[Video] Ideas for Downtown LA: Close Off Spring Street to Cars During Art Walk

Last night was bittersweet for the monthly Downtown LA Art Walk (second Thursday of the month). It was a huge success in terms of how many people attended as it was considered possibly the most busy the event has ever been since its inception. Tens of thousands of people jammed the sidewalks on Spring St and even overflowing to an “usually-empty-at-night” Broadway that would give Times Square in New York a run for its money.

However, there was also a very bitter moment to all the joy as tragedy struck on the 400 block of Spring St. According to NBC LA news, a 2-month old infant and his mother was struck when “two vehicles collided, one veering off onto the sidewalk.” The infant boy was in critical condition and would likely not survive this horrible accident. Luckily, the mother is in stable condition.

Accidents occasionally happen in all pedestrian-oriented cities, including New York or San Francisco, but the unfortunate accident last night, along with the idea that the Downtown LA Art Walk is getting busier and busier, calls for the City of LA to seriously consider shutting Spring Street off to cars during the monthly event. As you can see from the video (above), the amount of people spilling onto the roadway shows a great demand for more space to roam.

In case anyone thought shutting off a street is “off limits or abnormal or impossible,” I implore you to take a look at Times Square (one of the busiest roadways in the country) now shut-off on the weekends to cars and given back to pedestrians, which I serendipitously encountered on my trip there recently.

Times Square, New York Shut Off on Weekends

Times Square shut off on weekends for a flea market

New York has taken a much tougher stance recently on pedestrian and bicyclist safety

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Downtown LA Art Walk July 2011

Downtown LA Art Walk is becoming more and more popular, attracting tens of thousands from all across LA

Dancing on the sidewalks is a common sight at the monthly DTLA Art Walk

The Downtown LA Art Walk is also good for many businesses

With the DTLA Art Walk getting ever more popular, there is now a growing sentiment in the community to consider shutting off Spring St to cars during the event, which will make it safer for everyone who attends

22 Responses to [Video] Ideas for Downtown LA: Close Off Spring Street to Cars During Art Walk

  1. Wow, that IS more crowded than normal! Must plan to attend in August.

  2. Looking at the photos, its so obvious that Spring Street needs to be closed. Its nearly a de facto closure as it is, since so many people are forced to spill off of the narrow sidewalks into the streets.

    • Until Broadway is revitalized with more shops/restaurants to help divert some of that concentrated energy away from Spring Street, which could be another few years at best, I think the street should be closed off during the event. Maybe not forever, but at least for the interim until the rest of DTLA catches up with Spring Street’s tremendous success.

  3. I’m not a big fan of streets closed for automobiles, as I find them less pedestrian friendly than those with open streets. Compare 3rd street in Santa Monica and Colorado blvd in Pasadena. I feel Colorado has more of the pedestrian vibe as people are mixing on the major corridors and not in an enclosed pedestrian area.

    My recommendation would be to widen the sidewalks by reducing a lane of traffic in the long-term. In the short-term, put up the white barricades to give pedestrians more space to move around on the streets and sidewalks, but keep 2 – 3 lanes open for buses and cars. Then, it still feels like a pedestrian/urban environment, in my opinion.

  4. Illithid Dude

    Screw closure. Widen those sidewalks so that the pedestrian environment can be improved on all days of the week, not just the one night of Art Walk.

  5. You realize people live on Spring Street, right? You can’t close down streets and block people’s access to their driveways!

  6. I was at Artwalk with friends last night and we commented to each other how scared we were of the crowds. I’ve never felt that way at Artwalk before. We are all city people and generally don’t mind crowded places, but it was WAY to crowded. It felt dangerous and we all kept saying to each other that it felt as if a riot could break out any moment or someone might panic and cause a stampede.
    At one point we were walking as a group (there were 5 of us) and we got separated by the crowd. Luckily we all had cell phones and after about 20 minutes we finally were able to find a place where we could recollect. We were planning to go to dinner but we were so put off that we just decided to leave after that.
    I was one of the people who were in support of continuing Artwalk when there was a consideration to end it last year. I’m still in support of Artwalk but after last night I definitely think that the committee needs to make some serious decisions as to what to do with it now. It’s great that Artwalk has become so popular but the scale of infrastructure (policing, fire and life safety, sanitation) has not been able to keep up with the scale and popularity of the event.
    I don’t agree that they should completely close the streets because the event happens too often and that would be troublesome for persons who live there and who need to get their cars in and out of their garages. As “New York-like” Downtown is beginning to feel, people still do rely on their cars to some degree. However I do believe that they should close MOST lanes to THROUGH TRAFFIC and use them for pedestrians and outdoor dining. They should have at least one, possibly two, lanes open on Spring Street for local access and police and fire personnel. There should be NO thru traffic and no street parking allowed. There should be mounted police throughout the area showing their presence and police monitoring local access to prevent any possible conflict between cars and people since people would be walking in the street.
    One of two things will probably happen as a result of this week. Artwalk will either be cancelled or the committee will end up working with the city to do something like I’m proposing.
    I also know that sponsors are clamoring to get involved. If Artwalk can get sponsorship money it can do a lot to remedy these problems. There are solutions but money and planning is the only thing that will fix it.

