The triangular surface parking lot outside of Delevan Elementary (visible in background). A row of trees planted in the parkway along Wawona Street visually obscure the park lot’s bleakness. Image via: Google Maps
Surface parking lots are seldom thought to be aesthetically pleasing. In fact, whether they are empty or cluttered with cars, the oil-stained asphalt areas are often considered downright ugly. Residents of Northeast LA – newcomers and old-timers alike – upon seeing photographs of beautiful buildings that once stood where strip-malls and surface parking lots exist today frequently lament the architectural losses. The damage can be observed throughout the neighborhood but there is no turning back to prevent the mistakes of the past.
Nowadays, locals are much more tuned into local development plans and it is difficult to imagine any existing buildings being demolished to create strip-malls or parking lots. Along much of Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock such development plans are explicitly prohibited thanks to the Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan. But there is no denying that we must live with many of the surface parking lots we have today into the foreseeable future, either out of necessity or because development can take decades to transform an area since it happens incrementally on a case-by-case basis.
Poorly marked crosswalk makes an unclear intersection more uncomfortable for pedestrians. Via: Google Maps
It could be you were driving to the 2 Freeway entrance on Wawona Street. Or perhaps biking to Fresh & Easy down on Eagle Rock Boulevard. Or, maybe, you saw families walking to and from Delevan Drive Elementary. If you live in the southwestern portion of Eagle Rock, have regular business that takes you to the area, or simply pass through for regional travel, chances are you are familiar with the bizarre five-way intersection of York Boulevard, Avenue 42, and Valley Vista Drive.
An aerial view of the intersection of York, Ave 42, and Valley Vista. Via: Google Maps
To be sure, Northeast LA is home to many unusual streets and intersections due to the local topography, but five-way intersections are still a bit of an oddity here. The York-Avenue 42-Valley Vista intersection can be particularly problematic because it is so heavily traveled compared to other odd intersections, which tend to be on residential streets with very little through traffic. A quick scan of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System reveals that this intersection has not seen many reported collisions but this does not mean the intersection is perfect, free of conflict, or even safe. Anecdotally, users of the intersection experience several issues, including: Continue reading →
Two people lean against the exterior of The Coffee Table and soak in the sun
The above photo – depicting two people leaning on the exterior of The Coffee Table on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock – was tweeted from the Walk Eagle Rock Twitter account on April 1, 2014. Within a couple hours it received 7 retweets and 8 favorites. The caption attached to the photo read “Eagle Rock could use more public seating. People are hungry for places to sit and enjoy the street.”
Considering most tweets from the Walk Eagle Rock account receive no feedback, this picture seemed to resonate with people, and maybe there’s a good reason. Presently Colorado Boulevard, while it features some outdoor dining, offers no outdoor public seating for those looking to spend time on the boulevard. While Eagle Rock’s main street has new crosswalks and a growing number of thriving local businesses, there are few opportunities to comfortably sit outside, people-watch, and enjoy public life in the beautiful community we are fortunate to live in.
This is a bit of a shame, since people sitting and enjoying the sidewalk help bring the street to life. Look what happens on days Casa Bianca is open… Continue reading →
By letting people zoom in to the street level of any location, the “street view” feature on Google Maps can be a great tool for exploring the neighborhood in a matter of minutes without taking a single step. Because the Google van that records the neighborhood shows up randomly and unannounced, the feature typically offers a nice snapshot of what conditions are like on any given day in a neighborhood. A look at North Figueroa Street* with “street view” seems to reflect this and confirms what anyone who uses the street regularly likely already knows– a lot of people ride bikes on the street! Let’s take a stroll and see how many bikes we can spot…
*(Between York Boulevard and San Fernando Road)
(All images via: Google Maps Street View)
So what did we see?
