Youth Voices is working with students from Mountain View High School to explore El Monte/South El Monte and the surrounding communities. The students have formed teams to explore and investigate their communities, map assets, collect and share stories, data and community input for their projects. All the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of digital media and civic engagement. Follow The Streets on Twitter @elmontestreets or all the Youth Voices projects by using #kcetyv.
Everyday we walk to school along Parkway Drive. It's an everyday part of not only our lives, but everyone at our school, and those in the surrounding community. Our Youth Voices project revolves around how Parkway, in its present form, is an unsafe street. This is an issue that is dearly connected to us because it lies right at the footstep of our school, which is why we selected it. We have been working to identify possible solutions to this problem, for it is a large issue affecting everyone who traverses this street. However, the solution is relatively clear, the street needs an overhaul.
We learned much about this issue working on this project, however, what proved most useful, was hearing the experiences and ideas of community members. We first met with the community when we participated in an event called "Cafe Bibliotheque" hosted by the Media Center Advisory Board, a student organization at Mountain View High School to do just this.
We conducted several activities during the event, including giving out postcards for participants to express their opinions on what should change on Parkway Drive. We also offered participants an opportunity to write or draw their thoughts on a map of the area. The activity generated many responses, and the participants enjoyed expressing their viewpoints. For the postcard activity, participants were asked what makes a street safe, and the result was a large focus on street safety. The map focused on where we should focus our efforts. Participants placed stickers, which were colored coded, in areas where action is needed now. The colors included RED for a stop sign, YELLOW for a new or repainted crosswalk, GREEN for more trees, and BLUE sidewalks that need repair.
The lack of safety in our streets did not occur overnight, as it is an issue inherited from an era where streets were designed for cars. This remains mostly the state of things in El Monte to this day, primarily because of lack of funds, and historically weak leadership in the city to change the status quo. However, this is starting to change as evidenced by the city enacting the Bicycle Master Plan, which incorporates complete streets, or streets that will be safe for all; pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation. With this the city made the first move into the 21st century, and making our community safer
The journey ahead of El Monte is a long one, as simply enacting a plan isn't going to solve all our problems. We are simply at the beginning in our journey of transforming our community. It has started, and we are starting to see the real life effects of those changes. Tyler Avenue now has a bike lane, something unheard of just a short time ago. As time progresses there will be more, as well as a shift in the community, where safety in our streets isn't a side-thought or crazy idea -- it is expected.
One of our first steps to learn more about all of these issues was interviewing David Diaz, Nutrition Education Coordinator for Day One. Day One is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to making the lives of people in communities like ours, better. Another role he plays at Mountain View High School is coordinating a youth advocacy program, which empowers students to make a positive change in their communities.
When speaking of Parkway Drive, Mr. Diaz said "it is an incredibly unsafe street, and one of the worst he has ever seen." The street is incredibly wide and along with the inconsistencies of the signage, this greatly contributes to it being a dangerous street. The street has been the site of frequent illegal street racing. In 2007, a horrible accident took the lives of a mother and 2 children. The City reacted to this by installing numerous speed bumps.
When looking at the City's reaction, Diaz tells us based on his experience living in South El Monte, "[he's] sure [the community doesn't] want 20 speed bumps on their streets," Community involvement is an important part of the process according to Mr. Diaz. One good example of community involvement can be seen on Rosemead Blvd. in Temple City. The redesign of this street has proven functional partially due to adhering to the wishes of the community. The redesign, added protected bike lanes, and through a road diet reduced the speed of traffic making it more accessible and safer for pedestrians. This would be a welcome addition to the City of El Monte.
The specifics of Parkway Drive are not glimmering with hope, as the street was simply designed terribly. When plotting the path for the future, "I think we need to look at better designed streets overall," stated Mr. Diaz. Providing our community the ability to make our streets safe will be made by following proper safety measures and involving all the key stakeholders, including the city and the surrounding community. To be able to make Parkway, and eventually the rest of El Monte's streets, a safe place for pedestrians, and bicyclists, "we need to prioritize the projects we work on," and if the city does it properly we'll all be safe -- for once.
To learn more about the City's role in improving Parkway Drive we spoke to Frank Senteno, the director of the El Monte Public Works Department. Mr. Senteno began his position in August and in that time he has started the process of improving one of the largest departments within the city. According to Mr. Senteno, he "oversees and administers the public works department," where he is at the center of the city's infrastructure. He has a staff of about 70, and coordinates with the various divisions in his department in order to support the goals of the city council, which ultimately are the goals of the community. At the center of this department are the roads, which Senteno considers, "a major asset to the city."
At this point in time, "[El Monte is] wrapping up a pavement management study (PMS) which takes inventory of all the streets and tests them for structural integrity." This will help create a map of areas in the city where repair work is more needed. "Overall our streets are in fair condition," as in the case of many cities in the area. However, most of the issues of maintaining our roads remain a purely financial one, as it cost money to keep our roads in adequate condition. While the city would be able save money if it stopped maintaining our roads, in the long run it is cheaper to do so, as this "deferred maintenance" will only increase dramatically if the city did nothing.
As with any large city there are many issues that the department has to deal with on a day to day basis, and in this case, however the city continues to move forward, the major struggle is finding the necessary funds to complete the city's goals, one of which is constructing "complete streets" throughout the city.
Last month the city installed its first bike lane on Tyler Avenue, and with it a new era began in the city. One in which cyclists are not afraid to ride down a busy street or pedestrians of crossing a boulevard, an era where everyone is considered as part of our growing transportation network.
Projects such as these are "Capital Improvement Programs" which require major investments to actually occur. The city has a financial constraint when making projects such as these. Moving forward, the issue will be finding the right balance of what are the immediate and long-term needs when considering what projects should be funded and implemented first. While it may seem easy, "to create 20 projects and receive the money for them, those monies will be encumbered, meaning you're locking up those funds from other things," which is when another issue appears -- that of cash flow.
This take us back to Parkway Drive, where improving the street is tied to simply having the funds available to fix the long term issues of the street, as well as simply communications. Many times, the city does not know there's a problem, as the community has simply become accustomed to it. When looking at the infrastructure of any city, these two parts remain at the top of every city's bucket list of issues they need to work to solve.
Information is key, and throughout this process we've seen the problems that occur when there is a lack of it. We want to work to ensure that the resources in place that can assist in improving the lives of those in our community are known by everyone. With that in mind we want to share information about the GoRequest App. The app allows users to tap into their city and report whatever issue they have identified. Users open the app, select their issue, and take a picture - the app knows the location and who can fix it for you. The City of El Monte is currently connected to the app and is encouraging residents to use it to report any needs in the community.
Getting the community to recognize that they have a say in their community, and that they can create a positive change is one of the main objectives we as a team have identified for ourselves. Most of our community isn't aware of the tools that can be used to get their local government to come in and fix what needs fixing. In the case of El Monte, residents can use the GoRequest App but they can also go to the city offices, attend city council meetings, or call one of the city's departments to report a problem. And in return they should expect their city representatives to listen and work with them to make El Monte a safer place to live.