The Hoover Triangle: Effort to Do Bus Riders a Solid Takes Away their Shade

The newly paved-over transit island is clean and accessible, but could really use some shade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The newly paved-over transit island is clean and accessible, but could really use some shade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The $600,000 make-over of the Hoover Triangle is finally complete.

The sizable island located along Hoover between 23rd and 24th Streets was long overdue for a sprucing up.

Although home to two bus stops – the 603 (running between Glendale and L.A. Trade Tech College) and the 200 (running from Broadway and King through MacArthur Park to the St. Vincent Medical Center in Echo Park) – it hadn’t ever been particularly people-friendly. Narrow meandering paths, scraggly grass that was dead most of the year and often accumulated trash, and a boulder that doubled as seating were complemented with an inexplicable fence (below).

In 2014, the community (particularly the area’s neighborhood council) and the city, along with USC architecture students, rolled up their sleeves and launched a series of workshops and events aimed at gathering community input on potential designs aimed at remedying this missed opportunity.

The result is what you see at top – an easily accessible, colorful open space with drought-tolerant planting, seating around the perimeter, a kids’ table and seating, decorative bike racks, and additional lighting.

What you don’t see is shade.

A spring, 2011, Google map image shows the grass just before it dies and the Jacaranda and other trees that helped shade those waiting for the bus.
A spring, 2011, Google map image shows the grass just before it dies and the Jacaranda trees that helped shade those waiting for the bus.

Deeply imperfect as Triangle 1.0 was, it had shade in its favor.

The Jacarandas that lined the Hoover side helped shield those waiting for the 200 from the hot summer sun at certain times of the day. And they had the added bonus of being riotously beautiful for a month and a half every year.

Construction of Triangle 2.0 saw all those trees ripped out and replaced with saplings.

Trees and bus stops begone. Source: Google maps
Begone, trees (and bus stops)! Source: Google maps

The new trees (including a couple of sapling Jacarandas) are set back a bit from the sidewalk and at some distance from the stops (below, at left), meaning they will be unlikely to shade waiting passengers, or even much of the seating around the plaza, until their canopies mature ten or fifteen years from now.

Some of the flowering trees (Crape Myrtles), while beautiful, will never grow tall enough to offer anyone a shady canopy.

Which means that, between the now-more-plentiful cement and the lack of shade, passengers will have nowhere to hide during heat waves, like the one we just endured, for a decade or more to come.

One of the tables is absent a bench to allow wheelchair users and those with strollers to use it as well. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
One of the tables is absent a bench to allow wheelchair users and those with strollers to access it. Neither the bus stops nor the seating benefit from shade, however. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I will confess that the lack of the incorporation of shade into planning continues to confuse me, especially around transit.

Shade certainly comes up often enough.

In presentations around potential designs for the Hoover Triangle with the local neighborhood council, shade was consistently cited as an important feature.

A survey of 75 area residents indicates shade is the most important feature. Source: NANDC presentation
A survey of 75 area residents indicates shade is the most important feature. Seating is a close second. Source: NANDC presentation

The only feature that came close in importance was seating (above). And, as one might expect, people seemed to assume that seating and shade would be best in combination, not separate from each other. Three of the four proposed schemes groups worked on during the 2015 design workshops featured shade (if not covering the entire plaza, then at least shading the bus stops).

One of several designs community members came up with indicating that shade needed to be an important feature in the makeover. Source: NANDC
One of several designs community members came up with where shade featured prominently. Source: NANDC

Planners are not unaware that shade is important for those who are dependent on transit and walking.

Certainly, the ultimate intention of the plaza was to provide users with shade.

At least, at some point.

The rendering of the plaza from July, 2016. The red circles were the trees that were removed. The green circles indicate trees to be replaced. The trees planned for 24th did not go in along the sidewalk. Source:
The rendering of the plaza from July, 2016. The red circles were the trees that were removed. The green circles indicate trees to be replaced. The trees planned along 24th did not go in along the sidewalk – they were sited with the drought-tolerant plantings. Source: Bureau of Street Services

Even city officials seem to understand the importance of shade.

