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.
(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:
If you want to see a safer, more civilized Colorado Boulevard be sure to voice your support at tonight’s Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council meeting. The meeting will start at 7pm and be held at Eagle Rock City Hall, located at 2035 Colorado Boulevard. If you want to speak at the meeting, you must fill out a speaker card at the beginning of the meeting.
(“Creating bike lanes by reducing the number of lanes available to motorists will hurt businesses,” one of the many arguments presented against bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard. See “Bike Lane Concern #4″ below to find out if bike lanes are really likely to hurt local business)
Bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard, as planned in the Los Angeles Bike Plan, are coming closer to being a reality– a meeting on March 27th hosted by council member Huizar’s office will be held to determine based on community input how to move forward, if at all, with bike lanes on Eagle Rock’s main street.
During on-going opportunities for community input throughout phases of the Bike Plan formation, the Bike Plan’s environmental impact review, and most recently at a public hearing regarding the results of the environmental impact review comments have been mostly positive. However, now concerns about the potential impact bike lanes may are popping up in growing numbers. There is nothing wrong with this, concerns are well warranted for any proposed changes in town and a change to Colorado Boulevard’s public right-of-way will affect daily travel for many.
To gain a clearer perspective of what the current circumstances are and what may possibly change as a result of bike lanes being implemented, it may be beneficial to have the recurring concerns and questions people have regarding bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard actually be addressed. That’s what this blog post will attempt to do– address concerns that have been raised in conversations about bike lanes in the community.
One concern regarding the potential installation of bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard is that it would cause a “traffic nightmare” since it would reduce the number of travel lanes available for motorists between Broadway and Townsend Avenue, a 1.5 mile stretch. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s (LADOT) Bikeways Division has communicated it doesn’t anticipate any major delays in travel times by implementing bike lanes but concerns among residents persist, and understandably so. However if a recent, temporary closure of a single travel lane is any indication, it seems Colorado Boulevard will function just fine if bike lanes are implemented.
Friday, January 11th, a film crew was out on Colorado Boulevard on the block between Caspar Avenue and Maywood Avenue and due to all the equipment present during the filming, one eastbound travel lane was closed to traffic on this block of the street. Generally speaking, such unanticipated lane closures tend to cause bottlenecking, but this was not the case on Colorado Boulevard during this particular filming. Eastbound traffic appeared to be moving just as smoothly with only two of three lanes available as the westbound traffic where there was no unexpected lane closure.
Could it be that the LADOT’s projections are accurate– that creating bike lanes by removing one travel lane for motorists really won’t have much impact on travel times?
This temporary block long lane closure can’t provide conclusive evidence of what conditions would be like with bike lanes but it was interesting to observe nonetheless. Below is a video of the traffic conditions as they appeared between 5pm to 5:25pm
(Note the block before the lane closure traffic was forced to merge from three lanes to two lanes and there didn’t appear to be any clogging of traffic there either.)
San Pascual Avenue, recipient of one of Highland Park’s newest bike lane
Avenue 66 and San Pascual Avenue recently received bike lanes as part of the LA Bike Plan; the bike lanes were implemented by simply narrowing existing travel lanes, no parking or mixed-traffic travel lanes were removed. The Avenue 66 bike lanes run for about half a mile, between York Boulevard and Meridian Street. The San Pascual Avenue bike lanes run for about 0.7 miles, between York Boulevard and Comet Street.
Looking South on the San Pascual Avenue, with new bike lane
As locals may know, both San Pascual Avenue and Avenue 66 are relatively calm streets. In fact, some may even question the merit of implementing bike lanes on already calm streets but a couple of observations can help put things in perspective, and justify their installation.