18 people bicycling, or walking with bikes
10 people with bikes on the sidewalk (but only 3 of them actually riding)
6 people bicycling or walking their bike while wearing a backpack
In recent years Colorado Boulevard has been the most widely discussed street when it comes to talk of traffic safety in Northeast LA. The attention dedicated to Colorado Boulevard is well warranted, however it is not the only dangerous street in the neighborhood. There are many streets in Northeast LA that enable the kind of reckless driving we regularly experience and cause the crashes that scar the community. Ten years of collision data (2002 through 2011) accessible through UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, or TIMS, reinforces the need to take traffic safety more seriously on all our streets.
(A greener future for North Figueroa St.? A planted median down the center, marked crosswalks with center refuge area, bike lanes and curbside parking on both sides of the street.)
Over two years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) first shared conceptual plans for bike lanes on North Figueroa Street between Colorado Boulevard and York Boulevard. The plans proved disappointing as they did nothing to address the excessive speeding the street experiences and hardly did anything to improve conditions for people bicycling. Bike advocate Joe Linton (author of Down By the Los Angeles River) suggested the LADOT consider a reconfiguration commonly known as a “road diet.” This would make the street look more like York Boulevard does between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Avenue 54.
(It has bike lanes, bus stops, and sidewalks, but is Eagle Rock Boulevard an example of a complete street?)
In Northeast LA, to feel safe and comfortable while encountering minimal inconveniences when traveling through the neighborhood and taking advantage of what it has to offer, one must own a car. If one observes the streets on any given day, this appears to not be an issue at first glance. Cars are appropriated a large portion of the public streets and dominate the urban landscape with their presence as they have throughout the city for the past several decades. One may be inclined to believe, by seeing the clear majority of trips being made by automobile, that the status quo is perfectly fine.
However, to fully understand the state of Northeast LA’s streets, one cannot just observe the existing conditions and assume the status quo is the desired result of a neutral transportation environment. One must walk the neighborhood’s streets, cycle on them and take public transit to reach local destinations– both day and night, and in varying weather conditions. One must follow the day-to-day travel of school children, the disabled, the poor, and the elderly. Furthermore, one must also examine elements such as topography and traffic data on the street to identify issues that may not be apparent from mere observations, issues such as: collision history, traffic volumes, and neighborhood travel patterns. It is only by viewing the streets holistically – from the perspective of all travel modes and varying personal mobilities – that one comes to understand the existing street conditions are not desirable, nor do they reflect an unbiased streetscape design. The conditions along Eagle Rock Boulevard, which runs just over three miles through Northeast LA and is one area’s major north-south corridors, are telling of the community’s streets at large. The street captures the many varying physical characteristics of neighborhood’s streets, and reveals the social imbalances and infrastructural short-comings of the area. Continue reading →
Overlooking where the 134 and 2 freeways tie together– Downtown LA is visible off in the distance.
It may be hard to imagine today, but there was a time when freeways didn’t cut through Northeast LA. The land occupied by freeways today was not undeveloped: homes had to be demolished, hillsides flatted, streets removed altogether to make way for the massive automobile infrastructure that encircles the neighborhood. Large parts of Northeast LA were erased for freeways – lost in the name of progress – leaving residents with little more than memories of a pre-freeway Northeast LA, memories which will fade as those who lived through local freeway construction continue to age and become a smaller portion of the population. Old photos and local newspapers from the area documented freeway construction in Northeast LA, but there is little physical evidence one can encounter today that shows signs of the past; things were either destroyed or preserved–very few parts of the urban landscape were only partially destroyed for the freeways.
Maps offer good indications of how things used to be; looking at a map, one can see streets currently bisected by freeways, mentally “connect the dots,” and visualize how the streets used to run uninterrupted before the freeways arrived. However, every now and then, if one looks closely, one will notice subtle hints in the urban landscape – in addition to what maps and street names offer – from the time before freeways came to Northeast LA. In northern part of Glassell Park, close to the neighborhood’s border with the city of Glendale, there is a fascinating hint of the past, which now sits as a scar from the 2 Freeway’s destructive path through the neighborhood. Continue reading →