Grad Students’ Street Median Designs Stir City Council Interest

Photo courtesy Jimmy Liu
Discussion of street median island design at the La Cañada Flintridge City Council this week involved USC graduate student Stanley Chen (front row, from left), Public Works Director Patrick DeChellis, City Manager Mark Alexander, USC faculty adviser Robert Schilling, grad students Rebecca Lin, Jessie Kim, Connie Zhao and Adylbek Abdykalikov, and Assistant City Manager Carl Alameda. Back: Councilman Gregory Brown, Mayor Leonard Pieroni, and council members Michael Davitt and Terry Walker.

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council decided Tuesday night that a subcommittee should consider designs for street median islands that have been created by a group of USC students with the goal of beautifying local thoroughfares while aiding traffic flow.
“This is a wonderful first step,” Councilwoman Terry Walker told the students after they presented the designs, which also are devised for low water use and simple maintenance. “I think you did great. It’s the direction we want to go and a great way to get community involved.”
Frank Zerunyan, a professor of the practice of governance at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, had approached city officials about possible participation in a graduate project to evaluate an infrastructure issue or policy, according to a city agenda report. City Manager Mark Alexander said after the meeting that Zerunyan is a Rolling Hills Estates city councilman whom the LCF council members know.
Students met with city officials a few weeks ago to discuss potential projects and a decision to focus on medians was the result, according to the report. USC students Rebecca Lin, Adylbek Abdykalikov, Jessie Kim, Connie Zhao and Stanley Chen later met with city staffers to get an overview of the scope of the project and were in attendance on Tuesday.
Before the council meeting, the student team met with David Bare, director of horticulture and garden operations at Descanso Gardens, to learn the landscaping options best for the local climate.
After completing preliminary research, the team met with the City Council beautification subcommittee that includes Walker and Councilman Jonathan Curtis to narrow the project’s focus, said Assistant City Manager Carl Alameda.
Alexander said he would like to explore incorporating the street median designs with the separate Foothill Boulevard Link Bikeway and Pedestrian Greenbelt Project near the Crescenta Cañada YMCA. The project, approved by the City Council in October 2018, includes new bikeways on the north and south side of Foothill and a new, raised center median, landscaping and new sidewalks. The project extends from 2111 Foothill Blvd. to the 2 Freeway on- and off-ramps at Hillard Avenue. “Greenbelt” refers to a length of landscaping that runs alongside a street.
“We want to be making some decisions with respect to how we’re going to have the landscape for the link project and whether that’s going to tie in with the rest of the medians throughout the community,” Alexander said. “We’ll now take some of the recommendations that the students came up with and review that as part of the committee, but we’ll also view what the landscape designer put together for the link project and see if we can’t marry the two or go with one.”
A $1,365,505 grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is being used for the link project.
City Public Works Director Patrick DeChellis said the project’s construction would take less than a year and, if started after next Labor Day, should be completed by mid-summer 2021.
As for the students’ median designs, the objective was to suggest a unique project that focuses on beautification, water conservation, sustainability and traffic flow, Lin said. Additionally, climate conditions and climate factors were also taken into consideration, she said.
Explaining terms, Abdykalikov told the council that beautification meant attractive medians and conservation was defined as more efficient water use. Uniqueness meant a design that is distinguishable from that of nearby cities, and sustainability was defined as low maintenance and high return on value. Traffic flow was defined as easy sight lines for drivers.
The USC team looked at medians in other cities, ranging from San Marino to Santa Monica, to determine preferences for LCF, according to the student presentation. It determined the city did not want palm trees, grass, pavement, artificial turf, concrete and removal of trees.
The students recommended colorful plants or grass with names like Verbena Bonariensis, Senecio Mandraliscae, Muhlenbergia Lindheimeri and Burgundy Cordyline for LCF medians as well as a variety of secondary options, according to the presentation.
The students offered ways to evaluate the medians with potential questions, such as whether residents enjoy them for surveys or secondary data.
Councilman Gregory Brown said the presentation helped the council narrow its future selection of medians but noted no one on the team had a landscape architecture background.
Lin said the group had discussed its ideas with Descanso horticulturist Bare and showed plant options to Walker’s and Curtis’ subcommittee that were based on a climate map.
“The plants you see are a combination of ones that were chosen when we met with the council members,” Lin said.
Walker said it was the first time she had seen the presentation and she planned to take it back to the subcommittee with some local architects.
“This is a big decision for our community and the medians,” Walker said.

SOUNDWALL UPDATE

DeChellis, in an update on the progress of projects, detailed a setback in carrying out the third phase of 210 Freeway sound wall construction.
A request for proposals that was sent out in mid-August failed to draw a response, he said, adding it was “a little complicated.”
Firms that were contacted did not know city officials and didn’t want to invest the time to respond to a major $12 million project, DeChellis said. He has approached two of the firms again, this time with a revised request, but has not been able to contact two others.
DeChellis said the holidays will delay the process, with new proposals needed by Jan. 23, and city officials will evaluate the situation then.
The third phase was approved last December. It involves the south side of the 210 and includes a continuation of the project’s second phase from Alta Canyada Road to the bridge under Foothill Boulevard at Memorial Park; the south side of the 210 from west of Vineta Avenue to the eastbound on-ramp east of Georgian Road that overlaps part of the first phase; and the north side of the 210 from the intersection of Baptiste Way and Vineta to the Crown Avenue/Foothill westbound exit.
DeChellis said the reaction from the two firms that were re-contacted was positive. He added it would be approximately a year to 14 months for design including environmental and right-of-way. It is projected that engineering will start in mid-2020 and be completed by fall 2021, with construction to take place in early 2022, DeChellis said.
“The consultant will define that better for us,” DeChellis said of the timeline.
The second sound wall phase — involving the south side of the 210 from west of La Tour Way to Alta Canyada — that initially was scheduled to begin in late fall with a completion date of June 2020 has been delayed, DeChellis said.
A relocation of a Southern California Edison power pole that provides service to a Caltrans automated sprinkler system has caused the delay, he said. Relocation is needed because the sound wall would cut off access to the pole.
“We’re trying to work out a plan where to relocate the pole,” DeChellis said. He believes a potential solution is near and construction could begin in summer 2020.

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