Great Streets Releases Plans for Crenshaw; Offers No Real Solutions for Florence

The section of Crenshaw between Florence and 79th will see pedestrian enhancements and safety improvements. But Florence will unfortunately remain relatively unchanged. Source: Great Streets
The section of Crenshaw between Florence and 79th will see pedestrian enhancements and safety improvements. But Florence will unfortunately remain relatively unchanged. Source: Great Streets

There’s been a flurry of activity around streets and street safety in South L.A. lately – so much that it’s been hard to keep track of it all. The fact that it doesn’t always seem well-coordinated has not helped matters.

Last night, for example, there was an update on Metro’s Rail-to-River bike/pedestrian path project slated for the Slauson corridor (more on that next week). Over the last several weeks, there were several meetings around Vision Zero street treatments aimed at helping LADOT reduce traffic deaths, but a separate meeting to discuss the bike lanes slated for several of those same streets. In between, Vision Zero grantees were busy asking people about safety concerns along Crenshaw in the Leimert Park area, despite the fact that planning for that very area is being done in conjunction with Metro and there had already been a very robust engagement process there around the Crenshaw Streetscape Plan (approved in 2015). And finally, Great Streets (the effort to improve the pedestrian experience on key corridors around the city) recently held its own meeting to discuss improvements slated for the half-mile of Crenshaw between Florence and 79th.

It’s a lot for the average person to keep track of. Especially when you start throwing in program names and city acronyms. Unless you are actively involved with your neighborhood council or familiar with how urban planning works, you will probably struggle a bit to understand how these projects all fit together.

This is especially true on Crenshaw, which will have Great Streets treatments, streetscape improvements tied to the arrival of the train, and Vision Zero treatments (flashing crosswalks, pedestrian head-start signals, curb bulb-outs) peppered throughout.

The part of Crenshaw designated for Great Streets improvements is the section south of Florence. While more residential than commercial and a bit south of the heart of the corridor, the area was chosen so it would not be left behind with regard to improvements seen along the rest of the boulevard. [edit: Community stakeholders had also already been working on acquiring a grant to make improvements to that section of the street for some time (see Michael MacDonald’s comments below).]

To the north, the section of Crenshaw between Florence and 36th will see a variety of streetscape improvements, including street trees and landscaping, lighting, trash cans, more conveniently situated bus stops, new crosswalks and curb ramps, medians with trees, etc. [See the full plan here].

Crenshaw Streetscape Plan
Area of Crenshaw covered by the Crenshaw Streetscape Plan.

The Great Streets improvements will mirror some of those seen north of Florence, including high-visibility crosswalks, medians with trees, and repaved sidewalks and ramps, as well as better signalization to improve traffic safety.

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 1.45.52 PM
Detail of improvements between 74th and Florence. Source: Great Streets

In practice, Great Streets suggests, the final configuration of some Crenshaw intersections might look like what you see below – an extended curb to shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross, a pedestrian “refuge” or median, more trees, ADA compliant curb ramps, and striped crosswalks (below).

What those treatments look like in practice. Source: Great Streets
What those treatments look like in practice. Source: Great Streets

The shortening of the distance folks have to cross would be a welcome improvement. Crenshaw is home to multi-generational families, many of whom use transit and/or walk regularly in the neighborhood. And the approach to Florence from the south is downhill, encouraging drivers to go faster. For the elderly and those with trouble walking, it can be nerve-wracking and dangerous to have to cross a busy 70-foot-wide street with impatient drivers cutting through the crosswalk as they do so.

Given how fast that section of Crenshaw moves and the fact that it is a residential area, however, it is a shame that there aren’t more treatments going in.

Right now, it appears that improvements will be made at every other intersection. Which means that one of the more dangerous intersections for pedestrians and cyclists and one that has a small market patronized by residents – 77th and Crenshaw – will not get the crosswalk it should have.

Collisions along Crenshaw and the treatments proposed. Source: Great Streets
Collisions along Crenshaw and the treatments proposed. Source: Great Streets

There will be a median with trees, as seen below. Which means that people will be even more likely to cross there, so LADOT should just go ahead and stripe that crosswalk.

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 1.46.40 PM

And Florence – the most dangerous intersection of the bunch by miles – won’t see too much in the way of upgrades, it appears.

While the proposed signal modification might help control traffic there and give pedestrians a head start, it is genuinely surprising that more is not in the works.

Last year, the Street Beats team reimagined that very intersection and found a way to make a variety of treatments work.

The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.
The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.

Turning the intersection into an immersive musical experience, they made the existing zebra stripes into piano keys, chalked out curb extensions, created a scramble crosswalk, and had drummers stationed on one corner, a piano on another, and ipads set up to allow pedestrians to play beats on the others.

It was pretty incredible and something more than one person proclaimed they would like to see happen every weekend.

A drum crew showed up and took over a corner as the day wound down. Source: StreetBeats
A drum crew showed up and took over a corner as the day wound down. Click here to see them play. Source: StreetBeats

But even with all those fixes and StreetsBeats folks helping direct traffic and ensure pedestrian safety, drivers were still impatient.

I witnessed more than one driver try to beat pedestrians through the narrowed intersection. There was even a crash there earlier that day when someone came flying through the intersection, and residents I spoke with reported regularly hearing screeching tires and collisions. Which makes it easy to imagine just how harrowing the intersection can be for all users on a normal day. And which makes it all the more disappointing that more won’t be done there.

