With the city now encouraging residents to exercise outdoors in their own neighborhoods, it seems like local streets and sidewalks are busier than ever with people walking and biking, especially at certain times of the day. But if you’re wondering how that jibes with the city’s other encouragements to maintain safe social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, you’re not alone. To help address this issue, however, the City of Los Angeles has borrowed a concept previously launched in other cities around the country and around the world – closing some neighborhood streets to at least some vehicular traffic, and maintaining lower speed limits in those areas for the limited local traffic that is allowed.
The new program – launched earlier this month – is called “Slow Streets LA,” and allows interested residents to increase space and safety for exercise and non-motorized transit by instituting “soft closures” – marked with barriers saying “Local Traffic Only” – on some of their neighborhood streets.
According to a statement from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, “Learning to live with COVID-19 means finding creative ways to get outside while staying close to home…Slow Streets will help transform neighborhoods into accessible spaces where people can enjoy healthy recreation — while giving them the space they need to be safer in this crisis.”
But there are some caveats. First of all, Garcetti goes on to note that “Slow Streets L.A. allows for “active use” only, prohibiting individuals from gathering, barbecuing, or playing games that involve physical contact of any kind. Participants are expected to keep at least six feet apart at all times and required to wear a face covering while engaging in active recreation.”
Also, as the Slow Streets website further explains:
“Slow Streets are for local residents only. These are not intended as gathering areas for the general public. Residents and neighbors using a Slow Street must adhere to the latest health guidelines, as outlined by the Mayor’s Safer at Home order…These streets should be treated like all other recently opened active recreation sites, including beaches and trails.
Local traffic and local parking is still allowed on these streets and emergency evacuation routes are still in order.”
How it Works
The Slow Streets program is jointly managed by the Mayor’s Office, LADOT and StreetsLA. It launched with two areas, in the Del Rey and West L.A./Sawtelle neighborhoods, on May 15. But residents in other neighborhoods can now apply, too. Here are some of the guidelines:
- Residential streets only (about 30 feet wide between the sidewalks); no commercial or main traffic corridors. (So, for example, Larchmont Blvd. would NOT qualify.)
- Routes may cross over major aterial and collector streets.
- A maximum of two miles (25 blocks) of streets can be designated in each community.
- Local resident access, parking, deliveries, emergency services and other essential vehicle access will still be maintained.
According to the city, more information is coming soon. “We are working on a mapping tool that will improve how you select streets for your Slow Street closures. In the mean time, you may use https://navigatela.lacity.org/navigatela/ to confirm whether the streets you wish to close are considered local residential streets. Just zoom into your neighborhood. Streets that are colored gray are local streets, but you can click on a street segment, and a pop up box will explain the street’s designation.”
So here’s a city example of how a Slow Streets area could be mapped out in a specific neighborhood:
Also, it’s worth noting that according to the Slow Streets website, while all neighborhoods are welcome and encouraged to apply, the program is especially designed to help increase safe recreational space in “denser, park poor communities,” which provide less space for people to spread out and exercise. Angie Aramayo, Central Area Representative for Mayor Garcetti’s office, clarified this point to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Transportation Committee earlier this week, writing that “The program provides residents with an option to freely recreate in their neighborhoods as an alternative to
parks, trails, and beaches which are experiencing congestion due to limited availability of green spaces.”
Finally regarding Slow Streets qualifications, it’s important to note that each Slow Streets area is required to have a sponsor that will formally apply for, accept responsibility for, and maintain the neighborhood’s Slow Streets closures. Sponsoring organizations can include official neighborhood associations and/or Neighborhood Councils, but also a wide range of other groups, including just smaller groups of enthusiastic and committed neighbors.
According to the city, “If approved, sponsor organizations will receive a set of expectations that you must agree to before the Slow Street will be implemented. Expectations include regular communication with the City about the closure, [and] monitoring the closure if you see broken equipment or behavior that is not in line with public health orders.”
More specifically, Slow Streets sponsors will be tasked with the following:
- The City of Los Angeles will deploy equipment and signage that explains the rules of the Slow Street. You are responsible for making sure your neighbors are aware of the street closure and the streets that the closure will impact.
- You will communicate with the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation on a weekly basis about your slow street.
