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.
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.
More and more, people are riding bikes throughout the neighborhood and the surest sign of this is the growing number of families seen cycling for local trips. Haven’t noticed? See the below collection of photos…
As many likely know by now, Colorado Boulevard will undergo some changes this August to make the street safer and improve conditions for walking and bicycling. Currently, one of the barriers to a pleasant and convenient walk on Colorado is the glaring absence of safe, comfortable crossing opportunities. In August, alongside buffered bike lanes, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) will also add a couple of crosswalks to where our neighborhood’s main street intersects with El Rio Avenue and Glen Iris Avenue. While additional crosswalks are sorely needed, one cannot help but to wonder if two additional crosswalks will be enough to make Colorado Boulevard a pleasant street for pedestrians.
Where Are Crossings Needed?
Upon a quick review of Colorado Boulevard, it appears that the LADOT opted to add crosswalks so that crossing opportunities are spaced more evenly throughout the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor; they will be adding crosswalks to the big gaps in crossing opportunities. While that certainly is one way to approach the need for crosswalks, it can overlook other details of the street, including: how people use the street and where crosswalks would be most useful.
On commercial corridors, crosswalks are most needed where people are found walking. While this may seem obvious, not all portions of commercial corridors are necessarily attracting foot traffic and this is certainly true of Colorado Boulevard. Due to the street’s history and inconsistent development patterns along its commercial portion, certain parts of the street attract more travel by foot than others.
The most walkable part of Colorado Boulevard is 0.7 mile long stretch between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Townsend Avenue. This portion developed as it did largely because it had a streetcar running along it, encouraging pedestrian oriented commercial development during the neighborhood’s earlier years. Thanks to the effort of historic preservationists, a considerable number of pedestrian oriented buildings remain here, and as a result, this part of Colorado Boulevard attracts the most foot travel because it provides the most pleasant and convenient walking experience. It is perhaps no surprise then that this is also where there is the most demand for safe and pleasant crossing opportunities.
Colorado Boulevard needs more crosswalks, because while any corner unless signage dictates otherwise is technically an “unmarked crosswalk,” the experience of crossing at an unmarked crosswalk on the street is very unpleasant. Rarely, if ever, do motorists yield to pedestrians as they should at unmarked crosswalks. Here’s what one typically sees at Colorado Boulevard’s “unmarked” crosswalks:
Trying to make their way across because they are patronizing a business on one side but parking on the other.
Here are more pictures of people crossing Colorado Boulevard at unmarked crosswalks:
(Screenshot from Figueroa For All’s website– the Cypress Park Neighborhood Council meeting for Tuesday has been cancelled.)
Readers of this blog are probably familiar with Take Back The Boulevard (TBTB) – Eagle Rock’s community initiative to revitalize Colorado Boulevard through transforming the street to create a more pedestrian friendly environment. However, readers may be unaware there is a similar grassroots movement afoot to do the same for North Figueroa Street– Figueroa For All (or fig4all as it is known on twitter).
Figueroa For All, as its recently launched website states, seeks to make North Figueroa a more livable street– this includes advocating for bike lanes on the street between Colorado Boulevard and San Fernando Road. Figueroa For All’s website will be the go-to place for anyone wishing to keep up with or support the initiative’s efforts.
Are you interested in helping Figueroa For All and bringing bike lanes to North Figueroa? Here are four things you can do: