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Proyecto Pastoral Crowdfunds for Pico-Aliso Neighborhood Project

The residents living in the Pico Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

The advocates from Proyecto Pastoral living in the Pico-Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

Squeezed in between the major thoroughfares connecting Boyle Heights to downtown, the Pico-Aliso community has long been treated by the city as an area to be passed through, and as quickly as possible, at that.

With the demolition of the 6th Street Viaduct and the subsequent increase in commuter vehicle traffic during peak hours along 4th and 1st Streets, safety for lower-income families who must cross those thoroughfares to get to transit stops, school, or recreational opportunities has become even more of a concern.

This past January, a new stoplight was installed at 4th and Pecan Streets after the youth from the Boyle Heights Technical Center conducted a study that demonstrated the clear need for traffic calming there. And a new signal is planned for 4th and Clarence Streets (where one person was killed when a car slammed into a taco stand, recently) along with improvements to sidewalks and pedestrian lighting that will help Pico Gardens’ residents access the new park planned for underneath the 6th Street Viaduct (thanks to $5 million in funds secured in the second cycle of Active Transportation Program funding).

But members of Proyecto Pastoral’s Comunidad en Movimiento (CEM) seem to believe there is more to be done. And they would know best – volunteers from the group have been helping children navigate busy corridors as part of their Safe Passage/Camino Seguro program for almost 20 years now. The program began in 1999 as a way to help children move unscathed through a public space that was heavily impacted by gang activity.

The drop in violence in the neighborhood, thanks in part to their efforts, has allowed them the space to turn their attention to traffic safety over the last several years. Read more…

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O Come All Ye Donors…

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. There tends to be fewer shelters and less shade available to those who are most heavily dependent on transit. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. There tend to be fewer shelters and less shade available to those who are most heavily dependent on transit. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

You love us.

You really, really love us.

Or, at least, we like to think you do. How else could Streetsblog Los Angeles founding editor Damien Newton have expanded his west coast publishing empire to cover Long Beach, Santa Monica, San Francisco, the Central Valley, Sacramento, and beyond if you didn’t? Especially at a time when other news outlets find themselves continuing to cut back on coverage? It must be love.

For this, we are truly and eternally grateful.

It won’t stop us from asking you to spare a few dollars for us this holiday season, of course. But that does not diminish how appreciative we are of what you have helped us accomplish thus far.

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With your help, not only have we been able to cover the range of issues that typically fall within a livable streets scope, but we’ve been able to expand discussions of livability, mobility, equity, health, inclusivity, and justice to be more reflective of the wider range of realities lived across Los Angeles.

In doing so, we have explored how issues of national significance like gentrification, access to affordable housing, and law enforcement-community relations manifest in the lower-income communities of South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights as well as their implications for local planners and policy makers. We have also been able to elevate the voices of residents from these neighborhoods seeking to present their own visions of “community” and of what it means to be “livable.”

Our commitment to listening to historically marginalized communities has helped us to raise questions about what it means to really engage a wide range of stakeholders, make the case for why communication and trust-building with residents is of the essence, and explain how and why the unique contexts of these communities matters for outcomes. It has also helped us articulate why mobility cannot be spoken of as independent from access to affordable housing, economic or educational opportunities, or security in the public space for so many of those struggling to get by in our fair city.

As investment continues to flow into areas that have long suffered from neglect and disenfranchisement, these insights will be invaluable in the pursuit of infrastructure and policy solutions that both meet those communities’ mobility needs and discourage displacement. A more interconnected city in which everyone is able to participate is a healthier, more accessible, and more livable city for all.

Please help us continue to stay at the forefront of discussions on equity, mobility, gentrification, affordability, and livability as we move into the new year by making a tax-deductible donation to Streetsblog. You’ll be in the running to win a bike while you are at it: every time you make a donation, you are entered into our nationwide raffle to win a Tern Folding Bike.

Did we mention you can win a Tern Folding bike? Every time you make a donation, you are entered into our nationwide raffle. Click on the image to go to our donation page.

Thanks for your support! Best wishes for a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season!

 

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Challenge Grant Winners in Boyle Heights and South L.A. Race Against the Clock to Raise Project Funds, Build Networks

Shouldn't all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Shouldn’t all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Twenty-three days is not a lot of time to get community buy-in on a complete streets pop-up event/project and raise $10,000 in support of it. Especially in lower-income communities like Boyle Heights and parts of South L.A., where the stakeholders who would ideally be buying into the projects tend to be less familiar with concepts like “tactical urbanism,” are generally of lesser means, and/or are often unreachable via a social media campaign (or wholly unable to make online payments to it).