New bike lane on Avenue 66, looking North
Currently York Boulevard, which intersects with both streets, only has bike lanes between Eagle Rock Boulevard and North Figueroa Street. However, as part of the City’s bike plan, York Boulevard will eventually have bike lanes running in its entirety between Eagle Rock Boulevard and the South Pasadena city border. Once those bike lanes are in place, bicycle access in Northeast LA will vastly improve. One will be able to cycle from as far as Glassell Park and travel to San Pascual Park, being in a bike lane the entire time since Eagle Rock Boulevard – the street one would likely use to cycle from Glassell Park to San Pascual Park – already has bike lanes.
Another look at the San Pascual Avenue bike lanes
San Pascual Park is itself a beautiful, tranquil place to be but immediately adjacent there is also an access point to the Arroyo Seco trail. The dirt trail – popular with dog walkers and runners – runs along the Arroyo Seco, leading all the way to the Rose Bowl area, which of course also offers recreational opportunities. The bike lane is a piece of a developing bicycle network that can connect people to park-space and recreational opportunities without relying on private automobile or public transit.
Also, since the presence of bike lanes tend to make cycling more appealing to those who don’t cycle, the San Pascual Avenue bike lanes may even make biking to San Pascual Elementary an attractive alternative to walking or driving to school.
As for the Avenue 66 bike lanes, they admittedly do not lead to any particular destination but the lanes themselves do offer utilitarian and recreational opportunity for immediate area. It’s not unusual to see children cycling in the parking lot adjacent to the intersection of Avenue 66 and York Boulevard– now kids have bike lanes on Avenue 66, in addition to lanes on San Pascual Avenue, to ride to their hearts’ content.
The Avenue 66 bike lanes could also serve utilitarian purposes for adjacent residents. Once the York Boulevard bike lanes are extended, residents along Avenue 66 will be able ride to nearby Rite Aid and other business by bike and enjoy the comfort of being in a bike lane the entire time.
In themselves these new bike lanes may not seem very significant, but as Northeast LA’s bike network continues to grow, they will surely become more relevant and useful to the community.
(This is part 2 of a response to John Nese’s article “Safety on York Boulevard”. See an introduction and Part 1 here)
The article continues:
“I think bicyclists can be good for businesses like mine. In fact, I would love to see how creative cyclists can be with carrying their purchases. I know in some countries, it’s quite a feat to carry large packages, boxes, etc. atop a bike.
But my overall issue with bikes is about safety.”
- Nese asserts he feels bicyclists can actually have a positive impact on local business and this agrees with a growing number of studies that compare spending habits of cyclists and motorists. However Nese’s statement does not agree with his quoted comment in the Boulevard Sentinel’s article “New York Blvd. Lane Striping Annoys Business“. In that article Nese states, “the bike lanes are nice, but they’re not good for business. You’re not gonna see anyone buying cases of soda pop or anything else sizable when they’re on a bicycle”. The statement in the Sentinel is clearly in contradiction to the statement Nese makes on his website– which statement are we to believe?
- Nese then purports that despite his opinion that bicycling is good and that bicyclists can be good for local business, he is still too concerned with safety of York Boulevard’s new configuration. While it is too early to make conclusive and informed comments on the new bike lanes because they are less than a month old as of this writing, as stated earlier– this new lane configuration is a partial “road diet”, which have a positive safety track record.
Nese’s then recommends, what he believes, is a better, safer route for cyclists:
“I know there are safer routes for bikes, residential streets without the traffic we have on York. I wish that officials would have put the bike lane up one street away from York, say on Meridian [Street], a street that connects four schools – Occidental, Aladma, Yorkdale and Luther Burbank. Right now it’s labeled a Bike Route. Why couldn’t that have been a bike lane?”
- It’s true that adjacent residential streets such as Meridian Street can have a higher degree of safety due to relative lower motorized traffic volume and speed. However cyclists, like motorists, sometimes cannot avoid riding on York Boulevard even if they wanted to.
- Even if there were bike lanes on Meridian Street there would remain the need to improve cyclists’ safety on York Boulevard precisely because the street currently experiences dangerous speeding and lacks the subjective safety found on quitter, residential streets. However, Nese can take comfort in the fact that Meridian Street is slated to receive traffic calming treatment to make a safe, bike friendly route on that street as well.
