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Posts from the "Livable Streets" Category

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If Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, Surely it Should Also be a Component of “Complete”-ness, No?

Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, trash grows... Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Bus stop, bus goes, trash stays, trash grows on Olympic Blvd.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As folks were preparing to cut the cake in honor of the Complete Streets Day motion put forth by Councilmember Jose Huizar at City Hall last week, I was getting geared up to volunteer at a high school located in his district, around which many of the streets are decidedly incomplete.

I had run into Roosevelt High School teacher extraordinaire Jorge Lopez a couple of weeks prior; students from his food justice class were helping give a tour of two corner markets that had received healthy makeovers courtesy of Public Matters. When he heard I was interested in interviewing the students involved in the project, he suggested I stop in his classroom instead and assist the students in reworking their own interviews with food activists and workers in the area into articles.

Hell, yes! I thought.

Teens — besides being inspiring to work with — are often incredible, unfiltered informants about the unique dynamics of their communities and how those dynamics impact mobility, health, and access to opportunity.

When I first worked with his English class two years ago, students were writing speeches about things they would like to see improved in their neighborhood. Given the myriad challenging circumstances that the youth came from, immigrant rights, living wages, affordable housing, protection from gang activity, and access to healthy food and other health resources unsurprisingly figured prominently into their discussions.

But, I was also struck that one of the recurring themes was an inferiority complex many expressed with regard to East L.A.

It was so much cleaner, they complained.

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When we think of “Complete Streets,” we tend to focus on ways to facilitate mobility by “design[ing] and operat[ing streets] to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

But, for these students, it was clear that having streets that looked clean, inviting, and safe was important for mobility and access, too.

In comparing their neighborhoods to East L.A., many voiced a belief that people in East L.A. took more pride in their community because the sidewalks and streets there were well taken care of. Boyle Heights streets’, they said, felt run down and forgotten.

It was something that bothered them a lot. Read more…

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We Can Tell You How to Get, How to Get to People St

The People St program seeks to bring more plazas, such as the one above in Silver Lake, parklets and bike corrals through the city by encouraging partnerships with community groups.

“Thank you for liberating our streets,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin greeted LADOT staff last week. While LADOT staff may not be used to a hero’s welcome, Assistant General Manager Dan Mitchell and Assistant Pedestrian Coordinator Valerie Watson weren’t there to present a typical transportation project, or even to talk about why some five-lane street in The Valley needs to have its speed limit increased.

They were there to talk about People St.

For those that missed it, People St is a new LADOT program, which will be formally launched next week, to partner with community groups to create more bike corrals (L.A. has 2), Parklets (L.A. has 3) and pedestrian plazas (just one…and it has polka dots). Mitchell and Watson were there to ask the City Council to approve a timeline for an application process.

In other words, People St isn’t just a flashy website. It’s a real program that’s going to create more space for humans on a small portion of the thousands of underused miles of streets in Los Angeles. The first application process will begin on March 1. The next one will begin October 1 with future cycles beginning on October 1 in future years. While the second application process is beginning, the city will actually begin installing the first People St programs.

The full proposed timeline is available below.

Once approved by the full Council next week, community groups will be able to propose their own parklet, plaza and bike corral locations and work with the city to make them happen. Some local advocacy groups are already working on their own People St projects. For example, the Los Angeles Eco-Village is already planning for a new plaza located near their Bimini St compound.

“Communities that know their neighborhoods best propose project locations and are responsible for long-term maintenance,” explains Watson. Costs will be split between the city and the community partners for construction.

