Last January, some 75 Eagle Rock stakeholders met Deborah Murphy when she ran the kickoff meeting for Rock the Boulevard, a public-private initiative to upgrade the roadway and sidewalks of Eagle Rock Blvd.
It’s safe to say they were duly impressed, as Ms. Murphy, an urban designer/planner, guided them with expertise and enthusiasm through the vision and practicalities involved in altering public, urban space.
It’s also safe to say that in the months to come, Ms. Murphy will be the pivotal actor in a community drama to turn various ideas to improve the boulevard into a solid blueprint for change. Her connection to Rock the Boulevard is through The Eagle Rock Association (TERA), a local improvement group that is spearheading the project. Earlier this year, TERA hired Ms. Murphy to foster community input, re-design the boulevard accordingly and then, crucially, to help secure the government funding to execute the re-design.
Ms. Murphy, a native of Los Angeles, brings formidable credentials to the job. Since 2003, she and her firm, Deborah Murphy Design + Planning, have helped to design several Rock-the-Boulevard style projects in L.A., including safety, transportation and infrastructure upgrades along major corridors in Culver City, downtown L.A. and Exposition Park.
Recurring features in such projects include re-paved and re-aligned streets, intersections and sidewalks, raised or high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian lighting, landscaped curb extensions, buffered biked lanes, new traffic signalization and wayfinding signage.
In all, Ms. Murphy, who is also a professional grant-writer, has secured $165 million in government funding for those and other improvements.
All of Ms. Murphy’s projects have benefited from her training at the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, where she earned her Master’s Degree, followed by years of experience as an urban designer for the City of Los Angeles. She is also a nonprofit leader, having founded Los Angeles Walks, the leading pedestrian advocacy organization in L.A.
But the roots of her accomplishments go even deeper than that. Ms. Murphy recently told the Boulevard Sentinel that she always had a sense for color and design. But when asked how that flair translated into a mastery of urban design, the conversation turned to her father, an engineer, a painter and an artist, who had wanted to be an architect and was a great navigator, instilling in her a love of maps and of finding her way around. “If you love cities, you want to explore,” she said. That basic explorer instinct set her apart from her classmates in architecture school, most of whom wanted to build buildings, not public spaces. It has also defined her and her career: “I am all about making place,” she said.
“Making place” on Eagle Rock Blvd. will not be easy. Safety is paramount. Much of the boulevard has been identified by the City as “high-injury,” with an above-average level of serious collisions, including crashes that involve pedestrians and cyclists. At the kickoff meeting for Rock the Boulevard, Ms. Murphy explained that a well-designed street balances uses by vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users. Eagle Rock Blvd. is out of balance, to put it mildly. Many drivers speed, a situation that is made more dangerous by the many driveways and misaligned streets along the boulevard. Pedestrians have trouble crossing the wide expanse of the boulevard and some jaywalk, in part, because of the distance between crosswalks. Many bus stops are unwelcoming and sidewalks are in poor repair. And so on.
Despite those problems, it is not a given that Eagle Rock can attract the government funding it needs to fix the boulevard. Grant money often flows to areas with lower overall income than in Eagle Rock, though a good case can be made that many people who use the boulevard each day – say, to get to work, church or school – are lower income stakeholders in the area.
In Eagle Rock’s favor, grant money is often steered to areas where the potential to reduce collisions is great – and Eagle Rock Blvd. certainly fits that description. Funders also like to fund projects that increase walking and bicycling opportunities for students, which also bodes well for Eagle Rock.
Eagle Rock’s biggest advantage, however, is the community itself under Ms. Murphy’s leadership. Funders put a lot of emphasis on the level of public participation that goes into a proposal and the creative and technical scope of a project. Ideas from the people of Eagle Rock combined with Ms. Murphy’s skill in turning ideas into designs and grant proposals, is a recipe for transformation.
The next public meeting for Rock the Boulevard will be on Tuesday, Mar. 20, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Women’s 20th Century Club at 5105 Hermosa Ave. in Eagle Rock.