Will Figueroa Street Be Los Angeles’ First Truly Complete Street?

For a copy of the flyer announcing their February meetings, ##http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/FullPageSpanishandEnglish1.21.11.pdf ##click here.##
For a copy of the flyer announcing their February meetings, ##http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/FullPageSpanishandEnglish1.21.11.pdf ##click here.##

I have to be honest.  If the My Figueroa project ends up fulfilling its mission of designing a people-friendly Figueroa Street from the southwest corner of Exposition Park to Downtown Los Angeles only by adding a couple of trees and repainting the crosswalks, I’ll be extremely disappointed.

The project team raised expectations by encouraging participants to last September’s community meetings to consider improvements to the corridor such as separated bike lanes and scramble crosswalks.  Then, in addition to partnering with Streetsblog Board Member Deborah Murphy, they announced that the architects for the project were the world renowned Gehl Architects out of Copenhagen.

Now, via a flier announcing February’s outreach meetings, they’ve released their first proposed sketches for the corridor.  Instead of five through traffic lanes, a planted median and some street parking, let’s look at the street that’s proposed in the picture above.  Instead of five lanes of yuck and some trees, I see two lanes of through traffic, a dedicated transit lane, a pedestrian plaza, a lane for local and bicycle traffic and then restaurant seating.  What a change that would be…

In short, this is a street that would serve people regardless of their favored mode of transportation.  If this plan comes through, South Figueroa will be Los Angeles’ first true complete street.  Generally, once cities get one street that looks like the one pictured above, residents from the rest of the city start asking “what about us?”

Streetsblog spent a lot of time in 2010 discussing how the culture of the city was starting to change.  If this project ever becomes a reality, then the change isn’t just coming.  It will have arrived.

  • Daylight Saves What?

    Do you think the fact that there are so many car dealerships along that stretch on Figueroa can negatively affect this project?

  • I got some sort of invite to attend a meeting about Figueroa. I asked if North Figueroa Street was part of the plan. I was informed it is not. I deleted the invite.

    In the past, the CRA used its money and power to annihilate communities that were deemed by our elite as not worth saving. In exchange, we have been given places that are not worth caring about. The CRA has deposited the 20th century equivalent to the open sewer or abandoned temple of a defeated god – parking lots, no-man land building, and numerous nails in the coffin of public life.

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen. When the CRA isn’t handing out cash or very friendly loans to the clepto-capitalist real estate vampire squids of Los Angeles’ developer community, they are shoveling heaping helpings of our property tax dollars into a giant furnace of “planning” like this effort.

    It doesn’t take $20 million in facade, street furniture, or a multiple degrees in urban humpadump and fart sniffing to tell you what is wrong with Figueroa (both North and South).

    The street is a disgusting freeway designed to curtail human life and the vitality of our urban core to serve the interests of post-WWII dumdums that thought the oil, coal, and steel feast would never end.

    If you took one paint striping truck, a crew of high school dropouts with tar buckets and plastic bollards, some cheap plastic chairs and umbrellas from China and a couple of hundred thousand dollars later you’d have a place that humans would walk and shop – except for the fact that all the buildings on Figueroa insist that the pedestrian enter through the structures rear end, walk by massive car entrances, and deal with windowless tectonic facades of marble and granite that slope down from the heavens.

    My question is not “What should the future of Figueroa Street be?” it is “Who the f&^k authorized this street to receive the royal treatment when dozens of traditional-scale mixed use commercial corridors in Los Angeles could multiply this cash investment a million times over?”

    And the answer would be “USC and LA Live”.

    I suspect this entire effort will smash into the reality that both USC and LA Live depend on a steady stream of enchanted motor cars driving 50mph on Figueroa, and anything that slows them down and actually makes the street a safer place will be heavily opposed by the mid-level bureaucrats and corporate-owned concession stand operators that run the various oil-based economic interests in this town. And besides, why the focus on this street when so many others could return so much more? To the people and business owners of LA that bust their asses day in and day out to make their city a better place the CRA offer a multimillion dollar streetscape plan to the assholes and traffic planners that have been busy ruining it.