Currently, the People St website is informational. An expansion of the website is planned for early next year. On March 1, 2014 the city plans that the site will be a two-way portal for people to learn about the program and for the city to collect project ideas from community groups and businesses. Read more…

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Op/Ed – Before Garcetti Can Be the Hero, He Needs to Slay the Zombies

To be fair, this does look like an excellent place to be during a zombie attack. Rendering by Rios Clementi Hale Studios via the Daily News

Yesterday’s announcement that a planned pedestrian bridge for most of the corners of Lankershim Boulevard and Universal Hollywood Drive would cost $27 million, instead of the originally announced $19 million, was more bad news for those striving to make Los Angeles’ streets a better place. When Streetsblog last reported on this project, the cost was only $19 million, which seemed an expensive alternative to improving the intersection to facilitate pedestrian traffic.

The project is a bad idea for many reasons: the cost, the reality that too often people choose to ignore pedestrian bridges and the intersections will no longer be timed for pedestrians to cross at street level, the high volume of pedestrians in the area thanks the the Red Line station and bus terminal on two of the corners…the list goes on.

Perhaps a tacit admission that the project is a bad idea, the bridge only connects three of the four corners of the intersection. The fourth corner houses a bus terminal, with thousands of daily passengers. Metro bus passengers going east-west across the Valley need to cross both Campo de Cahuenga and Lankershim to transfer to Line 155 (Burbank/Toluca Lake) from the buses that come from the west on Ventura Boulevard.

Let’s also remember that a pedestrian tunnel, an idea thrown out for being “too expensive” was originally priced at $23 million. I’m not a math expert, but if $23 million was too expensive, how is $27 million a good use of funds? Even if you consider that NBC Universal is pledging to chip in$3.9 million, the project is currently as expensive as the “too expensive” alternative of yesteryear. This is particularly frustrating considering that transit service itself on Lankershim Boulevard is a shade of its former self.

The proposed bridge design serves all three corners of the intersection of Lankershim Boulevard and Campo de Cahuenga. Of course, the intersection has four corners.

Read more…

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MyFigueroa! Plan for LA’s First Protected Bike Lanes Clears Environmental Review

The future Figeuroa Street?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning released the Final Environmental Impact Report for the South Figueroa Streetscape Project (MyFigueroa!). The $20 million MyFigueroa! Project will bring Los Angeles its first protected bike lanes and a transit-only lane while removing some street parking and mixed-use travel lanes.

“As the first such protected bicycle facility in the City, the Figueroa Streetscape Project is a great opportunity to realize a truly multi-modal vision for our City streets, and will serve to attract a broader range of Angelenos into the emerging bicycle network,” writes David Somers with City Planning.

MyFigueroa! is a plan to create Los Angeles’ first Complete Street or Living Street. The project area includes four miles of streets that stretch from downtown L.A.  to South Los Angeles: Figueroa Street from 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles to 41st Street, just south of Exposition Park; 11th Street from Figueroa Street east to Broadway in the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles; and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street west to Vermont Avenue, on the south edge of Exposition Park. 

Different parts of the project will see different road improvements. For more details, visit the MyFigueroa! website.

Community groups, traffic safety organizations, and residents have voiced overwhelming support for the plan both through written public comment and at community forums. However, the plan has proven controversial with businesses along the corridor, including car dealerships, and the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA).

As you might expect, the businesses are concerned that by balancing the needs of all road users, it will be less convenient for car drivers to get to their businesses. By design, many of the people doing business at a car dealership will be driving to it. So why South Figueroa? Somers explains that the importance of the corridor as a connector between Downtown Los Angeles and South Los Angeles makes it the perfect location.

“The location is appropriate as a first of its type, in that the project connects USC and Downtown, two areas with great potential to support low-cost beneficial travel options, as well as greater local economic activity,” he continues. Read more…

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Recounting Sunday’s Justice For Trayvon March, Taking to the Freeway, & Thoughts on Urbanism & Racial Inequities

Justice for Trayvon march walking eastbound across all lanes from the Crenshaw entrance of the 10 freeway.

On the Sunday morning of July 14th I caught word of a rally and march calling for justice for Trayvon Martin on twitter to take place at 4:00pm meeting at Crenshaw Blvd. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I came out to see and hear what people had to say, and I wanted to feel the reality on the ground as it truly exists, unfiltered by the truncated flyover coverage that accounts for so much of broadcast news.

