Planning Ahead for Downtown’s Transportation Future

A series of motions from Councilmember José Huizar calls for the reevaluation of Downtown's traffic and transportation network.

As Downtown Los Angeles grows, so do the questions about that growth. Among the issues are how residents, workers and visitors move through the streets, and what the city can do to make traveling in Downtown as efficient and safe as possible.

In the effort to plan for the future, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar is launching an effort dubbed “DTLA Forward.” It is composed of four separate City Council motions that are scheduled to be introduced on Friday, May 1.

One motion calls for reevaluating street configurations in Downtown and how they relate to pedestrian and “multi-modal” (including public transit and cycling) transportation options. It calls for making Downtown safer for pedestrians and cyclists while also reducing vehicular congestion. It would begin by reviewing transportation along Spring and Main streets between First Street and Olympic Boulevard

 “There’s a new Downtown emerging thanks to private development, but on the public side, we need to keep up,” Huizar said. “Especially as you look at traffic patterns, some of these configurations were set decades ago. Do some of these one-way streets make sense? Are we reducing congestion?”

A second motion suggests tools to make walking around Downtown safer. Huizar wants to see, for instance, crosswalk signals that give pedestrians a head start before the light turns green for drivers, theoretically reducing the chances that someone gets hit after stepping off the curb. It also calls for the city Department of Transportation to consider “additional low-cost measures” for pedestrian safety that could be implemented quickly.

The third motion is to use the Harlem Place alley in the Historic Core as the site of a pilot program for activating and “greening” alleys into public amenities. It urges the city Bureau of Engineering, City Planning and DOT to find other prospective sites.

The final motion calls for a consistent “palette” of options for tree planting and removal in South Park, a concept that could be expanded to other districts in Downtown.

Ease the Giant Office Park

Much of the impetus for “DTLA Forward” came from a March meeting between Huizar’s office, DOT, the group Pershing Square Renew and architecture firm Gensler, where the need for an overarching plan became clear, Huizar said. For years the city has developed individual pilot programs and projects, such as the Broadway streetscape plan (now in a semi-permanent “dress rehearsal” stage) and the MyFigueroa bike lane plan, without determining how they all fit together, he noted.

Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District, thinks the effort has great potential.

“I think the timing is perfect with all of the initiatives that the city and councilmember have produced in terms of putting pedestrians in a better position,” said Besten. “With more and more people living here, we’ll have more people traveling around out of their cars, along with just more cars in general, too.”

A benefit of bringing multiple departments together is that it will be easier to implement ideas and reduce miscommunication and conflicts, said Rob Jernigan, managing principal at Gensler. Jernigan said he is glad to see that “DTLA Forward” will review transportation holistically, rather than simply focus on how quickly cars move on the street.

“We’ve designed a giant office park that’s intended to vacate at 6 p.m. We need to design the city so people stick around,” Jernigan said. “In an urban city, roads are the majority of the open space. And if you look at roads purely as a matter of traffic flow rate rather than a public resource to manage, it’s a problem.”

Eric Bruins, director of planning and policy for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, offered a similar sentiment. He noted that the future arrival of a county-wide program allowing short-term bicycle rentals will have a significant impact on how traffic works around Downtown.

"A comprehensive review is so important, especially in an urban center where we’re willing to allocate resources away from cars for other modes of transportation,” he said. “Even for creating a network of protected bike lanes, with MyFigueroa coming in and improvements along Seventh Street, that’s going to require different signals and maybe new traffic routes.”

Huizar said he had long mulled over the various components of his “DTLA Forward” initiative, but had not brought them under one umbrella. He is unsure how long it will be before any of the ideas are implemented, and the city will need to find funding sources to make them happen. Still, Huizar believes collaborating within the city on these issues is a key and long overdue step as Downtown continues to transform.

Huizar Offers Package of Motions to Review Traffic and Revive Public Spaces