  • Chris L

    “My question is not “What should the future of Figueroa Street be?” it is “Who the f&^k authorized this street to receive the royal treatment when dozens of traditional-scale mixed use commercial corridors in Los Angeles could multiply this cash investment a million times over?””

    You have to start somewhere. And why not start with a street that needs *much* more help than the traditional-scale mixed use commercial corridors? Those corridors just need a little TLC, not a major reconfiguration like Fig. If Figuerora can be fixed, I believe it will send the message that ALL of LA’s streets can be fixed- no matter how far gone or how freeway-like they are.

  • I have nothing more to add then to say Josef’s quote sums it up best:

    “In the past, the CRA used its money and power to annihilate communities that were deemed by our elite as not worth saving. In exchange, we have been given places that are not worth caring about. The CRA has deposited the 20th century equivalent to the open sewer or abandoned temple of a defeated god – parking lots, no-man land building, and numerous nails in the coffin of public life.”

  • Andrew J

    I love your idea! I really hope it’s taken in to consideration because I think it would look fantastic.

  • That photo portrays a totally beautiful vision for Figueroa and for what so many streets in this city should look like. It’s like a new urban paradise: as if Portland had a baby with Strasbourg.

    Let’s make sure it gets done right!

  • the clepto-capitalist real estate vampire squids of Los Angeles’ developer community?!

    Wow. I just fell out of my chair laughing at Josef’s mind vomit. Rad. I needed that.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @Josef…when people think about Figueroa they think of Figueroa between 7th and 37th…not moreso north of 7th (or even north of downtown for that matter). What’s to say people won’t be upset if they spent money on your figueroa you suggested and not the heart of Figueroa, which truly is between 7th and 37th. It’s like you getting upset that the City spend money on Main street…….below Adams. The most pressing projects are in the urban core..not in Northeast LA. This areas is prime for re-construction. You have more varying buses here than in any other major street serving downtown (bus only lane between Adams and 7th already exists), two major centers (USC and downtown LA via Staples), and major residential buildings. There may be other streets with the same characteristic, but truly not North Figueroa. Let’s stop focusing on individualism, which kills good projects, and on projects where it makes sense. Density, transit, and residential is much higher on my (this) Figueroa than your Figueroa.

  • Well okay, we got ta start somewheres Ma! This a here re-cession is hurting us all. And lordy knows that all Adams, Figueroas, Broadways, Van Nuys’, Venices, and countless other major Los Angeles boulevard propped up with small businesses and mixed use development struggling against a backdrop of a City-as-giant-leach ain’t worth the juice you can squeeze from ’em.

    Might as well pick a street that serves the largest employer in LA (USC) and a pit of special tax breaks, development rights handouts, and special sign districts (LA Live). Yep, we’ll pick that street because we’ve spent the last 50 years turning it into a hell hole, and private developers have been doing the same for about as long.

    And the treatment these big boys on the block will get? The exact opposite of what they have spent all their time and money getting ready for, according to the renderings above – a happy time office worker promenade.

    This is a make-work special, brought to you by the technocrats at the CRA and the unmitigated douchbaggery of a special class of civil servant in Los Angeles.

    Councilman Huizar has spent hundreds of thousands on “Bringing Back Broadway”, the LACBC has fought hard for the 4th Street Bicycle Boulevard, and numerous traffic fatalities and crashes pile up on some hidden tally sheet in the California Highway Patrol’s secure underground skunkworks. But let’s not focus on spending the tens of thousands required to fix our most dangerous streets with rudimentary traffic calming, or data collection and analysis. Let’s not spend the thousands on small, data-driven, community oriented street planning efforts.

    No let’s blow it all out in one huge CRA-planning-fiesta, let’s spend tens of millions of dollars on shit that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.