I also came out with the dual hats of documenting and live blogging, but also lending my own presence to the frustration that our society remains unfair and unjust, far too often shaped unequally along racial lines. I’m not entirely neutral here, but neutrality doesn’t really exist, and perhaps most especially from some sources that attempt to claim otherwise.

I’ll admit upfront I’m no expert on the legal system, and I was not following every turn of the Zimmerman trial (or was it really Trayvon on trial?). Writing from the perspective of a white male currently living in Santa Monica, I am not confronted by the same kinds of prejudice or systemic structural disparities and expectations in my personal life that a Black male would experience in our society.

I can recognize that institutional racism exists, but I cannot speak from the same place, I do not carry the same burden. As an idealist, the fundamental unfairness of this dynamic does burn at me, it angers me, but such feelings must pale in comparison to how it must feel to carry the weight of presumed guilt by simply existing as one’s self. When I was a teenager I sometimes walked or biked alone at night on the suburban streets and pedestrian paths where I grew up, but I was never perceived a threat or stalked by law enforcement or civilian self styled authorities. It never crossed my mind that I might be confronted over imagined crimes simply because of how I looked and where I was going.

From the night of February 26th, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, to the protests and rallies across the country following the acquittal verdict, the street as public space has been a central part of this story. Trayvon Martin, returning to the home he was visiting, was followed, presumed suspicious, presumed guilty of something, with no evidence as such, for the very act of walking down the street with the “wrong” appearance, in the “wrong” place. He was thought to be surely up to no good because of appearance and prejudice.

In much of the popular urbanist discourse the goal of complete streets is invoked, usually to denote particular design features or characteristics. But if there are people in our society who cannot even walk without presumed guilt, than I would contend that no street can be truly “complete”. No sidewalk, no bike lane, no ideal tree canopy, no parklet, can correct for social paranoia empowered by firearms and flawed legal institutions. The street is a social construct foremost. Design features and infrastructure are important, but always secondary. Read more…

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Sometimes, You Just Need to Set Aside the Data and Explore an Area by Bike

Some of the participants in the South L.A. Mobility Advisory Committee's ride gather for a post-ride photo outside TRUST South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

There’s a cool new group on the move in South L.A. called the Mobility Advisory Committee.

Spearheaded by representatives of TRUST South L.A. and Community Health Councils, with support from the LACBC, it has managed to bring together a diverse group of community activists to discuss and promote South L.A.’s interests with regard to all forms of mobility.

Which is actually more fun than it might sound.

Organizers have been diligent about linking the meetings to community events. So, after an hour or two of planning events or debating the kinds of updates we’d like to see in the Mobility Element of the General Plan, we are able to support other community organizations in South L.A. or hold our own, as we did this past weekend.

This weekend’s event was particularly exciting because we were joined by some of the staff from city planning and LADOT for a 12(ish)-mile bike tour.

Participants in the bike tour study maps of the proposed route. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

After discussing candidate areas for South L.A. pedestrian districts, we gathered around the maps of the route we would be taking. Organizers asked that we think about the kinds of improvements that would help make major streets like Vernon, King, and Crenshaw “complete” streets.

Lys Mendez, a planner working on the Health and Wellness Chapter of the Mobility Element, asked that we also think about health aspects and opportunities as we rode. Were there healthy stores or resources in the area that would complement complete streets improvements?  Could we snap photos of any such potential sites as we went along and send them to her?

While we weren’t necessarily successful in documenting the ride in photos (see here for some), it was valuable for all of us to get a feel for how streets were used, the assets they held, and how welcoming (or unwelcoming) particular streets could be to pedestrians or cyclists.

Bike lanes on 2nd Ave., for example, although part of a road diet, didn’t appear to slow down a driver determined to speed their way through.