Otherwise they probably wouldn’t feel the need to bring canopies with them everywhere they go, as they did for both the groundbreaking for this project and last week’s ribbon cutting (below), right?

But much like with the Eastside Access project in Boyle Heights, there seems to be no plan for how to bridge the shade gap between today and the ten or fifteen years from now that the canopies will begin to mature.

While many have joked that planners expect trees will mature just in time for the gentrifiers to move in, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched to transit-dependent residents who spend a lot of time walking in communities where the shade gap is never addressed.

The first phase of the Eastside Access project (meant to improve walkability and biking along 1st Street to facilitate connections to the Gold Line), saw 90 mature trees ripped out along one of the community’s most important commercial corridors back in 2013. The bike racks – egregiously colorful butterflies and flowers that stand in for the nature that is no longer there – and the saplings that replaced them continue to make the street feel barren and uninviting to pedestrians, four years on.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world in Boyle Heights served to point out the actual lack of nature. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As phase 2 of the Eastside Access project gets underway (more on that later this week), big trees along key corridors are again being targeted for removal.

Meaning that residents in this transit-dependent neighborhood with poor air quality and some of the lowest tree canopy coverage in the city are once again pleading with the city to leave their trees be.

Please don't cut .Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
“Please don’t let them cut me down!” reads a sign on a tree along 1st Street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The fact that these improvements to the public space tend to be designed by people who live in better-resourced communities and/or have a range of mobility choices at their disposal may help explain why the shade gap is often overlooked in planning for lower-income communities of color.

In gentrifying neighborhoods, where people have the power and resources to clamor for amenities, shade seems more likely to be prioritized. Highland Park’s recent $3 million make-over of a vacant lot included an enormous canopy shading park equipment so kids could use it year-round and at all times of the day.

The park at Ave. 50 and York Blvd. features a massive canopy. Source: Google maps.
The park at Ave. 50 and York Blvd. features a massive canopy. Source: Google maps.

The $700 million renovation of the University Village – located just down the street from the Hoover Triangle – didn’t skimp on shade structures for its plazas, either. And the three Expo Line stops that serve USC all have shade structures. [True, they are more decorative than functional, but they are better than nothing.]

The shade gap is real. And the hotter our summers continue to be, the more uncomfortable it will continue to get for those that have the fewest choices about how they get around our streets. To not do better by those folks by taking their mobility needs into consideration in planning is, well…kind of shady.

A mature ficus slated for removal stands next to the kind of tree that is likely to replace it along 1st Street in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A mature ficus slated for removal stands next to the size of the sapling that is likely to replace it along 1st Street in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
  • Walt Arrrrr

    Our ultimate windshield council member has given us the ultimate windshield park. I had low expectations when Gil Cedillo’s office took up the neighborhood’s cause to improve this neglected triangle park, but ouch, the result is brutal. Here we have a dense 130-year-old residential neighborhood, with schools and storefront businesses on all sides of Hoover Triangle project. Here we have a community desperate for public space where neighbors can gather, relax, eat, play music, play chess, chisme, and see faces. Instead, they get what looks like a landscaped parking lot with metal tables. Good thing median parking is prohibited again, otherwise it would be filled with cars.

    This was the perfect opportunity to create the newest LADOT People Street. That is essentially what people were asking for at community meetings, instead Cedillo cuts a ribbon on this eyesore. It’s telling that the majority of the attendees at that ribbon-cutting were on the city payroll. Where were local business owners? The people who attended planning workshops? Schoolkids who take the bus there? This is the LA City ecosystem of fail: Make citizens feel valued and included, promise them pie in the sky, then forget community plans and allow for landscaping and park features that require the least city maintenance with only the slightest hint to what people asked for. As long as campaign contributors and city unions are employed and happy, there’s no need to try and do better. As long as you can drive away and don’t have to step out from behind the windshield.

    Not looking forward to seeing what CD1 does with the upcoming MacArthur Park revamp and AHBE-designed Chinatown pocket park projects.