Nese continues his article to shares an anecdote in which he hit a cyclist with his car when exiting the driveway of his business:
“About 6 months ago, I was leaving the store, heading out the exit onto York Boulevard. A mother and her three kids were cycling on the sidewalk and her little boy (all of them without helmets) was riding ahead of her and going very fast. He didn’t stop at the driveway and I didn’t see him until he was under my car and I heard a crunch.
I can’t tell you how frightened and scared I was. We called the police, ambulance and paramedics. The boy was fine, nothing broken, just scraps, but very shook up – as we all were. The police told the mom that he could have given her a ticket for riding on the sidewalk and for not wearing a helmet.
That episode turned out OK, but I worry that something similar is going to happen again with these bike lanes.”
- First off, while children under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets in Los Angeles, it is actually legal to cycle on the sidewalk– so what the police officer said in Nese’s anecdote is only partially true, the only citation the officer could give was for the children not wearing helmets. Secondly, it is likely that the family was cycling on the sidewalk only to compensate for a lack of a sufficiently safe bicycle facility on York Boulevard; perhaps if there were a safe bikeway this collision could have been avoided. Based on Nese’s experience it would seem he would support safety measures that help reduce the number of cyclists riding on the sidewalk, as bike lanes do.
- It should also not be forgotten that while it may be true that the child was at fault, any motorist exiting a driveway is legally required to yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and other roadway users– did Nese stop before crossing the sidewalk? If he did, how did he not see the cycling family before proceeding? It seems based on Nese’s own description there was a degree of negligence from both parties involved.
- Nese then states he believes the bike lanes can cause collisions similar to his experience where he hit a child cycling on the sidewalk. This belief does not quite match with reality; a bike lane places cyclists in a more visible location than the sidewalk, therefore eye contact can be made more easily and conflicts can be avoided as cyclists can now be expected in the designated bike lane.
Nese elaborates on his opposition to the York Boulevard bike lanes, with more generalizations about bicyclists:
“I worry that cyclists will think that bike lane line means that they are magically safe from two-ton cars that swish by at top speeds. I also can’t tell you the number of times I see cyclists riding without helmets or not adhering to simple laws of the road – like stopping for stop lights, signaling when they want to turn. For every biker with a helmet, I see 7 others without lights, reflectors or helmets.
Then there’s bikers plugged into technology, listening to MP3s or iPods while cycling. How on Earth can this be safe? I see that all too frequently! How do you know what’s going on around you?”
- It is true, mere painted bike lanes do not provide physical separation from careless drivers, however they do tend to improve safety, even when design is not perfect, as studies have shown numerous times.
- Nese then makes several generalizations about the behavior of cyclists based on his personal experience. Nese notes a lack of helmets. As mentioned before, helmets are only required for children under the age of 18 and helmets are not designed to save cyclists from collisions with motor vehicles.
- Nese then shares personal observations of cyclists that don’t adhere to traffic laws. Maybe Nese would be delighted with the new bike lanes if he knew that bike lanes tend to improve cyclist compliance with traffic laws, in part because they make cyclists feel more comfortable and less marginalized.
- Yes, there needs to be greater education to improve traffic laws and safety from the cyclists’ perspective, however cyclists aren’t the only ones to break traffic laws on York Boulevard. Observing any intersection on York one can see motorists failing to yield to pedestrians crossing, failing to adhere to speed limits, running red lights. Drivers are hardly saints on the road either, should we revoke privileges of law abiding motorists because of the behavior of scofflaw motorists?
Nese then says a safer future is possible, as he has seen in other cities:
“Other cities in the country, like Boulder, CO, are wonderful examples of riders knowing the rules of the road. We need to better educate our bicyclists here about safety, consideration and learn to share the road with other vehicles.”