The failure of the “improvement” to make a real impact on the driver’s behavior may have been why a resident (and sometimes cyclist) standing in his front yard seemed surprised to find that there was a bike lane on his street. Read more…

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Riders Pedal-Push for Unity and Raise Awareness about Police Brutality

Black & Brown Unity Ride posts up at the Watts Towers (photo: sahra)

“It’s still important for us to come together,” began Taryn Randle, one of the ride leaders and member of both the Ovarian Psycos and Black Kids on Bikes.

The black-brown tension sometimes present in L.A. had been a surprise to her when she arrived here from Chicago, she told the largely black and brown crowd. Fixing it had become a major focus of her studies and work, and she looked at the Black & Brown Unity Ride (organized by the Psycos, BKoB, and the East Side Riders) as a simple but effective way to take the issue on.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to have this unstated hatred towards each other based off of ignorance. I think it can be overcome by simple things like this — us coming out like this on a Sunday, biking, kicking it, eating, listening to music….It’s a good way to start that conversation and building that bridge.”

Bringing groups of riders together and letting the communities they rolled through see that adults of all races could have fun together, she and others felt, could provide a good example for communities and youth struggling with those issues in their own neighborhoods.

Along the way, Taryn reminded the riders that the purpose of the ride was unity. She encouraged them to talk to the riders they hadn’t come with so that they could get to know each others’ experiences.

Riders take a moment to stretch and breathe at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights (photo: sahra)

The openness of riders to learning about each other seemed to make it easier for people to join in as we went along.

At Mariachi Plaza, one of the start points of the ride, I spotted a Latino gentleman on a bike watching the riders stretch. I asked if he wanted to come along with us.

Let me call my son, he said in Spanish.

He wanted his fourteen-year old to see the spectacle and join in. When his son said he couldn’t get there in time, the man decided to come along anyways. It was his first experience with a group ride, and he appreciated the larger purpose behind it.

At Exposition Park, we picked up a rollerblader with an iguana on his head. He was originally headed to Venice, but said there was no way he could miss out on rolling with us. Read more…

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Huizar, Living Streets, Unveil Parklet Designs for El Sereno Street, York Blvd.

Proposed York Boulevard Street Porch, Highland Park. Click on the image for a high resolution pdf of the image.

Move over Sunset Triangle Plaza, a pair of street reclamation projects on the Eastside are threatening to steal your thunder as the most progressive street reclamation project in Los Angeles. Living Streets L.A.and Councilman Jose Huizar unveiled new designs for a “street porch” on York Boulevard in Highland Park and a “street plaza” on Huntington Drive in El Sereno.  Both designs are completely unique as they arrived as a result of an extensive community process that started with a simple question, “How would you like to improve your street?”  Nearly a dozen sessions later, each community devised surprisingly similar plans. “Ryan [Living Streets' Ryan Lehman] and I were pleasantly surprised that when given the option to choose any street improvement, the project both people chose were in one case a street porch and another case a street plaza,” explains Steve Rassmussen Cancian, the architect for the project. Rasmussen Cancian prefers to avoid the term “parklets” which confuses people by leaving the impression that the city is planning something bigger, such as a soccer field, for the middle of the street.  He prefers the more descriptive “street porch” for the above pictured design for York Boulevard which is actually resembles an urban porch.  For El Sereno, pictured below, he prefers the term “street plaza.”

The El Sereno Street Plaza. Click on the image for a high resolution pdf of the image.

Read more…

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It’s a Small World: How Gang Activity Impacts the Livability of Streets

Fidel, now a Business Administration student at LACC, used to run with a tag-banging crew near USC. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In my effort to expand the boundaries of what we consider to be livable streets issues, I present the first of a three-part story about a 19-year old named Fidel who ran with a crew for a few years on the north edge of South L.A. He hopes that by talking about how he grew up, people can begin to see the extent to which some of L.A.’s streets can be very hostile to youth. The insecurity of the streets and the negative encounters they experience there, although not the only factors, can play an important role in their decisions to join a gang or crew. Making some of these communities more hospitable for everyone, then, means considering these factors as well as the socio-economic conditions that facilitate and promote violence. Livable streets, in other words, would do well to ally itself with those working on broader questions of equity and social justice.