    This is like the ridiculous amounts of investment in the vaunted Bunker Hill – an area that sees foot traffic in lawyers, waddling LADWP employees, criminals and jury members of the under-classes, and homeless people … oh and now it is a hip place we all want to be, except you’ll never see a soul there outside of MOCA’s or the Concert Hall’s grand events.

    All this money thrown at streets that just plain suck, from their core DNA, when streets that have the most to offer the regular folk of Los Angeles get ignored, or have their interests subsumed in the LADOT’s interests to move as many cars as fast as possible through a traditional trolley-car retail and residential area.

    You can radically change the numerous neighborhood retail areas perform with this money, but instead we’ll just chum the waters with public meetings to let the consultants know we’re going to drop some serious coin on their “deliverables” and “services”.

  • roadblock

    Josef your words are art on canvas…. truly. Savoring every single word.

  • You know what, whatever. I give up. Maybe this will work out for the best.

    The CRA could have looked at all the different streets in LA that would explode with commerce, culture, and an improved quality of life and decided where to put their money and planning focus. Instead they’ve chosen to heap more money on the big boyz in town with their platinum grill signage districts and their sporting events.

    I think it is a good idea to make “complete streets”, but they can be done cheaply and with a much more profound effect in areas that have vibrant non-corporate retail and cultural diversity. It seems to me that a lot of good will and city revenue is left un-earned by over-focusing on super-star “business interests” in certain parts of downtown. There are parts of downtown that could turn this money and planning effort into something truly wonderful and a fraction of the cost, and the same goes for a great many other places in LA.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Imagine if Paris, London, New York, et al put money into their no-named streets (i.e. Figueroa north of 7th) instead of Champs-elyss, 5th Avenue, Michigan Avenue. Sorry Josef, as much as other streets need attention (I agree with you), it’s the mega-world defined streets that get the cash. That’s the more common street outsiders will see than Figueroa in Northeast LA.

  • john k.

    It’s not always about outsiders. The mega-cities you listed–while I’m sure they have there share of “complete street” issues–were not designed for the automobile they way LA streets have been. Those cities’ “no-name streets” already benefit from being human scale while Fig in NELA, for example, does not.

    We should be building a city for the everyday folks, not just AEG. While Fig is an important street in DTLA and as part of the transit landscape, I would love to see the city spend a comparatively paltry amount on a multitude of neighborhood streets instead of one big multi-million mega project.

    Even in DTLA, “complete street” improvements would be better suited for Spring or Broadway rather than Fig.

  • The funny thing about a city like Los Angeles is EVERYBODY is an outsider.

    And I don’t mean “outsider” in the sense that my father came from Japan or somebody else’s parents came from Mexico or Alabama or Brazil or France or Vietnam or whatever.

    I mean, if you live in San Pedro, Santa Monica might as well be a whole separate country. And unless you commute to or from downtown on a regular basis, Downtown Los Angeles can seem totally foreign from the rest of the city, too.

    So, yeah. The only reason why I come downtown is for the art museums, or the music center, or the festivals in Little Tokyo, or Anime Expo or other events at the convention center.

    I’m a tourist in Los Angeles, because although I grew up in the South Bay, there are whole huge sections of the city I’ve never been.

    So I have no problem with improving Fig. Figueroa makes money for the city, so if the money is available to fix up Fig, start with Fig.

    History is important, but let’s not wallow in it. Let’s see what we can do for the future.

    And get to those other streets when the money becomes available.

  • The real test of this project is what happens going forward. Does it set the precedent that human-scaled street projects can do great things for the city? Hopefully we learn that lesson and then invest lots of money spread around smaller scale community-oriented projects – as Josef eloquently advocates.

    The bad lesson to learn from this would be: don’t do anything until you can do a $30 million remake to make a big business doorstep look nicer.