- Nese’s example of a city where cyclists and motorists get along – Boulder, Colorado – is actually one of America’s most bike friendly cities, further confirming that cyclists behave better when they have safe, dedicated infrastructure. Boulder is designated a Platinum-level bike friendly city (alongside bike friendly Portland, Oregon and Davis, California) by the League of American Bicyclists.
- Nese’s subtly places the majority of responsibility on cyclists to behave better and learn to “share the road”. Of course, there is responsibility for motorists too– Los Angeles passed the nation’s first bicycle anti-harrassment law that protects cyclists legally from aggressive drivers because cyclists in Los Angeles have historically been threatened or harmed by drivers purely because of their status as bicyclist. There is work to be done on both ends of the spectrum and Nese should acknowledge this to appear less bias.
Nese closes his article with how he would improve safety, and then shares yet one more anecdote in which a cyclist broke a traffic law:
“Here’s an idea: let the local bike communities organize a free helmet give-away but first recipients must take a bike safety class and learn the right and wrong way to cycle.
The other day, I was driving and saw a rider go through a stoplight intersection without stopping. I beeped my horn at her, not just letting her know that she broke the law, but that also she could have been hit by side traffic. She turned to me and gave me the finger.
Once again, I worry about the safety of York Boulevard because of these bike lanes.”
- Surely Nese is being sincere with his suggestion of helmet distribution and education, though the best thing a city can do to improve safety for cyclists is provide infrastructure, as can be noted in America’s safest cities for cycling– like Portland, Davis, and Boulder.
- Nese’s anecdote of a cyclist running a red light is hardly unique but the described behavior is not isolated among cyclists. Drivers break traffic laws in Los Angeles everyday– causing great injury, damage and death. Furthermore, the poor behavior of cyclists is unlikely to injure anyone but the cyclist. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of car drivers breaking traffic laws. Anyone remember the driver that crashed into Troy’s Burger, on York Boulevard?
- If he were truly concerned with safety on York Boulevard, he would advocate measures that lower speed limits (like road diets). He may even advocate heavily restricting car use or getting rid of cars altogether as road traffic kills about 40,000 people per year in the United States and is the leading cause of death among young people. To quote Peter Jacobsen, a Sacramento Public Health Consultant “…if safety was our societal goal, we’d definitely get rid of automobiles”. John Nese, though surely sincere with his safety concern, is ignoring the bull in the china shop. There is danger on York Boulevard from a traffic perspective, and it largely comes from the people operating cars and traveling at speeds in excess of 30mph.
We at Walk Eagle Rock would like to close our response to John Nese’s article by clarifying a few things. First of all, we don’t doubt John Nese cares about safety. However, based on his article, we feel he is using the argument of safety to justify anti-bike measures and biases he has against cyclists. As our analysis of his article shows, he repeatedly makes generalizations about cyclists based on his personal experience as a means to argue against bicycle infrastructure.
In our response we have countered his anecdotal arguments with facts, references to California and Los Angeles traffic laws, and numerous studies. This 2 part response has also demonstrated that John Nese was simply lying about his reason for rejecting free, city provided bike parking– there would absolutely be no interference or conflict with his driveway. We feel our criticism is fair: we hope it can help enlighten John Nese to make better informed opinions with regard to safety and his views on cycling.
(Less than a day after Walk Eagle Rock published an article titled “Galco’s and Bike Lanes“, John Nese of Galco’s published – what appears to be a response – on his business’ website, an article titled “Safety on York Boulevard“. We at here at Walk Eagle Rock feel safety is paramount and we would like to address Nese’s article, which actually extends beyond safety and discusses Nese’s opinion on bicycling in Highland Park more broadly. The following is part 1 of 2 a response addressing claims made in Nese’s article)
Nese opens his article stating:
“The new bike lanes on York Boulevard scare me. Not just as a business owner, but a resident of the area and a grandfather.
I see cars, as many as 1,200 an hour I’m told, rushing down the street and, with the introduction of these bike lanes, I am fearful that when they meet up with a two-wheeled biker, things won’t be pretty and with the bicyclist getting the short end of the stick.”
