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.

Eagle Rock Boulevard’s northern terminus is at the intersection with Hill Drive, in one of the most affluent parts of Northeast LA’s Eagle Rock community. Here, Eagle Rock Boulevard descends south down a slight, but noticeable decline in an almost idyllic suburban residential setting. Well-preserved historic homes with large shading trees, ornate pedestrian scaled street lighting and immaculate lawns in the front yards line this sleepy, smoothly-paved, and narrow portion of Eagle Rock Boulevard. The sidewalks and street are in a good state of repair.

As the street approaches Colorado Boulevard – a major commercial street in Northeast LA – there is a sudden shift to commercial land-use with only a driveway separating the residential and commercial realms. South of Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock Boulevard immediately widens into multi-lane boulevard with historic mixed-use buildings, and contemporary commercial buildings. Further down the boulevard one also finds stuccoed apartments, single-family homes of varying conditions, and the occasional empty lot on either side of a mostly landscaped and well-kept median. The boulevard features sidewalks, street trees, bus stops, and bike lanes– maintaining these elements for almost its entire length throughout the neighborhood. If one were marking a checklist design elements that define a “complete street” – one that accommodates all road users – the boulevard could viewed as a “complete,” and presumably well-accommodating to all modes of travel. However, despite varying land-uses and presence of infrastructure for people walking, taking transit and bicycling along most of its stretch, Eagle Rock Boulevard is far from balanced.

Land-uses, while varied along the boulevard, are largely segregated and oriented prioritizing automobile access. Meanwhile on the public right-of-way there are a number of problems. Sidewalks, for example, while often adequate in width, are in terrible in condition.

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(Sidewalk in terrible condition along Eagle Rock Blvd)

Among the problems pedestrians face on Eagle Rock Boulevard are: cracked sidewalks; driveways disrupting sidewalks; and lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility from obstacles on the sidewalk or because of the absence of curb-cuts at intersections.

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(While automobiles are allocated several travel lanes and curbside parking, pedestrians are expected to squeeze into the foot of space between  a telephone pole and an iron fence)

People taking transit wait at bus stops that seldom feature shelters, or even schedules to let users know when to expect a bus.

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(Just beyond a “school zone,” these students wait for the bus sitting at the edge of a freeway off-ramp in the little shade available to protect them from the sun)

To make matters worse for transit users, a number of major bus stops are located in front of gas stations, making waits for buses not only unpleasant, but also unhealthy.

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(Trying to get some shade while waiting for the bus)

The bicycling infrastructure along Eagle Rock Boulevard, as much of it currently is throughout Northeast LA, is an afterthought.

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(This “bike route” sign guides people cycling as they mix with several lanes of automobile traffic traveling in excess of the 35mph speed limit. Note the extent of the sidewalk space as well)

Bike lanes are narrow and squeezed in between curbside parking and fast moving cars, separated from the two by inches of white striped paint.

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The boulevard isn’t just unpleasant for those not traveling in cars, it is also physically hostile. People walking and bicycling in the neighborhood are disproportionately represented in severe and fatal collisions. According to UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, which derives its data from the California Highway Patrol’s database for all traffic collisions in the state, this has been especially true on Eagle Rock Boulevard in recent years. From 2007 through 2011, nine of eleven collisions that resulted in severe injuries involved pedestrians (and in only three collisions was the pedestrian deemed at fault). Unfortunately, like the streetscape design that prioritizes automobiles above all other modes, traffic safety issues are not isolated to this single street. In the past decade, people walking and bicycling have constituted more than half of all fatalities in Northeast LA, a dangerous and unacceptable precedent.

The problems people in Northeast LA face when walking, cycling, or taking transit extend beyond the ones shared in this post, but the issues described with Eagle Rock Boulevard’s streetscape design and collision history capture the broader struggles on the streets of Northeast LA. Certain streets in Northeast LA are pleasant and attractive, as Eagle Rock Boulevard is in the particularly affluent and residential northern stretch where the street terminates. However, holistically the streets are in bad shape and need of change to become more equitable, sustainable, and safe. The status quo is not neutral in how it treats transportation modes, nor is it fair to the community as a whole. There is a hierarchy that places the convenience of travel by car over the access, comfort, and safety of travel made by any other mode; it is no wonder the visible majority of trips along the boulevard are by car. The people in the neighborhood who rely on the inadequate walking and bicycling infrastructure also tend to be the ones with no other choice in travel– the young, elderly, disabled, and poor. The streets of Northeast LA must change to become inclusive spaces that welcome all, provide equal access, and make for a healthier, more sustainable and connected community.

2 thoughts on “The State of the Streets

  1. The United States of America is extremely undeveloped in aspect of a versatile infrastructure. For decades only one single type of transportation has got prioritized – automobiles. The U.S. today is in no sense “The Land of the Free” when it comes to options of transportation. Rather it seems like the government and the car industry lobby do all they can to impede, preclude and suppress Americans “freedom of choice” in transportation. It’s time for the car industry to pick up the bill regarding the damage it causes in terms of accidents and harm to the environment, not to mention its craving of huge landmasses and the ruin of beautiful city landscapes that often follows with the demand of space for the overdimensioned multi-lane roads. In a true modern and developed big city it should be as comfortable to chose the bus, the bike, the scooter, the tram and the subway as the automobile. And sidewalks should exist everywhere, be in such condition that people actually can walk on them, and be accessible for baby prams and wheelchairs without hinders like car signs and electricity poles placed in the middle. Let’s establish “freedom of choice” in the streets of America!

  2. Pingback: Learning From State Routes | Walk Eagle Rock

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