- You (and/or volunteers) will check in on each street segment to confirm equipment is still intact, signage and messaging materials are in place, and all health guidelines are being followed
including social distancing, and active use only.
- You and your volunteers will notify the City when health guidelines, like social distancing and limits on group gatherings, are not being followed. You will not harass your neighbors if they are
exhibiting improper behavior.
- If you notice any equipment has fallen or is out of place, you will set it back up. If it’s missing, broken, or tagged equipment or signage, you will notify the City immediately.
- If you notice crowds building up on the street, you will notify the City immediately.
- If you notice people using the street for any activity beyond active use (walking, biking, scooting), you will notify the City.
- You and your neighbors will not encourage others to visit the Slow Street from other parts of the city. This is a resource for your neighbors and local residents only.
- You will encourage your neighbors to fill out the City’s user survey at ladot.lacity.org/slowstreets, a link to which will be posted throughout the closures.
- If you and/or the City observe patterns of improper use (missing or broken equipment, lack of social distancing, gatherings) and you and the City cannot resolve the issue(s) within 24 hours, you accept that the City will remove equipment and reopen the street for thru traffic.
One Local Discussion
On Monday, May 18, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Transportation Committee discussed the Slow Streets program at its regular bi-monthly meeting, including committee members’ questions and concerns, and what the Council’s role could or should be.
One of the first topics of discussion was neighborhood support for the program, and the fact that before a Slow Street or Streets can be instituted in any area, the plan will need to have widespread support in that community. And at least some committee members said they expected pushback on the idea from their neighbors and/or neighborhood associations. For example, some people worried that an official Slow Street could attract too many people from other neighborhoods – especially if those neighborhoods don’t have their own Slow Streets – which would just add to the crowding and social distance problems, instead of making the situation better.
Also, committee member Jen DeVore said she worries about the fact that many residents are still resisting the Mayor’s orders to wear face coverings when they’re outside, and that could increase disease transmission risks if crowds increase on a Slow Street. “I don’t want to create arenas for people to hang out without a mask,” DeVore said.
On the other hand, committe member Tucker Carney said he’s a big fan of the Slow Streets idea, and has already helped two non-GWNC neighborhood groups submit applications. He said the need for safer local recreation space is very real – and he has, on several occasions, counted people out walking or biking in the Windsor Square area. “I drove the loop from 5th and Irving to 5th and Arden, up to 4th and back to Irving, and back to 5th,” Carney told the Buzz later this week. “It took about five minutes and I did this 3 days in a row, at about 6 p.m. Each day I counted at least 130 and more like 150 people.”
Several other committee members, representing some of GWNC’s smaller but contiguous neighborhoods, discussed the possibility of several of those neighborhoods – such as Sycamore Square, La Brea-Hancock, and Citrus Square, which fall in a straight line between La Brea and Highland, and Olympic and Melrose – applying together for a Slow Streets area, to give neighbors more space than just the block or two that only one of those neighborhoods individually could provide.
Finally, the committee discussed options for GWNC action, which could include submission of specific Slow Streets applications within its boundaries, support for other groups sponsoring Slow Streets applications in the area, or just simply publicizing the program to stakeholders, who could then decide whether or not they might like to submit their own applications.
In the end, the committee took no votes on the topic, and made no recommendations to the larger GWNC board. But the option to schedule a future GWNC Town Hall discussion on Slow Streets, or a Special Meeting of the Transportation Committee, was left open.
How It’s Working Elsewhere
As noted above, the Slow Streets idea has already been implemented successfully in other cities and countries. Oakland was apparently the first in the United States to start a Slow Streets program, and Seattle’s version, known as Stay Healthy Streets, has been particularly successful. Seattle’s program started with just 2.5 miles of streets, but on May 7, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that a full 20 miles of current Stay Healthy Streets will become permanent even after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. “We are in a marathon and not a sprint in our fight against COVID-19,” said Durkan in the announcement. “As we assess how to make the changes that have kept us safe and healthy sustainable for the long term, we must ensure Seattle is rebuilding better than before. Stay Healthy Streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather. Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
Applications & More Information
For more information, or to apply for a Slow Street (or streets) in your area, see http://ladot.lacity.org/coronavirus/apply-slow-street-your-neighborhood or contact [email protected].
This story was updated after publication to add the quote from GWNC Transportation Committee member Tucker Carney.