Broadway: Can it be a transit mall? May 26, 2007 21:08:24 GMT -8
Post by Transit Coalition on May 26, 2007 21:08:24 GMT -8
A PLAN: MTA officials are suggesting restoring the luster of Broadway,
once downtown L.A.’s heart and soul, by turning it into a transit mall.
Vehicles, except buses and delivery trucks, would be banned to encourage
more foot traffic. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
ALL FOR IT: Star Electronic owner Menashe Kogman says he would
support the transit mall idea. But some merchants are concerned that
it would discourage shoppers. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Los Angeles Times: Saturday, May 26, 2007
MTA sets sights on Broadway: Can a transit mall make it there? Transportation officials think it's just the ticket for downtown L.A.
By Cara Mia DiMassa and Hector Becerra
Times Staff Writers
Broadway in downtown Los Angeles was long a symbol of the bustling city: site of the city's original shopping district, a boulevard for protest marches and the home of a rich confluence of movie palaces, once home to star-studded premieres and thousands of moviegoers nightly.
The street's fortunes have ebbed and flowed along with most of downtown. And now, as a loft and condo boom brings thousands more residents to the area, transportation officials are considering a bold effort to remake Broadway.
They are talking about converting portions of the street into a transit mall, widening the sidewalks and allowing only transit buses on the street.
The idea of remaking the bustling shopping district — now an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants, mostly aimed at a Latino clientele, and a dozen or so historic movie theaters — is hardly new.
An almost identical plan was proposed and eventually abandoned in 1977.
But lately, the transit mall concept is getting another chance — thanks in part to the changing face of downtown.
"It was time we took a fresh look at how we serve downtown," said Ed Clifford, director of service planning for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The agency's plan, he said, is "part of a larger discussion on downtown, about the role transit would play in its future. The city is trying to beautify it, and this could possibly line up with some of those things. So what we are doing is shopping it around."
Under the plan, which is still preliminary, the street would be closed to traffic between 2nd and 9th streets, except for buses and delivery trucks. Officials would rework the sidewalks and streetscapes to encourage pedestrian traffic along a street that is already one of the city's most heavily trafficked on foot.
When city planners floated a similar plan 30 years ago, as part of an effort to revitalize downtown's east side, an artist's rendering showed widened sidewalks with double and triple rows of street trees, as well as parking bays for the buses to make their stops.
But Clifford said the plan never got off the ground — in part because of concerns about how it would affect parking for the theaters' customers.
Although most of the theaters have closed, some Broadway merchants now echo similar concerns.
Maria Iturbe, owner of Michelle's Cosmetics, a small stand between 4th and 5th streets that sells everything from hosiery to herbal medicine to gift wrap, said she worried that fewer cars would mean fewer eyeballs scanning Broadway's vibrant but edgy landscape for shopping opportunities.
"I think that would just cause there to be less traffic of commerce," Iturbe said. "When there's cars, people in there are looking around to see what there is. They may not stop right away, but they might say, 'Look what's over there' and come back later. Business is bad enough as it is."
Frank Schultz, manager of the historic Los Angeles Theater on Broadway between 6th and 7th, said he liked the idea of making Broadway a pedestrian zone. But he questioned the idea of a transit mall.
"If they want to do something like that, they need to eliminate even the buses," he said. "This halfway thing makes no sense to me. But then again, a lot of the things going on down here make no sense to me."
But the idea has many supporters — especially among those who live downtown. Downtown resident and blogger Eric Richardson said the transit mall is a "perfect fit for Broadway."
"I think Broadway is uniquely positioned for this sort of use because it is such a pedestrian-heavy street," he said. "It's a street where the majority of traffic already is people walking, and the majority of people who come to the street are coming via public transit or parking nearby and walking."
Soccorro Carrillo, 45, a shopper from Boyle Heights who usually takes the bus to Broadway, also liked the proposal.
"I think people would get here faster on the buses because they wouldn't have to be stopping as much for all the cars."
Broadway is one of L.A.'s most storied streets, perhaps most famous for its ornate movie palaces.
Before World War II, it and 7th Street were downtown's major shopping destinations, drawing customers from around the region by car and trolley.
The business district declined after the war as shopping centers opened in the suburbs. But Broadway bounced back as a shopping destination for Latino immigrants.
Many — but far from all — customers now take the bus to get to Broadway. But the street also remains a major traffic thoroughfare across downtown.
Clifford said there were no preliminary cost estimates for the plan — or ideas about who would fund it.
"We have to see first if there's interest," Clifford said, "then we would see who would fund it."
Other downtowns have found success with similar transit malls. Denver, Dallas, Calgary, Canada, and Portland, Ore., have similar pedestrian-transit zones.
Los Angeles city officials have long touted Broadway as the potential heart of a new entertainment district, centered around the historic theaters. Others have indicated an interest in returning upscale shopping destinations to the area.
A spokeswoman for the office of Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the district, said discussions about remaking Broadway were "exciting" — though still too preliminary to comment on directly. She said that she would like to see them rolled into ongoing discussions about the reintroduction of a trolley system to downtown.
Blogger Richardson agreed. "It's a street that doesn't depend on people being able to drive down it."
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