city west, downtown los angeles, financial district, Ideas for Downtown LA

Ideas for Downtown LA: Minor Tweaks to 110 Overpasses Will Encourage Pedestrian Activity

Some ideas on how to bolster pedestrian connections -- between City West and the rest of Downtown LA -- includes making the 110 overpasses safer and more attractive (mainly Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street)

Some ideas on how to bolster pedestrian connections — between City West and the rest of Downtown LA — include making the 110 overpasses safer and more attractive for pedestrians (mainly Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street)

As Downtown LA continues to evolve and mature into a multi-faceted urban center that’s not only a commercial hub but a bona fide residential community, it becomes even more important that we focus on creating an environment that is pedestrian friendly making it enjoyable and convenient for residents to live, work, and play in. That enhancement to the pedestrian realm — wider sidewalks, narrower streets, more bike lanes, etc. — in Downtown LA is needed to create the strong walkable connections that eventually spawns a walking culture.

Walking as a daily practical lifestyle, such as running errands and doing your shopping, could be a lot more dynamic and serendipitous than driving, parking, and struggling with the incessant LA traffic that most suburbanites must deal with on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, that’s why more and more people have switched over to the “urban camp” in LA forsaking the inconvenience of the suburban lifestyle that depends so heavily on the car just to live. Not only is it not sustainable (a society dependent on driving), but it’s definitely not enjoyable as many Angelenos can attest to while sitting frustrated in their cars, crawling and stuck in traffic, and staring into the sea of red brake lights ahead of them.

If there is no question how important it is to invest in our communities to encourage a healthier lifestyle that includes walking as a part of urban life (think how the typical New Yorker lives, for example), then our attention should be directed, for a moment, to the two barren overpasses — Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street — that are the only tenuous pedestrian connections we have right now between Downtown LA’s Financial District and the burgeoning neighborhood of City West just across the 110 freeway.

Both overpasses — Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street — share the same anti-pedestrian issues that, I believe, can be addressed relatively quickly if the community vocalized for some simple tweaks to resolve the deficiencies. Something immediately that should be addressed are the short railings on both overpasses that make walking across feel a bit unsafe. I stood next to the railing on Wilshire Blvd — that separates pedestrians from falling off the overpass and into the 110 freeway — and the railing came barely up to my hip (about 3 feet tall). Changing out the current railings to taller ones will not only be more safe, but provides an opportunity to implement a potentially interesting design that could also help block out the noisy freeway below, which makes for a more pleasant walking experience.

In addition to taller railings, what if we went a step further and added some aesthetic enhancements that encouraged people to walk along the overpass even more. Perhaps we can add planters and artistic banners (attached to the lamp posts) spaced evenly across the expanse of the bridge. For a real life example, we look no further than neighboring Alhambra to the east of Downtown LA that added colorful planters along their freight track overpasses that does actually improve an otherwise very barren concrete environment. The main idea is to give pedestrians the visual cue that this bridge is “for me” and not only for the car.

City West was actually one of the first districts in Downtown LA to get a residential mixed-use project back in the very beginning of downtown’s urban revitalization in 2000. The resort-like Medici, developed by Geoff Palmer, was developed almost concurrently along with Tom Gilmore’s adaptive-reuse project at 4th and Main where Gilmore converted three separate historic office buildings into 230 residential lofts, forming a neighborhood that we now refer to as the Old Bank District.

Over the last decade, a fair amount of residential development has been added to City West, including the 37-story tower, 1100 Wilshire tower built in 1987, which was converted in 2007 to luxury condos from a vacant office building that was never actually occupied before. The most recent addition to the neighborhood is the 1111 Wilshire project (directly across the street from 1100 Wilshire), developed by Holland Partners, that just opened last month with its first new resident move-ins. With 210 market rate apartments added to City West, that’s potentially several hundred new residents that will call City West home.

