Strolling Figueroa Street with Google Maps

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)

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(All images via: Google Maps Street View)

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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
  • 3 people wearing helmets
  • 1 bike with a rear basket
  • 0 “hipsters”

A Transforming Colorado Boulevard

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Colorado Blvd now has bike lanes to improve the safety and comfort of people bicycling

Colorado Boulevard has long held a reputation as an unfriendly street with a notorious traffic safety record. Fortunately, thanks to local leadership from Councilmember Huizar, Take Back The Boulevard, and Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, changes have been made to the street within the past few months to improve safety and make the street more pleasant for walking and bicycling.

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The Sad State of Traffic Safety in Northeast LA

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A crash on Colorado Blvd by the Eagle Rock Plaza

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.

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A Safer and Greener North Figueroa St.

NFigueroaProposal(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.

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The State of the Streets

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(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.
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A Freeway Scar in Glassell Park

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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.
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