DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The Figueroa Streetscape Project may not be on the radar for everyone in Downtown, but for cycling advocates and stakeholders on the stretch of Figueroa Street that runs from the Financial District to Exposition Park, no issue is more important.
The project, which recently saw the completion of an environmental impact report, is on the front burner, as key funding depends on starting construction by January. That is partly why a public discussion Thursday morning on the issue generated a passionate response.
During the session at the Financial District offices of the firm HMC Architects, Ninth District City Councilman Curren Price called the project, also known as MyFigueroa, “promising,” and said he does not want to see it delayed. However, he also said he believes more questions need to be answered.
Price recently filed a motion that asks the city departments of Planning and Transportation to provide an in-depth analysis to the City Council on how to mitigate the traffic congestion caused by the removal of auto lanes on South Figueroa Street.
The EIR for the plan to remake a three-mile section of Figueroa Street into a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly corridor addresses a host of concerns from critics who fear that the result will be gridlock. The project area, which runs from Seventh Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with a spur down 11th Street, would include north and southbound bike lanes. Two segments of the northbound corridor would get “cycle tracks,” or lanes separated from traffic by a new curb.
At the Thursday session organized by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Price said there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed regarding the $20 million project, which is funded by Prop 1C bond money. Dollars must be spent by the end of 2014.
“It’s a promising project. Let’s not rush through it. Let’s make it a good deal for everybody,” he said, adding, “Major stakeholders have lingering concerns.”
One of those stakeholders is Darryl Holter, the CEO of the Shammas Group, a longtime area player who owns eight car dealerships on the Figueroa Corridor. Holter, who did not attend the morning event but has long been monitoring the process, fears that a race to make the spending deadline could cause potentially critical fallout if all traffic mitigation outcomes are not properly assessed. He opined that a street less busy and vital than Figueroa would be a better choice for a project with this scale and scope.
“We’re doing something that has never been done in Los Angeles before, and we’re doing it on a very trafficked street,” he said. “[This project] is about mobility and access. Will the 600 service customers who come into our dealerships every day find it easy to get to us with fewer traffic lanes? I don’t know. It’s dicey.”
During the morning meeting, Price reiterated the importance of economic development for the Ninth District, and repeatedly tossed out the term “cultural tourism,” meaning the need to find a way to bring people to different parts of the city with lures such as international cuisine and art.
Shanon Muir of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition agreed with the assessment, and said a great way to drive more people to small businesses is on two wheels and on foot via bike and pedestrian lanes. She believes the lanes would draw more interest in the area, which could then attract more businesses. With a neon green bike pendant pinned to her lapel, Muir said to Price, “I could do some outreach.”
Transportation reform advocate Deborah Murphy, executive director of Los Angeles Walks, said she saw a lot of synergy between Price’s goal of economic development and the MyFigueroa project. But the ticking clock for funding is worrisome, she said.
“We have an opportunity to be an example for all the rest of L.A.,” she said regarding transit-oriented developments. “This would put the Ninth [District] in the forefront and set the tone for the future of Los Angeles.”
The plan also calls for widening sidewalks, planting additional trees and installing better street lighting. Construction would have to start by January to meet the funding deadline.
The project is subject to the approval of city Department of Transportation General Manager Jaime De La Vega. It can be appealed to the City Council.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013