Eyes on the Street: L.A. Street Reconfigurations for Outdoor Dining

To expand space for outdoor dining, L.A. City has repurposed parking and travel lanes. Photo of Tamashii Ramen House restaurant on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
To expand space for outdoor dining, L.A. City has repurposed parking and travel lanes. Photo of Tamashii Ramen House restaurant on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities are scrambling to reconfigure streets to facilitate safer outdoor dining. The city of Los Angeles “L.A. Al Fresco” program is “temporarily relaxing the rules that regulate outdoor dining.” The Transportation Department (LADOT) has “earmarked 55 percent of all the resources and applications approved for [L.A. Al Fresco] …for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) businesses or businesses located in areas that have suffered the greatest job loss due to COVID-19.”  Reportedly, the city Transportation Department (LADOT) is doing larger-scale Al Fresco street closures/reconfigurations in Little Tokyo, Leimert Park, and Silver Lake.

Not all outdoor dining is created equal. With huge amounts of street space given over to drivers, outdoor dining can crowd out pedestrians. In some cases, sidewalk dining has blocked wheelchair access.

Streetsblog reported earlier on Culver City, which has among the most impressive repurposing of street space under COVID-19. Downtown Culver City has expanded outdoor dining and added new bus lanes by taking over a travel lane and on-street parking spaces. Long Beach has also been a leader in pioneering parklet spaces for outdoor dining.

In L.A., what appears to be the most common outdoor dining treatment is the repurposing of parking spaces, which arguably proves that the city’s parking requirements are the shoddy counter-productive pseudoscience that Donald Shoup always said they were.

Below is a parking lot example on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown.

Temporary outdoor dining at BCD Tofu House's parking lot
Temporary outdoor dining at BCD Tofu House’s parking lot

Streetsblog has recently observed a couple of larger-scale projects on L.A. streets – in Silver Lake and North Hollywood.

On Sunset Boulevard in the Silver Lake neighborhood, the city used concrete barriers to repurpose space formerly allocated to on-street parking. The sidewalk now serves diners, and people walk in the former parking spaces.

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On Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, outdoor dining has taken over the sidewalk, with pedestrians now using space that had been on-street parking
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Sunset Boulevard: outdoor dining on the former sidewalk, and pedestrian access in the former on-street parking space.
View from the bike lane xxxx
Sunset Boulevard al fresco repurposing – view from the bicycle lane

Though some have been critical of the still-inadequate space for pedestrians, at least the city is re-allocating space from cars to people.

On Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood there is a somewhat similar large-scale repurposing.

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L.A. Al Fresco creates outdoor dining space on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood
North Hollywood
Another photo of North Hollywood’s Magnolia Boulevard L.A. Al Fresco outdoor dining

In NoHo, the sidewalk is still for pedestrians, while one lane of parking and one travel lane have been re-allocated to outdoor dining.

Readers – what are your thoughts on expanding space for outdoor dining? Where are the best and worst examples of repurposing space? Are L.A.’s Al Fresco projects a step in the right direction – or is this all just fighting over the crumbs after cars have already been given the lion’s share of street space? How can cities learn from the present situation and re-think streets and parking in the post-COVID-19 future?

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