Art Walk Safety About More Than Food Trucks and Closed Streets

Starting last July, food trucks were pushed into private lots for Art Walk. Now they won't be allowed at all during the monthly event. Photo:## Guy/Flickr##

Last month, tragedy struck during the monthly Art Walk in Downtown Los Angeles when a dangerous driver jumped a curb, crashed into a parking meter and killed a seven week old infant.  The tragedy shocked not just the Downtown and Art Walk communities, but the entire city.  Advocates pointed out that when you have a situation where vehicular traffic is mixed with thirty thousand pedestrians in such a short space as the core of Art Walk, between 3rd and 7th on Spring Street.

Responding the to safety issues highlighted by the crash, Council Members Jan Perry and Jose Huizar appointed a task force to look at safety issues.  Immediately following the crash, Art Walk participants, and some gallery owners, called for the streets to be completely closed off to car traffic during the walk.  However, that option wasn’t seriously considered for this month’s walk.  Instead, the task force focused on removing food trucks from the core of the event in an effort to spread out, and even thin out, the walking crowd.

Yesterday the task force and the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council , already pushed food trucks, already cornered into private lots, out of the core of Art Walk and on to the periphery to the north and south and parallel streets such as Broadway.  The presence of food trucks had nothing to do with the crash that killed the young infant, and if these private lots are used for their original purpose it could make the driver v pedestrian conflict even worse.  However, last month’s tragedy is being used as an excuse to do something many Downtown denizens have wanted for a long time, begin to push back against the festival that temporarily takes over their neighborhood.

This isn’t an art blog, it’s a transportation and street life blog, so let’s avoid debate about the true meaning of Art Walk and focus instead on how to make a major Downtown event work for the people that want to attend, and everyone else.

There are three interests here, and the reason that Art Walk patrons are on the losing end of the debate thus far is that the other two interests are both more entrenched and in this instance are allied.

The first two interests are almost always in conflict.  Pedestrians and drivers have been put in conflict in this area at this time.  Whether it’s because the city and leadership is too car obsessed to handle a pedestrian oriented event of this size, or because Art Walk has outgrown the area in which its situated doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that at this point, because of the size, rowdiness, time of day, or day on the calendar; Art Walk has lost the support of the third interested party.

The other interest is the community surrounding the Walk.  At Blogdowntown, Eric Richardson eloquently makes the case why Art Walk shouldn’t be allowed to take over the area, even for once a month, if its something the community doesn’t want.

Open that space up and the crowds will certainly show up to fill it. No one doubts that there is an appetite for a public party in Los Angeles.

In the process, though, we will be saying that Downtown, or at least the Historic Core, is no place for families and no place for professionals who may need to work on a Friday morning. We will prioritize food trucks and street fairs over the people and businesses who are in this neighborhood seven days a week.

To be short, Art Walk is so large, so unruly, that area residents would prefer the status quo of a car-clogged surface street over a large pedestrian-oriented festival.  For Art Walk to continue to grow and thrive, let’s not even talk about car-free streets, that needs to change.

Not having been to Art Walk since the crowds have swelled to their current numbers so I don’t have any easy answers how to create this change.  Art Walk’s efforts to stop the flow of free wine at the participating art galleries is a good step to make the streets safer, but it doesn’t do much for the Downtown residents who are taking issue with the Walk as it is.  My personal thought is that moving it to a Friday or Saturday night would help, but I’m sure that would create different issues.

How can Art Walk make peace with the Downtown community?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

  • I’m not sure that this will do much but move the problem elsewhere.  Spring residents may get a reprieve, but Broadway, 3rd and 8th St residents are f*cked.  Take the food trucks out of the lots (the food truck lots were a great idea IMO), and putting them back out onto the streets, really does nothing and creates its own problems.  

    This is my comment I posted on BDT:

    One issue that closing the “food truck lots” does now is that it opens them back up to auto traffic. That’s hundreds of additional vehicles entering the Art Walk zone which adds to the crush of cars already going through there, which then have to cross pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk to enter the lot. Repeat the process again on the way out.

    At least with the food trucks, they were there most of the night, stationary and not blocking sidewalk traffic.I thought the food truck lots were a great solution to the original dilemma, which was food trucks parking on the streets, creating a sidewalk capacity and garbage issue.

    Moving the trucks onto Broadway or 3rd or 8th (back on the streets, most likely, since there isn’t really enough time to organize new food truck lots on the periphery) may just be moving the problem rather than reducing it. Some of those areas aren’t in Historic BID or DCBID territory either, so the onus is on the city to clean up all the leftover garbage — of which there will be vast amounts — and we all know the city’s track record on that.

    I like the idea of closing one block of Spring to eliminate through traffic, and/or allowing only residential access on Spring. Of course, having those large parking lots in the core zone open again puts pressure on that idea.

    I guess we’ll see what happens come Thursday.

  • Anonymous

    The Historic Core is a major center of nightlife in Los Angeles every day of the year.  I don’t think Eric Richardson’s take is necessarily representative of a broad consensus among neighborhood residents, especially given that he moved away from the historic core in part because it became an active nightlife center.  Many current residents came to the neighborhood as a result of Artwalk and area nightlife, and many of the buildings at the center of the festivities have only become occupied during this time of giant monthly parties and late night clubs/bars.  The curmudgeons are certainly vocal, but it’s not clear that they are representative of the neighborhood generally.

    Richardson’s argument seems to rest on the idea that there’s latent demand for a larger street party, which is being suppressed by the limited pedestrian space.  I don’t think there’s real evidence that expanding the pedestrian space would automatically increase attendance, but it’s pretty clear that it would increase safety.  The sidewalks are currently overflowing and the parking lot entrances and street parking spaces are obvious danger zones.

