Given the increasing number of sidewalks being blocked by downtown construction, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar is asking colleagues to consider changing municipal codes to require that workers at least build covered walkways to ensure public safety.
"Our vision is to have a downtown that is pedestrian friendly," Huizar said Monday. "To have more people walking, exploring and getting out of their cars. And we want to make sure we have policies in place that make that happen as easily as possible."
Concerned downtown residents have been tracking a growing number of blocked sidewalks, counting 11 that are closed in just one neighborhood — the South Park district east of Staples Center. Numerous high-rise construction projects are underway, and when others begin, the number of closed sidewalks could soar to more than two dozen.
Huizar said current building, planning and transportation codes were written when Los Angeles was a series of sprawling suburbs connected by freeways. But now those regulations may need to be revised because the city is becoming a more urban metropolis, with new construction in the downtown and Hollywood areas.
"We have prioritized cars over people for such a long time," Huizar said. "It really hasn't taken into consideration pedestrian activity. We need to update that kind of thinking."
The councilman concedes that he and other City Hall politicians, eager to be seen as business-friendly, may have been quick to acquiesce to developer demands to close sidewalks. Builders often ask for closure permits, saying they need the space to stage materials and equipment.
But it's time to strike a better balance, Huizar said.
"If there is any opposition, we will be able to find a midpoint to accommodate the pedestrian activity we want to promote while at the same time not slowing the development that is occurring in downtown L.A.," he said.
Requests for comment by the California Building Industry Assn., a construction industry lobbying group, were not immediately returned.
Huizar filed a motion Friday asking that the matter be taken up by the council's Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee. He said the closures were also affecting downtown businesses, had led to a rise in jaywalking tickets and made it tough for people to reach transit stops.
The busy 7th Street/Metro Center subway station is across the street from a closed sidewalk outside the aging Macy's Center between Hope and Flower streets. Two-thirds of the sidewalk is expected to be closed for at least eight months, forcing some pedestrians into the street.
In his motion to the council committee, Huizar notes that New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., require builders to maintain existing sidewalks, provide covered walkways or convert a street lane to a temporary walkway.
"With pedestrian and bike traffic significantly increased in the downtown area, it is critical that Bureau of Street Service and the Department of Transportation consider enforceable measures that can serve as mitigating tools or alternative to sidewalks closures," the motion reads.
Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said she was thrilled by Huizar's action. "Hopefully, it means that we will keep some sidewalks open when they start all of these new projects," she said.
Simon Ha, a downtown architect and member of the neighborhood group's planning committee, said it intends to send a letter formally requesting that the city look into the problem.
"Just because there is a council motion doesn't mean that there is follow-through," Ha said. "We will keep in contact with the council office to make sure this is seen all the way through."