  • sahra

    Yeah, it’s a huge disappointment. Especially given that you’ve got a school a block away and West Adams around the corner, and kids from both pass this spot every day on their way to and from school, or just grabbing food from Pete’s after school. This could have been a place for them in a community where they feel less and less welcome with each expansion USC and student housing operators make into the community. I didn’t even begin to go into any of that… there’s too much to say on that front. But yes, it doesn’t bode well for MacArthur park or Chinatown. Either way, you can be sure he’ll show up in his dapper fedora to praise himself about whatever mediocreness he poops out.

  • D Man

    Does this author understand that trees grow? They planted smaller trees which, over time, will grow into larger trees. Even the before photo shows minimal shade cover. The Jacaranda trees in the before photo are in the sidewalk and not in the park, and the shade covers the street. These people on Streetsblog literally complain about everything. They will never be happy.

  • sahra

    Really? The entire article is talking about the fact that the trees will indeed grow, but won’t have much of a canopy for more than a decade. But you took time out of your day to let us know, that even though you read it, you struggled with comprehending those basic points? And that you are not someone that is dependent on walking from place to place or transit so you really have nothing of value to add to a conversation around walking conditions, especially in South LA?

    I get that your thing is just to make random noise here, but rather than be provocative, it just seems to be a sign that you are not living your best life.

  • Gonzalo Estévez

    You really can’t compare shade at the USC Village (a $700 million private project) or along the Expo Line to this project (designed through a standard kit of parts with every station receiving a minimum base of identical amenities). Even the park in Highland Park isn’t terribly inviting either unless you have children as it’s gated off and the canopy covers the playground area directly–not a place where teens or unaccompanied men can really hang out in without getting weird looks.

    That being said, this project isn’t a total fail. As mentioned below, what it needs is the People St treatment: pavement decorations, movable chairs, and patio umbrellas. That can be done quickly and on the cheap but it requires grassroots/local partners to advocate for it in addition to the CM being on your side.

    Honestly, the plaza was pretty lousy before the renovations and by the looks of it, it’s still pretty lousy. It’s saving grace was the grass but shade cover was lousy and the roar of traffic didn’t help either. Bad start? Yes. But it’s definitely not beyond salvation.

  • Richard

    LA continues to love to expand hardscape, pave everything.

  • sahra

    It’s not meant to compare to USC or the Expo Line in scope – it’s only a reminder of the disparity in amenities, especially the way that bus riders are consistently shafted, as seen here: http://la.streetsblog.org/2012/07/12/desperately-seeking-shade-how-south-l-a-bus-riders-weather-the-elements/. And HLP’s park wasn’t meant to be inviting to lone adults – it’s explicitly for kids. And it’s always packed because the shade allows it to be used all day. I think, in addition to the shade issue, this Hoover project suffers from not having that kind of purpose – it doesn’t seem particularly clear on who it is serving or how. It’s just a generic space. And People St stuff tends to be similarly generic, unfortunately. So, while that’s a nice idea and a potential solution, it would have been great to see the project make more of an effort to reflect the culture of the working-class Latino and black communities that haven’t been fully pushed out yet.

    The project is not a total fail and can be built upon, true. The larger point, however, stands, which is is that we don’t do enough to plan for the actual users of a space (especially when it comes to shade) in lower-income communities of color before making “improvements.”

  • Could a canvas shade or screen be installed from the lighting fixtures until the trees are mature? There are plenty of companies in the area that build these for Hollywood and for other users (restaurants, apartment complexes). Maybe one of the studios has one they could donate?

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Would gladly forego the cost of these dysfunctional bike racks at Hoover Triangle to preserve some mature shade trees. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/17c60bfc4a9cb99810a865fef261bfae3a9e8d73b172ec6a8fa19689f6bd87e0.jpg

  • D Man

    Please don’t troll people on your own article. I didn’t like your article. It is nothing but complaining about a project that was done to make the neighborhood nicer. I’m sorry that the lack of shade made you so upset.
    Just be happy that they did an improvement in what was once a neglected neighborhood.

  • D Man

    Are you literally going to respond to every comment you don’t like?

  • sahra

    “Don’t troll!” cries the troll… who still doesn’t seem to get the point of the article.

    But you do you, man. You do you.

