Streetscast: Emily Gabel Luddy

8_21_09_emily_and_lois.JPGEmily (on the right) with Eco-Village Founder Lois Arkin

In 2006, the City of Los Angeles opened the Urban Design Studio in the Planning Department to create what the LA Downtown News referred to as "Special Places" but what Streetsbloggers would call Livable Streets.  Basically the studio, which currently consists of two full-time staff members and many volunteer interns, was responsible for turning Los Angeles into a beautiful city.

The Studio has produced three visionary documents, the Walkability Checklist, the Downtown Design Guide, and the draft Urban Design Principles for 21st Century Los Angeles, (an earlier version can be found here

I recently had a chance to sit down with the Studio’s director, Emily Gabel-Luddy about the Downtown Design Guide which, when implemented, will change the character of Downtown Los Angeles.  The plan widens sidewalks from 12-15 feet, caps road widenings and doubles the bicycle amenities in the Downtown.

There are plenty of highlights in this interview, which is available in its entirety via mpg files below, but my favorite fact is this.  Before this plan, there were only two street design standards that existed for every street in Downtown Los Angeles.  The new plan maps out a new design for every street  in the Downtown that will, when its realized, create a downtown that more closely resemble the great streets that we see in Europe than the ones we see in the Downtown today.

The Downtown Design Guide and the new Street Standards are available on-line through Planning and the City Engineer’s websites.   Click here and query the address "426 S. Spring St." for a sample. Put your cursor over the centerline. The link will lead you to the Design Guide and new Standards.

Also, we’re trying something new here in Los Angeles.  Instead of having you read through a wall of text for our interviews, I downloaded mp3’s of the interview, broken into three parts, below.

In the first part of our interview, we discussed the new street standards, what that means for the Downtown, and how they are different than what we see on the ground right now.


Then we talked about the transportation mode split for the Downtown.  While it’s more diverse than I thought, we still have a ways to go.

[audio: ]

In the third piece, we talk about the process of creating these sorts of standards.  If nothing else, listen for the story about her favorite moment of the process.  We are starting to get through!


Last, we discuss how to take the new plans for the Downtown and spread them through the rest of the city.  It sounds like the city has exciting plans for Chatsworth Boulevard.

  • It is illuminating to see how our planners take themselves out of the game a bit by not relying on technical standards, and instead rely on their prose to direct transportation planning.

    I think they (1) underestimate the power granted them by the charter and (2) need to look to cheap survey methods used in other countries and that have been developed domestically to combat data-driven lawsuits and engineering arguments around LOS, “mobility”, ADT, VMT, etc.

    Still, it is cool to see that something productive was created from the Urban Design Studio.

    It’s sad that they weren’t working on re-jiggering our highway and street classifications, but that is a huge step (I guess) and LA’s progressive planners are all about incremental change, which is the only way to do this type of thing it seems.

  • Great interview, Damien! I already had a very good impression of Emily Gabel Luddy and Simon Pastucha and these clips raise them even a couple notches higher.

    Though all the clips are good, cyclists should especially listen to Clip #1 – I didn’t realize that the new downtown street standards have already approved downtown Bike Lanes for 7th, 2nd/Glendale, Figueroa and Flower! Sweeeet!

    I hope these downtown standards get wrapped into the new bike plan update. Currently their draft maps don’t show these as bike lanes… they even say that 7th is infeasible. Let’s hope Emily Gabel Luddy can touch bases with her colleague Jordann Turner… you’re both in the same department… so let’s get on the same page!

  • After re-listening to this interview, I think it is really exciting to hear that City Planning is pulling everyone together into the room to “move people not cars”. Genius!

    I’m a big fan of technical standards to achieve that, and not a fan of fiat style prose that planners tend to use, but they both achieve the same end of a more localized commercial retail focus to L.A.’s planning. So cool.

    Plus, bike lanes in DTLA? Rad.

  • EGL

    Hat Tip to Damien from the Studio. We sent the DTLA bike lane proposals to Jordann/Alta for incorporation into the Bike Plan. Nice thing was through the DT Street Standards, we already completed the environmental analysis. So this stuff was studied. I’ll be double checking our recommendations.

    One hopeful outcome of the DT Project was to bring LADOT and Engineering in as partners not adversaries. We had tremendous consultants and a tremendous inter-agency team — including the CRA (the project started with the CRA, the Studio picked up the ball and advanced it down the court).

    One final thing — yes it is incremental, but remember — it was all adopted by the City Council on April 24, 2009.


Panel Discussion on Open Urban Space

If all the parking spaces in downtown Los Angeles were spread across one lot, more than 80 percent of downtown would be reserved for cars. And yet, two-thirds of the county’s children don’t have a park within walking distance of their home. This Center Scene Public Program explores how Los Angeles uses it land and […]

How Do Angelenos Travel?

Mode share by city. Image: Think Progress/Yglessias The passage of Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan last week has helped heat up a national conversation about Los Angeles, how it grows, how it moves and the future of our Metropolis.  Of course, Diane Meyer’s "World Without a Car" exhibit has people locally thinking outside the auto; […]

Today’s Headlines

Featured Headline: Today is Park(ing) Day, which I once referred to as Christmas for Livable Streets advocates.  If you’re unfamiliar with the event, basically a group of people set up a small park in a parking space, usually a metered space, to demonstrate how much public space we’re willingly giving up for car parking. I […]

Today’s Headlines

Eco-Village Crowd-sourcing Additional Real Estate, Looking for Investors City Got to 16,000 Pot Holes Last Weekend During “Operation Pothole” (LAist) Another Great Look at City of Lights (GOOD Magazine) Apartment Complex Near Expo Line Draws Backers, Attackers (LAT) Gov. Following Voters Will on Transit Funding (City Watch) Streetsblog Favorite Emily Gabel-Luddy Running for Burbank City […]

Integrating Land Use and Transportation V: Centers

Last month, Streetsblog introduced a six-part series by Mark Vallianatos looking at how city leadership can start truly integrating land use and transportation in the six geographic zones he outlined: parks, hills, homes, boulevards, center and industry. First, he outlined the series and wrote about parks. Later, “The Hills”, “Homes Zone” and “Boulevard Zones” got their […]