Because the lion’s share of amenities are still across the 110 freeway toward the center of Downtown LA, many of City West’s residents still must cross the overpasses every day to access those amenities. However, it’s not a secret that many City West residents view the short walk as “unpleasant” and even “a chore” due to the poor condition of the overpasses that make walking across them not enjoyable. That’s a problem that we as a community cannot ignore and will need to address as City West continues to gain more residents.

Two barren overpasses (Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street) are the only connections between City West (left) and the Financial District (right)

Two barren 110 freeway overpasses (Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street) are the only connections between City West (left) and the Financial District (right)

To encourage more residents who live in the growing City West district to walk, it is important to improve the overpasses that connect to the Financial District

To encourage more residents who live in the growing City West district to walk, it is important to improve the barren overpasses that connect to the Financial District

Does this bridge look inviting to you as a pedestrian?

Does this bridge look inviting to you as a pedestrian?

The short railings (about 3 feet tall) make it feel unsafe to walk across, especially for taller people

The short railings (about 3 feet tall) make it feel unsafe to walk across, especially for taller people

We can improve the bridge substantially by replacing the railings, adding planters and artwork

We can improve the bridge substantially by replacing the railings and adding planters and artwork

CASE STUDY: Bridge of Gardens (600 feet long) at South Coast Plaza

In 2000, a 600-foot "Bridge of Gardens" was completed by South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (designed by Kathryn Gustafson) that successfully tied together the main shopping center with their struggling west wing because the new bridge and it's visually appealing design encouraged shoppers (read: pedestrians) to walk across without complaint

In 2000, a 600-foot “Bridge of Gardens” was completed by South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (designed by Kathryn Gustafson) that successfully tied together the main shopping center with their struggling west wing because the new bridge and it’s visually appealing design encouraged shoppers (read: pedestrians) to walk across without complaint

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63 Comments

  1. Xavier Grobet says

    don’t forget the 6th st. bridge as well, that’s the one in more need of attention, it not pedestrian friendly at all.

  2. I used to walk to work in City West from the Historic Core and I completely agree with everything you’re saying. It’s not a long walk in terms of distance but it’s just unpleasant, especially in the summer when the sun is beating down on you as you trudge uphill.

    Shade and planters would be great, as would be seating, which would give older people, people with disabilities and people carrying a lot of bags a place to rest before continuing uphill.

    I know someone who moved out of a Palmer building in City West because they never felt like they really lived in downtown, so I also agree that making the overpasses more inviting is key to development in that neighborhood.

  3. melissa says

    I’ve always wondered about the short railings issue on the 7th Street bridge. I’m short so I’m never concerned about it but you make a good point about the taller person being concerned about it. I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents.

    • That’s what I’ve been saying! To me this, the stretch between the 6th, Wilshire, and 7th street bridges is the most deserving candidate for a cap park in the city!

  4. Why not make this an extension of the Park 101 cap?

    If not, maybe widen the existing 110 overpasses to incorporate their own individual parks, similar to the High Line in New York. L.A. starts a new trend – overparks!

  5. Sir says

    Great post. In the long-term, we need a City West infill station on the Red/Purple lines as well.

  6. sebastian says

    I would like to see some sort of cap, atleast between Wilshire and 7th street bridge. Put a park or retail. I’ve seen it before. We just need to be more creative.

  7. Or another great example: the bridge over Disneyland Drive that connects one half of Downtown Disney to the other. It took me YEARS to realize I was even on a bridge!

    Here’s a birds eye aerial from Bing Maps. Looks like spam, but it isn’t.

    http://binged.it/11PyG8Z

  8. sebastian says

    I prefer a park/plaza with an open restaurant, between 7th street and Wilshire, maybe a water feature. This is the perfect location because the freeway is in a trench at this part of the freeway.

  9. As for a cap park, the Wilshire/7th expanse is probably the best place to start since there’s less of an elevation change and it’s the expanse that’s most likely to be used by Metro patrons going into/out of City West.