  • The underlying tone of Josef’s off the wall comment is of course that he thinks Figueroa between LA Live and USC is unworthy of improvement. He attacks this project as a spoil for developers but ignores the fact that this project has real community support and will benefits greatly the people that live and use this corridor. Parochialism cuts both ways… throwing bricks at other people trying to improve their neighborhoods is easy to do but it doesn’t advance your point of view very well.

  • No, this isn’t parochialism.

    This is $20 MILLION being spent at the behest of whom? What body of citizens and elected officials pointed at Figueroa and said, “Let there be $20 million in improvements (while we’re in a budget crisis and libraries are closed on Sunday and Monday)”.

    Time and again, massive amounts of money go to support the rent-seekers of big business in LA. This plan isn’t going to improve this freeway-like corridor. All that will happen is a bunch of meetings, some paperwork, and a bunch of benches and street lights will get installed.

    Complete streets that are waiting to be built, that have an actual community and local political support behind them, are constantly shot down with “Sorry, no money.” From what neighborhood council group, what chamber of local commerce, what local council office, did this initiative begin?

    That is the problem I have. Broadway or Spring Street in Downtown, or many streets in the Arts District, Toy District, Garment District are employing thousands in small businesses, but never see the big dollar and deep thought investments that we’re dumping on this shit pipe street for mall shoppers to “do LA” at LA Live and a USC football game.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Thanks for complaining on a blog. It won’t do much. Talk to your local politicians. This is an allocated amount from the state for a specific purpose. It’s not their problem they received $20 million. You’re barking up the wrong tree. People will always find something to complain about………

  • Didn’t AEG pay for this study? Am I crazy, or did I read that somewhere? If they paid for it, they can get what they want out of the study. Its (sadly) up to CRA to figure out the rest. At least, for now.

  • Thanks for replying on a blog.

  • The use of “scramble crosswalks” as a positive thing is alarming, because the way LA has implemented them are exhibit 1 in how badly pedestrians are treated here.

    Take the scramble crossing near USC:

    East/west get green, pedestrians can’t move, turning cars get priority.
    North/South get green, pedestrians can’t move, turning cars get priority.
    Pedestrians get green, compete with RTOR vehicles.


    Prime example of getting those pesky pedestrians out of the way,

    Compare with a similar crossing in Boston.

    East/west get green, pedestrians can also cross east/west, no turn on red to compete with.
    North/South get green, pedestrians can also cross north/south, no turn on red to compete with.
    Pedestrians get green, pedestrians only, cars have no turn on red.

  • LAofAnaheim

    The funding came fromt the California Department of Housing and Community Development; not AEG


  • Josef:

    This is like the ridiculous amounts of investment in the vaunted Bunker Hill – an area that sees foot traffic in lawyers, waddling LADWP employees, criminals and jury members of the under-classes, and homeless people … oh and now it is a hip place we all want to be, except you’ll never see a soul there outside of MOCA’s or the Concert Hall’s grand events

    Point taken but occasionally you will see a guy on a Pretty Blue Surly Cross Check, proudly purchased at a famous NELA bicycle establishment, enjoying the fruits of all that money spent on BUnker Hill……

  • anty

    Take out a lane, put in a protected 2-way bike lane (along with the benches and the greenery) and maybe we’ll start to see some of those USC beach cruisers wandering up towards DTLA.

  • Alex

    I don’t want to jump into an argument with @Josef, but I will say that I’m cautiously optimistic that this project could do some good.

    I’m a USC employee and I bike up Fig to 7th and Metro every day on my way home from work. In the last year, there’s actually been a lot of positive development along the corridor. You’ve got the University Gateway at Jefferson, which, as much as it’s a huge faceless apartment block owned by betentacled developers, has started to get some serious foot traffic on its ground level, including the accessible student-oriented Freebird Burritos on Jeff to the CVS on the north end.

