Big Changes Proposed for Seventh Street

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In a modern city, reconfigurations of busy streets are rare. This is a good thing — even the best-intentioned improvements and roadwork tend to frustrate pedestrians and cause massive traffic headaches. We’ve seen this on Seventh Street in Downtown Los Angeles — the construction of the Red Line in the 1990s, followed by the brutal recession, crippled many businesses.

Now, there are new plans to re-engineer the portion of Seventh Street between roughly Figueroa and Olive streets. While this would, again, cause some gridlock and make life difficult for certain businesses, we think the long-term payoff is worth it. Local leaders should dig deeply into the issue, encourage community input and modernize the stretch as much as is economically feasible.

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Los Angeles Downtown News last week wrote about a proposal to upgrade Seventh Street, with elements potentially including landscaping improvements, bicycle lanes separated from cars by a concrete buffer, and even diagonal crosswalks akin to those in Old Town Pasadena. The spur for the project is the construction of the 73-story replacement for the Wilshire Grand hotel. As part of the $1 billion complex’s community benefits package, developer Hanjin International is providing $9.175 million to make the street more useful and attractive.

There is another reason to seize the opportunity. As Hanjin builds its tower on the northwest corner of Seventh and Figueroa streets, developer Wayne Ratkovich is deep into a $180 million upgrade of the former Macy’s Plaza on the southeast corner of Seventh and Flower streets. The office, hotel and shopping complex, now known as The Bloc, is being revitalized, and careful attention is being given to enhancing the project’s interactions with the streetscape. Actual improvements to the sidewalk and street are a natural.

Plans for a street upgrade are in the relatively early stage, with the next public meeting scheduled for April. Still, the timeline could be quick, with city officials hoping to select design elements and begin construction by late 2016.

As more and more people come Downtown, we like the concept of making it easier to bicycle on Seventh Street. This could also be a smart tie-in to the streetscape improvements coming to Figueroa Street. A $20 million project there will seek to enhance pedestrian and cycling opportunities, with work extending past the University of Southern California. If the two projects happen in concert, then someone could begin pedaling near the university and ride into the heart of Downtown by turning on Seventh Street. Having buffers that protect bicycles from cars would lead more people to do this. 

We hope city officials are aggressive in their outreach on this project. We also hope that Downtown workers and residents will take advantage of the chance to weigh in. There may not be another opportunity to rethink this key corridor for decades. Downtown needs to get this right, and Downtowners should be part of it.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015