WHEN THEY JUMPED HIM IN to the crew in 10th grade, he tells me, the actual beating didn’t last very long. There may have been 6 guys, but Fidel, a natural fighter, was swinging more fiercely than they were. After he connected hard with a couple of the guys, they decided they had had enough and declared it over.

That was it. He was in.

He would quickly become their strongest fighter. Eager to prove himself, he was always ready to make a name for the crew and to protect his friends. He would be the one to step things up a notch by punking on some of their rivals. He would gain a reputation as the one not to be messed with.

“I had a lot of anger,” he admits somewhat sheepishly. “I fought a lot as a kid.”

I study the shy, self-conscious, sensitive 19-year old with the sweet disposition and easy smile as he nervously fidgets with the honey sticks meant for my tea. I know he is telling me the truth, but I still have a hard time believing it.

# # # # #

I met Fidel a year ago, when he was finishing up his senior year at West Adams High School. He had been assigned the task of writing a personal story about a struggle to overcome an obstacle. He was noticeably not thrilled about having to write about his feelings. He had sat down at a safe distance from me then, burly and reticent, a bit on the defensive, and looking for all the world like a cholo with his closely shaved head, goatee, and, as he put it, “mean mug.” He had stared at his hands and announced he didn’t have anything to write about.

“Yeah, right,” I remember thinking to myself.

He’d been through so much, but had never really talked about any of it before and wasn’t sure how to start. Once he did, story after crazy story tumbled out in a chaotic rush, each one more intense than the last.

He had been in and out of crews since elementary school, but he was feeling remorse about the things he and his current crew were doing. Friends were starting to get deeper into both trouble and drugs. Fights were becoming more intense and guys were ending up in the hospital with broken hands, stab wounds, and their heads split open by metal pipes. Others were heading off to jail. One was later killed.

He could see where it was all going, he said, and knew that he didn’t “want to not have kids and be in jail for life with just guys.”

He was most afraid about what it would do to his parents if something happened to him – he didn’t want them to be stuck with court tickets or hospital bills that he knew they couldn’t pay. They didn’t even know he was in a crew and trying to hide it from them was tiring.

So, he got out. Read more…

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Editorial: Don’t Let the South Figueroa Corridor Project Get Lost in the CRA Shuffle

The South Figueroa Corridor Plan proposes changes for more than just Figueroa Street.

The South Figueroa Corridor Plan proposes changes for more than just Figueroa Street. However, despite being fully funded, politics in post CRA Los Angeles may doom the project.

In 2008, we were curious. In 2011, we were ecstatic. In 2012, depression is starting to set in. The South Figueroa Corridor Project, unveiled to the cheers of Livable Street advocates last February, may be on the ropes.  Without action by a city agency, or the mayor’s office, advocates are going to have to say goodbye to the separated bike path, bus only lane, increased open space, pedestrian plaza and other improvements the project promised.  But it shouldn’t be that way.  In 2011, advocates were given three progressive visions for South Figueroa, currently a four or six lane street with whizzing cars or gridlock depending on the time of day.   Instead of “good,” “better” and “best,” we might get status quo. With the state-mandated dissolution of Community Redevelopment Agencies, a certain amount of chaos is occurring around the state.  Nowhere is that more prevalent than Los Angeles. One month after the dissolution of the local Community Redevelopment Agency, the city seems no closer to having a plan than it did when the California Supreme Court upheld Gov. Brown’s plan to shutter the CRA’s doors at the end of January.

Good.

Read more…