With the 2016 edition of Footnotes coming soon, we're revisiting articles that appeared in our 2015 issue. The following piece was written by James Rojas, an urban planner, community activist, and artist.
By James Rojas
The Cesar Chavez and Soto St. intersection swarms daily with pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and street vendors. It exemplifies how Latinos are transforming LA’s auto-designed streets to promote walking.
Decades earlier Cesar Chavez (Brooklyn Avenue in those days) and Soto was the historic heart of the city’s Jewish community. Today it is one of the busiest Eastside shopping areas. The ubiquitous gas station lies on the southeast corner, and zero-lot-line buildings are on the other three. Latinos have retrofitted these buildings and their façades, and activate the public space to fit their social, cultural, economic, and mobility needs. Every change Latinos make to their streets, no matter how small, has meaning and purpose, representing the struggles, triumphs, everyday habits, and beliefs of LA’s new pedestrians.
Many of Los Angeles’s pedestrian-oriented streets and districts—Old Town Pasadena, Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, and Olvera Street—are predicated on the transportation pattern of people driving there, parking, and then walking. By and large these areas contain particularly expensive commercial space; their retail establishments tend to consist of national or regional chains. Parking is expensive and is most often housed in massive structures scattered throughout the district.
Cesar Chavez and Soto provides a different model of a walkable place. The businesses tend to be small and local, with a large part of their clientele consisting of everyday residents coming on foot from the adjacent residential neighborhoods. There isn’t much parking, and the merchandise shop owners stock tends to be small or in small quantities (e.g., a four-pack of toilet paper as opposed to a 36-pack) so that people can carry these items home.
Another difference between this intersection and more conventional pedestrian districts lies in the physical design of the environment. Cesar Chavez’s urban design is do-it-yourself (DIY) in look and feel. The gas station has been turned into a King Taco. The “El Corrido de Boyle Heights” mural by East Los Streetscapers livens up the southwest corner facing Soto. Trees have been planted by residents or business owners themselves. Signs are hand-painted or crafted and exude individuality rather than consistency. Merchandise is frequently placed out on the sidewalk to entice buyers. Building setbacks are inconsistent; some storefronts are simply built-out extensions of people's homes. The result is an environment that is tactile, full of a particular visual and sensual energy, containing a sort of hodgepodge messiness not often found in the more pre-planned pedestrian districts of LA. Somewhat ironically, it is this vibrancy that these other districts try so hard to create via a top-down control of scale, use, tree canopy, sidewalk width, and fountain and public art placement.
James Rojas is an urban planner, community activist, and artist.
On Wednesday, the LA City Council Transportation Committee passed a motion that could potentially pull two important corridors, Westwood Blvd. and Central Ave., from the Bicycle Enhanced Network proposed within Mobility Plan 2035, shifting safety improvements to nearby streets. (More details)
With Westwood Blvd. in the news, we're revisiting an essay that appeared in our 2015 edition of Footnotes: A Report On the State of Walking in LA. As we prepare our 2016 edition of Footnotes, we'll post additional essays and reports from previous issues.
Westwood and LeConte
By David J. Barboza - Pedestrian advocate and urban planner.
Stand at the south side of Wilshire Boulevard at Westwood Boulevard and look north. You could be forgiven for thinking that you are some kind of urban Daniel Boone, about to ford a river of cars. But cross those ten lanes and you will disembark in a very special part of Los Angeles.
I became acquainted with Westwood Village when I went off to college at UCLA. I didn't know it at the time, but that place planted a seed in my mind. Today I can describe what makes it great: charming historic buildings, shops that come up to greet the sidewalk, streets that (mostly) aren't so wide and loud as to preclude conversation. Back then, I could only look at it and be amazed. Growing up in the suburbs, I hadn't seen anything like it.
Living in a dorm with no parking, walking wasn't a choice; it was essential to everyday life. My feet could take me to so much more than I ever thought possible. In class I heard about what greenhouse gas emissions were doing to the climate, the public health crisis caused by sedentary lifestyles, the financial violence being inflicted on real people by high housing costs. What was I going to do about it, and how could I call myself an educated person if "to know and not to act is not to know"?
