Thursday, November 27, 2008

CityWatchLA - Griffith Park Festival of Rights

CityWatch, Nov 28, 2008
Vo. 6 Issue 96

The City
By Stephen Box

The Griffith Park Festival of Lights opened with a whimper this past Monday night as Councilmember Tom LaBonge joined the DWP in hosting the Festival's token "Bike-Night."

This year the displays were brighter, the attendance was lighter, and LaBonge's stubborn resolve to limit cyclists to this one night of pre-holiday festivities was as strong as ever.

LaBonge reaffirmed his claim that it's simply not safe for cyclists to ride on the street at night with so many automobiles, forgetting that Crystal Springs is striped with a bike lane. Well, it was. Actually, the bike lane disappears during the Festival of Lights in order to create another lane for motor vehicles.

All this from the self-proclaimed Patron Saint of Cyclists!

This is the 13th year for the Griffith Park Festival of Lights. It was originally conceived by Councilmember John Ferraro as LA's "gift to the people." Ferraro was inspired by a Festival of Lights he witnessed in San Antonio and he returned to Los Angeles vowing to create a display worthy of LA. This he accomplished, in ways he may not have imagined.

In all fairness to the DWP, this year's festival shows great improvement with two weeks (November 25 - Dec 7) set aside for a vehicle-free festival featuring special accommodations for equestrians (Tues, Wed, Thurs) and even a protected lane for the peds who bring their dogs. In other words, even those who arrive by dog-sled can enjoy the Festival of Lights, all while cyclists are banned.

The progressive changes in the operation of the Festival are largely the result of strong lobbying from the Parks, Rec and Open Space Committee (PROS) led by Bernadette Soter and a coalition of supporting organizations which includes the Los Feliz Improvement Association, the Oaks Homeowners Association, the Sierra Club, the Greater Griffith Park, the Hollywood United and the Atwater Village Neighborhood Councils, the Bike Writers Collective and a full complement of community groups that totals approximately 30.

The Coalition has long been advocating for improvements to the auto-centric, environmental nightmare that the Festival of Lights wreaks on the local community. Fully a half-million people arrive each year to enjoy "LA's gift to the people" resulting in traffic congestion so significant that the adjacent freeway is brought to a halt. Festival attendees sit in traffic congestion so thick that the notion that cyclists would be endangered is laughable. (Coughable?) Signs announcing 90 minute to 2 hour delays in traffic bear witness to the significant negative impact that the large number of idling vehicles represent, all as they wait for access to the one-mile long Festival of Lights.

Meanwhile, cyclists are banned in order to allow for more motor vehicles. (Or was it for the safety of the cyclists?)

In either case, the "Yea for Motorists! Nay for Cyclists!" Griffith Park Light Festival is well under way, with only one week left to join the DWP in its effort to help the City of LA become "America's Greenest City!" and to enjoy the vehicle (and bicycle) free Festival. After that it's business (bike-free) as usual.

As for the cyclists of Los Angeles, December 8th, which is the opening night for the motor vehicle crowd, is also the night for the Griffith Park "Festival of Rights," a ritual ride of protest where cyclists adorn themselves in the appropriate holiday decorations and ride through the gridlock, sharing holiday goodwill and cheer with the motorists who find themselves trapped in the awe-inspiring gridlock that is most certainly worthy of a city such as LA. This was certainly not what Ferraro had in mind. (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at )

INFO: For the “Festival of Rights” ride, cyclists meet at the Mulholland Fountain at the SW corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Crystal Springs/Riverside Drive at 6:30 p.m. December 8 and ride @ 7:00 pm. (3700 Los Feliz Blvd. LA, CA 90027)

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