LA’s permanent slow streets
In April of 2020, in the full swing of the pandemic, Streets For All started advocating for more streets to be pedestrianized and made for biking, to give people more space to recreate during COVID-19. At only 4.5' feet wide on average, LA’s sidewalks weren’t wide enough to maintain social distancing and handle the increased foot traffic. While our initial idea was to make room on commercial streets, we soon adapted this concept to residential streets, and setup a dedicated page to help people request slow streets in their own neighborhoods. We also took our cause to many neighborhood councils, and encouraged them to pass letters requesting the same. After some starts and stops, and thanks to a push by former CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin, LA’s slow streets program was born and started being implemented.
At its peak, the program had over 50 miles of slow streets in 30 neighborhoods; we incorporated as many of them as we could in this Google Map.
In June of 2020, less than three months after the program began, a motion was introduced at City Council calling for slow streets to be made permanent — they had proven to be one of the most popular programs LADOT had ever done.
In October of 2020, the city started watering down the program, which prompted a letter from multiple slow street sponsors asking the city to reverse course.
In early 2021, LADOT started suggesting some permanent slow street treatment to sponsors — most of which was signage on the side of the road that drivers would ignore, defeating the purpose of slow streets. Multiple slow street sponsors sent another letter to LADOT, asking that they implement things like neighborhood traffic circles, chicanes, and put permanent signage in the middle of the street. To LADOT’s credit, they listened, and incorporated all three of these suggestions in the final toolbox.
Late in 2021, LADOT finally started sending suggested, specific plans to sponsors. The initial drafts were very poor — mostly signage on the sidewalk that would be ignored by drivers, with “gateway signage” treatment (signage in the middle of the street) in only two places, at beginning and end of the network.
In Mid City West, where I chair the Transportation & Sustainability Committee, we gave LADOT extensive comments on their initial proposal, and proposed things we felt would actually accomplish the mission of slow streets, which is to slow down cars, discourage cut-through traffic, and enable safe recreation and active transportation along the network.
LADOT’s next proposal for Mid City West eliminated all the signage, and incorporated nearly all of what we had suggested, except for the center line gateway signage (signs in the middle of the street at intersections). Again, I want to give LADOT credit for listening and responding.
While the February 2022 version was a big improvement, the gaps between the traffic circles were too large, and now there was zero signage on long stretches identifying the street as a slow street, and telling drivers the speed limit was 15mph.
After some additional feedback, LADOT agreed in March of 2022 to incorporate additional “gateway treatment” (signs in the middle of the street), add some signage back, and add chicanes on longer blocks (mid block treatments that slow cars down). The neighborhood council was excited about this version, and signed off on it.
We didn’t hear anything for about a year. In January of 2023 I heard that LADOT was having to cut many traffic circles from other networks, as they re-measured and realized certain trucks wouldn’t be able to get through. In late January 2023 they proposed a modified version of the network, which nix’d many traffic circles, but added in speed humps. After tweaking a few things, we had finally arrived at our final slow street network:
While I’m happy with the final version for Mid City West, it shouldn’t take such a hard push to get LADOT to propose treatments that actually will slow cars down and discourage cut through traffic on residential streets. The department still seems gun shy about proposing things that might inconvenience motorists, even if it’s to accomplish a specific goal on specific streets. I also don’t think it’s fair to communities that may not have the know how to push back and get a better result.
In talking with other slow street sponsors, it’s clear that they had a similar experience (and not all had the time/space/energy/know how to push back):
So is the permanent slow streets program a success? It depends on which neighborhood you’re in. For the neighborhoods like Koreatown, I would argue their network is not that useful. I’ve biked it many times and I barely notice the mostly sidewalk signage on my bike, let alone someone driving in a car. Other treatments, like Valley Village, PICO, and Mid City West I think do make a meaningful difference in slowing down drivers and discouraging cut-through traffic. I do wish it had been easier (and quicker) to implement such inexpensive, “quick build” treatments, and that LADOT had come to the table with already well thought out, effective designs, instead of only improving based on push back.
Here’s what would make the permanent slow street program even better (although this is unlikely to happen, as LADOT has already said they want discontinue the slow streets program and “incorporate best practices” into their existing programs):
1. Start connecting slow street networks to each other, forming the backbone of what can become part of the mobility plan’s Neighborhood Enhanced Network. This gives people on foot and on bikes a safe, connected way to get around town on residential streets.
2. Expand the slow streets program into all communities that want them. I believe at least 100+ communities have requested slow streets that have yet to receive them. I don’t find it equitable that only the communities that were able to get their shit together quickly before the window closed will have slow streets, and the rest will never have them. There’s a long waiting list.
3. Start using even better, more permanent treatment over time. Planters instead of plastic bollards. Add diverters. Build concrete curb extensions. Allow communities to beautify the streets according to their local character. There’s so much more potential than the quick build stuff we’ve done so far.
4. Brag! The slow streets program is one of the most popular LADOT has ever done, yet there has been scant press, statements, and social media about it. Make a video like this one showing Angelenos enjoying their slow streets, which will only endear the public more the program, and rally more support for future funding and expansion.
5. Staff the slow streets program in a serious way and ask for budget from City Council. Advocates would rally behind the request. Slow streets are one of the best things to happen in LA in a long time, and we shouldn’t just let this very popular program get “incorporated” into the many other programs at LADOT.