Last month, San Francisco took a bold step forward and officially launched a car-free Market Street. What made it possible is popular transit options such as the Market Street Streetcar, along with a network of buses and bike lanes.
Many have lauded the idea of car-free streets in Los Angeles and have called for the city to follow San Francisco’s lead, even offering ideas for how our streets could benefit from being car-free. Let’s follow Market Street’s success by selecting a Los Angeles street already planned for reviving our historic streetcars – Broadway.
My family are long-time Broadway property owners who have invested in some of the most iconic Broadway buildings, including the renowned Orpheum Theatre, since the early ‘70s. However, I have not historically been a fan of a car-free Broadway, as cars have played a key role in delivering visitors to Broadway for as long as I can remember.
This opinion may come as a surprise, as I have served as Chair of the Los Angeles Streetcar Inc. for more than a decade, and I am a vocal advocate for bringing back the streetcar for Downtown Los Angeles. My support of the streetcar is not because I don’t support cars traveling on Broadway or the other streets that the streetcar has been approved to operate on – Hill, Seventh, 11th, Figueroa and a block of First Street. In fact, I own a parking lot on Broadway, so removing cars would have a direct impact on my business.
But, through a sincere desire to truly “Bring Back Broadway” – not just with new transportation, but with new experiences, economic development, access for all, and continued revitalization – I have come to appreciate that a car-free Broadway may be just what Downtown L.A. needs and there could not be a more perfect place or a more perfect time for L.A. to consider this bold step.
Broadway has all the right ingredients to be car-free – beginning with a fully entitled streetcar, supported by recent investments in traffic calming measures like bollards, sidewalk widening and bike lanes. All these elements make space for more people-serving features like amazing new retail and restaurant options, historic theaters and iconic buildings where creative reuse of our historic architectural gems have spurred new hotels, exciting retail spaces, apartments and offices. When all these elements unite, they make Broadway a perfect beginning of Los Angeles’ car-free future. I like to think that a big part of this vibrant renewal of Broadway has been because visionary investors have seen the value that a fixed transportation investment like the streetcar can do to combine our historic legacy and our high-tech future. Great cities across the globe continue to encourage the growth and development of dynamic and exciting places enhanced by streets that cater to people and transit, rather than cars.
What would it take to make this vision of Broadway a reality? In San Francisco we learned that once the political leaders aligned with business leaders, it was a relatively swift transition. Mayor Eric Garcetti and our City Council member have already laid the groundwork for this type of bold initiative, through commitments to clean electric-powered transit, micro-mobility enhancements, and as mentioned above, the support of the electric-powered streetcar, which is approved and ready to serve as a backbone for a car-free Broadway. Broadway is already on a “road diet,” limiting car travel and prioritizing bus, pedestrian and bicycle travel. Now it’s time to think big and make bold moves. I am ready to see us take this next “step” to make Broadway car-free and an important connection to other key sites throughout downtown like Staples Center, the Fashion District, Jewelry District, South Park and the Financial District.
Steve Needleman is the owner of ANJAC Fashion Buildings, LLC and The Orpheum Theatre.