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Just How Great Will Those Great Streets Initiative Sites Become?

3:59 PM PDT on June 3, 2014

Mayor Garcetti announced six Great Streets, including Figueroa pictured here, that will become more accessible to wheelchairs, pedestrians, strollers and bicycles. photo Flying Pigeon L.A.
North Figueroa Street is on Mayor Garcetti's new Great Streets Initiative list. Photo: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday and today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the sites for his Great Streets Initiative. The mayor's Streets initiative now has an initial budget of $800,000. SBLA previewed six of these Great Streets announced during Garcetti's State of the City address. The full list now includes 15 street segments, one per City Council District. Here is how Garcetti describes Great Streets:

We’ll saturate your street with services. We’ll make your street accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles–not just cars. We’ll create an environment where new neighborhood businesses can flourish. We’ll pave the streets and make them green streets — clean and lush with plant life, local art, and people-focused plazas.

Below is the list, from yesterday's L.A. Times article:

District 1: North Figueroa Street between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60District 2: Lankershim Boulevard between Chandler and Victory boulevardsDistrict 3: Sherman Way between Wilbur and Lindley avenuesDistrict 4: Western Avenue between Melrose Avenue and 3rd StreetDistrict 5: Westwood Boulevard between Le Conte Avenue and Wilshire BoulevardDistrict 6: Van Nuys Boulevard between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard StreetDistrict 7: Van Nuys Boulevard between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando RoadDistrict 8: Crenshaw Boulevard between 78th Street and Florence AvenueDistrict 9: Central Avenue between MLK Boulevard and Vernon AvenueDistrict 10: Pico Boulevard between Hauser Boulevard and Fairfax AvenueDistrict 11: Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood BoulevardDistrict 12: Reseda Boulevard between Plummer Street and Parthenia AvenueDistrict 13: Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue & Gower StreetDistrict 14: Cesar Chavez Avenue between Evergreen Avenue and St. Louis StreetDistrict 15: Gaffey Street between 15th Street & the 110 Freeway

View Great Streets Initiative in a larger map

The street mileage is listed here. The total mileage is 12.4 miles.

I want to be excited about any effort to make streets more livable, more walkable, and more bikeable, but frankly the initiative feels a little timid. One step forward for every dozen-plus steps backward.

I am reminded of Yonah Freemark's recent article about the limits to recent light rail project success. Freemark writes:

But spending on new [light rail] lines is not enough. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations. None of the cities that built new light rail lines in the 1980s understood this reality sufficiently. Each region also built free highways during the period [...] and each continued to sprawl[.] These conflicting policies had as much to do with light rail's mediocre outcomes as the trains themselves — if not more.

I hope that Garcetti's $800,000 streets initiative is the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps it (combined with other new bike, walk, and rail investments) will result in lots of great foot traffic, then that will catalyze a positive spiral of ever-increasing investment in livability.

It looks more likely to me that that Great Streets livability efforts could get lost in the face of so many other initiatives taking things in the other direction. Here are just a few of the wrong-headed projects that come to mind:

What do you think readers? Will $800,000 worth of improvements stave off millions and billions stacked against it? Can Garcetti's Great Streets Initiative result in real change toward livable walkable streets? Will it?

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