Back in 2015, the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, now known as StreetsLA, received a $3.9 million Metro Call for Projects Grant for improvements to the pedestrian spaces on Melrose Ave., between Highland and Fairfax. The Melrose Pedestrian Improvement Project funds were scheduled for use starting in 2020, with construction to be finished by 2023. To prepare for the work, which will begin in 2021, Streets LA launched a six-month public input process on Monday, December 14, with an online community meeting to introduce the project and its parameters, and to begin the lengthy process of collecting community input for planning and designing the scheduled improvements.
StreetsLA representative Alexander Caiozzo opened the meeting by explaining the history of the grant, and making it clear that this is NOT the same project as the Uplift Melrose grant proposal from earlier this year, which would have sought additional funding for protected bike lanes and other street changes on the same stretch of Melrose.
Caiozzo explained that the Metro grant, already in hand, addresses transit-adjacent pedestrian spaces ONLY. But he also explained that after this grant was approved in 2016, StreetsLA began to look for ways to fund additional improvements on Melrose. One possible path for the additional improvements and funding was applying for a larger CalTrans grant to fund bikeway and street improvements through the project dubbed Uplift Melrose. That grant application (and the project it would have funded) was dropped last fall, however, after community members and City Council Member Paul Koretz spoke in opposition to reducing traffic, emergency access, and parking space on the street. So StreetsLA is now back to working just with the smaller original grant for pedestrian improvements, and will spend the next six months or so seeking community input on how it should be used.
According to Jeff Palmer, another StreetsLA panelist at Monday’s meeting, the improvements this grant will cover are very specific, limited to pedestrian spaces and, in particular, how those spaces connect with transit. The kinds of improvements it will pay for include new shade trees and enlarged tree wells, gateway and wayfinding signage, street furnishings (benches, bike racks, etc.), sidewalk widening and replacement at certain locations, pedestrian-level lights in bus stop zones, and new curb ramps at every corner to provide sidewalk and crosswalk access for all users.
These improvements will be made throughout the project area as shown below…
And the budget will break down as follows:
Over the course of the presentation and the question and answer period that followed, several more details were provided.
On the topic of trees:
- Existing trees will only be removed if they are sick, dying or unhealthy
- Tree wells will be widened to help both new and existing trees stay healthier and to keep their roots from lifting the sidewalks.
- Grates for tree wells are not covered in this particular grant, so if people want those, additional funding or funding partners, such as area Neighborhood Councils the Melrose BID, would have to be found.
- StreetsLA will work closely with merchants and the community to plan which kinds of new trees to plant (based on things like height, foliage, growth patterns, etc.).
- New trees will not be full grown, but will be bigger than “little stick trees,” which tend not to be hardy enough to survive on a busy urban street.
- Trees will not be planted in front of businesses where owners do not want new trees (because some business owners, in the past, have moved, removed, or killed trees they didn’t want).
- Further tree details will be discussed at future community planning meetings, and community members’ input will be welcome.
Regarding bus stops:
- Metro is currently reconfiguring many of its bus routes under its NextGen Bus Plan, which will reduce the number of bus stops on this section of Melrose from 15 or 16 to just 12 (though buses will also run more frequently now, under the new plan).
- Lighting will be upgraded at all 12 project area bus stops.
In addition to the grant’s $3.9 million, Caiozzo announced that City Council Member Paul Koretz has also pledged $100,000 to the project, specifically for sidewalk repairs…and if city crews are available, that work could begin even before the rest of the project improvements are implemented.
During a question and answer period following the more formal presentation, several other points were clarified:
- The grant is for pedestrian area improvements only, so no bicycle lanes or alterations to other traffic lanes are included.
- New bike parking, such as bike racks, will be included, because they are part of the pedestrian space.
- The project also does not include funds for new parking garages, parking lots, or alley improvements, which are also not part of the pedestrian traffic area on Melrose.
- The project will cover, as noted above, lighting improvements at bus stops, but it does not include lighting enhancements or pedestrian lighting outside bus stop areas, such as string lights in street trees. (The Melrose Business Improvement District, however, is working on a string lighting pilot project, on the block from Vista to Gardner, and CD5 has contributed $1,000 to that project.)
- The pedestrian improvement project will include widening the sidewalk between Ogden and Orange Grove, but the grant does not cover sidewalk widening at any other locations in the project area.
- The sidewalk widening at Ogden will probably result in the loss of at least one parking space, but whether or not more parking will be removed at the location is not yet clear. (Caiozzo said the “best case” would be the loss of just one space, and the “worst case” would be the loss of all spaces on that block. The situation is tricky, he said, because there’s a left turn pocket there, for access to the Fairfax High School campus, which affects both traffic and parking patterns.)
- Because there is no large-scale sidewalk widening planned, the project will not change current permits or patterns for sidewalk dining on the street – restaurants will continue to operate under whatever kinds of permits and practices they currently have.
- StreetsLA is currently working with CD5 and the Melrose BID to identify local partners to help with cleaning and maintenance, such as tree watering…because city budgets for such things are dwindling under current budget challenges.
- No new traffic lights are funded in this project; only relocation of existing signals, if needed.
Througout the meeting, Caiozzo stressed several times that this was just the first of many community planning meetings, which will take place over the next six months. And while the main purpose of this introductory session was to explain the general scope of the Melrose Pedestrian Improvement Project, Caiozzo said, subsequent meetings, starting in January or February, will focus more on the specific kinds of improvements and aesthetics community members would like to see implemented as the project takes shape. Future meetings may also include breakout sessions at which participants can participate in more detailed discussions of things like bike parking, tree choices, or bus stop lighting.
A recording of Tuesday’s meeting is now available online. For more information, or to be added to the mailing list for notices of future meetings about the Melrose Pedestrian Improvement Project, contact [email protected]
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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