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South LA

In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues impact the health and character of a community, Streetsblog and The California Endowment teamed to bring Streetsblog’s coverage to a hyper-local level in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman is the Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and is leading our coverage efforts in these communities. This page serves as a place to read Sahra’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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East Side Riders’ Dreams of a Bike Co-op Finally Materializing in Watts

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders' new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders’ new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It may have been a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t keep the East Side Riders from firing up the grill and cooking for the community in front of their new bike co-op on Central Ave. in Watts.

Feeding the community is something they have done since launching the club several years ago. In those days, they would make sandwiches and hand them out to folks in need as they rode. As the club grew, they expanded their community service efforts to include promoting health and safe streets, encouraging black and brown unity, raising awareness around the need for justice in cases of hit-and-runs, building and fixing bikes for free for kids in the community, sponsoring families at Christmas, and, along with Los Ryderz Bike Club, serving as rolling ambassadors of positivity and change for Watts and the larger South L.A. community.

So far, they have managed to do all this out of their own pockets and without having a permanent home. In the early days, the club was run out of members’ garages. Then, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) gave them space to store their bikes, meet up, and launch their rides. But they still wanted something of their own — a place they could adapt to meet community needs.

They finally settled on a new site at 113th and Central, a few blocks down the street from the WLCAC. It’s also across the street from Nickerson Gardens, the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi. While that might be intimidating for some, the East Side Riders think they’re right where they need to be. Read more…

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Man is Shot and Killed by the Officers He Called to Help Search for Stolen Bike. Is it a Livable Streets Issue?

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Several months ago, I asked that a link to a story on the beating of Clinton Alford by LAPD officers be included in our daily headlines.

The 22-year-old African-American man had been riding his bike along Avalon Blvd. near 55th St. in South L.A. one night when a car pulled up alongside him and someone inside shouted at him to stop. Because the man didn’t identify himself as a police officer, Alford told the L.A. Times, when the men came after him and grabbed the back of his bike, he took off running.

Once he realized they were cops, he lay down voluntarily and allowed them to restrain him.

That’s when another car pulled up, a heavyset officer ran over, and the assault on the restrained young man began in earnest.

“I was just praying that they wouldn’t kill me,” he said of the blows that repeatedly rained down on his head and slight frame. “I just closed my eyes and tried to hold on.”

A reader objected to the inclusion of the link in the headlines, arguing that it was racism that had prompted the attack, not the fact that the young man was bicycling, and that I shouldn’t try to push an agenda on our readers.

I was disappointed by the comment — it is well-known that law enforcement has long associated bikes with criminality, substance abuse, and gangs in lower-income communities of color. In Alford’s case, they assumed he was leaving a crime scene, despite the fact that he did not fit the description of the robbery suspect they were searching for.

But I wasn’t surprised by the comment, either.

The idea that someone’s race or status can be separated from their ability to move through the public space is a sentiment I come up against consistently in a variety of forums within the livable streets advocacy community. It manifests both in the non-inclusion of such issues in policy (like Vision Zero) and in the categorization of the hostility of the public space to people of color as separate from issues of livability. It doesn’t mean advocates don’t care about the problem. But it does mean they may not know where it fits in to livability or how.

Even at Streetsblog NYC, editor Ben Fried, in response to the Eric Garner ruling, wrote of

…grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Much like the commenter, he essentially points to racism as the problem.

Which, of course, it is.

But racism has never been a passive noun. It colors the assumptions we make about those around us  — who they are and what their intentions might be. And when those assumptions manifest in the behavior of those tasked with the authority of defining “security” and monitoring the public space, we have a livable streets issue on our hands.

