Embrace Occidental College

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.

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One thought on “Embrace Occidental College

  1. It’s so funny how that bike lane on Eagle Rock Boulevard stops so suddenly and inexplicably! I also wanted to add that a more pleasant walking environment also lengthens the time that people are willing to walk to a destination. I’ve noticed there isn’t really any pleasant convenient route to walk between Oxy and Colorado, which I do frequently. There are two shortcuts that pass through the back of Yosemite Park, but both these routes require passing through deserted parts of the park, which I would avoid at night. As for streets with regular sidewalks; the steep hill on Townsend is intimidating for most, and Eagle Rock Boulevard feels like a highway.

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