On Tuesday, City Council Member Paul Koretz announced that he will not support the “Uplift Melrose” project, which proposed to reconfigure 22 blocks of Melrose Ave., between Highland and Fairfax Avenues, by reducing vehicular traffic lanes and improving access and safety features for bicycles and pedestrians.
In late August, representatives of StreetsLA made a number of public presentations about the plan to local residents and neighborhood councils, and conducted a survey of local residents and stakeholders to gauge interest in the initiative. The intent, if enough public support was received, was to apply for a major grant from CalTrans’ Active Transportation Program to fund the project. The deadline for the grant application is September 15.
But Koretz’s announcement yesterday, in both a letter to the community and a formal city council motion, effectively halts the project for now, and StreetsLA published its own announcement on the Uplift Melrose website saying it will not apply for the ATP grant this year.
Initially, stakeholder support for the project seemed quite strong. The Melrose Business Improvement District spoke up in favor, and both the Mid City West Community Council and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, which represent the neighborhoods adjacent to the project area, voted to support it. The results of the city’s public survey were also very favorable, with 70% of the total respondents in support, and between 66% and 76% in favor among people who live in the specific zip codes aligned with the project.
In his letter to the community, however, Koretz – who cooperated with StreetsLA in putting the proposal out for public feedback – acknowledged the support of the community groups, but also said that further consideration has led him to believe the project’s potential negatives – restricting car access to businesses, potentially limiting access for emergency vehicles, and the negative effects on businesses during and after construction – would do more harm than good to the larger community.
More specifically, wrote Koretz:
“I believe the traffic impacts on Melrose will be severe. I don’t believe that a road diet reducing a street with over 30,000 cars a day to one lane in either direction has been done anywhere in the country previously. That is not by accident. I know other road diets have resulted in some but not all traffic moving to other streets. Melrose is used to get to and from work, to and from school, to and from hospitals, and has been used as a main access route for decades. Traffic impacts related to the significant reduction in lanes could be a tragic catastrophe for residents and neighboring communities.
Tens of thousands of vehicles may be displaced, thereby establishing detours and overflow onto streets that weren’t meant to handle that level of traffic. While I expect thousands of cars to be diverted to Beverly Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd., slowing traffic on those streets, the many cars that remain on Melrose can be expected to slow Melrose to a crawl, especially during rush hours. We can also expect a massive bottleneck where Melrose goes from two lanes in each direction to one. Cars may also try to use internal residential streets as shortcuts, but this could be more problematic as we consider neighboring East-West streets like Rosewood Avenue for permanent slow streets without auto traffic. Neighbors may also be unhappy about the inability to make left turns off of Melrose to access their homes.”
Koretz said he does not believe the project would discourage driving in the area, as StreetsLA has claimed, and that it would “make it more difficult for potential customers to access Melrose shops by car.” Also, he said, the loss of parking associated with the project would be a problem, as would the effects on “more marginal businesses during construction.” And he said he fears that the project could result in the loss of the kinds of independent small businesses that “give Melrose its charm,” followed by an influx of more upscale, “chain-like businesses.”
In the end, though, Koretz said his primary concern is public safety:
“The bottleneck that the reduction of lanes would create, as well as the inability to ingress and egress at critical points along the way, are likely to greatly impede the ability of police vehicles, fire engines, and ambulances to respond in appropriate time. I would hate to have a heart attack at a mid-block Melrose restaurant at 6 p.m.
Additionally, the significant lane reduction would impact the ability to keep Melrose open should there be a requirement for an emergency response on Melrose. The presence of police and fire, whether it is an Engine Company or multiple police vehicles, would in all likelihood immediately close Melrose in both directions. Having received letters of great concern from both departments, as well as private conversations with leadership from these departments, I know their concerns are serious.
While other City Departments insist they will be able to work with Police and Fire to mitigate the issues they raise, I believe they will simply make the best of the situation, rather than be able to solve the public safety and traffic problems we will be causing.
I don’t believe the public safety and traffic concerns can be mitigated, and so I will not support moving this forward. It’s hard to turn down tens of millions of dollars, but I believe that is the only prudent course of action.”
Koretz concluded his letter by encouraging further discussion about revitalizing Melrose, and saying, “Let’s all work together to make a good plan…and do what we can for Melrose without causing any harm along the way.”
Community reaction to Koretz’s announcement is still percolating.
In a comment thread on Twitter yesterday, Scott Epstein, president of the Mid City West Community Council (speaking personally, and not on behalf of the Council), called Koretz’s announcement a “spectacular failure of leadership” and expressed dismay that Koretz would pull the plug on a project that has won much public favor.
“I have never seen the level & breadth of support this project enjoys,” Epstein tweeted. “It’s supported by residents, business owners, property owners, schools (@FairfaxhighS & @MelroseMagnet), nonprofits (@GreenwayArtsEd), & religious institutions (Young Israel, Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad). Does the project have its detractors? Of course. But it’s impossible to come to any other conclusion than the project had exceptionally strong community support. That’s a testament to the beautiful plan the city put together, and the desire for a safer greener Melrose.”
Epstein called Koretz’s decision “head-scratching” and concluded by saying “We desperately need new leadership in LA that will embrace proven solutions for a safer more sustainable future.”
Meanwhile, the Land Use Committee of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council voted unanimously in August to recommend that the full board support the Uplift Melrose project. That final board vote was agendized at last night’s GWNC Board meeting. At the meeting, the board was informed of the city’s decision not to move forward with the grant application, and a suggestion was made to remove the item from the consent agenda of other land use votes. But Land Use Committee chair Philip Farha recommended moving ahead with the motion as it was recommended by the Committee, and the board voted unanimously to support it (along with the other recommendations on the Land Use consent agenda).
The Councilman’s comments are exactly the same comments and logics that were used 25 years ago to kill sidewalk widening on both Broadway and Hollywood Blvd. 25 years later both streets are moving rapidly towards road diets. Each street needs to be evaluated on it own merits and surely Melrose is unique and not the same as Broadway or Hollywood Blvd.. Still, this seems like a lost opportunity that will only become more expensive to implement in the future when a younger generation pushes even harder than they are now to reimagine and reform Los Angeles. Disappointing.
Five hundred responses is not a true sampling of what is most likely, tens of thousands of residents who would be affected by this. The issue of traffic cutting through residential areas is a valid concern. Traffic on Beverly is already horrendous, as is SM Blvd, pre-Covid. Perhaps delaying this might give the neighbors and neighborhood councils a more realistic view of the implications of this proposal. And a survey with validity
reflecting the actual population would lend more credibility to the support figure percentages.
We need to prioritize the environment and peoples health over cars! This is a fantastic idea and we need more areas like this. We need to slow down and green the city. Take a look around the planet is dying around us!
The survey was not correct. There is NO WAY it was 70% favorable. Most of my neighbors who live along Melrose were against it. On Nextdoor it was highly opposed. We all voted no, and I attended the meetings in which the residents were concerned and against the project in majority. They did not have plans for the lost parking and there were many issues that they would not give a straight answer about. They were pushing it and said they would just get the money and then figure out the parking and additional traffic in the residential areas. This is a not acceptable. The city said they would not fund a public lot, and they talked about valet in residential streets that were not permitted. They wanted to shut down through streets like Waring, Clinton etc. This would have been a nightmare. As for traffic, they had refused to do a traffic survey, because they didn’t have to. None of them live in this area, none of them know what traffic is like here. It was also misleading what they really wanted to do. There was no trash control or maintenance for the trees put in their plan. It is good this project was killed, it was a bad design and not well thought out.