The sidewalks are so buckled along parts of Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester that parents pushing strollers have been spotted veering off the path and into an adjacent bike lane.
Dislodged by massive old ficus tree roots, pieces of sidewalk form peaks that might be attractive to skateboarders, but are less than ideal for pedestrians.
Soon, though, a smoother solution is in store for Westchester.
With roughly 17 ficus trees cut down over the weekend along the west side of Sepulveda from 80th to 83rd streets, plans are in the works to pull out the ficus roots, plant new trees, repair curbs and gutters and install meandering walkways along the roadside.
The work is part of a plan to eventually make improvements along both sides of Sepulveda between Manchester Avenue and Howard Hughes Parkway. Already completed is a link between 80th and 77th streets on Sepulveda's west side, near Westchester Lutheran Church.
"Some of them come up a good two, two-and-a-half feet, the sidewalks do," said John Ruhlen of the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association, a nonprofit group that has been working to create a more pedestrian-friendly community. "Now that the trees are gone and the sidewalk is actually bare and naked, I think people are realizing we need to do something.
Uprooting trees along city streets can evoke strong emotions, which was the case last fall when crews cut down hundreds of trees in preparation for the space shuttle Endeavour's road trip from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center.
But project supporters say people have been generally understanding about why many of Westchester's ficus trees were recently removed.
"We've really been out talking to people and developing an understanding that the reality is, we can't save these trees," said Don Duckworth, who serves as executive director of the Business Improvement District in downtown Westchester. "It's not that people haven't expressed disappointment ... but there is an understanding that there's a danger to pedestrians."
Ruhlen, who serves as the streetscape association's president, said he's gotten some positive feedback. "We actually had residents come out and thank us for that. It has to be done," he said.
The sidewalk improvements - which will be funded with a $2.85 million budget - have been talked about for years, along with the Streetscape Improvement Association's vision for the nearby Sepulveda Boulevard business corridor. There, the association has helped pave the way for new turn pockets, landscaped median strips, palm and canopy trees and curbside parking - work funded with city dollars and Metropolitan Transportation Authority grant money. The BID helps pay for upkeep.
The new improvements coming to Sepulveda north of the business district will be made possible with $1 million in federal money secured by Rep. Maxine Waters, Ruhlen said. Equity Office Partners, which a few years ago sought new land-use approvals for undeveloped lots in the nearby Howard Hughes Center, will contribute $1.85 million in mitigation money for repairs on the boulevard's east side and ongoing maintenance costs. Ruhlen said his group took the lead in removing trees over the weekend.
The project calls for planting 100 new replacement trees, none of which will be ficus, Ruhlen said. The new landscape will include New Zealand flax, fountain grass and pink trumpet trees.
Work could start in March and stretch into the fall, he added.
He expects that the Westchester YMCA at Sepulveda and 80th Street will be one boulevard stakeholder that's eager to see smooth pathways replace the cracked ones. Said Ruhlen: "The Y had people walking in with bloody knees from falling on the sidewalks."
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