Advocates need to accept that part of keeping streets “safe” and “livable” for everyone else has involved curbing the “threats” to their security. And that while cars, bad design, and a blatant disregard for the rights of those on foot or on bikes are certainly a massive component of that, those “threats” have also been construed as people of color attempting to engage in the very thing that livability advocates seek to encourage — unfettered movement through the public space. Read more…

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Open-Air Bike Tune-Up Session Brings Community Together in Leimert Park

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I know you!” I laughed, pointing at soon-to-be 9th grader Cortez Wright. “You were the reason the [King Day] parade got stopped!”

Back in January, the young man and three of his friends — all experienced cyclists — had taken the opportunity to join the Black Kids on Bikes‘ (BKoB) parade “float.” It was a pretty informal affair, essentially consisting of the group riding in slow circles along the parade route, occasionally doing tricks, and letting community members try out their bikes, if they were so inclined. The larger goal was to put a young and dynamic face on cycling in the South L.A. community, both to change negative stereotypes around cycling and to attract new people to the movement.

And it was all going very well until an overzealous police officer used the helmetless Wright and his friends as an excuse to stop and harass the group, asking if they were supposed to be there. Minutes later, that same officer stepped in front of the Real Rydaz, claiming he had to stop the bikes because of the kind of “chaos” that kids like Wright and his friends were causing.

“I still don’t have a helmet…” Wright nodded.

But he had stayed connected to the Black Kids on Bikes — a group he looked up to — and jumped at the chance to hang out with them when he saw the notice about the free tune-up session in Leimert Park hosted by Ride On! posted on the group’s Facebook page.

It was easy to see why. When I arrived a little after noon yesterday, the plaza was bustling.

Erik Charlot works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erik Charlot (left) works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Music blared from some speakers set up at the corner by some of the weekend vendors and the DIY co-op was in full swing. Members and their supporters had brought their portable bike stands, tools, and cleaning supplies from home and set up under the shade of the plaza’s enormous fig tree.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As the group grew in size, so did the sense that a community was being built. Read more…

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Today in Two Steps Backwards: USC Discontinues Rideshare Subsidy Program for 3000+ Employees; Offers Parking Passes as Consolation

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as "the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles." Source: USC

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as “the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles.” Source: USC

The letter sent to the more than three thousand faculty and staff that participated in USC’s Rideshare Subsidy Program this past June 16th started off happily enough.

The USC Rideshare program is growing and continuing to evolve!  In 2015, we recorded our highest-ever Air Quality Management District (AQMD) survey result – an AVR (average vehicle ridership) of 1.92. This is a phenomenal result – nearly 2 people on average in every car that comes to our campuses – and represents USC’s seventh consecutive year-over-year improvement in this important metric.

Not bad, right? Carpooling is happening. It’s improving every year. And, on top of that, more than three thousand of the faculty and staff (out of a total of ~17,000) are choosing some form of transit or rideshare to get to campus. Despite the Reason Foundation’s dire predictions about the Expo Line, people are taking advantage of the three USC stops. Things are looking up. Good on you, USC!

Metro gave USC three -- count 'em, three! -- stops.

Metro gave USC three — count ‘em, three! — stops. Jefferson/USC, Expo Park/USC, and Expo/Vermont.

So, the logical thing is to reward that and encourage more rideshare, right? Because building and maintaining parking lots is expensive. The university already owns and/or manages ~16,000 spaces and is currently in the process of building some surface lots and two more structures — one at the main campus and one at Health Sciences in Boyle Heights — containing a total of 2,000 spaces. Using the median construction cost of a single above-ground parking space in Los Angeles, calculated at $19,355, it looks like those 2,000 spaces alone will cost approximately $38.7 million to build. And that is without factoring in the opportunity cost of constructing more facilities for students on what is rather valuable real estate.

All of which makes the next part of the letter that much more confusing. Read more…

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Great Streets, Tactical Urbanism, and the Challenge of Flipping the Traditional Planning Process on its Head

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central's important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A guitar sculpture at Vernon and Central Avenues nods to Central’s important place in history, both in music and in race relations. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When, in mid-May, the Mayor’s Office put out a call for proposals offering up to $20,000 in Great Streets Challenge Grants for applicants seeking to foster community via imaginative uses of public space, I’ll admit my heart sank.

