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Signage for a Safer Los Angeles River

A park is a great place to connect with other people, but often the most difficult part about meeting at a park is simply knowing where you are. It is easy to find lush greenery and blue herons on the Los Angeles River, but it's challenging to tell people exactly which shrub or wildlife they should look out for to locate where you are.

Now, imagine you get into an emergency situation by the Los Angeles River. How would you tell the police or fireman where exactly you are on the waterway? It might take a few more minutes to find a suitable marker for responders to use -- and those minutes are precious.

Last week City Council approved a motion by Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Mitch O'Farrell to recommend locations for installing street signage or location markers along the Los Angeles River paths, to help responders address emergency situations as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The motion instructs the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) to work with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Fire Department, Department of Transportation (LA DOT), and other relevant departments to map specific locations for call boxes or other communication systems along the river. It also instructs the department to analyze the current state of signage on the Los Angeles River, to determine whether the river path needs additional signs or refurbishment. A report, which would include cost implications, is due in two months.

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At an Arts, Parks, Health, Aging, and River Committee last May, Tim Fremaux, a Traffic Engineer of the LA DOT, had recommended replacing existing mile markers on the Los Angeles River path with new, thermoplastic versions that would hold up to the weather better. In addition, Fremaux suggested installing mile markers every tenth of a mile all along the path, including along its entrances. Fremaux however did not recommend installing call boxes, given the prevalence of mobile phones. "The existing [call boxes] are not very well used and are difficult to maintain and operate. They're essentially obsolete," he said.

Councilman Cedillo however disagreed, saying not everyone carried their smart phones with them while walking or cycling the Los Angeles River. "It's a rare place where people might not have their phones," he said. Cedillo was open to other alternatives, as long as it provides everyone -- even those without phones -- access to emergency help.

Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River project office at BOE, also suggested adding street signage on the bridges that cross the Los Angeles River, "so people know exactly where they are, so if they do make that call, they can say, 'I'm at Fletcher' or something like that." The study of signage along the river could also be used to determine the river's role in emergency preparedness. "There's an opportunity here to look at the river as an important emergency route, so people have a non-motorized way to get around," she said. New funding and partnership opportunities could arise by recasting the river not just as a destination, but also a means to keep people safe.

Right now, the Los Angeles River path features old mile markers every tenth of a mile, which could use some upkeep. Some 15 years ago, a few call boxes were installed via a pilot program. Most recently, LADOT and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority added about 30 new signs on the river bike path, between Atwater Village and Elysian Valley, under the direction of Councilman Mitch O'Farrell. The signs denote the city streets that end at the banks of the Los Angeles River. Several signs also indicate nearby points of interest. For now, those might be the few, precious signs that can help save lives.

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Photos courtesy of Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

Elysian Valley Bikeway Wayfinding Plan

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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