    In the interim, like Bingham, I’d like to see improved railings, a good amount a greenery (would provide at least some sound and pollution relief from the interstate below), and perhaps some partial shading so we pedestrians don’t bake as we cross on hot days (oh, and maybe fewer ficus plants growing out of the 7th St bridge?).

    • “Bingham”?!? What’s up with that? Either a dumb typo on my part or I’m secretly getting sponsored by Microsoft to mis-type Brigham’s name. Sorry, Brigham! My bad. :-)

  10. David Klappholz says

    Given the width of the pedestrian path in the pictures — quite wide; didn’t realize that because we go across the overpass on the bus from the Fairfax District — I can’t imagine that anyone would feel that it’s unsafe; on the other hand, beautification or capping certainly wouldn’t hurt.

  11. And I’d like to add UNDERpasses to the discussion as well, as that has been bugging me for a while.

    Like overpasses, underpasses should serve to connect neighboring communities, though for the most part they divide them instead. These dark, loud, dirty, seemingly unsafe passageways appear to have been built to primarily serve cars, with little attention to how pedestrians or cyclists would feel using them.

    I feel like no one’s attempted to tackle this issue; or given up because it seems too difficult. But there have got to be some good uses for a shaded, cool space in what is normally a bright and warm urban environment.

    Just off the top of my head, after *thoroughly* and regularly cleaning an underpass (and maybe removing a lane or two of traffic), couldn’t the sidewalk space be used for:
    – …Housing a semi-permanent farmer’s market? The temperature stays fairly constant and there would be no harsh sunlight to spoil foods sitting out.
    – …Some sort of staffed, outdoor, large-format art gallery?
    – …A row of “uniquely sized” retail opportunities?

    Imagine folks from South Park and Pico Union intermingling at an Olympic Blvd Underpass Farmers Market. Imagine a viable, safe pedestrian link between these neighborhoods. Imagine all the affordable dining options that could present themselves to Downtowners with convenient access to Pico Union.

    I’m serious about underpass renewal. Any thoughts?

  12. Topher says

    I was pleasantly surprise by my recent visit to shanghai. Their freeways are line with planters on my both side looking like an endless sky garden. Nothing only does it beautify but it helps filter pollution. downtown should consider something of that nature.

  13. S. Williams says

    I take it no one here has crossed the Westminster Bridge in London?

  14. John G. says

    Some good points Brigham. However, aesthetics should be considered in view of the larger picture, which begs the question”WHY should people be crossing these bridges in the first place?” Are there beckoning destination points on opposite ends of these bridges all within walking range of work spaces and residential units? LA is in transition. As we become more dense, the need for having to walk across these bridges will grow and your points will have more say. But for now, I don’t know if focusing on aesthetics will having any more influence than the actual functional uses of these overpasses. I live in Alhambra and I know what you mean about those planters on the freight track overpasses. I drive by them almost every single day. Although they look pretty, I still don’t see alot of people crossing those short overpasses? Why? My observations is that those overpasses don’t have any influence on people’s desire to walk over them. In Alhambra, the walkability factor south and north of these overpasses is depressing and having to walk to all the amenities (restaurants, bars, shops) in Alhambra from these overpasses is still too far. Now, if Main St. Alhambra (where all the action is) was on Mission Rd. (right next to these overpasses), that would be a DIFFERENT story. I see the same characteristics with these over the 110 Harbor fwy.

    • Alika says

      “Are there beckoning destination points on opposite sides of these bridges…?”

      Yes, there are. Within two blocks of the west of the 110 are several large residential developments (Glo, TenTen, 1100 Wishire, 1111 Wilshire, The Medici, and some other Geoff Palmer Faux-talian monstrosity). On the east, within two blocks of the 110 is 7th St/Metro Center Station, and the entire Financial District.

      If there are bridges that need sprucing up, these are them.

  15. Antonette DeVito says

    Lots of great ideas. Now, how do we make them happen? Also, is there an urban forestration plan for downtown? I would be interested in seeing one.

    • Emily says

      I second this and would love to know about projects to bring greenery to downtown, especially along Broadway or by the LA River. Do you know anything about this, Brigham (or how we can help)?

