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Streetsblog LA Editor Kept Out of Metro Meeting Due to Bike Tools

“You can’t bring these tools into the building” – the sheriff holding my bike tools. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

I was going to post an article today about Metro's East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor Project.

But I had trouble getting into this morning's public hearing.

This morning I rode the Red Line subway and the Orange Line BRT, then bicycled three miles to the Zev Yaroslavsky Family Support Center at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Saticoy Street in Van Nuys. The Yaroslavsky center is part of the county's Department of Public Social Services (DPSS); it's a place where low-income folks go to access public services, including food stamps and Medi-Cal.

I locked my bike up at the bike racks in front of the building. I walked up and put my backpack and bike bag onto the conveyor belt to send them through the metal detector.

I bike for transportation. I carry a pump, spare tube, and tools for minor repairs.

As a reporter, I have submitted my belongings for inspection thousands of times to attend meetings at Metro headquarters, City Halls, the County Hall of Administration, and other government buildings. Prior to 9/11, I carried a bike multi-tool that included a knife blade, but as public buildings tightened security, I replaced it with a multi-tool that does not include anything sharp. These days, I attend meetings at Metro headquarters or L.A. City Hall nearly every week and I have no problem with my current set of bike tools. Sometimes guards want to see my tools, and once they see there's nothing sharp, they let me in.

Once in a blue moon, there is a guard who won't let me and my tools pass. This last happened about a decade ago at the LADWP headquarters, and I was able to ask to see a supervisor, who took a look at the tools and let me in.

Security this morning at the Zev Yaroslavsky Family Services Center

This morning, there were two security workers and an L.A. County Sheriffs Department officer working the door at the Yaroslavsky center. The guards and sheriff said that I couldn't bring in any tools.

I asked if I could leave the tools with them. They said I could leave them in a trash can and retrieve them on way out.

I asked to see their policy. It was posted and had a prohibition against any tools more than three inches long.

Wrenches and multi-tool that I bike with daily
Wrenches and multi-tool that I bike with daily

The sheriffs officer objected to a Phillips-head screwdriver, that is part of a three-inch-long bike multi-tool that's mostly Allen wrenches. The officer kept picking up my multi-tool, opening the two-inch Phillips-head screwdriver and making a jabbing motion - as if to convince me it was a weapon.

This is how the sheriff officer gestured with my small Phillips-head screwdriver
This is how the sheriff officer gestured with my small Phillips-head screwdriver
The Phillips-head screwdriver is 2-inches long as part of a 3-inch long multi-tool
The Phillips-head screwdriver is 2-inches long as part of a 3-inch long multi-tool

I asked to speak with a supervisor. I talked with an LASD representative on the phone, then with the manager of the building. The manager suggested I move my bike to the back of the building and leave my tools on it there. He asserted that bringing bike tools -- which he called "a sharp object more than three inches long" -- into the building was "dangerous to other people."

Twice I was told to put the tools "in your car."

Finally, I threw my tools into the trash and went into the meeting.

The meeting offered plenty of anti-bike sentiment: (These meetings continue tonight and this week; cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders should attend and speak.)

    • Metro's project manager was generally good in describing the beneficial aspects of the planned transit project to an audience that expressed some hostility and skepticism (mostly due to the need for property acquisition for a rail yard). He sounded a wrong note, to my ears, in describing Metro's inclusion of first/last mile improvements, which he characterized as to "improve aesthetics," then went on to list possible first/last mile features including wheelchair access curb-cuts. Is that really just aesthetics? Please, Metro, the vast majority of your riders arrive by foot and by bike. Please don't devalue our trips by calling our facilities "aesthetic improvements" or amenities.
    • A representative from the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) stated the organization's position that "bike lanes are not appropriate for Van Nuys Boulevard," and that the project instead needs to preserve parking there. A speaker who mentioned he was from the Panorama City Neighborhood Council stated that bicycles on the "high traffic corridor" was "just dumb" and urged Metro to provide a corresponding bike facility somewhere else that was quieter.

I went back to the security checkpoint just in time to see one of the security officers pouring coffee into the trash can where my tools were. I fished out my wet tools, took off on my bike, and headed home.

When I am cycling, drivers cut me off and honk at me. When I park my bike, racks are often substandard and often installed badly. I attend public meetings, where I am told that I don't deserve safety, where I am told that I don't pay taxes for transportation, that "normal people" drive, and that "every lane is a bike lane" so I shouldn't push for anything safe for cyclists. On social media, I see a similar stream of insults.

Yaroslavsky center, according to one website, has a 1,326 space parking structure. At at typical Los Angeles construction estimate of $25,000 per above ground structured parking space, this represents a $33 million investment for drivers.

I expressed frustration at the security guards. I wonder how a working class immigrant cyclist - who often ride on less reliable bikes, and carry less compact tools to keep those bikes working - would have fared in an encounter where they got mad at a Sheriff's deputy.

I get around by bike and transit because I want a healthier, safer city for me, for my family, and for all Angelenos. I want a great, healthy, safe city for my daughter to grow up in. At a time when record-breaking climate change-charged hurricanes are causing massive devastation, and when state climate change goals call for reducing greenhouse gases from the transportation sector, this morning's encounter with more official bike hostility feels discouraging. It dampens my hopes for the future. If L.A. is ever going to get to be a sustainable equitable livable city,  cycling - including the tools and infrastructure people need to keep rolling - is going to need to affirmed as legitimate and acceptable.

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