Whenever Erick Huerta talks to Boyle Heights residents about what improvements they’d like to see on César Chávez Avenue, the same two items appear on top of most people’s wish lists.
“Slowing down César Chávez traffic and fixing all the broken sidewalks,” he says. “When we’re doing outreach, those are the first things they tell us.”
Huerta is a community organizer with Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), a nonprofit group that promotes safety for pedestrians, cyclists and people who use public transportation. The group has joined forces with two like-minded organizations –From Lot to Spot (FLTS) and CALO Youthbuild Charter School– to hold a “street activation” event this Saturday along Boyle Heights’ best known and most traveled street.
According to a press release, “Nuestra Avenida: César Chávez Reimaginada” (César Chávez Re-Imagined) is “the culmination of months of community workshops designed to create a safer, more cultural vibrant street” and geared to draw attention to the need for safety and public space improvements along the major east-west thoroughfare.
That need for safety has become more urgent following a recent spate of hit-and-run fatalities in Boyle Heights, including one on César Chávez Avenue last month. A 24-year-old man was struck as he crossed the street and his body was dragged 100 feet before the driver fled the scene.
For years, César Chávez has ranked among Los Angeles’ most dangerous streets for pedestrians. As part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets initiative, some safety improvements are already in place on César Chávez. Those improvements include curb bulb-outs –which require cars to take wider and slower turns around corners– and new signals that give pedestrians a head start in crossing.
Many residents, however, may not be aware of the improvements or how they can provide more safety for pedestrians. During Saturday’s “activation,” organizers hope to provide residents with more information about the improvements, and ask them to provide their own safety ideas. Huerta said that volunteers from CALO Youthbuild will survey participants, and the data collected will be shared with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
The activist said that they hope that businesses along César Chávez –which traditionally cater to Boyle Heights immigrant community– will learn about how the improvements will impact them. Business owners are being encouraged to make their storefronts visible with signs and to bring some of their merchandise to the sidewalks.
“We want the businesses to succeed,” Huerta said. “To understand that improvements are not there to inconvenience them or take away parking, to show them how they can promote their own businesses.”
“Nuestra Avenida: César Chávez Reimaginada” will take place along a mile-long stretch of the street, from Evergreen Avenue to St. Louis Street. While activities are planned at various spots along the street, there will be an activity hub on Breed Street, which will be closed off to traffic.
Organizers say the event will highlight the culture, art and history of Boyle Heights and will incorporate local artists, musicians and cultural institutions from the neighborhood. Here’s a full schedule:
Nuestra Avenida: César Chávez Re-Imagined will take place on César Chávez Avenue, between St. Louis & Evergreen on Saturday, March 12, 10 am to 4 p.m. More details are available on the event’s website.
Photo above: Some safety improvements have already been implemented on César Chávez as part of the Great Streets initiative. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas