San Francisco is banning cars from Market Street, one of the city’s busiest corridors. This should be interpreted as a direct challenge to Los Angeles: Now LA can beat the Bay by closing a major street to cars—before SF’s ban goes into effect in 2025.
Restricting the driving and parking of private cars on a busy thoroughfare doesn’t have to mean designing gated-off pedestrian malls like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Transit, taxis, and people with disabilities who use vehicles would still have access to the street, and there would be more space to walk, safer bike and scooter infrastructure, and dedicated lanes for buses. (Plus places for vehicles to cross—see the Market Street plan.)
Would it work? It has in New York City, where private cars were banned from 14th Street earlier this month (it took about three years to plan). Not only did bus ridership increase by 15 percent, no delays or additional traffic have been reported on nearby routes. The result is a quieter, calmer, faster journey for everyone—just look at all the people using the street.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti just returned from Copenhagen, where he was elected chair of the C40 organization, a global group of 100 mayors who have pledged to dramatically reduce emissions in their cities. Many of these mayors have already removed cars from major streets in an effort to achieve their climate goals.
In April, as part of the city’s Green New Deal, the mayor proposed that 50 percent of all LA trips be made by walking, biking, and transit by 2035. That means at least half of the city’s streets must be optimized for those modes within the next 15 years.
Why not get started by bringing these streets to life now—and show the world that this is what climate leadership looks like?
Let’s start with the most obvious one. It’s a tourism magnet. It’s already closed to private vehicles a lot of the time for special events. During the month when the Oscars are held, it’s closed more than it’s open. Plus, a car-free Walk of Fame has got momentum: After Hollywood Boulevard hosted CicLAvia last summer, the remarkable photos of thousands of people taking over the street made the case for kicking out cars for good.
The corridor that skirts MacArthur Park is so pedestrian-centric already that it’s home to three scramble crosswalks. This is also one of the most transit-dependent neighborhoods in the city: You’ve got a busy Red Line station, and lots of buses that get stuck in traffic. Plus, the sidewalks here are filled with street vendors: closing the street to cars would create a larger, more permanent place for everyone to sell—and enjoy—their goods.
Spend any time waiting in line for the Broad, and you’ll quickly realize that the sidewalks are simply too small for this buzzing corridor. Home to dozen major cultural destinations with more big developments on the way, Grand is also a major bus thoroughfare, and, with the opening of the regional connector, this will be one of the most transit-accessible spots in the entire county. Plus there’s basically another street for cars right below it.
In recent years, Broadway’s traffic lanes have already been slimmed down to accommodate additional seating plazas as part of the Bringing Back Broadway plan. Now, with more of the street’s historic theaters being transformed into retail and entertainment destinations, it’s crucial to provide a pleasant place where the public can take it all in. Plus, you’ve got a pedestrian arcade that serves as a cut-through to lively Spring Street. And when the streetcar comes—if it ever comes—the street will be ready for it.
Santa Monica Boulevard
Like Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard through West Hollywood is frequently closed for festivals like Pride and the Halloween Carnival. This is a place where lot of people are already walking, with dozens of buses lines, great bike lanes, and a grassy median—a former streetcar right-of-way!—that’s just begging to be enjoyed. Extend the median out into LA proper, and turn this street into a long, linear park.
Here’s another popular tourist destination with subpar sidewalks and a lot of people on foot after dark. As the Strip undergoes dramatic changes that will add more housing, this is a smart time to speed up transit options. No rail serves the area (yet) but the 2 and 302 buses often get bogged down in traffic through this stretch. The addition of some electric shuttles could easily help shuttle visitors from the Chateau to the Whiskey a Go Go.
As the Purple Line starts opening stations along Wilshire, the number of people on foot and bike using this street will likely skyrocket. Consider Fairfax, where thousands of museum-goers will need to cross Wilshire to visit the revamped LACMA and La Brea Tar Pits complex every day. There’s already a dedicated bus lane here on Wilshire. Let’s add a bike freeway, too, and create LA’s first complete, protected crosstown route. It’s time to let people—and the 720 bus—rule Wilshire, from the skyscrapers to the sea.
Disclosure: The author of this story was the 2019 recipient of the Spirt of CicLAvia award.