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'Great Streets': What can LA learn from pedestrian-friendly New York?

During his State of the City speech, Mayor Eric Garcetti mentioned several areas in his former council district that would serve as models for his Great Streets initiative.
During his State of the City speech, Mayor Eric Garcetti mentioned several areas in his former council district that would serve as models for his Great Streets initiative.

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One of the major goals for Mayor Eric Garcetti is something he calls "Great Streets" — a project with the Department of Transportation to create more pedestrian-friendly streets.

The plan would create avenues closed off to cars, for example, allowing for cafes, boutiques and more foot traffic.

New York made similar moves with areas in Times Square.

Former New York City Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan helped New York out with that and now she is consulting with L.A.

Ben Bergman spoke with her earlier in the week at the Atlantic CityLab conference and asked her how her experience in New York might translate to the streets of L.A.


How does your New York experience translate to Los Angeles?

Like New York, cities face a lot of the same challenges: population growth, climate change, pollution, sustainability and figuring out ways to leverage the advantages these cities have is a key strategy for ensuring their economic success. So I think LA is looking to find different ways to get people around. It's difficult to build your way out of congestion; only so many lanes you can build on the 405. So I think it's a really smart strategy investing in transit; the subway system, the light rail system and exploring a bike share system. These are smart strategies for cities like LA that are looking to grow in sustainable ways, economically competitive ways and ways that are convenient and affordable for Angelenos.

But L.A. is so spread out and has such a car culture compared to New York.

It's true, it's a very different footprint. But I think you take a look at the backbone you can build in a city like LA. You can actually set up a strong transit infrastructure that can get you most of the way you need to go and then looking at building out attractive and convenient first mile, last mile options, so there is a system at the end that can get you to those place you want to go in a flexible way.

I think the sharing economy is going to be very interesting. I think there are going to be new options with your iPhone to get yourself a car, bike, bus to where you need to conveniently and when you need to get there.

Do you see the CityBike program being replicated in other cities?

You're seeing that already. There is an exponential explosion in cities that are implementing a bike share program. It’s becoming the mark of world-class cities, so I see it coming to LA definitely. In New York it was the first new transportation system in 60 years and was no-cost to tax payers because we had sponsors who paid for the system. I think in an era of shrinking federal and state resources cities are going to have to look for alternative ways to get their transportation funded. So I think this is one new avenue to explore when cities are looking to expand transportation options in an era of constrained resources.

You were able to transform Times Square famously with, as you just said, a little bit of paint. What do you think can be done to create more public space in LA?

I think it’s a great strategy to use paint to transform spaces because it's about reclaiming spaces and changing the use of the space is key and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time and money. In New York we reclaimed 180 acres of former roadway space and transformed it into space for people on foot, bike, for people to enjoy the city.

You look on the streets of Los Angeles and you can paint the city you want to see. I think there's tremendous opportunities all over the city to reclaim former roadway space and transform it into new public space for Angelenos to use.

It's a really key quality of life strategy and economic development strategy as well.