- The source of the number of cars John Nese sees per hour is unverified. Tom Topping of the Boulevard Sentinel conducted an informal traffic count over the span of 30 minutes and counted 660 cars for his article “New York Blvd. Lane Striping Annoys Business“– we assume Nese is using Topping’s one-time counted figure and doubling it. This is an unreliable figure to use because many factors determine how many cars pass in an hour. Certainly more drivers are on the road during rush-hour than at 1:00pm, even day of the week can determine how many people are driving. To get a better idea of traffic volumes on York Boulevard, Nese would be better off consulting the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s (LADOT) traffic counts.
- In Nese’s second paragraph, he states he is concerned the new bike lanes may be making the street less safe. Why he feels this way is not clear though his paragraph suggests it has some relation to 1) the volume of motorized traffic, 2) the fact that he observes cars “rushing down the street”, and now 3) throwing bike lanes into the mix seems to just create more potential for conflict. This is in fact, on its face, a reasonable reaction. However it is necessary to look at the new street design more analytically before making assumptions based on anecdotal observations. What the LADOT has done on York Boulevard is convert one mixed traffic lane into two dedicated bike lanes. The new configuration is a partial implementation of a street design called a “road diet“. The LADOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) both recognize that road diets have a positive record of increasing safety for all users (cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers). The reasons why road diets improve safety are many, but include: improving speed limit compliance, reducing number of lanes with motorized traffic for pedestrians to cross, and creating a designated space for people bicycling.
Nese continues his article:
“Don’t get me wrong! I am not anti-bike! In this day and age of $5 a gallon gas, I think people are better off jumping on a bike than starting up their car. We have always welcomed bikers in the store, letting them bring bikes into the store while they shop. One bike group from San Gabriel makes a regular monthly trek to the store and we open the back for them to put their bikes in safety since many of them don’t own a bike lock.”
- Nese has now made an aside to explicitly states he is not anti-bike, however this is not reflected in what he writes. He makes many generalizations throughout his article, starting with the assumption in this paragraph that the majority of cyclists part of a bike group that regularly visits his business do not own bike locks. It is not clear exactly what kind of “bike group” it is that visits him, however based on Nese’s description, it sounds like it is a road cycling club riding for athletic recreation. If it is a road cycling club, it is likely that the cyclists merely do not cycle with locks. However, if any large group of cyclists arrive at Galco’s with bike locks, there are not even enough bike racks to lock so many bikes, in part because Nese rejected free city-provided bike parking on the public sidewalk in front of his business.
Nese then explains his position on bike racks:
“That said, bike racks in the area often sit unused. Right now, I look out across the street at a bike rack that is empty, but just steps away, an unlocked bike is casually leaning against the building. It just seems that many riders don’t own locks and chains – I see this every day on the boulevard. Every day.
I didn’t want officials to put bike racks in front of the store – where they were proposing the racks would have been right in front of the driveway into the store. It would have been too congested and I would have worried about cars hitting cyclists again. Most of the time, local bike racks sit unused as I said before.”
- Nese reiterates his assertion that many cyclists don’t own locks based on what he sees from his business at time of writing his article. What Nese describes is likely a person is leaning their bike against the building because they are only briefly going to be inside the adjacent destination. This is common practice among the average cyclist that does not fear their bicycle will be stolen when they’ll be away “for just a minute”.
- Nese explains why he rejected city provided bike parking on the public sidewalk in front of his business, claiming that the bike racks would be right in front of the driveway that accesses the parking lot adjacent to his business. This is false. Why? The LADOT has bike rack installation standards that explicitly prohibit the installation of bike racks at locations where the bike rack would interfere with driveway access. The location of the proposed bike racks at Galco’s are still visible on the sidewalk and the bike racks would have been placed well over 10 feet from the nearest driveway, meaning there would absolutely be no chance of a driver hitting a bicyclist or a bike rack unless the are driving recklessly.
