Los Angeles has a great deal of walkability despite its car-centric reputation, but much of it remains hidden to the public. In the city's historic Broadway corridor, at least, that secret is about to come out. The city council recently voted to fund an initial redevelopment of Broadway into a legitimate pedestrian plaza — reducing six lanes of road down to three in the process.
The plan to "bring back" Broadway has been going on for about five years, but it really started to take shape in late 2009 with the public release of a street redesign. The first phase of this "Broadway Streetscape Master Plan" [PDF] is a makeshift and very cost-effective ($1.8 million) conversion modeled on the pedestrian parcels implemented in New York City. The second phase, yet to be funded, is where the heavy transformations would occur:
As that image shows, the proposed changes will alter Broadway to its core. Instead of five travel lanes plus a "ghost" sixth lane for buses, the street will devote just three lanes to traffic and extend sidewalks and curbs for walking. Transit will be enhanced, too, with improvements to bus service and groundwork for a streetcar line the city hopes to bring to the corridor.
All told, Broadway's reconfiguration will increase pedestrian share of the road from 38 percent, at present, up to 47 percent — just about going halfsies with cars.
The goal is to rejuvenate a Broadway strip that's lost much of its historic charm, at least according to the master plan. While shoppers do flock to the area during the day, at night the street is largely shuttered to business. Some of the old theaters have even been converted into non-entertainment venues, though many have agreed to revive their previous roles once the street changes take place.
But Los Angeles has wisely chosen to pursue this goal by making Broadway a much friendlier place to walk around. Right now the traffic whizzes right next to the sidewalk without a buffer, and the 56-foot crosswalks are daunting. The new plan will broaden and beautify the sidewalks and, in addition to reducing the crossing length, also include mid-block refuges.
The traffic studies suggest that the plan represents a true shift in priorities. On their own, the proposed alterations will put a strain on some intersections during morning and evening rush — at least so far as car level-of-service is concerned. But the plans intend to mitigate this impact by promoting walking and transit, and the master document makes clear that vehicles will take a backseat, if you will, to alternative modes:
Instead of seeing an efficient street as one that moves a certain number of vehicles through its intersections at certain target speeds, or one that maximizes throughput, this Plan seeks to move people both through and along the street, in a multi-modal fashion, in order to achieve efficiency and maximize input and output, be that by bus, bike, streetcar, delivery truck, or car.
The plan is far from perfect. The choice for streetcars in the corridor seems inspired more by nostalgia than true mobility: as currently conceived, they will share the road with other traffic and may be redundant with some buses. While plans do call for bike racks, there's no sign of bike lanes. And parking is a key to the new corridor, no doubt a nod to business demands, although the best new research suggests that retailers make more money over the long term from walkers than from wheels.
But there's still time to work on the details — phase one won't be done until the end of the year — and even in its current form the Broadway plan serves a greater purpose. The more that walkability is brought to high-profile parts of Los Angeles, the more that Angelinos can think of it as a natural part of their city as opposed to a hidden gem.
Top image: Thousands of protesters march up Broadway during a May Day immigration rally in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Reuters)