Boyle Heights Community Crafts Living Streets Plan for Neglected Roads

Laura Cuadros, Union de Vecinos community organizer (left), and Maria Rodriguez, a Boyle Heights resident, look at the issues on Fickett Street during a planning exercise for the neighborhood's Living Streets Initiative. Residents chose the streets that needed improvement, and helped craft solutions to make the streets safer. Photo from Union de Vecinos

Boyle Heights will get some new furniture this Saturday, as city and neighborhood groups gather to inaugurate the installation of public living rooms at the corner of Fickett and Boulder Streets. Installation of the public living rooms, which are pieces of furniture left in the public for people to use, is part of the campaign to demonstrate living streets principals in Boyle Heights by Living Streets L.A.

The Green L.A. Coalition (Green LA), an organization that promotes a cleaner and healthier Los Angeles, received a $240,000 grant from the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department’s RENEW Program to develop case studies to create streets designed to accomodate walking, bicycling and community event, said Stephanie Taylor, Green LA executive director. Green LA, through the Living Streets L.A. program, partnered for the past two years with Boyle Heights community groups East Los Angeles Community Corporation and Union de Vecinos (or Union of Neighbors) to develop the Living Streets Case Study, or prototype projects for living streets in Boyle Heights.

Where many planning processes involve limited community involvement, the living streets initiative was controlled and developed by Boyle Heights residents, said Elizabeth Blaney, Union de Vecinos co-director. As community members decided where to plant trees on the street, and where to best install murals and signs, architect Holly Harper would  take residents ideas, conceptualize them, and more than eight times brought back the designs for community feedback.

Residents identified Wabash Avenue, Whittier Boulvard, and Fickett and St. Louis Streets (St. Louis not included in report) as the streets that needed improvement – and  improvement that is still needed- because of safety concerns. Parents often walk with their children on Wabash Avenue to get  to and from Evergreen Elementary, the Wabash Recreational Center or Malabar Library. The improvements to Wabash Avenue included zebra-stripe crosswalks, which are more visible to oncoming road traffic, and curb extensions, which shorten the length of the road creating a shorter distance pedestrians need to cross across the street.

Initially, the proposal for the living streets was to plan for areas that connect to the Metro Gold Line. Yet, community members wanted the living streets improvements in neglected residential areas, said Ryan Lehman, co-chair of Green LA’s Transportation Working Group.

“Nobody came in with a specific idea of what we had to see at the end of it; it was a very open ended process,” Blaney said.

The living streets plan is now looking for funding sources to help implement the plan. If these prototypes are implemented successfully, they could be used by city planners as a roadmap on how to install this type of street; from navigating zoning codes, city policies, and effective community outreach methods, said Taylor.

Click here to download a .pdf of the Living Streets Case Study.

Click the following links to download the blueprints of two prototype streets:

1) Fickett Street

2) Wabash Avenue

Correction: A previous version of this story stated  incorrectly that Ryan Lehman was co-chair of Green LA. Lehman is currently the co-chair of Green LA’s Transportation Working Group.
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    “And this is where we’ll put the 45 mph zone and, oh, here is where the parking lots will go; and over here I think this delightful freeway should be widened.”

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