- Nese then makes the surprising claim that bike racks would somehow cause congestion or a sudden increase in motorist/cyclist collisions. In the past year alone the LADOT has installed over 600 bike racks just like the ones proposed at Galco’s throughout the city– at no location have increased collisions and/or congestion been reported or recorded.
- Nese then throws in a quip to justify his rejection of free city-proved bike rack parking– “Most of the time, local bike racks sit unused”. This may be partially true, however, when a cyclist needs a bike rack, they are thankful to have one at their destination. Not to mention with the new bike lane being extended on York Boulevard, bicycle traffic is likely to increase and therefore the demand for bike parking is likely to increase. Bicycle traffic counts conducted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition at the intersection of York Boulevard and Avenue 50 saw a 150% increase in the number of cyclists when comparing pre and post bike lane installation counts.
Did you catch the most recent issue of the Boulevard Sentinel? On the front page there’s an article about the new bike lanes on York Boulevard titled, “New York Blvd. Lane Striping Annoys Business“.
The article suggests that the newly extended bike lanes on York Boulevard could have a negative impact on business. In the article John Nese, the owner of Galco’s (located at 5702 York Boulevard, in front of the new bike lane) and the sole person interviewed, states the following:
“The bike lanes are nice, but they’re not good for business. You’re not gonna see anyone buying cases of soda pop or anything else sizable when they’re on a bicycle.”
I was rather surprised to read that quote from John Nese for several reasons.
First off, how can one evaluate the effects of a bike lane within mere days of its installation?
Also, Nese neglects to mention that the public requested bike racks at Galco’s and that he personally rejected the installation of free bike racks by the city. That’s right, someone requested bike racks in front of Galco’s– presumably because they shop there and arrive by bicycle.
Sure, most cyclists may not purchase “cases of soda pop”, but why does one have to buy only in bulk? A person arriving by bike (or foot, or transit) can easily pop in and buy a couple sodas and some candy, I know I have personally done this on a number of occasions. Not to mention, some bikes can indeed carry cases of soda. In fact, local bike shop Flying Pigeon LA – located 3 miles from Galco’s – sells bicycles specifically made for everyday transportation, including cargo bikes that could easily carry several cases of soda pop.
One of Flying Pigeon’s bikes in action. How many cases of soda pop do you think it can carry? Photo credit: ubrayj02
Nese’s statement also seems to be based only on a hunch, and not a well researched opinion. A recent study in Portland showed the following:
”…looking at single visits, car drivers spent more at supermarkets and restaurants than the other transport modes. Yet it turns out that walkers, bikers, and public transport takers visit the locations more frequently, and thus, over the space of a month, spent more.”
It turns out non-driving people can be better, and more regular customers– especially if these modes are better accommodated and integrated into our local transportation system, something this new bike lane helps do.
Further dispelling Nese’s assumption is a recent case study of York Boulevard itself. The study showed the presence of bike lanes did not hurt business in the section of York Boulevard – between Avenue 55 and Eagle Rock Boulevard – that had bike lanes prior to the recent extension (And yes, this study was conducted well after a year of the bike lane’s existence on that stretch of York Boulevard).
It is disappointing as it is strange to see the owner of a business called ” Galco’s: Old World Grocery” be so seemingly anti-bike. One would think that an “old world” grocery would be more supportive of measures that encourage locals to walk, or bike in to buy a few items.
Ultimately, to me, this is an issue of equality. People certainly don’t need soda and candy, but to have a local business owner unfairly (and incorrectly) characterize the shopping patterns of someone because of their mode of transportation isn’t right. Additionally, it should be known that Nese lied to the Boulevard Sentinel, claiming he felt bike lanes could be bad for business because he doesn’t think cyclists buy soda. The truth is Nese actively rejected free, City provided, bicycle parking requested by customers that shop there by bike. He worked against the ability of cyclists to shop at his business, suggesting he simply has an unfair bias against cyclists (and seemingly anyone who doesn’t buy “cases” of soda).
