Walking along the River in Northeast Los Angeles

IMG_0027Walking has always been a hobby of mine. Whether it’s a relaxed saunter or a brisk stride, walking has never failed to introduce me to new sights and lead me to new adventures. This past summer while working with the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative, I had the unique opportunity to walk through various neighborhood while surveying residents. Just north of Dodger stadium, there are five neighborhoods along the Los Angeles River, included Atwater Village, Elysian Valley, most of Glassell Park and Cypress Park, and part of Lincoln Heights. Walking in these neighborhoods provided a unique vantage point of Northeast LA and how these these neighborhoods are distinctive. Surveying the residents also provided a glimpse of what others thought of their own neighborhood. All residents that I spoke to were highly invested in the success of their community and neighbors and expressed invaluable ideas about how to improve them.

The Riverfront Collaborative survey questions tied in closely with imagining walkable neighborhoods. The other surveyors and I asked residents about neighborhood services, which were missing, needed improvement and were commendable. We asked where they shopped for fresh produce, their method of transportation and trip duration. Looking from a pedestrian’s perspective, the questions related to the livability of their community and opportunities to take alternative transportation. Although Los Angeles has been long associated with sprawl, cars and the concreted river, establishing a riverfront district relies on the inherent walkability of its surrounding neighborhoods and requires Los Angeles to reinvest in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. I am inspired by residents and groups like the Riverfront Collaborative that are beginning to put resources – monetary, time and focus – in their neighborhoods and make them more vibrant and walkable. Seeing the neighbors on foot showcased each distinctive cultures.

One large part of creating vibrant communities is creating neighborhoods for children and schools. When asked what residents were most proud of in their neighborhood, a notable group of the people I spoke with mentioned the nearby public school. And, although the questions did not specifically speak to school access, this subject was certainly on the top of many parents’ minds. For some students, walking or bicycling to their local high school is a harrowing experience.  I witnessed high school students forced to walk in front of traffic when the sidewalk abruptly ended. This observation really brought to light the issues of having Safe Routes to School for children, young adults and families. Because schools are such consistent and vibrant gems within communities, symbols of education, and hope for a better future, it seems practical that we provide reliable methods to reach these schools.

Having the chance to explore the riverfront district of Northeast LA on foot exposed me to the importance of having walkable communities, especially for the youth. I realized that each of the tiny details of  a neighborhood, invisible behind the windshield of the car, demonstrated the subtleties that make each neighborhood special. I can only hope that Safe Routes to Schools will eventually lead to safe routes everywhere and even happier, healthier and more engaging communities for everyone.

As of this fall, I have joined the the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Southern California regional network as a communications and research intern. Being a lifelong resident of Los Angeles where many streets are dedicated to transportation on a vehicular scale, I am deeply invested in making neighborhoods more comfortable and friendly for human scaled interactions. I hope that walkable streets will encourage more of us out of our cars to experience our neighborhoods slowly and more deliberately. I am excited to share observations in my corner of Los Angeles and identify gaps in bicycle and pedestrian safety and infrastructure and encourage meaningful improvements to make safe routes not only to school, but to the bus stop, the grocery store and any other neighborhood destinations. I hope to gain a true understanding of urban planning and design that contribute to pedestrian and bicycle neighborhoods.

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