by guest planologist David Yoon
Los Angeles is strapped for cash. Officials are resorting to the equivalent of digging under sofa cushions for change: ticketing unlicensed dog owners, cracking down with parking tickets, and raising Metro fares. But they’re going about it the wrong way — there’s gold right in LA’s streets, just waiting to be exploited. All that’s needed is a proper vision.
Luckily, that vision already exists: the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, a world-famous example of street conversion. Car parking is corralled in city-operated structures, providing revenue. Bike lanes host beach cruisers, fixie hipsters, and cyclists of every stripe, encouraging spontaneous visits. Abundant public transport (via the clean, easily navigable Big Blue Bus) feed shops with a constant supply of foot traffic. It’s an economic and cultural success story that can be replicated easily across the entire city, using a resource that LA has in endless supply: asphalt.
With its “local” streets sometimes stretching up to ten lanes wide, LA has historically made its main infrastructural priority clear: to move as many automobiles as quickly as possible 24 hours a day, nothing else. It’s a failed vision, one that has left Angelenos with interminable commutes, road rage, and comically vast distances separating tiny isolated islands of culture and entertainment. It’s no wonder — the city has been engineered for cars, not bikeability.
But why engineer for bikeability? The usual design approach is to paint a stripe, call it a bike lane, and watch helplessly as no one uses it. Bike lanes on six-lane-wide Melrose wouldn’t make it that much nicer for cyclists, what with cars routinely speeding by at 45mph. Engineering for bikeability isn’t just about providing traffic infrastructure — it’s about giving people a reason to bike. And the biggest reason people go anywhere? Commerce.
I’m suggesting that LA city officials get greedy with their surplus of asphalt. Stop using it exclusively for cars — cars generate sofa change compared to the revenue potential of commerce. Infilling LA’s outrageously wide streets with businesses would make much better use of all that space. It would not only increase tax revenue by essentially adding a third row of shops, but also give locals real reasons (besides environmental, cardiovascular, or velodramatic ones) to go for a bike ride: to meet for coffee, peoplewatch, or bar hop.
Infilling, as in the rendering above, is a win-win-win-win: it slows traffic, encourages cycling, creates retail real estate out of thin air (er, asphalt), and bumps up property values by making the area more desirable. Sharrows would encourage bicycles and cars to mix, making drivers cycle-aware and giving them the inescapable reminder that they do not have right of way. The idea of infilling is not new, or radical, or even innovative, with proven examples across the globe at Santa Monica’s Promenade, Barcelona’s La Rambla, Las Vegas’ Fremont Street, and on and on. People pay thousands for once-in-a-lifetime trips to these magical places. But life is short, and you can’t possibly see it all. So why not engineer that magic right here at home?
(note from planologie—for more of David Yoon’s work check out narrowstreetsla.blogspot.com)