    Heading north there are two multi-family apartment buildings going up with frontage on Fig. Although I don’t know where cars will enter and exit, it is nice to see these buildings take spaces that were formerly single-level chain fast food outlets with moats of parking lots. I think in the next year or so, especially with the addition of the Expo line on Flower, Figueroa between Jefferson and the 110 overpass is going to be a lot different than it was even three years ago.

    I attended the introductory sessions for the My Figueroa project in the fall, and I was pleasantly surprised. There were other bikers in the crowd, and not a few people who claimed to be mostly pedestrian (in the walking-on-foot sense) residents of downtown. The conversation centered on how to improve the dead space between the 110 and Olympic — what to do about the car dealerships, how to fix the 10 underpass area, what approach to have with the cultural desert of AEGtown. I got the sense that the architects and planners saw this as an opportunity and were genuinely interested in trying something different than usual.

    Maybe I’m being Pollyanna-ish, but if nothing else I’m curious to see what comes of this, both from a planning standpoint and also as a daily cyclist along the corridor.


    People like Josef seem to underestimate things like LA live and don’t see the value of what’s already happened in the area. What needs to happen is parking lots replaced with “infill” projects like LA Central and Jardin.

    Now as for billboards Mr.Bray-Ali, how about we limit them to two signage districts?(they already exist actually, but are part of much larger sign districts – So in othe words, they need to be cut in size):

    1.Hollywood Blvd (between La Brea and Vine)
    2.South Park (in an area bounded by Flower, Venice, Cherry, and Ninth)

    After that, tax the sign districts, and use the money generated for things like art programs. Then ban them everywhere else in the city. More than 90% of the city would be free of billboards. After a certain amount of days following a ban, if any billboards outside the two signage districts are still up, fine the billboard company for EACH billboard it hasn’t taken down.

    This has already been done in places like Dallas, Toronto, and New York. There’s NO legal reason why we can’t either…..NONE.

  • After reading some of the responses above, I realize that (if any of this actually gets installed and not just “planned” for and “studied”) this would be the one, official, bike-friendly street into and out of DTLA. There is value in that.

    $20 million in value? I don’t know.

    It sure would be nice to have the CRA spend their time writing grants for other parts of town, but I guess they’ve got big developer friends to help in this time of need.

    In conclusion, I am sorry I cussed and was such a jerk. I think this money has the potential to do something big on this corridor (ill-placed as that investment might seem to me) for bicycless, livablity in Downtown, and the politics of installing bicycle facilities at the expense of roadway space for private automobiles.

    $20 million to “plan” sounds like a great reason to set up shop as a “complete streets planner” and get in on all the spending.

  • Jesef-

    At the end of the day we all hope for better streets and wishful thinking isn’t going to make it happen. Your voice is important in shaping the debate and making sure the AEG politicians don’t take our money to improve Billionaires projects. At the end of the day we all hope you are wrong, but you will probably be right.

  • L Barlow

    These proposals for urban green streets are misleading in the sense that they show huge tree canopies with small thin trunks and no roots. Trees like this need ample water, and in older cities like Paris they’re planted in greenswales and landscape buffers and have large openings in paved areas. It’s critical in California to provide functional raingarden areas in these kinds of multimodal spaces so that the groundwater keeps the trees alive and replenishes the aquifer. Too much paving and concrete here, all hard surface. Older cities in Europe that everyone loves so much have retained the urban landscaping and parks that provide relief from urban concretescapes. Did you know that graffiti is not successful on exterior walls that are covered in vines and plants? An 18″ irrigated planter should be an option for the front of commercial sidewalk-facing facades, as well.

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  • Cesar J Prietto

    What about North Figueroa Street? People from Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Cypress Park, and South Pasadena have to use the 110 fwy to get into downtown LA. Causes a lot of congestion especially around the area of Avenue 26 and N. Figueroa street. The city needs to figure out a way to get people into downtown LA from north Los Angeles. New bike paths, small 2 way lane going under Elysian park. Something.


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