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Activist, 84, Wins Ban on Skateboards and Bikes

December 08, 1988|SHERYL STOLBERG | Times Staff Writer

Skateboarders and cyclists, pull over.

Bess Akerson, age 84 and an avid walker, is making headway in her 10-year crusade for the rights of the few who still use their feet to get around.

Akerson has for the past decade been pushing for a ban on bicycles and skateboards on the sidewalks of downtown San Pedro. She says riders pose a safety hazard to pedestrians.

At a special meeting in San Pedro recently, the Los Angeles City Council agreed. By an 11-0 vote--after a debate about whether such a ban should be citywide, whether it would create confusion and how it would be enforced--the council enacted the prohibition, which will apply on the sidewalks of a 4-block area of San Pedro's downtown business district.

The ban, proposed by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores at Akerson's request, prohibits riding on the sidewalks between 5th and 9th streets from Centre Street to Pacific Avenue. It is a pilot program and will be reevaluated after six months.

Enforcement will not begin until signs go up notifying cyclists and skateboarders of the ban.

The action makes San Pedro the second Los Angeles community to have such a ban. According to Assistant City Atty. John Haggerty, the first is Venice, where skateboarders and cyclists are prohibited from riding on certain sidewalks. In both communities, riders may walk or carry their vehicles in the areas that are off limits.

Councilman Joel Wachs was by far the most outspoken in questioning the proposed ordinance. The councilman from the San Fernando Valley said he did not see why San Pedro needs a ban any more than Van Nuys or Studio City. He said any policy should be citywide, adding that he was particularly concerned that a violation could go on an offender's record as a criminal misdemeanor.

"A misdemeanor is not something anyone wants to take lightly. I mean, a misdemeanor is the same thing you get for smoking a joint," Wachs said, provoking a few titters among the audience.

Councilman Nate Holden, meanwhile, said the ordinance would send a confusing message to children who have always been able to ride where they pleased. Holden said he envisioned cops yanking 8-year-olds off the sidewalks and slapping them with tickets.

But perhaps, in a city where the freeways are jammed and parking spaces are tight, council members found it difficult to vote against an octogenarian who promotes, of all things, walking.

Akerson, the only member of the public to speak on the proposed ordinance, told the council that life is getting tougher for San Pedro pedestrians.

She noted that revitalization efforts downtown will result in less sidewalk space because workers are installing benches and trees as part of a public improvements plan. She said the San Pedro Revitalization Corp., the private, nonprofit organization that manages downtown improvements, supports her position, as do many downtown merchants who are trying to attract shoppers to the business district.

"I am not a wicked old witch who would wish to cast children in front of a juggernaut down the street," she told the council. "But there are several categories of pedestrians in our community who are constantly endangered"--among them, she said, the elderly, the hearing-impaired and young mothers who push strollers.

"It does seem appropriate," she added, "that the term sidewalk should mean side walk ."

Council members--even those who challenged her--praised Akerson for the eloquence of her arguments. Holden shook her hand after the vote.

For her part, Akerson said she was just "glad that I have been left around" to see it happen.

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