    Spreading Artwalk out, by moving the food trucks away from the center, may help reduce pedestrian density.  However, the tradeoff seems to have been to increase the availability of parking in the heart of the event at the expense of safe pedestrian spaces.  I think that spreading the event out is a good idea, but it would have been better if coupled with parking restrictions in the core of the event.

    As a resident of the neighborhood and frequent Artwalk attendee, I can say with certainty that the galleries are filled with people during Artwalk (some even have lines).  People who claim that the event no longer has anything to do with art are probably pushing an agenda.  The crowd skews pretty young, and they’re probably not buying a lot of art, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in it.  The crowd also tends to include a large proportion of downtown residents, so the idea that residents and attendees have entirely distinct interests is questionable.

    P.S. I think you’ve got the order of the two blogdowntown links reversed.

  • Ditto Alec and Rich!
    – Your neighbor Val.

  • Thanks, I’ll switch the links.

    The part of Eric’s argument that got to me was the part about the families or workers who live there having the end of their week disrupted.  Living next door to a church that has a banquet hall that doubles as an events center I got the point about it being a weeknight.  Personally, I love that there is some real life in the building next door to me.  But would I want it making a lot of noise at midnight?  What about when Sammy is school age?

    But if it were a Friday or Saturday night?  Hell, shut down National Boulevard and let’s have a party until dawn.

  • It really bothers me that the idea of closing down a couple blocks of Spring Street- or even shutting down a lane or two, was not even considered.  People WANT vitality.  They WANT to see pedestrians crowding the street.  It’s the reason I venture out my apartment on Art Walk night, even though I don’t plan on buying any art and even though I don’t make a habit of drinking on a Thursday. I go because one day a month, the streets of the Historic Core feel more like New York or London than they do LA.  I love it, and its one of the reasons I moved downtown in the first place.

    Moving the food trucks to Broadway might thin out the crowds, but why should that even the be the task force’s goal? A pedestrian didn’t kill that infant, a car did. Its like we bend over backwards in this town and do logistical gymnastics rather than inconvenience drivers- even when its blindingly obvious that cars are the problem. The task force seems willing to do everything BUT inconveniencing drivers- even if it means screwing with the successful Artwalk formula. Honestly, I think this is probably the beginning of the end of Artwalk.

  • Anonymous

    I get that concern, but you need to balance it against the fact that Spring Street is already lined with bars that have boisterous outdoor patios open until 2 AM.  There are also nightclubs with long loud lines, and occasionally crazy indigents yelling random obscenities.  Art Walk adds considerably more people, but it’s not a neighborhood people move to for nighttime peace and quiet.  Obviously some wish it were otherwise; there are also some who think that there should be fewer “noisy” buses in the neighborhood, see the comments here.

  • Whoever controls the Downtown Art Walk Facebook page and Twitter account has just posted a wildly irresponsible plea that people not engage in “civil disobedience” at the event or the Art Walk may be “SHUT DOWN.”

    Commenters are urging them to delete this incendiary message, as it is using the official channel of the Art Walk to spread a dangerous, otherwise fringe idea to more than 37,000 people on Facebook, and another 7,700 people on Twitter. 

    The decision to move the food trucks, vendors, musicians, pop-up galleries and all portable content away from the center of Art Walk on less than two days notice is going to be confusing and unpopular with many attendees. Now Art Walk itself could be seen as laying the groundwork for encouraging a flash point, which can then be used as an excuse for the managing non-profit board to pack up tents and give up on this whole mis-managed mess.

    A brief smidgen of sick humor: this was the Downtown Art Walk’s Tweet #666.

    The community deserved, and deserves, so much better. So much potential. Such a waste.

  • And somehow in the process adding even more cars into the mix right in the thick of things in the name of “safety.”  Wow!

  • Sam D.

    People LIVE on Spring Street. Their DRIVEWAYS are on Spring Street. Closing streets I not an option and will never be an option! Are you that big of an idiot?

  • Sam, yes I’m aware people live on Spring St. I’m one of them.

  • The dude abides

    If you want peace and quiet in DTLA then move to bunker hill. Those grey hairs that crowd WDCH and the music center are in their Lexis’s and off the be tucked into bed on the westside by 9:30pm. If you want to live in a city deal with the people and noise. Or not and move to Palmdale.

  • E.S.K.

    why show a picture of the food trucks on a curb and directly underneath the photo discuss the accident only saying that a “dangerous driver jumped the curb”. It leaves the impression that food trucks are to blame for the infant death or worse that a food truck killed the baby. Its not really fair to give that impression.

  • Read the entire article

    Even if you were not already familiar with the story even a third grader could understand what was going on. I think the picture is relevant to the story and hope streets blog does not dumb down his coverage.

  • why not just make it so you can’t have street parking on spring st. from 4th to 6th??
    it’s not like this doesn’t happen on an almost daily basis when they are shooting movies down here.
    …and yes i live on spring and think moving the trucks does nothing.

  • I have gone a few times and I love the event.  The food trucks make the event.  The streets should be shut down so that people can wander freely and not have to deal with traffic.  The people in LA like a good event like this and one tragic mishap should not shut it down.

  •  I lived in Hermosa Beach near the bars.  It was noisy until past 2:00am and on certain weekends the vendors were setting up at7:00am.  This sucked, but it was the price I paid for living in the beach community. This event is only once a month, and I think it should be allowed to proceed so and give the community a good event.