  • sahra

    I feel like reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. I don’t dislike his comment at all. I engaged the points made regarding ways this project could be fixed and whether it would actually get at the larger issues raised.

    You need another hobby, my friend. This one does not serve you well.

  • Kevin Peter Johnson

    *face palm* why did they pull out the big trees!!?? Seems like they were the square’s biggest asset and should have been designed around.

  • Ennnne

    hi Sahra,

    I am a big fan of your work. I was a little worried after that whole thing during the election that you were getting pushed out – I’m glad that didn’t happen.

    While I generally share your suspicion of LA government (though I actually think Cedillo is one of the better ones, in that he is not a kneejerk, go along to get along type… I prefer flawed but real people to the shiny types…), I do not in this case share your class bias angle.

    I think it’s worse* than that — I think we are dealing with people who either have no sense and don’t know it, or who have very bad taste. I think this because the same thing happened near me in Hollywood — beautiful old ficus trees ripped out suddenly. (I still don’t know why.)

    Haven’t you ever noticed how many of these “walkability” proponents actually hate walking? They want to get rid of all setbacks, everywhere, so that things will be reallyreallyclosetogether… and, then they won’t have to walk so far. Because, you know, density. The new religion.

    My former councilperson had the audacity to have dots painted on concrete and call it a park. I don’t think he thought it was embarrassing then and he probably doesn’t now. What can be said about such people?

    The thing is, we keep letting them get away with it. I don’t like to accuse people of things unless I am pretty sure… so I don’t know if it is folly or malevolence.

    But it’s not just happening to “poor” people. I’m sorry to say it, but at least locally, the urbanists don’t have any clothes on. It is a mistake to let them get control of your space. Do not encourage them.

    *worse in the sense of being harder to fix and systemic, though not worse *ethically,* to be sure.

  • Michel S

    Wow, that’s awful.

  • sahra

    @Walt Arrrrr I think it’s meant for USC students who ride cruisers and either tend to just lock their wheels or the frame to racks… which is yet another sign this project wasn’t for the fixie kids that ride in the area.

  • Alan

    This is a really good point. The more time I spend working in transit the more surprised I am how little shade/protection(from rain too in a lot of places) is taken into consideration. One of our biggest dirty little secrets is I expect a lot of planners dont use transit that much so they dont really understand. And even if they do when the budget gets chopped “amenities” will be the first to go.

  • Joe Commuter

    Nice article that highlights the type of dysfunction we and our city officials all too often ignore or allow to proceed uncontested. The sidewalks could have been widened inward (into the triangle space) to gain necessary ADA required width and preserved the trees.

    The new street lights also seem awfully tall considering they are serving a pedestrian space.

    The colored concrete seems like a useless waste of money. Does the “pattern” installed really make the space any more inviting or promote walking?

    Useless bike rack and no permanent shade structure for bus passengers.

    This project fails from a utilitarian transportation perspective (at its best, it could have been a mini-transit hub with secure and quality bike parking), it fails as park for families (hey it could have been a modest park). Will the “performance space” actually be used? We can only hope. To echo other comments, this is a public space designed by people who do not use public spaces or rely on public transit.

  • Ophelia

    I didn’t even recognize that as a bike rack prior…

  • Justin Runia

    Yeah, I dunno, it seems like there’s probably some statutory or liability reasons for cutting the trees down, comparing these projects to places where trees are never going to be planted (like the middle of a playground), or private developments that don’t have the same statutory / liability envelope seems fruitless, IMHO.

  • John K

    Thanks for highlighting this important issue. It drives me crazy seeing the City constantly destroying mature trees and then not maintaining the young saplings, which end up dying. The Hoover Triangle had such potential. Where is the leadership in CD1?

    Also, Rec & Parks just removed a mature tree from the Echo Park Tennis courts as well, and I just can’t figure out why the City always seems hell-bent on removing mature trees everywhere they go.

  • John K

    Missed opportunity for sure. Union is lightly trafficked in this intersection, and this would have been a great candidate to expand the triangle and close off Union to car traffic, increasing park/plaza space for the neighborhood.

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