Bringing Broadway Back? Council Backs Plan to Halve Car Lanes in Favor of Pedestrian Space

All Dress Rehearsal renderings via Brining Broadway Back

When Antonio Villaraigosa discussed his plans to revitalize Downtown Los Angeles in his 2005 campaign for mayor, he often used the term “Manhattanization” as short hand for his density and community building plans. Both Manhattan and Downtown Los Angeles underwent their share of positive changes in the past eight years, but it took until the mayor’s last hours in office for the city to truly embrace Manhattanizing one of its main corridors.

Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to overhaul Broadway between 2nd Street and 11th Street through Downtown’s historic core. The existing six lanes of mixed-use travel lanes will literally be cut in half, down to three lanes. In their place, a massive increase of the pedestrian infrastructure will take place.

According to the Bringing Broadway Back (BBB) website, the project was inspired by New York City’s pedestrian expansion plans in Times Square. To justify the project, BBB points to the NYC DOT report entitled “Measuring the Street“.

“In a season of victories for our Bringing Back Broadway initiative, today’s Council vote is truly significant,” said Council Member José Huizar in a press statement last Friday.

So what does the city have planned for Broadway?  

LADOT will implement the Dress Rehearsal, using pavement treatments and physical indicators to delineate publicly accessible space within the roadway. These semi-permanent treatments leave flexibility to update configurations before the cost of a full construction build-out is undertaken if modifications are desired and necessary. The Dress Rehearsal is scheduled to begin later this year.

“This Phase I Dress Rehearsal will set the stage for the full implementation of a Streetscape Plan that prioritizes people over vehicles, and will make Broadway a safer, more pedestrian-oriented street,” Huizar continues. “This plan, along with the Downtown Streetcar and significant private economic investment on the historic street, makes Broadway’s future as bright as its past.”

BBB and Huizar refer to this massive pedestrian access project as a “Dress Rehearsal” because the final goal is still the creation of the Downtown Trolley. This project creates the space and atmosphere to make the trolley a more successful proposition than the current mini-freeway configuration of a six lane street. The widened sidewalks and other treatments are “semi-permanent” just as the ones used in the Sunset Triangle Park (aka the Polka Dot Park) are. After a study period, the Dress Rehearsal could be undone, or the city could move towards implementing the permanent Broadway Streetscape Master Plan.

The Dressed Rehearsal is funded by $1.8 million from the city’s Measure R Local Return funds.

Aspects of the permanent Broadway Streetscape Master Plan’s full-scale build out include: widened sidewalks and curb extensions; reduced crosswalk widths; enhanced pedestrian crosswalk treatments; reconfiguration of the street to three lanes of traffic; curbside 24-hour parking; loading and valet areas to support Broadway merchants; transit stations; enhanced lighting; bike racks; wayfinding signs; trees and plantings and a storm water retention and recycling system.

Measuring the Street” showed how a similar semi-permanent pedestrian enhancement project on Union Square North resulted in many benefits for the area:

  • a 16% decrease in speeding, while median speeds increased 14% elsewhere and
  • injury crashes fell by 26%
  • 49% fewer commercial vacancies
  • once implemented, 74% of users preferred the new configuration.  
  • in areas where a curb lane was turned into a pedestrian / seating area, the location saw a 172% increase in retail sales, compared to 18% borough-wide.

If the plans for Broadway yield even half these benefits, it would be a huge win for Downtown Los Angeles. Let’s all just hope the Film and Television Industry doesn’t have a problem with any of this.