an editorial about our public realm
September 3, 2014
The untenable state of disrepair of streets and sidewalks in Los Angeles has prompted City Council to consider reinvestment in this paramount, but aging city infrastructure. To support the long-term sustainability of this once-in-a-generation undertaking, AIA|LA strongly suggests incorporating measures that are both integrative and provide multiple benefits from this imminent multi-billion dollar undertaking.
The need to remedy L.A.'s street and sidewalk paving is unquestionable: poor road conditions jeopardize traffic safety and efficiency; crumbling and buckling sidewalks make them inaccessible to those who rely upon them most urgently; and poorly thought-out crosswalks and intersections put pedestrians' and cyclists' lives at risk on a daily basis. However, these are not our streets' only challenges.
Today, Los Angeles, in many places a highly urbanized metropolis, faces demands upon its infrastructure that are fundamentally different than those of 50, 30, or even just ten years ago. Historically our streets have been viewed as serving the needs of the automobile. However the automobile is ‘us’, people, and how we use the streets has become so much more nuanced (or layered). While we continue to need streets to accommodate vehicular traffic, a rapidly growing population seeks a lifestyle that includes walking, bicycling, transit - a lifestyle where our streets are places of encounter and destinations in themselves.
Furthermore, L.A.'s streets prove gravely challenged as the city's primary storm drain system. Currently, streets capture, flood, pollute, and then drain into the ocean millions of gallons of valuable water. At a time where California water is a scarce and coveted resource, modifications to street infrastructure could instead help replenish aquifers.
We find ourselves at a fortuitous civic moment in which the pragmatic need to repair our streets coincides with the impetus to address the equally inseparable needs of livability and environmental and economic sustainability. It is AIA|LA's opinion that to rise to the challenge and to address these inextricable demands L.A.'s leaders must look beyond simply repaving the existing street network and create the multi-use, common open space resource that this modern and evolving city needs.
AIA|LA recommends the following actions:
- First, combine roadway repairs with the installation of multi-benefit infrastructure. Combining roadway repair onto infrastructure changes provides substantial cost savings. Through careful allocation of capital resources, the city can cost-effectively address both safety and sustainability concerns as it undertakes street repairs.
- Second, examine street improvements through the multi-focal lens of traffic efficiency, safety, multi-modal access, and livability. While maintaining traffic efficiency is important, modest measures like converting excess roadway into wider sidewalks, planting street trees, placing pervious paving, bike lanes can help transform streets to meet demands beyond those of vehicular traffic capacity.
- Third, in locations of high pedestrian and bike traffic and in particular within a defined radial area around METRO transit nodes, provide extensive urban design changes. These can include reconfigured vehicle travel lanes to allow wider sidewalks and dedicated bike and pedestrian ways, intensive street tree planting, pedestrian street lighting, pervious paving, and amenities from a palette of precedents like bike corrals, parklets, rain gardens, or sidewalk cafés. To supplement physical changes we recommend simplifying code and variance processes to allow sidewalk commercial activities and, where appropriate, increased density, to further encourage active streets and sidewalks.
- Fourth, AIA|LA supports the Streets of the Future Coalition's suggestion to establish a green ribbon committee to establish criteria, evaluate potential projects, and means of economically implementing urban design improvements. This committee would include urban and environmental design professionals, along with appropriate administrative and agency representatives and members of the business community.
The AIA|LA stands ready to support civic leaders as we work together to see the long-term benefits to improving our public realm and built environment.
Very truly yours,Gwynne Pugh, FAIA – Chair, AIA|LA Political Outreach Committee
Martin Leitner, AIA – Chair, AIA|LA Urban Design Committee
Chava Danielson, AIA – Past-Chair, AIA|LA Political Outreach Committee
Gerhard Mayer, AIA – Past Chair, AIA|LA Urban Design Committee
Katherine Spitz, AIA, ASLA – Political Outreach Committee
Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA – Director, Government & Public Affairs – AIA Los Angeles