Thursday, May 19, 2011

Confluence Plaza

One year ago, the Arroyo Seco Journal reported on major changes in the works for the junction of North Figueroa, San Fernando Road and Riverside Drive. Phase one is now complete. See images from the dedication above. See the story in this month's Arroyo Seco Journal. See the back story from last year rerun below. The Back Story on Confluence Plaza.

The Arroyo Seco Journal, April 2010
A major local intersection is about to be completely transformed. Right now, at the junction of San Fernando Road, North Figueroa Street and Riverside Drive, there is no real way to know that one has arrived at the edge of some of most historic communities of Los Angeles, namely Cypress Park, Lincoln Heights and Elysian Valley. To the immediate west, the Riverside Drive Bridge crosses the Los Angeles River. The lights of Dodger Stadium are visible on game night, atop a verdant hillside. But the intersection itself is dangerous and, well, just plain ugly. The only evidence of anything special is a small U.S. Route 66 sign—dwarfed by an ad-less, peeling billboard above it. But that’s temporary. Changes on the way include a traffic-calming roundabout, parkland and a major piece of public art reflective of the diverse residents of the area. The transformation has been long in coming. City Councilmember Ed Reyes says that he first began working on the corner in 1992 as a staff member to then Councilmember Mike Hernandez. In the beginning, according to Reyes, the project was about wishful thinking. Residents were asked what they wanted to see, and a strong sentiment that emerged was that they wanted to get away from the industrial feel of the neighborhood. Reyes told attendees at a recent gathering that a lot has already been accomplished. The bridge is about to be reconfigured to eliminate a dangerous pinching effect. There will be a designated bike road. Not far away, the Avenue 19 Bridge has been rebuilt, there is a Request for Proposals out for an adaptive reuse of a former jail, the Fuller Building is now providing housing in formerly abandoned structures, there are two State Parks on former railroad properties, and the Metro Gold Line provides clean, fast transportation. The most dramatic coming change is going to be the roundabout, and the biggest excitement generator is going to be what’s going to be in the middle of it. A roundabout is a circular intersection that drivers cross by traveling counterclockwise around a raised center island. A roundabout promotes safety by slowing traffic down and by greatly reducing the possibility of head-on collisions. It can also be a tool for making slowed motorists much more aware of the communities through which they are passing. Greenmeme, a locally based sustainable design firm run by artists Freya Bardell and Brian Howe, has been commissioned to create a very large public art installation for the roundabout’s central island. The artwork will: • Welcome people to the local communities of Northeast Los Angeles and let them know they have arrived somewhere special • Represent diverse generations of residents • Serve a safety function by masking traffic across the roundabout • And serve an environmental purpose related to water runoff and the river watershed. Design plans for the artwork will be released after they are approved by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission, probably in May. An early look revealed that it will serve as a major centerpiece for the entire Northeast Los Angeles area. Three corners of the intersection itself are being converted to park space. City maintenance yards are being moved elsewhere. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is already installing a fountain and small park on the corner closest to the Home Depot. Reyes says that the whole intersection will soon be reflective of a riverfront district located just steps from the birthplace of Los Angeles. The parkland will be known as Confluence Park. The State’s Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority made a first corner acquisition at the intersection in 2003, and there are plans for picnic facilities, native landscaping, the water feature, interpretive exhibits, walking paths and amenities (including restrooms) for bicyclers and pedestrians. In addition to serving immediate community members, Confluence Park will be a key piece in the connectivity of a much larger picture that includes: • A repaired riparian ecosystem • Recreational access to the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco • Realization of an emerald necklace of parkland connecting Griffith Park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park; Confluence Park, Los Angeles State Historic Park (Cornfield), Elysian Park and El Pueblo • And meeting day to day commuting needs via a variety of modes of transportation. The neighborhoods around the intersection are densely populated. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy estimates that as many as one million people could benefit from local parkland. Project partners in piecing the whole bridge-roundabout-parkland project together include the California Department of Transportation, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles (Council District 1, the Bureau of Engineering, Cultural Affairs), the United States Geological Survey, Community Development by Design, The University of California Berkeley, The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, The California Trust for Public Schools, The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Greenmeme. Funding for the project is largely through Federal sources, but includes State sources as well. Expected duration of the whole bridge-roundabout-park project is through 2013. It will be a dramatic change for an intersection that was once part of the trail that in 1776 brought the Juan Bautista De Anza expedition to the river where it founded the pueblo that became Los Angeles, but has been treated more recently as a throughway and storage facility. Now, standing at San Fernando Road, North Figueroa and Riverside Drive, one gets more of a feeling of being outside a backdoor than of being at the City’s front door. “We are asking the City to change its culture,” Reyes says.

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