoadKillGil, have blamed the councilman’s cancellation of bike lanes for accidents along Figueroa and in some cases for accidents in other parts of the district.
Chavez calls the postings offensive. He said a road diet alone would not stop people from speeding and questioned why for some people a road diet is a better solution than a street light.
Bray-Ali said the bike route is not his only reason for running for office. He says he wants to build stronger neighborhoods that are more connected.
“I want small incremental growth instead of the big buildings,” he said, emphasizing that renting and buying property nowadays has become almost impossible for residents of the area.
“What are we doing that is failing? Why were generations earlier getting property and we can’t?” he questioned, calling Cedillo’s representation of the district “incompetent.”
The problem of housing affordability, however, is a citywide issue. The city council is considering charging developers fees to pay for more affordable housing or to require that their projects include set-asides for those types of units.
Last August Cedillo announced a plan to use about $9 million available to his district through “excess bond proceeds” left over from the city’s former redevelopment agency, to subsidize some of the 15,000 affordable housing units in danger of being removed from the housing market.
“We are really doing a great job in this area and we are cleaning it up like we committed and making it safer,” Cedillo told EGP.
“Sometimes people who don’t live in our district want to come and criticize us.”