Not because I have anything against imaginative uses of public space or money for community improvements.

But, with the due date for those proposals set for the end of last month (and winners to be announced next week), I did wonder if the Great Streets program was getting a wee bit ahead of itself.

At least in some parts of town.

Scroll through the Great Streets challenge grant application manual or listen to the recorded webinar on the application process, and you’ll see that the goals of “creat[ing] a program that empowers communities to propose innovative and creative projects for their own streets,” “finding a way to connect community leaders with funding and support for projects…,” and piloting “a participatory planning process that will offer new opportunities [between stakeholders and innovators] for collaboration early on in a project development process” are all front and center.

In essence, via Great Streets and the grant program, the city is testing the waters on institutionalizing tactical urbanism.

Inspired by unsanctioned, bottom-up, do-it-yourself interventions used by some communities to reclaim public space, tactical urbanism has been embraced by planners as a way to “flip the traditional planning process on its head” and engage communities by helping them visualize how interventions could reshape urban spaces. Plazas, parklets, and other low-risk temporary projects, the argument goes, offer residents the opportunity to experience their communities in new ways. They also offer civic leaders the tools with which to approach “neighborhood building and activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies” that are potentially more inclusive, less intimidating, and better at facilitating discussions around the future of a neighborhood than more formal open houses and forums. Should residents’ experiences with a project prove positive, many feel, it can fuel momentum for more permanent efforts to transform the space that build on those interventions. Should the projects fail, they can be ripped out without much consequence and planners can return to the drawing board with lessons learned already in hand.

In this vein, it was reiterated several times in the challenge grants webinar, the funding is intended to offer communities the opportunity to test out some of those projects on the designated Great Streets, assess their viability, gather data on community buy-in, and make it easier for the city go after funding to make those projects (and/or their outgrowths) permanent down the line.

Even L.A. Department of Transportation head Seleta Reynolds recently touted the grant program, writing for Crosscut that it “cements the city’s faith in the community to drive its destiny” and can “leverage untapped resources in communities: the expertise of those who live, work, and play in them.”

Except that Great Streets has yet to meaningfully engage many of the very communities it has sited for transformation about the grant program or any plans for the future of their streets.

***

Read more…

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Leimert Park People St Plaza Opens; Stakeholders Debate Building a Cultural Center

Leimert Park Village's People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Don’t tell anybody I’m using these,” Councilmember Herb Wesson said of the blue art scissors he wielded as the moment came to cut the ribbon on Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza project this past Saturday.

The enormous pair of wooden scissors held by Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown — the fiscal sponsor of the plaza project — were only ceremonial.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Councilmember Wesson is flanked by (l-r) Johnnie Raines, Empowerment Congress West (ECWA) member-at-large, ECWA Chair Danielle Lafayette, Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown, Leimert Park Art Walk co-founder Ben Caldwell, LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds, Director of Special Projects for the Dept. of Cultural Affairs James Burks, Urban Design Center founder Sherri Franklin, Manager/Program Director of Great Streets, Nat Gale, and Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The ribbon-cutting marked the end of the first stage in a long process for Leimert Park Village stakeholders.

A year and a half prior, at the first community-wide design charette, they had talked about the possibility of converting part of 43rd Pl. into a plaza space.

With the Leimert Park Metro station due to be finished in the next few years, they had felt the time for deciding what face they wanted to present to the world was now.

Situated directly in front of the beautiful Vision Theater, the KAOS Network, and part of Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice campus, the site looked to be the perfect anchor for the rebranding of the community as a hub for black creatives and the celebration of the African diaspora. Read more…

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Saturday! Leimert Park Celebrates 2nd Annual 20|20 Vision Charette with People St Plaza Launch

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson -- "chain link" -- at bottom right) and "Except for God" (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson — “chain link” — at bottom right) and “Except for God” (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. The Plaza officially opens this Saturday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It is noon on a Monday.