Cars still tried to beat pedestrians through the more narrow intersections. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cars still tried to beat pedestrians through the more narrow intersections. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Information on Great Streets’ website suggests the implementation of the proposed improvements will roll out much like the Vision Zero improvements you may have seen popping up around other parts of South L.A.: temporary striping and bollards will be put in beginning this August and made permanent with concrete in September of 2018.

Information about other treatments planned for Crenshaw courtesy of Vision Zero can be found here. The streetscape project for Crenshaw (between Florence and 36th) can be found here.

  • michael macdonald

    A few thoughts on this as someone who engaged with local stakeholders on Crenshaw quite a bit last year through the mentioned Street Beats project, and who also attended the open house Great Streets organized related to these improvements on 6/15:

    It’s true that it’s really difficult for the average resident to follow the litany of projects and programs the City is undertaking related to remaking L.A.’s dangerous streets. And on top of that, it’s difficult for people who have lives to attend to to take time out of their days/evenings to learn about City plans. That reality is part of what we tried to upend with Street Beats – giving people a more accessible (and fun) way to engage in safety and mobility options on L.A. streets. With that in mind, kudos are in order for those stakeholders from the 79th Street Block Club, Hyde Park HOPE, and current and former members of the Park Mesa Heights Community Council who have participated in the process for South of Florence and continued to monitor the remake Crenshaw in this stretch.

    In the process that took place to determine the transportation component of Street Beats, the Street Beats team became aware that a safety project had already been initiated for south of Florence by LADOT engineer extraordinaire, Crystal Killian, at the behest of the 79th Street Block Club. Connecting up with her allowed a symbiotic relationship where both an LADOT grant that was in progress and the Street Beats project influenced one another: Street Beats incorporated and suggested pedestrian improvements, and then worked as a pseudo-engagement tool for that grant, which in turn incorporated curb extension treatments similar to those that were on display.

    The grant for the section south of Florence ended up being awarded, which we’re now seeing the designs for. Although it wasn’t covered in the grant area, I would like to see improvements to Florence, particularly at Crenshaw. Hopefully Council District 8 will take this on, along with LADOT & the Great Streets program, to secure funding to make improvements at Florence a reality.

  • Bernard Finucane

    To keep the cars off the crosswalks, move the traffic lights to the near side of the street. Cars stop before the light, and if the light is in front of the crosswalk, the problem is solved. An addition left turn light may be needed on the far side as well.

  • AB3

    I’d be curious to know the merits of the “three-legged crosswalk” (marking only three of a standard intersection’s four crossings) that seems to be in common use throughout the city of LA, including as part of this upgrade. Seems smarter, safer, and simpler to just mark all four crossings rather than conspicuously leaving one out, as it’s extraordinarily unlikely the average pedestrian would choose to cross three streets in order to use the marked crosswalks. (I can practically see the subtle victim-blaming news articles now: “The pedestrian was hit while crossing in an unmarked crosswalk across the street from a marked crosswalk,” etc.).

  • sahra

    Thanks for the update. What you describe adds to the confusion I have about what Great Streets (not Street Beats) actually does. If i understand your comment, there was already something in the works for south of Florence, before Great Streets got involved? That would make sense… Great Streets was kind of lumping in long-standing plans to upgrade sidewalks on Cesar Chavez and Safe Routes to School upgrades in the area as if they were tied to the program. [They are not, but I think the existence of the program might make it easier to give the money a home base and put it to use…?]. In the case of Florence, I’m just really disappointed to see it left out. But it was the same with Soto on Cesar Chavez – the most dangerous and busiest intersection saw the least in the way of improvements.

  • sahra

    I think you said something similar on another story and I thought about that comment while examining these plans. These three-legged crosswalks are a weird form of social engineering. They make sense (cost-wise) if the crosswalk is signalized, which I think is going to be something we see more of. But if they’re not signalized, then it just seems oddly spiteful.

  • michael macdonald

    My sense of Great Streets is that it has played a number of roles as a program of the Mayor, but the strongest role I’ve seen/see for it is a facilitator between electeds, communities, and city departments.

    In our case for Street Beats, the Crenshaw grant application wasn’t a long in the works, but something that an LADOT district office was just starting on in response to a community request. The Great Streets team was able to flag that & arranged a couple meetings between our team and the people at LADOT that were drafting that grant application. There were differences in that we had focused our event/demonstration on Florence/Crenshaw while the grant was specifically focused south of the intersection, but the similarity in goals allowed for the event & (eventually successful) grant to work together. I don’t think the grant itself had any budget for outreach, so both the Street Beats event and this last Great Streets meeting have helped to keep the community involved and updated as LADOT’s grant moves forward.

    I think the main issue with Garcetti’s Great Streets program has been the limited funding allocated towards it: attempting to do big things on the cheap rather than investing in its goals. Again, I hope that LADOT or the Mayor will empower and fund either the Vision Zero team and/or Great Streets to address Florence itself. I don’t have any inside info, but I’m hopeful that’s in the works, since the intersection is identified within the High Injury Network Priority Corridors.

  • michael macdonald

    That’s a good question. They had explained that they were eliminating some left turns, and I see that the 3-leg crossings at 78th & 74th both take advantage of creating refuge islands where left turns are prohibited. But then 76th has crosswalks from all corners where there are no turn restrictions.

    The added crosswalks (or additional turn prohibitions) would be worthwhile suggestions to make to greatstreets@lacity.org

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