Los Angeles Eco-Village worked with the city of Los Angeles to create a “shared street” project on Bimini Place.  The intent was to make our neighborhood greener and a more pedestrian friendly.  Through this project (which I am not going to go into too much detail on here) we were able to take away some parking and dedicate that former car-space to space for people and vegetation.

It would be an understatement to say that there were differences in what the city had proposed and what eco-village residents wanted to see in our street.  Also, there were (and still are) definitely differences in what different eco-villagers want to see.  The city plans were pretty institutional, so for the bulbout directly in front of the buildings that LAEV owns, we suggested that the city plant a couple trees and leave the rest to us.  Even the trees were contentious, with eco-villagers wanting fruiting trees and the city skeptical about this.  We did get these macadamia nut trees, and a pretty much bare bulbout (which the city used a big machine to compact the soil on, then added a thin layer of mulch.)

Below is what it looked like when the project had its grand opening in March 2008.  The project includes the permeable pavement sidewalks on the left side of the photo, which I am not going to focus on here.

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008 (photo: Lois Arkin)

Before I go any further: what is a bulbout??  Bulbouts (sometimes spelled as “bulb-out,” or “bulb out”, or called a sidewalk extension) are traffic calming devices – but what’s traffic calming??  One example of a traffic calming device that people are familiar with is a speed bump.  It serves to slow down neighborhood traffic, making streets safer and calmer and more comfortable for walking, bicycling, talking, breathing, living, chilling, and all the good things you can use a street for when it’s not entirely dedicated to cars.  Bulbouts flare the curb out into the street, so, from above, it looks kind of like a bulb.  They’re mostly located near intersections where pedestrians will cross the street.  They have a few effects.  By extending the sidewalk into the street, they narrow the distance a pedestrian needs to cross – making walking easier and safer.  By narrowing the street, they give drivers a psychological cue to slow down.  When a street is wide, drivers get the cue to speed up because there are no obstacles, like on a freeway.  When a street is narrower, drivers slow down because they feel like they’re in a more intimate setting, like in a room.

Well, we added lots more mulch to our bulbout, kept our trees watered, and grew some morning glories up the signs there… but we didn’t too much and it remained pretty much empty… until the past weekend.  We held a couple of informal meetings to plan out what the space will look like.  Here’s a shot from the session we had in the street, where we used rope, seating, and cones to block out various configurations:

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008 (photo: Kathy Hill)

We haven’t actually planned it all out, but we agreed to start with a path and some beds built out of urbanite (broken concrete) at each end.  The bed walls will serve as benches – a lot like las trincheras, which I blogged about earlier.  I really like the look of broken concrete – it’s nearly indestructible, it diverts and reuses materials from the urban waste stream, and I like the way it break up garden space.  Overall we want the space to be a kind of “outdoor living room” where folks can hang out in the street.

Last Saturday, we had a work party to begin work on the bulbout.  The first project was to set a brick path that will allow people to walk from the gate at 117 Bimini into the intersection.  We used used bricks that we’ve had around, most of which had been collected from damage in the neighborhood during the 1994 earthquake.  The work was much like playing tetris – fitting various complete and partial bricks into the slightly irregular space.  Thanks to Ann Finkelstein, her mom, Melba Thorn, and Wilma Raabe (a student from Germany who was visiting for a tour and jumped right in to help) for getting the path done.

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path (photo: Lois Arkin)

There’s still a lot to be done on the bulbout… to be continued.