(Not to mention that with gas prices reaching record highs this past week, those who continue to drive to local businesses probably have less money to spend than people who get around by cheaper modes of transportation.)
Eagle Rock is very proud to be home to the humble and increasingly well-known Occidental College, or Oxy as it is known among the college’s students and locals. The sign that welcomes people at our town’s eastern end, at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Wiota Street, reads “Eagle Rock, Founded 1911. Home of Occidental College”. Every year when Occidental College starts the Fall semester a banner hangs at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard that welcomes Oxy students back to Eagle Rock. These are literally signs of the affection and positive relationship fostered between the College and Eagle Rock.
There is no doubt that Occidental College has had a positive impact on our community, and that Eagle Rock has been good to Oxy. Though perhaps Eagle Rock can be more welcoming to Occidental College, particularly to its students, and equally benefit to the community at large through ways that embody the messages we put on our welcome sign and the banner that hangs over our town’s major intersection.
While Eagle Rock has always been home to a handful of Oxy students, about 60% of the school’s students are not from California, which demonstrates quite clearly many students are seeing Eagle Rock for the first time. Eagle Rock being the lovely and cool neighborhood that it is is definitely worth exploring, but is our community accessible and inviting to the many car-free college students who’ve never been here before? Our residential streets are typically relaxing and nice to walk along, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of our car-centric commercial corridors– which is a shame because that’s where our local businesses are! But things can change, for the better.
So what’s the current situation?
We can perhaps assume that most Oxy students are easily willing to walk to local destinations that are within a 10 minute’s reach. In actual distance this means students are likely able to stray about 0.5 miles from campus at a calm, relaxed walking pace. This also means that most of what is captured in this 0.5 mile radius from campus is our nice residential streets with a few businesses at the periphery of this comfortable walking distance zone along Eagle Rock Boulevard and York Boulevard. The below map shows a visualization of the 0.5 mile radius, a blue circle, around the Oxy campus with some local businesses indicated with red markers.
(Click on the map for a better view)
Almost everything within the blue zone is no more than a 10 minute walk from campus. Reaching any of the above destinations requires minimal walking on our car-centric commercial corridors and makes the local businesses indicated as likely candidates as destinations that Oxy students may visit. As one may notice, the map also includes several destinations just outside the comfortable walking zone along York Boulevard between Avenue 50 and Avenue 52. I included these businesses because that stretch of York Boulevard is enough of a hot spot, with enough commercial activity, that it is likely to warrant the little extra walking required to reach the area. York Boulevard is a relatively pedestrian friendly street that makes it attractive enough to walk to. This is especially true during Northeast LA’s monthly art walks, which liven up York Boulevard considerably.
What’s unfortunate about the comfortable 10 minute walk zone, is that it excludes many of Eagle Rock’s most popular businesses along Colorado Boulevard. This is understood clearly from a typical comment made by an Oxy freshman in a recent Eagle Rock Patch article–
I haven’t been able to venture out in Eagle Rock yet, but I’ve heard there are a lot great eating places. I heard there’s a real great Thai place and a Mexican place, although I’m not sure if they’re within walking distance of Occidental.
In reality businesses along Colorado Boulevard are not far from Oxy. The corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard is only a mile away from campus and businesses such as Organix are less than 2 miles away from campus. Given that it takes about 20 minutes for a typical young, healthy person to walk a mile, reaching businesses along Colorado can seem daunting, especially when one needs to walk on Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard– unfriendly, loud streets with zooming car traffic.
What Can Be Done?
So nothing can be done to physically move the Colorado Boulevard business corridor close to Oxy, however, as I suggested earlier, the businesses can be made more accessible. What does this mean? Well currently Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard are car-centric; if you’re not in a car, you’re not prioritized. This is clear through the street design that gives the majority of space to motorists, encourages speeds in excess of 35mph, the obvious lack of crosswalks, and absence of bike infrastructure. All these conditions make our streets unaccommodating to Oxy students, 40% of which are car-free.
