This past Monday, Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council members began receiving e-mails opposing the Department of Transportation’s plans to install bicycle lanes on Colorado Boulevard.
Each of the e-mails was copied to the same number of city officials, including the mayor and City Council members José Huizar, Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge. The e-mails were curious in one other respect: Each one had an identical form-letter text.
‘Save the Lanes’—For Cars
Late Tuesday, the ERNC received 12 e-mails opposing bike lanes, each with the same subject header: “SAVE THE LANES! Keep NELA Traffic Moving!” Eleven of the e-mails had a single, scanned and hand-signed form letter attached from workers at Century 21 Arroyo Seco at 5810 York Blvd., ERNC Vice President David Greene said, adding that the vast majority of the feedback the ERNC has got so far supports bike lanes.
The 12th e-mail had nine scanned and hand-signed form letters attached (see PDF). Eight of the form letters were from individuals who listed the address of a single building in Highland Park—5330 N. Figueroa St.—while one letter carried a York Boulevard address. Each of the e-mails read:
I’m disappointed to hear that L.A. is considering removing our auto lanes for bike lanes. I urge you to save the Auto lanes on Colorado and North Figueroa and replace the ones removed last October from York Boulevard.
At a recent HHPNC meeting, D.O.T. bike lane planning staff tipped their hand admitting that they secretly fear huge congestion problems when they said they cant do a temporary lane block off demonstration because, “… irate drivers will just get out of their cars and move the traffic cones.” They know how bad it will be, and how mad drivers will be.
Secondly, in the draft EIR for the bike plan, they [sic] only anticipated delays at three intersections along North Figueroa were studied. When planning staff were alerted to the omission of the Cold Line crossing as well as the intersections of North Figueroa and Meridian, both of which are well-known traffic bottlenecks, they displayed a classic “deer in the headlights look.” They knew of the potential for huge delays and either was [sic] negligent in their study or purposely omitted these intersections along with AVE. 43, 52 and 57, all well known for their rush hour congestion. Also, Colorado is often called upon as the ONLY alternate when the 134 freeway is blocked.
Our boulevards in Northeast L.A. are old and narrow and cannot afford to loose [sic] any auto lanes to the exclusive use of bicycle lanes. Our commuter time and traffic stress should not be ballooned by less than 1% of minority commuters who often are ill-mannered and traffic scofflaws.
Further, each of the e-mails was sent from an e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) associated with Galco’s Soda Pop Stop on York Boulevard. The signature on the first e-mail was particularly eye-catching. Clearly legible, it read: Adam Bray-Ali.
Not only is “Bray-Ali” an uncommon name, but anyone plugged into the bicycling world of Northeast L.A. immediately knows just who Adam Bray-Ali is: The older brother of Josef Bray-Ali, co-founder of The Flying Pigeon, a bicycle shop on Figueroa Street.
To see Bray-Ali’s signature on what is supposed to be an anti-bike petition is to instantly conclude that the signature might be a forgery. After all, the Bray-Ali brothers are to local bicycling what Muhammad Ali was once to world boxing.
So when Patch called Adam Bray-Ali, it was a surprise—initially not a very pleasant one—to learn that the signature was indeed his. (Even his brother Josef was surprised. "I just can't see this will have any net effect other than to further divide people on the issue," Josef said of the efforts of anti-bike lanes proponents to reverse the city's plans to create bike lanes on Colorado and Figueroa as part of the Los Angeles Master Bike Plan.)
It turned out, however, that Adam had signed the petition at the request of John Nese, the owner of Galco’s, who is a staunch opponent of removing traffic lanes for bike lanes. “I signed the petition not because I strongly believe in it but because it’s supported by an individual whom I admire,” Adam told Patch Friday.
“I think bike lanes in general are going to be an exceptional asset to the neighborhood,” Adam said, adding: “But my views are much more nuanced than those of the typical supporter of bike lanes.”