      I think the one thing that is really missing downtown is some sort of greenbelt or park where people can actually run (even if it’s just a few miles). The cornfield is a bit out the of the way and doesn’t have much shade, and while Grand Park is beautiful, you can’t really go for a run there. I might be tempted to run across a freeway pass if it felt safe, populated, and green!

      • Antonette DeVito says

        All of downtown LA needs greenery, not just Broadway.

  16. Sean says

    Sorry to say this- but you can’t polish a turd.

    I think your ideas are excellent but not only are freeway overpasses nasty to walk over visually there is also the noise and hydrocarbons/particulates you’re forced to breath. I also don’t think if planters are installed that the city will maintain them (just look at the ongoing landscape issues at LAPD headquarters).

    The best solution to all this are freeway caps and development over the freeway. This will heal a scars that severed downtown in its car-manic heyday. Of course, the cost would be astronomical, but imagine how much money could be made if we were able to develop real estate over the freeway.

    • Alika says

      Freeway caps are ideal for the future, but we also need to consider what we can get up and running in the next year or so. While the City may or may not maintain planters along an overpass, many community organizations, businesses, and/or individuals may be willing to “adopt a planter”. I think the Rotary Club of DTLA might be interested in this.

  17. Stephen Brandt says

    Brigham,

    Check out the Euclid overpass of the 210 in the Rancho Cucamonga area on Google Maps, or Google Earth.

    Thanks for a great article,

    Stephen Brandt

  18. Pingback: Three SoCal cities in top 10 for Complete Streets policies; proposed three-foot law moves forward | BikingInLA

  19. Matt D says

    The freeway is trenched between 3rd and 7th. Long term, why not just sell the air rights and develop the property?

    I know everyone is in love with freeway cap parks but trust me, I lived through the Big Dig in Boston… the corridor is still a boundary between neighborhoods; the thing that is missing is development. Buildings are what tie neighborhoods together. Best thing you could do between 3rd and 7th would be to develop the property, especially at the north and south ends, and save a block in the middle for a park. Remember, parks are edges…

    • brudy says

      But post-Big Dig is much nicer than pre-Big Dig (while neither would be as nice as a seamless North End). The city has definitely not done enough the greenway yet. There was talk of an aboretum that never materialized, among other things.

      But I agree with you. The 110, like the various expressways in NYC or the Vine St expressway in Philly – they sliced existing neighborhoods into pieces. It creates a mental barrier as well as a physical barrier. I’d prefer in our case to develop over the 110, or at least a park cap in the long term. In the short term, I think dressing up the bridges would be a great interim solution. There aren’t a ton of residents over there yet, but I think this could inspire development and connection.

      • Matt D says

        Post Big Dig the corridor is much nicer, but still a boundary. As you note, there were several parcels that were to be developed but stalled due to funding issues. Last time I visited, they were building on the block in the Bullfinch Triangle, which is good. But the others (new YMCA, Parcel 7, Boston Horticultural) seem to be on the skids indefinitely. Part of the problem is the completely arbitrary ruling by the 1980s-era state environmental regulators that 75% of the corridor had to be open space; now you have the city’s bizarre obsession with preventing new buildings from casting shadows on the greenway (no, I’m not joking). As someone who crossed the corridor damn near every day for almost 8 years, my biggest complaint is lack of shade in the summer and lack of protection from wind in winter. Anyway, I digress…

        I agree that short term it would be nice to do something with the bridges. The question of how many residents are there is an interesting one; there aren’t many in the “new Downtown” sense, but outside of the 6th-7th corridor, there are a ton of apartment buildings, starting about 1/4 mile from the bridges…

        • brudy says

          I know you’re not joking about the shadows in Boston. I spent almost 5 long years living in Boston/Cambridge and know about the crazy reasons used to impede development. Back Bay residents have consistently fought larger towers because of the shadow they would cast.

