People St: Garcetti and LADOT Declare Streets Are for People, Offer Help Re-Purposing Wasted Asphalt

Image from People St

Last week’s media-friendly launch of the Great Streets Program overshadowed another announcement that could have a far greater impact on how Los Angeles thinks about streets and public space. The city also announced the launch of People St (as in People Street), a program that will allow residents, business owners and non-profits to ask for and plan projects that convert portions of the street to bike corrals, parklets or plazas.

“People St represents one of the many tools in our Great Streets toolbox as we work to change the way Angelenos interact with the built environment, while using existing government resources to make City Hall work better for our residents and businesses,” writes Mayor Eric Garcetti in an open letter on the webpage. “Fundamental to People St is its bottom-up, community-based approach. I am proud of our city’s transportation and planning experts, but no one knows more about our neighborhoods than you.”

People St, declares that Los Angeles’ streets are the city’s largest public asset – covering over 6,500 miles of street – and that this asset is often times underused. Instead of unused asphalt, People St proposes to make that a useful and usable living space.

Just let LADOT know where, and the process is underway.

The LADOT and Garcetti Administration are looking at pilot projects such as Sunset Triangle Plaza, the parklets on Spring Street and Northeast Los Angeles, and the bike corral in front of Cafe Leche also in Northeast Los Angeles, and planning to make them common place. Are there underused car  parking spaces? Consider a bike corral…or a parklet. If there’s enough spaces not being used, maybe even consider creating a plaza.

It’s a nice vision.

“I am excited to see that the hard work and effort we put into the pilot projects is leading to this citywide program,” writes Ryan Lehman, one of the leaders of Living Streets Los Angeles. “It once again shows the value of experimental urbanism as a way to quickly test new ideas, especially important in these lean times. My hope is that the city will find funds to provide the staffing resources needed to fully support citywide implementation of this potentially transformative program.”

Living Streets L.A. was involved in the creation of the parklets, and Sunset Plaza highlighted on People St.

Ok, this map of all of the plazas in Los Angeles is kind of depressing. But the unstated promise is that this map will be filling up in the next couple of years.

There are just two catches.

The interactive portions of the website, the part where people can begin a conversation on converting portions of the street, won’t be online until 2014. The website launch last week was a Beta launch, the program itself isn’t ready for prime time.

Second, People St. does not provide details as to how the city plans to fund these renovations, although it does have some grant money in-hand to expand the bike corral program. The website also notes that the cost of these projects is “in the thousands, not the millions.”

(Update, Tuesday 12:00 pm): I’ve gotten more details on the funding part of the equation. When the website discusses “public-private partnership,” they mean that the city is offering assistance when communities or businesses are willing to fund and maintain a parklet, bike corral, or plaza. Staff will work with interested communities who can either pay out-of-pocket or work with city staff to seek and earn grants. In other words, outside of staff hours, this is a budget neutral program for the city.

Will cash starved Los Angeles fund these projects? We’ll have to wait until 2014 to see just how much car estate the city has the money to convert to public space. In the meantime, Garcetti and LADOT are offering us a new vision of what can be, a city that takes reclaiming car space for people space a priority.

To re-appropriate a phrase made popular by Stephen Colbert during the 2012 election, they’re promising that Los Angeles will be building a better tomorrow, tomorrow.