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Transportation and Mobility

These Crosswalks Make Sylmar More Walkable — And Reflect A Deeper Cultural Identity

Four people with brown hair and all wearing glasses stand in front of an intersection where a red-and-white striped crosswalk has been painted. Symbols in the red stripes are faintly visible.
From left to right: Tïa Chucha's communications coordinator Andrea Lopez, executive director Michael Centeno, bookstore manager Karen Ugarte, and graphic designer Luz Rodriguez.
(Courtesy Andrea Lopez)
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The Sylmar neighborhood has unveiled new decorative crosswalks at several intersections along San Fernando Road. The strip, which connects the northeast part of the San Fernando Valley to the city of Los Angeles, has been the focus of safety concerns for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers who share the same space.

The crosswalks are the first installation of a larger project called Moving Beauty Pathways, which is a series of pedestrian improvements along San Fernando Road. The project was created by Tía Chucha's, a local bookstore and community hub for Sylmar.

Why it matters

The crosswalks along San Fernando Road between Polk Street and Hubbard Street are decorated in symbols from the Mexica (that's what the people historians have long referred to as the Aztecs called themselves).

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The Xochitl, or "flower," represents the abundance of art and culture of the community, and the Ollin, which means "movement," represents "the literal movement that's happening in our communities and on our streets by our people," said Michael Centeno, executive director of Tía Chucha's.

Andrea Lopez, the project lead of Moving Beauty Pathways, says the Mexica symbols are a way to represent the cultural identity of the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

"We chose those symbols just to recognize the history of our people that live in this area and to also, you know, have a sense of pride in where we come from and our history, our roots," said Lopez.

A crosswalk painted in red and white stripes extends across the street. In the red stripes are visible faint decorations or symbols.
One of the new crosswalks in Sylmar that feature Mexica symbols.
(Courtesy Andrea Lopez)

The backstory

Back in 2019, Tía Chucha's was selected to be part of the Great Streets Initiative, a program funded by former Mayor Eric Garcetti's office.

Lopez and Karen Ugarte from Tía Chucha's conducted outreach for months and learned that the community wanted a more walkable city. In their report findings, many called for more visibility by putting lights along sidewalks so they could walk at night, or repainting crosswalks so drivers could slow down and respect pedestrians. Others called for more public artwork that represents the community.

Tía Chucha's received $500,000 grant to implement the projects. The first phase includes the decorative crosswalks located at:

  • San Fernando Road and Paddock Street
  • San Fernando Road and Oro Grande Street
  • San Fernando Road and Astoria Street

An additional $250,000 in funds came from L.A. City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, whose district includes Sylmar.
As of 2018, there have been 35 accidents along the stretch of San Fernando Road between Astoria Street and Polk Street, according to Rodriguez.

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She says this project addresses both the safety concerns of the residents and integrates the cultural and artistic identity that is historic to the community. Along San Fernando Road, there's two 10,000-square-foot murals painted by local artists that are placed to uplift the urban landscape.

"The crosswalk paintings were necessary, but we also wanted to really bring the cultural aspect to it because things could be functional and they could be aesthetically pleasing and nice to look at," Lopez said. "We understand that that heavily influences our mental health and also encourages people to want to walk outside rather than commute."

What's next

In an Instagram post, the team said the next phase will include murals and better lighting on the bike path along San Fernando Road.

Centeno says that there's still more work to be done to make the city more walkable and safer. He says that the community sees Tía Chucha's as a liaison between them and the local government, and he hopes that this project will encourage others to be more vocal of their needs and take charge.

"I'm hoping that we can help to continue to [be] that bridge and see what other work that we can do that can, you know, positively change some of those challenges in our community," said Centeno.

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Corrected March 19, 2023 at 9:54 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Sylmar as a city. It is a neighborhood within the city of Los Angeles.
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