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.
(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.
A lone pedestrian tries to cross Colorado Boulevard to reach Trader Joe’s
A vibrant commercial corridor is in part identified by how easy it is to cross the street. The easier it is to cross, typically, the more shopping and people friendly a street is. Think about Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena or York Boulevard between Avenue 50 and Avenue 53 in Highland Park. Both these streets have safe, convenient crossings on every block that make it easy to stroll while fostering a low stress environment for people on foot. Along these business corridors pedestrians are not confined to one side of the street for long intervals.
Conversely, on Eagle Rock’s main commercial corridor – which is frequently defined by Colorado Boulevard as it runs between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Townsend Avenue – only 7 of 12 intersections have crossing opportunities. At roughly 3,800ft long, the “downtown Eagle Rock commercial corridor” has two major gaps in crossing opportunities.
I’m not typically a proponent for adding parking capacity in Eagle Rock however I have recently thought of a situation which could please those who seek more car parking and those looking for a more pleasant pedestrian environment in downtown Eagle Rock– restoring diagonal parking on the block of Eagle Rock Boulevard between Merton Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
Historic picture of Eagle Rock Boulevard between Colorado Boulevard and Merton Avenue with diagonal parking (and pedestrian oriented street lighting). Image credit: Eagle Rock by Eric Warren
Below’s an overhead view of the same block of Eagle Rock Boulevard today, with largely the same historic buildings seen in the first picture.
This is where Eagle Rock Boulevard is at its widest. Just a few blocks before the street is only 2 lanes with curbside parking and a center turning lane– here the block has 2 left turning lanes, one through lane, and one wide right turning lane and curbside parking.
That’s an awful lot of space dedicated to having cars zoom through the community and miss all the local businesses on the block inhabiting beautiful historic buildings. Additionally, the sidewalk experience is rather unpleasant for a pedestrian. Trying to cross the wide street with fast moving cars or enjoy outdoor seating at Swork – the cafe that anchors the corner of this block where it intersects with Colorado Boulevard – the experience just isn’t all that nice.
A recurring complaint about the Colorado Boulevard business corridor is that there is not enough parking. So what has happened as a response? Buildings have been torn down to make way for strip malls. But when we gain parking we usually have to lose something in exchange– walkability, attractive storefronts, lively sidewalks. Three of most well-known examples of where parking has been gained through this method in Eagle Rock, the story has not been pretty.
“In response to the threatened destruction of the historic business buildings at the corner of Townsend and Colorado. Kathleen Aberman stands on the building’s roof in an attempt to ward off the surprise demolition by the owner.” – Eagle Rock Historic Society
In the middle right is the building Aberman tried to rescue. Photo credit: Metro Library and Archive
Colorado Boulevard, the commercial center of Eagle Rock, will undergo a transformation if the initiative Take Back The Boulevard can maintain the momentum it is experiencing at the moment. A lot of ideas about how to improve the boulevard are being circulated– everything from angled parking to sidewalk extensions, to increased greenery, to bike lanes, and more! Just the other day Eastsider shared the idea of reversed angle in parking as solution.
While there are many popular ideas, I feel that it is important to reflect on the mission of this worthy effort to reclaim our main street from the dangerous freeway it currently resembles. Take Back The Boulevard seeks to transform Colorado Boulevard into a safe, sustainable, and vibrant street in order to stimulate economic growth, increase public safety and enhance community pride. Given that we cannot accommodate all the possible ideas being discussed due to limited space on the street I would like to share why I believe a solution that includes protected bike lanes, also known as cycle tracks, could fulfill as many of the desires of this initiative and is perhaps the most promising solution available.
It is common to accept the automobile as the primary means to move along Colorado Boulevard, or to reach the many destinations that line our well-known part of town. However, I recently found myself asking why driving is the primary means and I found myself curious about the actual amount of traffic that passes by, and other statistics about the street. Colorado Boulevard is a large part of our community, why not be curious about it, right?
Colorado Boulevard is a major highway class II, projected to carry between 30,000 and 50,000 cars daily. Traffic counts available from the LADOT website from the past 15 years shows that Colorado Boulevard seldom carries above 35,000. Continue reading →