Edwin and Harold Janss, the Westwood developers of the 1920s, figured out something that twenty-first-century Americans have forgotten. They pointed to the solution to problems they didn't even know existed, and their elegant creation is still sitting there, hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to find it. Or to put that in wonkier terms, they laid the foundation for a dense, mixed-use, low-carbon neighborhood that makes it easy and pleasant to walk.
If you build an environment that encourages people to drive, people will drive to visit their next door neighbor. If you build an environment that encourages people to walk, their hearts will exult in the joy of the stroll. We need places to walk, but even more than that, we need reasons to walk.
People walking and biking account for about half of all traffic deaths in Los Angeles, even though they’re involved in only 14% of traffic collisions. Through its Vision Zero initiative, the City of Los Angeles has committed to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in L.A. by the year 2025, with an initial focus on those most at risk - people walking and biking.
The City has studied the causes of collisions throughout L.A. and the steps that can be taken to reduce those causes. Now the City needs to determine WHERE to take action first – maybe where the most severe crashes occur, where kids and seniors are most at risk, or in neighborhoods that have been historically neglected.
Take a look at six possible categories for prioritizing Vision Zero project locations in our city, then have your say! Click here to rank those categories from first priority to last. Or, offer a new category the City may not have considered or recommend deletion of one that shouldn’t be considered in the prioritization process.
The ranking will close on Wednesday, March 30, so submit your vote now. Thanks for taking a minute to make sure Vision Zero starts out on the right foot.
About Vision Zero:
Vision Zero is a worldwide initiative aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities by utilizing data and collaboration across agencies and various government departments. The initiative places an emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable of travelers: those who walk and bike.
On August 24, 2015 Mayor Eric Garcetti issued Executive Directive #10, establishing the citywide Vision Zero initiative. A year prior, in September 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) adopted Vision Zero as a key part of its strategic plan. Eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries is also a core objective of the City’s Mobility Plan 2035, adopted by the City Council in January 2016.
To achieve Vision Zero, Mayor Garcetti has established a Vision Zero Steering Committee and a Vision Zero Task Force to support the work of LADOT. The Steering Committee is comprised of the Police, Fire, Public Works, and Water & Power departments as well as the County Department of Public Health. Additional city agency and stakeholder representatives comprise the Vision Zero Task Force, and community-based and nonprofit organizations that make up the L.A. Vision Zero Alliance.
Since Vision Zero launched, the L.A. Department of Transportation and consultants have analyzed years of traffic collision data to better understand what's causing collisions on the streets of L.A. They have also researched countermeasures that can reduce those collisions, and looked at how similar cities across the country have applied those measures (see full report here).
With this information in mind, the City is currently working to prioritize Vision Zero project locations, and is accepting your input. Submit your vote by Wednesday, March 30: click here to vote now!
Check back here for Vision Zero project updates, progress reports, and opportunities for involvement in the future.
The L.A. Vision Zero Alliance is a group of organizations that leverage their unique strengths and work with community members and the City of Los Angeles to develop safe streets for all residents. Los Angeles Walks is among twelve members of the L.A. Vision Zero Alliance, a growing coalition that also includes AARP California, Advancement Project, Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Multicultural Communities for Mobility, the LA County Bicycle Coalition, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, TRUST South LA, Youth Policy Institute, and more.
On Saturday, January 23, 2016, Los Angeles Walks honored walk leader and author Bob Inman at our Sidewalk Soirée awards dinner. Like his fellow honoree, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, Bob has made a significant contribution to walking culture in Los Angeles. He's led thousands of people on weekly walks and had guided countless more through his writing.
Below is an excerpt from the speech Bob delivered on January 23, which beautifully captures his spirit and the spirit of Los Angeles as seen on foot.
By Bob Inman:
I consider that this recognition is not just to me, but to a community of people who have adopted walking as the way to embrace our city while getting some exercise. My little address is kind of a love letter to the Los Angeles that we experience as we walk through it.