The weekly Leimert Park Village (LPV) stakeholders meeting has just finished, and Sherri Franklin, founder of the Urban Design Center, and Romerol Malveaux, former Field Director for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, are leading a small group of people on a walk around the village streets.

Map in hand, Franklin is taking note of existing issues with the sidewalks, trees (or lack of), pedestrian lighting, planters, and street furniture. The notes will be used to help determine how the Prop 1C dollars Leimert Park received should be deployed to improve the streetscape.

It’s not an altogether uncommon scene.

Since the launch of the Leimert Park Village Stakeholders 20|20 Vision Initiative in January 2014, it seems there is always work to be done.

The 20|20 Vision Initiative was born out of the LPV stakeholders’ desire to harness the change the Leimert Park station will bring to the area when the Crenshaw/LAX rail line is completed in 2020. The nearly 200 stakeholders in attendance focused on developing an overarching vision for the area and what they would need to do to make that vision a reality. Participants debated how to make Leimert Park a destination, deepen relationships with sister cities or communities, attract investors looking to build partnerships with local artists and cultural caretakers, support black creatives and foster development from within the community, and the possibility of turning the space in front of the Vision Theater into a car-free plaza.

Since that initial charette, LPV stakeholders have been meeting every Monday morning to hone those plans and move forward on their implementation.

A year and a half later, their People St Plaza project is set to open in a ceremony this Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m.

But instead of the Plaza symbolizing the end of the journey and cause to take a breath, it seems more like a beginning. Or maybe a benchmark. But definitely not an end. To wit, the ceremony will be taking place during a break for those attending tomorrow’s Second Annual LPV 20|20 Vision Initiative Charette, “Harnessing Our Cultural Economy.” Read more…

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Ron Finley’s Da FUNction Kicks Off Effort to Transform South L.A. Food Landscape

Support for the transformation of the state of South L.A.’s food landscape seems to be gaining some traction.

As we noted two weeks ago, food justice crusaders Community Services Unlimited will be opening an organic produce market, cafe, and community gathering space in the coming months to fill the much-needed gap in healthy options in the area.

It’s a cause that even Aloe Blacc was able to get behind, as seen in the video below.

But CSU is not the only one looking to improve the food landscape in the area.

Self-described “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley — the man whose quest to create a “food forest” in the parkways outside his South L.A. home eventually led to a city ordinance allowing the curbside planting of produce — has his own project targeting the Vermont Square public library.

The library, located at 48th and Budlong Streets, sits on a rather large parcel of land that is underutilized. While the area immediately behind the library is sometimes used as a makeshift soccer field on summer evenings (thanks to the outdoor lighting), the grassy area beyond it tends to be used primarily by homeless folks.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park which is already a gathering space for the community.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park. Activation of the library land might help keep the park more active, too.

Hoping to make the space more active and accessible for all, Finley has re-envisioned the space as one hosting a garden, possibly a cafe, and ongoing health-oriented activities. To launch his effort to bring this vision to life, he is hosting (together with the L.A. Design Festival) a day of fun at the site. Read more…

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Activist Profile: Tafarai Bayne

Tafarai Bayne, then with T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. takes in a mural along the RideSouthLA route before a ride in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

South L.A. community organizer and streets advocate extraordinaire Tafarai Bayne was often seen exploring the vast landscape of Los Angeles on “The Flash,” his recently retired bicycle.

Despite The Flash’s retirement, Bayne’s passion for the cycling community remains a prevalent aspect in his work.

On December 7th, 2014, Bayne was joined by tens of thousands of Angelenos as CicLAvia cycled through South L.A. neighborhoods, from Leimert Park to Central Avenue via Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard.

CicLAvia’s South L.A. route was a monumental event for multiple reasons: not only was it the first CicLAvia held through and for South L.A. communities, it was also the first route that Bayne had a strong hand in planning and executing after helping plan the event in previous years.

