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Art Walk Safety About More Than Food Trucks and Closed Streets

11:55 AM PDT on August 10, 2011

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.

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