  7. Old photos from over 60 years ago indicate streets in downtown Los Angeles, primarily Broadway, if not Spring and parts of 7th too, were quite crowded, and not just during one day, one evening, per month. So what you’re seeing in the 2000s — but, so far, only on a monthly basis — is a case of back to the future. And it’s about time.
    Photos of the Subway Terminal building at 5th and Hill Streets before or around the 1940s, when that property still hosted the subway portion of the Big Red train system, also reveal another part of downtown that could become quite crowded, bustling with people who in future years would migrate farther west or to suburbs scattered throughout the Southland.
    The City of Angels regressed for several decades, and only now is it trying to awaken out of an absurdly long coma. That severe decline in the first place, and the slowness in turning things around, have been a major black eye to LA. It shouldn’t have gotten so bad to begin with, and it shouldn’t have taken so long to ameliorate.
    All the people who contributed to two or more generations of LA’s decline should be made to walk around with dunce caps and then publicly berated.

  8. FYI a large part of Times Square in Manhattan is permanently closed to traffic, not just on weekends, and has been for at least two years.

    The odd thing is that there are tables and chairs, but no food service — the closest food is from carts on crosstown streets around the corners from Times Square.

    • The Times Square project is overseen by the Times Square Alliance (the B.I.D. for Times Square), not the City of New York. It is actually considered as a “quasi-park” space not simply an extension of the sidewalk. With that said it was created to help relieve pedestrian congestion but also to help create more open space in an area that desperately needed it after several skycrapers were constructed over the last 10 years.
      The Times Square project only works because there are no vehicular entrances onto Broadway. The only time vehicles use Broadway is for fire and life safety and occasionally for deliveries when needed.

      Unfortunately, the dynamic on Spring Street isn’t the same as Broadway. All of the buildings on Spring Street have parking entrances from Spring Street. If there was a way to put the entrances from the alleyways that might help change the dynamic but I doubt that this is possible. A better model for Sping Street would be the Ramblas in Barcelona where vehicluar traffic is restricted but not altogether eliminated.

  9. The large crowds at DTLA’s Art Walk is a great testament to how much ppl in Los Angeles crave ditching their cars and mingling en masse in an urbanscape…like tens of thousands of salmon swimming upstream to spawn, WE keep on coming. This event is only gonna get bigger and BIGGER.

    But I’m not sure closing off the streets and turning it into 3rd Street Promenade (even temporarily), is the best solution and as much as I love that place you can’t mimic the energy/vibrancy in DTLA’s urban setting by bottling it up all in one place, even controlled chaos can be chaotic.

    Widening the sidewalks (and in effect giving the streets back to the pedestrians), along with adding some more street furniture (benches, light fixtures , etc.) to act as a buffer between cars and pedestrians is probably the most plausible solution.

  10. A majority of people don’t ditch their cars to get to Artwalk. The majority drive to Artwalk and park their cars in surface lots and garages on the perimeter. Some take the train or bus, but its still a very small minority of people who do that. Case in point, all the parking lots were full to capacity during artwalk. Some of the lots were closed off because they got too full.
    The reason Artwalk is successful has nothing to do with people’s craving to ditch their cars. It about “the party”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Any kind of communal activity in Los Angeles is a good thing. The problem is that the infrastructure isn’t coping with the number of people that are attending now and it is becoming dangerous. When I was at artwalk people all around us were swearing at each other and getting pissed off. Some people were actually shoving other people into the street and in front of moving cars. There is nothing good about that kind of situation. Not everyone was doing that but enought people were doing it to be cause for alarm. Its better to address these things now than to wait until a tragedy happens.
    The city isn’t going to widen the sidewalks anytime soon. Thats not a near term solution. When enough people get behind such a project it will still take a decade to get off the ground, look at Broadway. They have a sidewalk widening plan for Broadway with heavy political support and that project isn’t expected to happen for at least 5 more years.
    What Spring Street needs NOW is a plan of action to accomodate the success of Artwalk now. That can only happen if streets are shut down for the event. There is no where else for the people to go.