          • Matt D says

            I worked for a engineering firm in Boston and was always amused that we got paid to study shadows :)

  20. sebastian says

    It is so funny how other cities in l.a. county are doing this but the city of l.a. hasn’t done this. BTW Brigham did you know that Curbedl.a. is stealing your stories, you should charge them money for every story they take from you. :)

    • David Klappholz says

      Lots of people are citing Brigham, with credit, so it isn’t theft, but, rather, respect.

  21. John G. says

    The key word here is “beckoning”. You listed a bunch of buildings, but is there enough need for say, the residents of Medici wanting to cross the overpass to head over the Financial District? Most people within two blocks west of the 110 (or east) may not need even have the need to cross this overpass.

  22. David Klappholz says

    Agreed; people from City West might want to cross into DTLA to go to a restaurant — other? — but why would a DTLA resident want to cross into City West?

    • brudy says

      As 7th&Fig grows and the Macys Mall redevelops, people in City West have tons of reasons to come east. All the closest resources are to their east. Creating a more seamless neighborhood might get development going on both sides. Downtown ends for me at the bridge.

      • David Klappholz says

        Same for me…but how many residents does City West have? From outward appearances not many.

        • I suppose it depends what one defines as the boundaries of City West. And, depending who you’re talking to, City West either abuts or is part of the Westlake neighborhood, which I believe is the most dense residential neighborhood in the city.

          Keep in mind also that there is a large hospital (with a new building under construction as we speak), a major entertainment studio, several office towers, headquarters for at least two City agencies, and a ridiculous lack of dining options all within three blocks of the three overpasses being discussed.

          I work in City West and either cross the 7th St bridge or use the 8th St underpass at least four times a day. And I am most certainly not alone. That said, the uninviting barrier created by the 110 motivates a good number of my coworkers to drive to lunch. With some improvements to the bridges and underpasses, I think you’d get more of these folks out of their cars.

          • David Klappholz says

            How far west do you work? Do you think that many would/could walk to DTLA from Alvarado? What about the time lost at work? (We’ve done the walk on a S.M. to DTLA walk of all of Wilshire Blvd, but how many Angelenos would?

          • David Klappholz says

            How about the bus, which we take, from too far away to walk on a regular basis? (Walking from Koreatown?)

          • @David: It wouldn’t make much sense to walk downtown from Alvarado, because Westlake/MacArthur Park Station is on Alvarado, making that the most logical way to get downtown. I work at 7th & Lucas, which is only about 3 blocks west of 7th St/Metro Center Station. While the distance from the Metro station is not a problem, the discomfort of the walk is.

  23. Lawrence says

    City West has more residents than it would seem and there are several large residential projects on the horizon including ones by Holland Partners, which just finished the 1111 Wilshire Building, and the Amidi Real Estate Group (1027 Wilshire), not to mention several others that are in various stages of the planning process.

    It’s hard to tell exactly many residents are in the area given the lack of retail and street life, but there are enough to warrant making the pedestrian connection to the financial district more palatable for everyone. Also, I would argue that the continued success of downtown depends on it’s multi-modal connectivity to areas outside of the circumscribed boundaries of the freeway system. This includes City West, Westlake and Koreatown. Facilitating seamless connections between our various neighborhoods benefits everyone.

  24. I’m living in city west and walking either Wilshire or 7th overpass every day. I don’t drive, no car!
    I have never felt scared or unsafe with the low railings nor do I feel depressed about the walk. It’s damn good exercise.
    Have there been pedestrian accidents or suicide jumpers that I am unaware of?
    The biggest complaint I have is the damn sign for the 110 on the north side heading west on 7th. Who thought that having the sign poll in the middle of the sidewalk was a good idea!
    With the demolition of the Wilshire Grand and subsequent nasty looking hotel to be, parts of it are blocked at the moment anyway. Things will improve once the new, belongs only in south park, hotel is finished in 2016 or so. For now the money it costs to “improve” these overpass can be better spent elsewhere. Better services in city west would help as well.
    Oh and then there is the LA “entitled” are too scared to walk anywhere issue.

