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Under Election Pressure, L.A. City Councilmember Suddenly Supports Healthy Sustainable Transportation

By Joe Linton

Earlier this week, responding to improved L.A. air quality under COVID-19 'safer at home' orders, L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu introduced a motion calling for a report on the costs of air pollution, and promoting telecommuting for city staff and others. The motion joins a similar COVID-19 air quality and telecommuting motion introduced by City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell in April.

Ryu announced the motion with a series of tweets stating he finds it "unacceptable" that "air pollution related illness costs... the health and lives of our City's people, particularly in communities of color." He further tweeted "I have spent years getting our City moving in a more sustainable and healthy way."

Streetsblog contacted Ryu's office to explain the claim of supporting sustainable healthy mobility. Ryu's Director of Communications Mark Pampanin responded that:

Councilmember Ryu was the first City Councilmember to call for dockless mobility throughout Los Angeles, and piloted dockless bikes in Griffith Park to prove their effectiveness and popularity. Despite some resistance, Councilmember Ryu has not wavered from his belief that dockless bikes and scooters are an important mobility option to reduce car dependence and solve first-mile, last-mile issues around transit. Speaking of transit, Councilmember Ryu has been a strong supporter of the Purple Line Extension as well as transit lines to the Valley through the Sepulveda Pass, and bringing electric DASH buses to Griffith Park.

When Streetsblog asked what Ryu is looking to do to improve the air quality situation for the communities of color mentioned in the tweet, Pampanin's response focused on improving access to Griffith Park and the L.A. River, park renovations in Central Hollywood and Mid City, bike-/scooter-share, and the telecommuting motion.

L.A. Twitter isn't buying Ryu's assertions. Numerous replies pointed out that his record is "Literally the opposite; pro parking, anti bike lane, anti road diet," that Ryu pressed for "more parking" and spent his term "making it more dangerous and unhealthy to get around this city,"

Though Ryu supported private shared scooters and bikes, he has opposed making L.A. streets safe for the people who ride on them. Ryu killed proposed road diet safety improvements on 6th Street in Mid-City West a block away from an under construction Purple Line station. Ryu funded a secretive study that appeared to lay the groundwork for removing proven-successful road diet safety improvements on Rowena Avenue in Silver Lake. Ultimately, Keep Rowena Safe community advocacy preserved the safety measures. Ryu joined Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Paul Koretz and Curren Price in pushing for bikeways to be removed from the city's multimodal Mobility Plan.

Why is Ryu suddenly asserting his support for sustainable healthy mobility?

Much of it may have to do with Ryu being in a tight run-off election against Nithya Raman. Raman is an urban planner and community advocate who advocates for a Green New Deal, sustainable transportation, renter protections, and ending city hall corruption. In the three-way March primary election Ryu received 44.74 percent to Raman's 41.09 percent. The Ryu-Raman runoff election will take place November 3.

Streetsblog emailed Raman for a comment on Ryu's motion. She responded:

While I appreciate the motion to look into supporting telecommuting for City employees and beyond, I do think that such measures prioritize the needs of white collar workers over the needs of so many people in the service industry and many others who do not have the option to work from home, and lack both the network of safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and plentiful access to public transit that this city so desperately needs.

L.A. Podcast co-host Scott Frazier characterizes the incumbent councilmember's newfound fondness for renters and clean air as "Ryu has dedicated himself completely to copying off Raman’s test." Raman responded to the assertion Ryu is taking up her policy positions, stating "Frankly, I wish he would adopt even more of them. That's precisely why we have put so many detailed policy platforms out as part of our campaign - so that sitting city councilmembers would see our ambitious vision for the city and the passionate support that our vision has generated and be inspired to do more themselves."

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