  11. I work on that street and live three blocks away. I agree with some of the posters. I’ve been going for artwalk for four years now but I think the name is misleading. It’s less of an artwalk than a street festival. Most galleries are now shut because of the chaos. The event has mainly become more about dancing, music and food trucks. It’s a powerful event in its own right, but perhaps not as casual as the name artwalk implies. People overlook the high risk involved with semi-controlled pedestrian crowds spilling off the sidewalk with vehicles trying to snag limited parking spots and the odd speeding bus. For example, even if the event was renamed into a carnival or a street festival or even associated with something similar like farmers’ markets, reservations about temporary road closures (for through traffic) would disappear.
    That night did feel borderline dangerous as I left, considering the volume of pedestrians. Just last year, an architect returning from a lecture at sciarc nearby was killed by a speeding bus near that intersection. It’s unfortunate because it happens often in this area.

  12. There is a lot of smart commentary on this blog, but I fear that it is unlikely to have much impact on the future of the Art Walk. Art Walk is, after all, run by a non-profit board that nearly two years ago forced out its volunteer founding director (my husband Richard Schave), removed its newly-approved mission statement including a community safety plan from its website (see archived link below), canceled its free shuttle loop service, and has completely failed to implement any alternate crowd control plan.

    Since then, the ever-growing Art Walk has seen the event temporarily cancelled and all its intellectual property hijacked by its second director, failed to raise any meaningful sponsorship money except from the neighborhood landlords, and packed its board with representatives of powerful special interests.

    And now, the unthinkable: a child has died on an overcrowded sidewalk. Is this what it will take to make the individuals that control Art Walk respond to the repeated community calls that there need to be major changes in the form that the Art Walk takes on the streets and sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles?
    *
    Read the Art Walk Mission Statement (posted October 2009, removed November 2009)

  13. Definitely close the street off! Yes, the volume and feel may be a little different than planned – so? That’s evidence of the pent-up need of our citizens to actually inhabit their city spaces. We almost always unable to walk, bike, lounge, eat – even dance – in our own city. There are very few places and times in LA that invite habitation by humans rather than cars. People who live/work on Spring Street can be accommodated – it happens all the time for Farmer’s Markets, Rose Bowl events, etc. The inconvenience is a small price to pay for hosting this marvel. Get out there, you might even enjoy it. People on the sidewalks + streets = a good thing. Kim Cooper, thank you for your astute and insightful comment. Yes, the event needs to far better managed; that doesn’t make it a bad idea.

  14. 3rd Street was originally open to vehicle traffic, but was so overwhelmed by tourists that there was no point, but plenty of potential for disaster. So sad that one ancient city council “got it” and closed the street, while successors enabled the Farmers Market tragedy, and now deliberately, intentionally, refused grade separation for Expo.

  15. Art walk has clearly become too big for its britches and something needs to happen soon. Wider sidewalks are a no-brainer but just won’t happen within the short time frame needed to rectify the situation. Rather than shutting the streets down, I would much prefer to see art walk turn into a bi-monthly event. It would be a quick fix that would bring the attendance back down to manageable numbers—recreating what was once a social, yet intimate event. It would also help distribute the influx in customers to local bars and restaurants throughout the month, allowing them to better serve their clients in a safer, more enjoyable environment while providing a more consistent revenue stream.

  16. Those of us that actually live on Spring street (and there are a lot of us, Spring is the most densely populated residential street in DTLA) would have a BIG problem with closing our street. We already have to pay $250 a month to park, then to have 1000′s of us be locked out of our garages on the most expensive parking night of the year is not feasible. A better choice would be to close the street off to street parking and allow people to walk in the parking lane to eleviate the congestion.

  17. Oh boy, Simple solution. Currently most of the activity start around 5th and spring and south towards 8th/Spring. Shift it North starting from 2nd Spring, Revitalize the north part of Spring St, to alleviate that congestion. Not too mention the area is much cleaner & wider sidewalks.

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