Broadway’s Traffic Experiment

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It seems that not a week goes by without an announcement of a major development on Broadway. Last month’s opening of the Ace Hotel followed the December debuts of Urban Outfitters and Acne Studios. Upscale boutiques are flocking to the street and a pair of developers are working on separate projects that would create a huge residential base near Olympic Boulevard. 

One would expect this burst of activity to lead to more traffic on the historic corridor. Additional businesses, after all, seem likely to lure more patrons and shoppers, and in Los Angeles, almost everyone drives.

That is why a new effort from 14th District City Councilman José Huizar is so interesting. The Broadway Streetscape Master Plan, which began late last month, will take steps to make the street friendlier to pedestrians and businesses. By this summer Downtowners will notice the difference, with increased seating areas and a slashing of traffic lanes.

This is an intriguing experiment, and while we hope it will work, public outreach and flexibility from the council office and other branches of city government, particularly the Department of Transportation, will be key. Many people will be taken unawares by the effort, and the goal has to be not only to increase walkability on this corridor, but to ensure that neighboring streets are not swamped with traffic.

The biggest step in the two-phase project will be reducing the number of traffic lanes on Broadway from the current six to three. Although four lanes are now primarily used for cars and two are often dedicated to buses or loading, in the future all traffic (including buses) will flow on one southbound and two northbound lanes. There will also be two strips of parking partly protected by curbs that jut out from the sidewalk. The focus of the project is between First and 11th streets.

The streetscape plan is intended to proceed in two phases, starting with the use of temporary materials such as planters (the first stage is also referred to as a “dress rehearsal”), and leading eventually to permanent fixtures. This is where the flexibility comes into play. While Huizar, the DOT and others have models and expectations as to how drivers will react to fewer lanes, they may face surprises and must be ready to react quickly if the unexpected occurs. If those in charge are slow to respond, thousands could be inconvenienced and the public could turn against the project.

Communication with local workers and residents is also key. When traffic lanes are eliminated on Broadway, drivers likely will head to streets to the east and west. Plenty of advance notice and signage will be required. Similarly, we expect that timing of traffic signals on nearby thoroughfares may have to be adjusted.

Tentatively, we like the concept of the plan. Eliminating traffic lanes and adding seating has made Times Square in New York City far friendlier to visitors and pedestrians alike. There seems to be no reason that what works there cannot work here. The Downtown Los Angeles Broadway can be far easier to navigate and inviting for pedestrians, and the current surge in business on the street makes this the right time to try a grand experiment.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014