After months of uncertainty, Los Angeles’ first “complete street” will move forward: Three miles of Figueroa Street will be transformed from a thoroughfare for cars into a route that serves cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians equally.
The My Figueroa project is an important one. It puts one of L.A.’s iconic streets on a “road diet,” removing several car lanes to make room for bus platforms and installing the first protected bike lanes in the city. The route from Exposition Park to 7th Street will also get new trees, streetlights and benches along the sidewalk. The $20-million project will be a model of a more walkable, bikeable Los Angeles, and it’s a demonstration of what Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to do in Van Nuys, San Pedro and Westwood through his "Great Streets Initiative.”
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post stated the My Figueroa project will transform four miles of Figueroa Street. The project affects three miles of Figueroa.
And yet, My Figueroa almost didn’t happen. After six years of planning and with a deadline to spend state grant money or lose it, a major property owner on Figueroa filed an appeal last year to stop the project. Shammas Auto Group said the city hadn’t considered the economic impacts on businesses from removing car lanes and slowing traffic. Shammas’ concern was shared by USC and the Exposition Park museums, which also raised last-minute objections that the project would clog the street with cars and discourage visitors.
Garcetti, along with Councilmen Curren Price and Jose Huizar, convened a working group with stakeholders this year. City planners and transportation engineers held many meetings and came up with enough minor tweaks to the project to satisfy stakeholders’ concerns. Shammas dropped its appeal, allowing the project to move forward. And there will be follow-up meetings once the project is completed to assess the impact on the corridor.
Garcetti, Price and Huizar deserve credit for facilitating the compromise and preserving My Figueroa. But they should also take a lesson from the My Figueroa near-miss. Even though city staff and consultants held many public hearings and reached out to community members, stakeholders on Figueroa still felt their concerns were not addressed and they almost torpedoed the project.
Los Angeles leaders will almost certainly face similar opposition and concern as they attempt more road diets. These projects will ultimately change L.A. for the better — if they get built. City officials have to listen and take community concerns seriously.
That doesn’t mean the ambition of My Figueroa and similar projects should be diminished or that Los Angeles should settle for “OK Streets” in order to get community buy-in. Rather, these projects should be accompanied by an intensive education and engagement process. “Great Streets” will be easier to sell to skeptical stakeholders as they become more common and people can see the value.