Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
On the eve of the car-free festival CicLAvia, Tito's Tacos is on the wrong side of history.
CicLAvia is headed to West Los Angeles this weekend, where it’ll turn a cluster of high-traffic streets into cyclist and pedestrian through-ways for a single, high-spirited day. Past events have drawn hundreds of thousands of participants. But one Westside outpost is not so thrilled: Tito’s Tacos, a popular 56-year-old Mexi-American canteen along the planned route.
According to L.A. Weekly, Tito’s owner Lynne Davidson is threatening "to file a claim under the Government Code against the City of Culver City and CicLAvia”—whatever that means. In an op-ed on a local news site, Davidson writes:
I come here to express my utter outrage that the city and some non-profit group called CicLAvia will close Tito’s Tacos on Sunday, Aug. 9, to our regular customers — many of whom come from as far as Santa Barbara, Riverside and San Diego counties.
Davidson also made the curious argument that August 9 is “traditionally is one the biggest days of the year” for the business.
CicLAvia isn’t closing anything but streets, of course—and only a few of those. Aaron Paley, co-founder and executive director of CicLAvia, pointed out to L.A. Weekly that Tito’s customers can park on a street about block away from the restaurant. That’s besides the fact that thousands of new customers will be exposed to the well-trafficked taco shop.
But Davidson’s grumpiness is more than a case of NIMBYism. It's about an old L.A. guard dying hard. Tito’s is a hold-out from the olden days of Southern California Mexican cuisine. Lines form out the door for tacos involving grey plops of refried beans, curls of American cheese, and cellophane lettuce, packaged in styrofoam for easy consumption in your car. Its bright red-on-yellow pylon, easily visible from the southbound I-405, signals loud and clear to the Jonathan Golds of the world: Find your truckside lengua somewhere else.
CicLAvia, on the other hand, is the lynchpin in so many conversations about the future of the city. It is regularly invoked by those cheering for the metropolis’s gradual transformation away from auto-dependence, towards a less segregated, more transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly place.
One commenter on L.A. Weekly ‘s Facebook page got it right: “On the wrong side of the cultural shift,” he wrote of Tito’s. “They should get busy figuring out how to serve the cyclists.”
That’s true for the future of L.A. and for the future of Tito’s. Study after study has shown that under the right circumstances, cyclists inject more money into local economies over time, compared to drivers. CicLAvia’s own economic benefits have been proven: Businesses saw a 10 percent bump during one 2013 event.
“Our world is becoming a bad taco,” wrote another commenter on the L.A. Weekly story. Not if CicLAvia can help it.
UPDATE, 4:10 PM: It looks like Tito’s has come around.
We will be OPEN on Sunday, August 9th, from 10am to 10pm. Temporary bike racks will be provided by CicLAvia.— Titos Tacos (@titostacos) August 7, 2015