Vernon + Huntington Park Open Streets – Open Thread

Cyclists enjoying Vernon + Huntington Park Open Streets. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Cyclists enjoying Vernon + Huntington Park Open Streets. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

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Yesterday, the southeast L.A. County cities of Huntington Park and Vernon hosted their first joint open streets festival. Vernon + Huntington Park Open Streets closed about five miles of streets to car traffic, opening them to bicycling, scootering, skating, walking, and various booths, music, food trucks, and activities.

It wasn’t empty. There were definitely families and individuals enjoying themselves, but attendance was not great. I’ve been to more than 50 open streets events, and yesterday’s was the emptiest I’ve seen. It appeared to be the most sparsely attended ciclovía in L.A. County history. All the actual CicLAvia-produced CicLAvia events have attracted tens of thousands of people, including an earlier Huntington Park CicLAvia that connected with several neighboring southeast cities and communities. Smaller cities have produced their own open streets events attracting thousands of people. I remember attendance feeling somewhat sparse at events in El Monte/South El Monte and Downey, but yesterday looked emptier than those. I don’t have a scientific count for Vernon & HP’s event yesterday, but we arrived just after noon, and I would guess the total was fewer than two thousand. There were probably another thousand people staffing booths and street closures along the route.

There were a few signs early on that attendance was not going to be big. In the weeks leading up to the event, I had seen very little of the internet buzz that these events typically generate. When my daughter and I got off the Metro Blue Line, we biked to a nearby route spur on the northern half of Randolph Street. It was barricaded off from car traffic, but there were no signs nor visible cyclists. It was the first time I’ve arrived at a ciclovía route and have been unsure of whether I was in the right place.

A few factors come together to account for the meager attendance. It was a relatively hot August day. Outreach wasn’t effective.

One other factor is the lack of street life in the unique “exclusively industrial” city of Vernon. Vernon has about 2,000 businesses supporting about 50,000 jobs, but fewer than 150 residents and no parks. These Vernon streets are already very very quiet on a typical weekend: nearly no pedestrians, and hardly any cars. Open streets events depend on local residents; Vernon has very very few of them. Though the city has a history of supporting businesses, it does not have experience supporting large-scale public events.

Huntington Park's Pacific Blvd hub was the most active site along the route
Huntington Park’s Pacific Blvd hub was the most active site along the route

The most populated portion of the route was on Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park. Pacific is a popular Main Street commerical area, though yesterday many of the stores were closed. (I don’t know if this is typical for a Sunday, or if the event street closures prompted this.) A few restaurants were open and appeared fairly busy; this was the only commercial street on the route.

The most popular hub was on Pacific, near Gage Avenue, where a live music stage attracted a crowd of around two or three hundred people. Normally Pacific Avenue feels like a busy place, with plenty of people walking on its sidewalks. Both times when Pacific’s big wide street has been opened for ciclovía events, it felt like the crowds spread out and didn’t quite fill up the space.

A family cruising Pacific Boulevard at Sunday's open streets event
A family bikes, walks, and scooters on Pacific Boulevard at Sunday’s open streets event
Though attendance was sparse, there were still people out enjoying riding bikes on car-free streets in Huntington Park
Though attendance was sparse, there were still people out enjoying riding bikes on car-free streets in Huntington Park

Participants thinned out as we headed north on Pacific into the city of Vernon. The route continued on the industrial streets of Leonis and District Boulevards. Though there were a few art and play areas at hubs there, the industrial corridor felt empty (as it typically does on weekends.)

Open streets participants enjoying the wide industrial streets in Vernon
Open streets participants enjoying the wide industrial streets in Vernon
Many participants sought out the shade under Vernon's street trees
Many participants sought out shade under Vernon’s street trees
Even traffic enforcement personnel kept to the shade at crossing points along the Vernon+HP route
Even traffic enforcement personnel kept to the shade (under tent on the left) at crossing points along the Vernon+HP route

Though the event was fun for hundreds of people, I worry that low attendance could make cities less open to bicycling events and bicycing infrastructure in the future. After events like this I worry that someone might say “we tried that bike-thing and it just doesn’t work here.”

Vernon's open streets did not attract large crowds
Vernon’s open streets did not attract large crowds

Readers – how was your experience at Vernon + Huntington Park Open Streets?

 

  • calwatch

    The CicLAvia “produced” events generally are better organized simply because they’ve been doing it for the last eight years. I think Beach Streets and COAST are building that knowledge but some of the smaller cities are having trouble doing it on their own, maybe because they’re under resourced and also lack the nonprofit community groups that might activate a location. It also is before school started, which would have provided a ready avenue to reach thousands of families along the route.

  • com63

    I would have come to this, but I wasn’t aware it had happened until I read this post.

  • Joe Linton

    CicLAvia did have tens of thousands of people attending before they had eight years (or even one year) under their belt. Experience is a factor in this… but as you cite, there are other factors.

  • EstebanMcK

    Extremely poor outreach. Not publicized at all from what I could tell. Barely heard about it a few days before.

    Also, as you mention, open streets events depend on local residents to be successful. I don’t know why Vernon was included, Huntington Park would have been far more successful just focusing on its own streets, which have tons of residents and businesses.

    I also agree that poorly run events can sour people to the idea of reducing car superiority on streets. This is simply not the type of event that is going to be effective for Vernon. It is entirely the wrong type of program for the context.

    Vernon has TONS of bicyclists during the week commuting to and from work, pedaling in a very hostile environment. As well as TONS of bus riders and walkers braving dangerous super wide intersections, and unmarked crossings to reach their bus stops.

    A more appropriate event would be piloting bike lanes on some main streets during the week, or some pop-up mid-block crossings or bulb-outs with crossing guards.

    Tailor your events to the context and needs of the users.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    I only learned about it a few days prior thanks to an email from an L.A. River group. Running it down an unpoulated industrial corridor with rail crossings at an angle was an odd choice. I hope everyone (all 50 of us) crossed the tracks safely.

  • calwatch

    They get points for coordinating with multiple jurisdictions. The Baldwin Park event next month will go into Irwindale, a similarly unpopulated community, so it will be interesting what kind of people go past the gravel pits – although at least there is a logical destination to the north in Santa Fe Dam.

  • Wes Reutimann

    As a parent I have to say that one big advantage of the smaller community events is that you can let your children ride without having to worry about them getting run over. CicLAvia events are awesome but they’re also so popular that it’s hard to let a young child ride on their own unless you show up an hour early.

  • Andrew Yip

    Irwindale Gold Line Station is nearby and the Metrolink is right on the route. Like you said, route also connects to the San Gabriel River path.

    Added bonus is that Irwindale is the only city in the SGV so far to have a second open streets event under it’s belt.

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