Safer, Greener LA Streets: A Case Study Along Ballona Creek

by Hannah Sands

On a bright, sunny February day in the neighborhood of Del Rey, community members, politicians, environmental activists, and students all came together to celebrate a joyous event. It was the ribbon cutting of Milton Green Street, a project upstream from the Ballona Wetlands, parallel to Milton Street Linear Park, and across the street from Marina Del Rey Middle School.

Milton Green Street Ribbon Cutting. Photo courtesy of Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA.

Milton Green Street will improve water quality in Ballona Creek and Santa Monica Bay by capturing and infiltrating stormwater run-off. Curb cuts—where a piece of concrete is replaced with plants or mulch—naturally absorb stormwater instead of allowing it to pick up pollutants from the street and flow into creeks, rivers, and the ocean.

Plus, the project can help increase our local water supply. Curb cuts assist in enhancing local water sources by replenishing our aquifers with stormwater. Reducing water waste is another vital component of balancing our local water resources. Native, drought-tolerant landscaping reduces water demand, which is especially important considering that 50% of residential water usage in LA is dedicated to landscaping (Source).

Vegetated curb cuts at Milton Green Street. Photo courtesy of UrbanizeLA.

The Green Street ribbon cutting was held underneath a Ballona Creek welcome gate, which connects Marina Del Rey Middle School and its students with the bike path. An enthusiastic student body representative from the 8thgrade spoke about how excited her classmates are to have a beautiful, safer street they can use as another educational opportunity as part of an after-school science club.

Speaking at the ribbon cutting event, David McNeil, the executive officer of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, emphasized the importance of restoring our watersheds holistically. This is a big focus at Los Angeles Waterkeeper, and I asked our Watershed Programs Manager, Melissa von Mayrhauser, to expand on what that means.

“A watershed is a land area that drains all of the water that falls on it or flows through it to a shared outlet point,” said von Mayrhauser. “Holistic watershed management means addressing environmental, social and economic concerns as part of a hydrologically-defined system.”

Much of Ballona Creek is concretized, which inhibits community access, does not make for an inviting public space or promote a diverse wildlife habitat. This project adds educational, recreational, and ecological value to the neighborhood.

Importantly, green streets also make roads narrower, which slows down traffic and enhances pedestrian safety. Green streets make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change and safer for residents at the same time.

Next to the Green Street is Milton Street Linear Park, which opened in 2016 and serves as a prime example of how communities can maximize the potential of a limited area to create more green space. With just 1,000 feet of length and 45 feet of width to work with, the park boasts native trees, bioswales, seating areas, and biking and walking paths. Its prime location allows for further extension of the students’ outdoor classroom, and improves the area for residents who bike, run, and recreate in the park and along the wetlands.

Entrance to Milton Street Linear Park. Photo courtesy of Urbanize LA.

Melissa visited Milton Street Linear Park in March to assess its viability as a fieldwork site for LA Waterkeeper’s Creeks to Coast education program, which provides opportunities for high school students to learn first-hand about stream health. She noted that the project does have some room for improvement, including in terms of access.

“The Linear Park does provide community members access to the bike path above Ballona Creek, but not to the waterway itself, which remains encased in concrete,” von Mayrhauser added. “Plus, signage is confusing near the entrance—right next to the new gate there is a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, which sends mixed messages to visitors.”

She decided to conduct the Creeks to Coast fieldwork with students further upstream at a more accessible location. “The majority of students said that they were unlikely to return to Ballona Creek, particularly due to its poor habitat health,” she noted.

Despite some room for improvement, the Green Street and Linear Park both provide notable environmental and community benefits.These projects were made possible with the hard work of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation. It also utilized funding from Proposition 1, Proposition 84, and Measure A.

Examining these projects, we can understand how investment in nature-based projects is an effective way to gain a multitude of benefits in a small space. Milton Green Street and the Linear Park are increasing green space and native habitat, improving water quality and water supply, and working to reduce impacts of flooding and climate change, while making the neighborhood safer and more enjoyable for its residents.

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