        • ^ I don’t think Brigham said there was only one attempt. He only mentioned the most recent occurance which I do recall seeing during my walk home a few months ago.

          That said, an improved guardrail wouldn’t hinder a determined jumper. A slightly higher guardrail would provide some additional real or perceived feeling of safety for those of us who do feel the rail is a bit too low for comfort. This would help take one more argument away from those “entitled” Angelenos who sometimes try to find excuses to avoid walking. :-)

          • Right…I found there was another failed attempt in 2009.
            You make a good point about “real or perceived feeling” issue but does that warrant the cost?
            The demolition/construction of the Wilshire Grand/Korean Air is causing more people to avoid the area. By the time this is complete there “should” be more reason to cross over. Until then…

          • Cost is key for sure. Of the incremental improvements mentioned here (planters, artwork, railings, etc.), I think it would be wise to focus first on what’s the most affordable and would give us the most “bang for our buck”. Higher (and somehow more graffiti resistant?) railings are great, but as a life safety device, I’m sure they are not cheap to install and may indeed be best left until after the Wilshire Grand replacement is built.

            I’m thinking that as planters are modular and have fewer safety issues, they might make the most sense to install on a short-term basis. I get the feeling that there are unused or older planters whiling away the time in some City of LA yard somewhere. A coat or two of new paint, a small tree for each planter, and securing a sponsor to water and maintain them might put the City out only the cost of transporting the planters to the site.

    • David Klappholz says

      Isn’t the pedestrian path wide enough that you don’t have to walk near the rail?

    • Cristian Reyes says

      that is such a gorgeous park! i hope the proposed freeway park cap looks something like that. Seems like people really utilize the space for a variety of activities. we need more of these kinds of parks in Downtown in general.

    • Brandon says

      Karl, say what you want about Dallas, but they are revitalizing their downtown better than LA is. They have opened 4 major new parks in downtown, plans for a 5th, DART operates the largest light rail system in the US, a new arts district consisting of museums, theater, opera and symphony halls as well as a vibrant, growing downtown resident population. It all sounds a bit like LA’s downtown revival, but the key thing that is missing is our commitment to public space and parks.

      • As a former Dallasite, I think the new Klyde Warren Park and Main Street Garden are both nice, but don’t get the impression that all that development in downtown Dallas is creating a neighborhood even a fraction as vibrant as downtown Los Angeles has become.
        If you’re interested, there’s more urban discussion at http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/
        And no, that’s not my blog.

  25. I realize this article is about the specific bridge (Wilshire), but we should also keep in mind what is found immediately on each end. The end in City West seems to have some chance at attracting pedestrians, but the other end has nothing. So basically, this unpleasant walk is even extended in a physical and mental sense.

  26. Chris says

    I don’t want the city/state to see this post and get the wrong idea. I walk along Grand Ave. every day for work and cross over the 101 on an overpass. It used to have the 3 foot rails, just like the bridges over the 110. But recently, for whatever reason, the state put a nine-foot-tall chain link fence along the length of the bridge. It’s awful. Now it feels like walking to work through a jail. Any kind of rail enhancements should feel a lot more cozy than chain link fence, I hope.

    • brudy says

      That is a good point. The chain-link fencing looks and feels awful.

  27. The low rails are the best part about some of the downtown bridges. Making them higher will rob pedestrians of a stunning view. That said, the bridges sure could be more inviting.

  28. Wanderer says

    I would think that a lot of people living in City West would walk into the Downtown core for work, as well as recreation. The attractiveness, and perhaps safety, of that commute could be enhanced fairly cheaply, as Brigham described.

  29. Matt E says

    I’d also really like to point out that many of these improvements apply to ALL of the downtown LA boundary barriers such as the bridges over 101 to Chinatown, and bridges over the LA river to East LA. The property value disparity between Chinatown and downtown LA is wildly disproportionate to the short distance between the two areas…

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