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