We see animals: dogs that bark at us and dogs pressed up against a gate that we know are telling us “please let me come walking with you, I’ll be good.” There are chickens everywhere, and goats in Glassell Park. There is that amazing boar in Lincoln Heights just off Radio Hill.
Join us to honor two great LA walkers at the Sidewalk Soirée, our 2016 Awards Dinner. On Saturday night, January 23, from 6pm to 10pm at a stunning hilltop mid-century modern home in Silver Lake, we'll raise a glass to these pedestrian advocates and celebrate the hard work that goes into making LA’s streets more safe, accessible, equitable, and fun. Get your tickets today!
We'll enjoy street foods from around the world: Salvadoran pupusas, Korean steak skewers, Middle Eastern lima bean falafels, Mexican rajas tacos, as well as mezcal cocktails, and (local!) Angel City brews. Ready for that ticket now?
Read on for more about our Honorees:Read more
Los Angeles Walks has come a long way in the last few years, growing in new and exciting ways to help make walking in LA even more safe, accessible, equitable, and fun. And as part of that, we’ve hired our first-ever policy & program manager Emilia Crotty!
We asked Emilia a few questions about what she hopes to bring to LA Walks, so read on to learn about how bike safety led her to Martha Stewart (no kidding), hear what LA does better than New York when it comes to walking, and find out why her grandmother was her walking hero.
Emilia and her chihuahua terrier Chewy
Emilia! Welcome to LA! What’s been the coolest thing you’ve done so far?
Thanks! I’ve been covering a lot of ground since I landed here a month ago, but the coolest thing I’ve done so far has to be CicLAvia, which took place a few days after I arrived. Walking the route with members of the Los Angeles Walks steering committee, who have so much love for LA, and then riding the route later that day, provided such an energizing and positive first impression of the city and my place here.
You come to us from New York City, tell us about what you did there.
I lived in New York for 16 long years! While there, I developed Bike New York’s education program, which I’m really proud of, and then became part of the small team that launched Citi Bike, the city’s bike share system. I did a little bit of everything at Citi Bike, but mainly developed the system’s community-based initiatives. I earned a master’s degree in public health, and for five years served as a voting member of my community board (read: neighborhood council). All the while, I was a member and activist with Transportation Alternatives, the city’s bike/ped/transit advocacy group.
And you were on MARTHA STEWART! Tell us more!
Ha! Yes, I was on the Martha Stewart Show, largely thanks to Bike New York’s terrific communications staff, who aimed to make me famous. Martha is big into biking, which was pretty clear – I don’t think I actually got a word in during my appearance! I was grateful for the opportunity to educate and encourage a predominantly female audience, though, and was really satisfied when former high school friends messaged me to say that the segment inspired them to go for a ride with their kids.Read more
Thank you to everyone who attended our January 23, 2016 Sidewalk Soirée awards dinner and fundraiser. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we received from our longtime and new friends. Proceeds will help Los Angeles Walks maintain our momentum into 2016 and grow over the next year.
For the past two years, Los Angeles Walks has published Footnotes, our annual report on the state of walking in LA. Over the next few months we will be posting pieces from our April 2015 edition here, particularly as the articles become most relevant. Today, one day after celebrating the new pedestrian crossing at Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave., we present an essay about that place written by LA Walks steering committee member Alissa Walker.
Hollywood and Highland
For three years I watched pedestrians cross the intersection of Hollywood and Highland every morning while I brushed my teeth. I lived on a hill two blocks away, just far enough away to feel like I was gazing down upon a distant, miniature city, but close enough to see people waiting for the 780 bus as it sighed to a halt.
What I remember most about living so close to Hollywood and Highland were the horns. Honking at drivers trying their darndest to turn left on a very yellow arrow. Or hapless selfie-taking tourists jogging across five lanes of traffic. Or one of several costumed Spidermen taking too much time in the crosswalk. And then, every once in awhile, the horn would be punctuated by a smash.Read more
On Friday, November 6 applications are due for the City of Los Angeles' first Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence. The artist will spend the next two years "stimulating creative thinking and innovative projects" at the Department of Transportation (LADOT), and will be selected through a community-driven process managed by both the Department of Cultural Affairs and the LADOT.