Community Comes Out for a Better Van Nuys
The Orange Line bus station in Van Nuys moves a lot of passengers without heavy reliance on car parking. True, the station has a dedicated parking lot, but most users of that station arrive by bus, foot or bicycle. For that reason, it proves a great case study of what can be done to improve access to the station for people in the community who don't want to drive to a bus stop.
Nearly two-dozen cyclists and community members gathered in Van Nuys this Saturday to help make the local community a better place for a bike and walkabout sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition and Metro. After brief presentations by LACBC staff and Metro’s Lynne Goldsmith, the activists broke into five groups before heading out to chronicle what they saw on the roads surrounding the Van Nuys Orange Line stop.
I was fortunate enough to team with two LACBC staffers in my bikeabout group, Dorothy Le and Jennifer Klausner. We noted the problems with roads and marking in our area, especially around Van Nuys high school. There were a lot of improvements that could be made to the streets, bad pavement, non-existent signage, and no bike facilities at the high school were some of the most obvious issues.
I expected that most of the problems we would discuss would would be those sorts of "fix-it" concerns. Los Angeles is notorious for having roads with a lack of proper signage, poorly marked crosswalks, and broken sidewalks. There are plenty of these sorts of problems in Van Nuys, one member of a walking group noted that the intersection of Van Nuys and Victory looked as though someone had started construction on it and then just forgot about the project.
But it wasn’t until my group was almost at the end of our route that we saw something that probably wouldn’t seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but told the story of how the poor urban design is a plague that still infects many communities.
Along Vesper Avenue, a two-lane road that runs parallel to Van Nuys, a group of local residents were basically holding a rummage sale along the sidewalk. People walked down the street and did some “window shopping” and a van was selling food out of the back for those interested. At the end of the block, a group of kids were encouraging people to go to a car wash to raise money for a local youth group.
In short, the community was trying to reclaim its public space. It was using the avenue as more than a pipeline to move cars, as a place to residents to gather outdoors. Unfortunately, the vehicle traffic wasn’t playing along. While there wasn’t a lot of traffic, the cars we did see were cruising as quickly as they could between the stop signs that marked the street. For the drivers, the road was nothing more than an alternate route to taking Van Nuys Blvd.
We dutifully noted that Vesper would be a great street to mark as a bike route, and traffic calming should go in to slow the cars down to make it more safe and pleasant for the street's users who aren't in a car. Jennifer noted that the sidewalk was in bad condition. In one place there were several inches difference between one square and the next.
Metro and LACBC’s goals are to improve access to the Orange Line, and there’s clearly a lot that can be done to make it easier and safer to access both the busway and bike path. But projects such as this one can uncover other possibilities and it would be great to see this project not only make Van Nuys a more walkable and bikeable place, but also to help a small community reclaim their public spaces.
Photos: Damien Newton