But the three sets of groups that won Great Streets Challenge Grants in those neighborhoods are determined to forge ahead.

Ride On! bike co-op founder Adé Neff acknowledged the timeline and lack of funds to do more comprehensive outreach was tough, but said he was excited to use the grant program as an opportunity to build connections along Crenshaw and between community advocates in South L.A.

Usually grants for community projects go to people outside the community, he said, because people are out of the loop with regard to funding opportunities or lack the capacity and structure to go after them. That disconnection often means that projects that do take place in the community generally fail to engage residents in more than a rubber-stamp sort of way. Meaning, any benefits that accrue to the community tend to be superficial and temporary, at best.

For someone like himself, freshly out of Antioch’s Urban Sustainability M.A. program and looking to be a driver of change in South L.A., that is a frustrating landscape to be part of.

“We have the talent pool” to do the kinds of innovative grassroots advocacy in South L.A. that could strengthen the community from within, he said. What remained was “to create the capacity to do it.”

To that end, he has joined up with architect Michael MacDonald of Studio MMD, TRUST South L.A., and Community Health Councils to put together a project that they hope will build some of those bridges between advocates while breaking down some of the barriers between folks in the Hyde Park area. All while making the busy intersection at Florence and Crenshaw safe and fun for a day.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Their project, Street Beats, intends to set up the tools to let passersby make music on each of the four corners of the intersection. Read more…

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The Butterfly Effect: Privileging Form (and Speedy Implementation) over Function Yields Semi-Obsolete Street Furniture in Boyle Heights

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When the butterflies, flowers, and decorative benches first started popping up along 1st Street in Boyle Heights last year, reviews were mixed.

Okay…

That’s not really true — the reviews I heard were largely not that great.

Particularly from business owners that had been given some advance notice — but no choice and no recourse — about what would be appearing outside their front doors.

A large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A very large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Staff there said they had originally been told they would be getting a flower bike rack. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

After the large ficus trees that had destroyed the street’s sidewalks had been ripped out, the sidewalks repaired, and new trees planted, the colorful bike racks that appeared soon after were a bit incongruous with the new landscape.

The reference to the natural world served to point out just how devoid of greenery the street now was.

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 served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And while complaints did tend to highlight how garish the yellow butterflies were, the kicker, for many, was that the new racks and furniture were poorly placed and not particularly functional.

Some people didn’t know what they were or preferred relying on parking signs.

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 instagram

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 Instagram

Others (myself included) found the racks hard to use — the awkward shape of the butterfly and the shortness of the flower coupled with the roundness of its center make them both complicated to lock up against, depending on the type of bike you have, how you lock your bike (I take off my back wheel), or whether another bike is already locked to it.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza) are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza), are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But they’re not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But the thing that made the least sense was the placement of the furniture. Read more…

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At-Grade Crossings along Metro Blue Line Will See $30 Mil in Pedestrian Safety Improvements

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. For much of that trajectory, the Blue Line shares a ROW with Union Pacific Railroad. The fact that pedestrians must cross four sets of tracks at many intersections makes the crossings more dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“In the interest of time,” Greg Kildare, Executive Director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety, and Asset Management team, began his address to the Board on July 23, “I will just say that staff believes that the [Metro Blue Line] pedestrian gating project is an extremely important safety improvement to our oldest rail line and consistent with [Metro CEO] Mr. Washington’s vision of reinvestment in our aging infrastructure, the state of good repair, and a safety-first orientation. That concludes my presentation.”

Agreeing that the upgrades were “long overdue,” the Board approved the installation of $30,175,000 worth of Pedestrian Active Grade Crossing Improvements at the 27 intersections the Blue Line shares a right-of-way (ROW) with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) without hesitation or discussion.

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Because the freight trains that use the UPRR tracks run infrequently and move so slowly — often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again — a train can appear to be more of a nuisance than a hazard.

Multiple trains on the tracks can throw off a pedestrian’s calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly the pedestrian feels they can get across the tracks. Or, as in the case of middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga, killed in 1999 when he clambered over a freight train stopped at the intersection only to be hit by a passing Blue Line train at 55th and Long Beach Ave., there is a potential for people to be confused by the train the signals apply to and believe they are safe when they are not.

A family with small children moves across the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A family with small children first zigs to the right to access the curb cut, get around the signals, and cross the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Even when people obey the signals, their journey from narrow pedestrian island to narrow pedestrian island can be lengthened by having to zig-zag their way across the tracks (above and below). 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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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…