Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Five precedents for the proposed changes to the Hollywood Walk of Fame

...Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell unveiled a 90-page concept Thursday [January 30] aimed at creating a less gritty, more welcoming atmosphere for the millions of tourists who visit the Walk of Fame each year. 
The initial proposal draws inspiration from world-class streets across the world, including the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris. That could be achieved in Hollywood, too, the plan says, with wider sidewalks, more shade trees, more space for sidewalk dining — and far less space for drivers.
I haven’t been to Los Angeles. I hope to go one day; the Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of the must-see attractions of the city, a glittering tribute to the men and women who shaped the American film industry. Because I’ve never been there, though, it never occurred to me that for all its glamour and prestige, it’s still part of a street, like any other in LA—two of them, in this case: Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. And like many big city streets in America, it has been engineered with driving private vehicles in mind over everything else.

This proposal to traffic-calm the WOF area and make it more pedestrian-friendly reminds me more than a little of when Times Square underwent a similar change, over a decade ago. It was considered radical at the time, but the end result slowed vehicle traffic and made walking and biking through the area safer and more pleasant, which was a boon to the local businesses. It didn’t take much, either—just paint and some extra chairs.

I believe the same is possible for the WOF area, but there will likely be those who object, who believe it’ll have an adverse effect on traffic and will drive away business. There always are. So let’s look at what Councilman O’Farrell’s plan entails and see how it works in other cities.

The TCL Chinese Theater has been around since 1927, and
it’s where the handprints of movie stars are arrayed.
- Removal of car lanes. They call it a “road diet:” by deleting a lane of traffic, vehicle crashes are reduced and drivers go slower. Often, the space is replaced with something like a turn lane, but one can also put a bus lane or a bike lane there too—painted a bright color like red or green, with a striped buffer between it and the traffic lane, or physically separated with bollards, concrete barriers, or even parked cars.

I don’t have to look far for a good example of this: in 2010, the three lanes of traffic on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn was reduced to two and a parking-protected, two-way bike lane was installed. Some people were mad about it (to say the very least!), but New York’s Department of Transportation website says speeding along the one-way corridor took a sharp nosedive, from 74% of cars to 20%.

Among the wax figures in Madame Tussauds
Hollywood include Bogart, Audrey, Bette,
Hitchcock, and Marilyn (above). 
- Removal of on-street parking. If you drive in a big city, finding a place to park is always an issue, especially when you have to pay an arm and a leg for a spot—but why do we expect parking to be free anyway? According to the book The High Cost of Free Parking by UCLA professor Donald Shoup, urban planners
make the unstated (perhaps even unconscious) assumption that all parking is free. They estimate the demand for free parking and then require enough spaces to meet this demand. In effect, urban planners treat free parking as an entitlement, and they consider the resulting demand for free parking as a “need” that must be met.
Here are ten examples of cities around the world that were able to replace on-street parking with more useful things, such as bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and bus improvements. And here’s a piece on how to make the argument for reducing parking requirements.

The El Capitan Theatre was renovated by
Disney in the 80s and is now an LA
Cultural Heritage Monument.
- Raised intersections. The National Association of City Transportation Officials website defines the purpose of raised intersections as to slow drivers down and get them to yield to crossing pedestrians.

This website suggests caution in employing this particular design, advising using it in certain specific situations. One, “intersection of low-volume and high-volume streets,” is appropriate for Hollywood Boulevard, a wide, multi-lane street intersected by smaller side streets within the WOF stretch.

Here’s an example of a raised intersection in New Haven, Connecticut, built after the demand for traffic calming turned into guerrilla activism.

- “Scramble” crosswalks. Also known as a “Barnes dance” intersection, after the engineer who popularized its use, this is when pedestrians get an entire traffic light cycle all to themselves: cars stop in all directions and people get to walk in whichever way they want until the light changes again. Hollywood Boulevard already has two of these, at the intersections at Vine Street and Highland Avenue, but the proposal would add more. This is something I would love to see here in New York one day. It would likely look like this one in Tokyo:

The Larry Edmunds Bookshop is a film collector’s
dream come true. Just ask Raquel.
- Mid-block crosswalks. Jane Jacobs advocated in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in favor of smaller city blocks, in part because many pedestrians’ inclination is to want to cross mid-block instead of at the intersection—if they’re shopping, for instance.

Mid-block crosswalks take the danger out of this, particularly when used in cooperation with traffic signals, pedestrian islands, or sidewalk extensions known as “bulb-outs.” Here’s an example of one from Philadelphia.

O’Farrell’s master plan for the WOF area can be found here. I really hope this is approved because it can only make an already great street even more spectacular.

Five (cheap) things I’d want to do in Hollywood

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