When Patch called Nese on Friday, he denied having any knowledge of Adam’s signature on the petition. “If you say Adam Bray-Ali signed it, you know more than I do,” he said.
Nese did confirm, however, that the form-letter petitions to city and neighborhood council officials were sent from his store’s e-mail address. But he denied he had any hand in directly e-mailing them.
“We made our ‘thing’ available to whoever wanted to send it [the petitions] out,” he said before hanging up the phone.
Boulevard Sentinel Connection
The e-mailed petitions all had a “Bcc” (Blind Carbon Copy) line to an e-mail address that read: Boulevardsentinel@gmail.com, presumably the e-mail contact for the Boulevard Sentinel newspaper published and edited by Eagle Rock native Tom Topping.
Topping is noted for his opposition to bike lanes. The April print issue of his newspaper, for example, has a poll on whether readers favor or oppose retaining vehicular traffic lanes.
“Auto traffic lanes have been removed on York Boulevard to make way for bicycle lanes” the poll starts out by saying. “Plans to do the same on Colorado Boulevard and North Figueroa are in progress. Did anyone ask you what you thought?”
In the online version of the Boulevard Sentinel, Topping gives the latest results from his evidently NELA-wide poll: Of the 568 votes or signed petitions received, 565 respondents favor auto lanes, as opposed to bike lanes—“about double the number the Eagle Rock Association recently bragged about collecting. (They claimed victory for “281 respondents” HA!).”
What Topping's poll results don’t say is that, TERA did not commission any poll on bike lanes. Rather, it was the “Take Back the Boulevard” initiative regarding Colorado Boulevard that did. (TERA president Bob Gotham is chair of the TBTB steering committee, which might have been the source of the confusion.) Further, of the roughly 280 responses that favored bike lanes in the TBTB poll, some 80 percent were from people who self-identified as Eagle Rock residents, while about 5 percent were from people who said they work but don't live in Eagle Rock, said Jeff Jacobberger, a Take Back the Boulevard consultant.
“It is not clear to me how Mr. Topping has been able to identify which respondents oppose bike lanes on Colorado vs. Figueroa, as he didn’t ask that question,” Jacobberger pointed out. “In my experience, it would highly unusual for any significant number of respondents to ‘write in’ responses distinguishing between the two streets.”
Besides, said Jacobberger, the Boulevard Sentinel is conducting a classic “push” poll, in which respondents are presented with “biased information” before being asked their opinion.
“Mr. Topping states that the plans for bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard are the ‘same’ as the existing configuration of York,” Jacobberger said, alluding to a crucial difference between the two boulevards: York has one through travel lane in each direction, while the plans for Colorado call for maintaining at least two travel lanes, plus right-and left-turn pockets, along all but the narrowest portions of Colorado.
“I am unable to find an accurate description of the Colorado bike lane proposal in the Boulevard Sentinel,” Jacobberger said. “How many people say they are opposed to bike lanes on Colorado because they think—inaccurately—that Colorado will be reduced to one lane in each direction?”
Patch called the Boulevard Sentinel for a comment and is awaiting a response.
Correction: The initial version of this article quoted Adam Bray-Ali as saying in an interview with Patch that he manages the property on 5330 N. Figueroa St., which John Nese owns. According to Bray-Ali, he does not manage the property on 5330 N. Figueroa St., where his office is based, and Nese does not own that building. Further, says Bray-Ali, he does not manage any properties for Nese, although some of his friends do, and he has known Nese for 15-plus years.
Correction Update: The above article made an incorrect assertion that Galco’s owner John Nese owns the property on 5330 N. Figueroa St. He does not own that property—nor any other that readers might infer from reading this story. Further, this is to reiterate that Adam Bray-Ali does not work with—or for—John Nese. Finally, John Nese wishes to clarify two points: First, he is not against bike lanes, as the article might have implied. He is, in fact, in favor of keeping auto lanes. And second, John Nese wishes to state that he did not sign up anybody for the petitions referred to in the article. In his words, he simply “dropped the petitions off.”