“The route in December was the culmination of years of work that I and some good friends/allies started in 2010 after I got the chance to attend the first CicLAvia,” wrote Bayne.

In association with TRUST South L.A., Bayne approached Joe Linton, then an organizer for CicLAvia (and currently the editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles). Despite Linton’s warnings of a lengthy planning process (written about by Streetsblog L.A.’s Sahra Sulaiman here) — one that ultimately lasted about four years — Bayne was determined to bring the cycling event to his community.

His interest in elevating communities like South L.A. had begun at an early age.

Born in Watts, Bayne was raised in the city’s Crenshaw District. As a student at Downtown Business Magnet, he often found himself navigating Los Angeles on city buses to get to classes held in downtown spaces. He credits the combination of his upbringing and the commutes that allowed him to experience the ambiance of multiple neighborhoods with giving him a lens to think critically about his city and the number of ways in which communities like South L.A. were often overlooked.

It was teacher-turned-UTLA secretary, Daniel Barnhart, that helped him think about how to channel his passion for social justice and the advancement of his community into advocacy.

“I was introduced by [Barnhart] to the idea of advocacy and community organizing,” said Bayne. “He’s an organizer for the teachers’ union now, but at the time he was going to the [1999 World Trade Organization] protests in Seattle. He’d come back and show us his gas masks and talk [to us] about challenging what people were perceiving as unjust, unfair laws. People weren’t getting a say on how things were being decided or on the impacts they were feeling. This really got me thinking about engaging in Los Angeles.”

Now attuned to the significance of public policy, Bayne didn’t wait long to test out what he’d learned. After graduating high school, he volunteered at the “Convergence Center” at the 2000 Democratic National Convention — the gathering site for protesters and community organizers from around the country. He then went on to intern with Public Allies. It was through this internship that Bayne was placed at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), where he was brought on board, first, as an intern and then as full-time staff. Bayne later found himself returning to Public Allies and, finally, spending seven years working at TRUST South L.A., an organization that addresses affordable housing (and, more recently, mobility) challenges in South L.A., and shifting his attention toward urban planning. Read more…

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Rosa Parks Station on Track to Complete Environmental Review Process, Finalize Station Design

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook station, either to transfer between the Blue and Green Lines or to catch one of the nearly dozen buses that connect with the station, you know it isn’t the most user-friendly place.

Not only do the narrow stairs connecting the two platforms (used by 78% of all 30,000+ passengers that pass through the station daily) create a natural bottleneck, in combination with impatient Sheriffs, families with strollers, cyclists with bikes, and glitchy TAP validators, they can facilitate human traffic jams that inhibit people’s ability to transfer to transit.

Moreover, the narrow Blue Line platform can be quite crowded and uncomfortable in the heat of the day.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A calm moment at the transfer point between the Blue and Green Lines at the Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. Depending on the season and time of day, the Blue Line platform can be bathed in sun and very, very crowded. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is aiming to change all that with the (proposed) construction of a more open and welcoming community-oriented transit center it believes will be an asset to the neighborhood.

The revamped station will better connect transit riders to nearby education, cultural, health, commercial, and recreational resources via a Mobility Hub (and Bike Hub), more comfortable waiting areas and more sheltering canopies, improved pedestrian circulation via a new Transit Hall, a reconfiguration of the bus depot area, a new southern at-grade entrance to the Blue Line, and upgrades to the lighting, signage, landscaping, stairs, elevators, and escalators (see the project fact sheet here).

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: JGM)

The station will also feature a Sheriff’s facility, Metro Customer Service Center (to better serve lower-income riders), better integration with the Kenneth Hahn Plaza (KHP) shopping center to the south, and possibly a cafe.

Via a rendering from Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc. and design architects Hodgetts + Fung, it appears passengers will also enjoy a much more enticing, well-lit, and well-signaled connection to the Green Line under the 105 freeway (below). Read more…