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Turning Medians From Eyesores Into Urban Oases

February 18, 1997|NONA YATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last Pacific Electric Red Cars ran along Culver Boulevard in the early 1940s. After they were gone, Southern Pacific took over and ran freight along the rails.

Once the railroads left, however, the old right-of-way median deteriorated into a weed-choked magnet for discarded furniture, broken glass and other debris.

More than 50 years later, that is beginning to change.

Culver City has transformed its part of the median east of Sawtelle Boulevard into a landscaped bike path and pedestrian walkway. And now, Los Angeles is following suit with plans to develop its own portion of the old railroad line.

Once completed, the Los Angeles section of the bikeway will connect with the Culver City section at Sawtelle Boulevard, traverse west to McConnell Avenue and ultimately connect with the Ballona Creek bike path. Bicyclists will then be able to travel from Elenda Street in Culver City to the ocean.

"I think this will be a very successful project. At all our [public] meetings the response has been very, very positive," said Pauline Chan, a transportation engineer with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

The contrast between the two sections is striking. On the Los Angeles section, a 60-foot-wide swath of dirt and weeds cuts through residential neighborhoods. Discarded furniture, including mattresses and sofas, and broken-down appliances often are dumped along the median. Cars and trucks, even 18-wheel big rigs, park there.

Walking along the undeveloped dirt stretch, the sight of broken bottles, discarded food wrappers, broken chunks of concrete and other debris make for a less than tranquil stroll.

The Culver City portion, on the other hand, foretells what Los Angeles residents can look forward to.

A gently curving bike path and separate pedestrian walkway invite people to leave their cars and houses and meet each other. Neighbors walking their dogs, young couples pushing strollers and bicyclists can all be seen traversing the median.

Benches, including some at bus stops along the route, serve both aesthetic and practical purposes. Visitors can relax and enjoy the colorful flower beds or the palm trees, while commuters can wait for buses in a pleasant environment. Bike lockers are provided at two bus stop locations along the route.

As with the Culver City side, there will be a separate pedestrian walkway and landscaping. Los Angeles is seeking plants that will require less maintenance, however, such as hybrid bermuda grass and other drought-resistant species. Construction on the project is expected to begin in the fall and will take about a year to complete.

The old Red Cars, though gone, are not entirely forgotten. Some of the original Pacific Electric rails can still be seen embedded in a drainage culvert about a block east of Sepulveda Boulevard.

Paul Good, a Culver City railroad buff who builds models of the Pacific Electric lines, thinks that the heritage of the median should not be forgotten. He suggests that officials could add a marker on the pathway to mark the old rail line.

"It might be apropos to call it the 'Pacific Electric Bikeway,' " he said.

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