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.
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