Just How Great Will Those Great Streets Initiative Sites Become?

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 60
District 2: Lankershim Boulevard between Chandler and Victory boulevards
District 3: Sherman Way between Wilbur and Lindley avenues
District 4: Western Avenue between Melrose Avenue and 3rd Street
District 5: Westwood Boulevard between Le Conte Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard
District 6: Van Nuys Boulevard between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard Street
District 7: Van Nuys Boulevard between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando Road
District 8: Crenshaw Boulevard between 78th Street and Florence Avenue
District 9: Central Avenue between MLK Boulevard and Vernon Avenue
District 10: Pico Boulevard between Hauser Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue
District 11: Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood Boulevard
District 12: Reseda Boulevard between Plummer Street and Parthenia Avenue
District 13: Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue & Gower Street
District 14: Cesar Chavez Avenue between Evergreen Avenue and St. Louis Street
District 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?

  • LA None

    It is LA so hopeful but expecting infinite delays, bureaucratic entanglement, and ultimately mostly disappointments with a few small bright spots.

  • Juan Matute


  • MaxUtil

    If these are well targeted, I think they will have some benefits. I’m not familiar with most of the new areas announced. But the ones I do know are already heavily trafficked areas with lots of pedestrian activity, transit access, etc. I think the Great Streets amenities will help these specific areas. But I believe Joe is right about these investments having very little broader impact unless other city-wide policies are changed. I’m happy to take improvements in a few nice little pockets, and hopefully they will inspire broader change. But I fear we’ll just end up with the same little pockets at the end of the day.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Here’s another step backwards for great streets:

    Most of the on-street bikeway’s funding is coming from local Measure R money. There is supposed to be 10% of the local Measure R money given to pedestrian and bicycle (5% each) capital projects.

    On page 21 of Mayor Garcetti’s proposed 2014-15 budget it lists under receipts a total of $44,974,000 in local Measure R funds.

    Under the Department of Transportation section of this budget the actual expenditure of Measure R funds for fiscal year 2012-13 was $2,415,820.

    The adopted budget for 2013-14 has $2,753,758 of Measure R funds going to the Department of Transportation.

    Estimated expenditures for 2013-14 of local Measure R funds going to the Department of Transportation is $4,741,000.

    The budget appropriation for the upcoming fiscal year 2014-15 for Measure R funds given to the Department of Transportation is $1,905,449. That’s less than half of the Measure R funds that is estimated to be given to the DOT in this fiscal year. Measure R revenue increased for the last four quarters about 6% over the previous years revenue. The DOT should be getting an increase in the next fiscal year for a 10% share for peds/bicycles, not a decrease.

    The Bureau of Street Services also gets a significant cut in Measure R funds under the proposed budget. This fiscal year budget 2013-14 has an estimated expenditure of $32,085,000 of Measure R funds going to Street Services. The 2014-15 budget has this cut to $19,772,452.

    I’m assuming that these cuts were done to provide money for the required 3% matching funding that the city must provide for Measure R transit and highway projects. This will severely limit the on-street bikeway projects that the DOT can do.

  • Mark Glassock

    $800,000 for a coordinated initiative to provide a proof of concept for future, larger efforts is $800,000 more than existed before for similar programs. While there still are troubling setbacks and alarming land-use decisions being made (are we really still building apartments adjacent to freeways) this is a positive building block for more public AND private investment. Targeting the initiative in high-traffic, under-served, and defined areas will further add visibility to the programs successes and areas for improvement. We should spend more time as public allies and advocates of this work focused on how we leverage 800K rather than giving up just because we think it’s not enough.

  • ubrayj02

    Unless Garcetti has a line on enough campaign cash to help buy a portion of the campaigns of the city councilmen, he is not going to get this done. Cedillo, for example, is happy to sit on a 27% youth obesity rate instead of planning for active transportation on North Figueroa.

    My guess? This will be wasted money in more than half the districts it is spent in and it will be gangbusters in two or three council districts that have real leaders instead of seat warmers who should have retired when they termed out of office in Sacramento.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Well we have a titanic-scale ship travelling in the “auto-oriented” direction, starting at the federal level and going down through state and local governments, all the way to NIMBY-types who’s steering wheels will only be pried out of their “cold, dead hands”, but every little bit of pressure on the rudder in the other direction is helpful. This Garcetti’s first initiative, which is encouraging, and it really is the exact right place to start: creating walkable neighborhood Main Streets that are good for community, good for health and good for business. Get a few relatively easy wins there, and that can build momentum for more widespread and fundamental changes.

  • LennyD

    There needs to be a balance between both foot, rail, bicycle traffic and cars. And it’s a step in the right direction. Change on embedded habits is a slow process.

  • PC

    Gaffey St. between 15th and the 110? Oh, this I’ve got to see.

  • danger d

    Didn’t he just spend more than that fixing up the Mayor’s house???
    That is enough to plant a few trees which is nice but come on! Kind of a joke!
    I guess anything is better than nothing though.
    Hey Garcetti, next time save on the wallpaper and carpet and use the cash for the people.

  • Joe B

    I don’t understand how Venice Blvd can ever be a “Great Street” with all those cars driving through it. It’s currently six lanes of cars, two door-zone bike lanes, a median, and two parking lanes. Traffic speed is fast. Making a vehicular left is an act of bravery worthy of a medal. On a clear day, you can still see one side of the street from the other.

    Sure, they can make improvements — marked crosswalks at all intersections would be a start. But, short of a traffic-diverter tunnel, I don’t see how Venice could ever become “great”.


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