There are bike lanes on part of Eagle Rock Boulevard and York Boulevard, however the Eagle Rock Boulevard bike lane disappears at Westdale Avenue (just at the periphery of the comfortable walking distance zone) and the York Boulevard bike lane only makes the already pedestrian friendly portion of York more accessible, and does little to encourage students to travel north to Eagle Rock’s businesses corridor.
But there is a solution. In fact, there are many solutions but the simplest and most cost effective measure that can be implemented to make Colorado Boulevard businesses more accessible, and make our streets more welcoming is to extend the existing bike lanes on Eagle Rock Boulevard north all the way to Colorado Boulevard and to add bike lanes along Colorado itself. Comfortable bike lanes have a well-documented effect of encouraging cycling – particularly among younger people – and the bicycle allows one to cover a greater distance than walking with the same amount of time. One can easily cover a mile in 10 minutes on a bicycle, and if Eagle Rock’s main boulevards were kinder to all modes of travel there is little doubt that more Oxy students would cycle and patronize local businesses. The map below shows some local businesses that are within a comfortable bicycling distance from Oxy
(The outermost circle represents everything within a 1.5 mile radius from Oxy. The middle circle represents everything within a mile from the campus and the innermost circle is the comfortable 0.5 mile walking zone. Click the map for a larger image.)
Will It Work?
While college students are typically thought of as being on tight budgets with little free time, this does not mean that college students do not spend money or have zero free time. It’s not unusual to see Oxy kids visiting the businesses that are within the 10 minute walking distance from campus. In fact, some Oxy students already like to eat out at businesses along Colorado Boulevard as well despite not being within the quick, and comfortable walk zone. A student from the same Eagle Rock Patch mentioned above commented the following about Eagle Rock:
I always eat at Classic Thai. The pad thai there is the best—and I can’t go to any other Thai restaurant. I also love the Eagle Rock Music Festival. People are friendly and the nightlife is very calm and chill.
Classic Thai is about 1.5 miles from the Oxy campus and could be same “great Thai place” the other student was quoted as saying it was not within walking distance. Perhaps this particular student reached Classic Thai by some other means but combining the comments made by the Oxy students does suggest that if businesses are easy to reach, the students are just as likely to enjoy local eateries, cafes and shops as much as the rest of the community. As already mentioned, Oxy students are known to visit many of the businesses that are easy to reach, within a comfortable walking distance. It seems plausible that if we extend the distance that students are comfortable traveling independently, and truly make Eagle Rock a welcoming home to Occidental College, that businesses as well as students will can benefit.
Current Eagle Rock Neighborhoood Council President, Michael Larsen, seems to have confidence in such a vision– of streets that are friendly and inviting to college students. In an Eagle Rock Patch article titled “The Future of Eagle Rock” Larsen had this to say–
“I’d love to see more places where the Oxy kids could hang out. We have an amazing, world-renowned college here and Eagle Rock should really have more of the traditional positive features of a college town… I’d like to lure them [students] back by making walking and bike riding more pleasurable and safe. I’m encouraged by Take Back The Boulevard campaign that just started, which will re-envision Colorado Boulevard to make it pedestrian and bike-friendly. Slow it down, plant more trees, give space to bikes, create safe crosswalks.”
There are plenty of bike racks along Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard. Occidental College is than a mile away from 2 bike shops and the campus even has a bikeshare system, which allows students to borrow bicycles for daily use. Most Eagle Rock businesses are less than 2 miles away from campus. It seems the only thing that’s preventing more Oxy students from taking to two wheels is safe provisions for bicycling. Existing signs are encouraging, we see on York Boulevard that bike and pedestrian friendly measures have increased the number of people walking and cycling along that street. Can Eagle Rock step up and make an environment that is welcoming to Oxy students? As Occidental College’s own website says of Eagle Rock–
“Oxy isn’t just located here; it’s a vital part of the community.”
Let’s make our streets reflect our written commitment– let’s welcome students and have Eagle Rock feel like home.