Yesterday, we wrote about the City of LA’s new Slow Streets program, which can help residents institute “soft closures” of neighborhood streets to increase space and safety for active exercise. And almost as soon as we published that story we learned that the first official Slow Streets in our general area will open tomorrow – Saturday, May 23.
The new Slow Streets path will be marked with “Local Traffic Only” signs, and will run, as shown on the map above, south along Formosa Ave. (from Romaine Ave.), then west along Rosewood, south on Hayworth, west on Oakwood, and south on Sweetzer to Colgate Ave., all within the area represented by the Mid-City West Community Council.
This morning, MCWCC Board Member Michael Schneider told the Buzz that he actually started a Slow Streets advocacy group, StreetsForAll.org, about two months ago, when he first started hearing about the slow streets movement in other cities and countries. But Schneider said that when he tried to bring the idea to Los Angeles city and county officials, they were “not interested.” But then, in the last few weeks, he said, the Slow Streets programs in cities like Oakland, CA and Seattle, WA began to get a lot of publicity, and Schneider said it was “inevitable that LA would follow.”
So Schneider brought a motion to create a local Slow Streets area to the Tuesday, May 12 meeting of the MCWCC board, which voted in favor of the proposal. And the very next day, Schneider said, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the new Los Angeles program, and Schneider was ready to act. He submitted his application to the city last Thursday, May 14…it was approved on Wednesday, May 20…and the Slow Streets will open tomorrow, just three days after that approval. This may seem like a minor miracle in a city often legedenary for its slowness, but Schneider said it’s surprising “how quickly they can move when they want to.”
Schneider said the application was submitted through the Slow Streets website, and was sent to the Mayor’s office, LADOT, and the City Council District 4 and 5 offices, which represent the areas involved. He also said that his original plan was a bit more ambitious, covering an even larger area than the one finally approved, but it had to be scaled back a bit because the city still has only a limited supply of the barriers that will be used to create the partial street closures. Even so, however, the 34 blocks involved do still exceed the city’s recommended maximum of 25 blocks for any one Slow Streets area. But Schneider says that’s because MCWCC wanted the path to get all the way to the Beverly Grove neigborhood, to reach as many park-poor areas as possible, and the city is willing to stretch the limits a bit when there’s a good reason to do so.
So far, Schneider said community reaction, at least judging from the comments on MCWCC’s Facebook page, has been mostly positive. One person on Facebook did raise the fear that instead of facilitating exercise for local residents, the new slower streets will draw big crowds from other neighborhoods, defeating the goal of more individual space for users. But Schneider said he doesn’t think it will be that literally attractive to folks from other neighborhoods. In fact, he said, “I don’t think it’s that interesting…It’s not like it’s Disneyland.” Also, Schneider pointed out, although this is one of the first Slow Streets routes in the city, more are coming quickly. Two others are already open in West LA/Sawtelle and Del Rey, another is opening today in Eagle Rock…and many more will be coming soon. And as more such areas open, Schneider said, the more people will be likely to use the streets in their own areas, and less likely to travel to other neighborhoods for the experience.
But Schneider said he won’t be surprised if there are at least a few complaints. “Nothing brings out the pitchforks faster than rearranging things on our streets for anything but cars,” he said. At the same time, however, he notes that this particular change does exactly the things people most often request for their neighborhood streets – slowing traffic and limiting congestion – while still maintaining the things they also like best – vehicle access and existing parking. “I don’t know what there is to oppose,” he said, “because it doesn’t impede people’s ability to do anything they normally do.”
The new soft closures (including small signs and barriers) on the streets involved will be in place, allowing local traffic only, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, during the COVID-19 crisis. And a team of MCWCC volunteers – as required by the city – will check the barriers at each intersection every day, to make sure they remain in place and in good condition.