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Second Street Widening Discussion Gears for Round Two

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008, at 03:05PM
Second Street Sidewalk Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Widening would remove this landscaped parkway and row of trees along Second street.

Update (Friday): The DLANC meeting on the widening is scheduled for Monday evening at Vibiana.

When removal signs showed up in June of 2006 on the line of trees separating Second street from the Caltrans building sidewalk, a flurry of messages on the newdowntown mailing list expressed disapproval of the city's plans. The discussion was capped by James Rojas' well-written appeal to keep the trees, which we posted on blogdowntown. The work was to be done as part of the Police Headquarters project, and included a 5-foot widening of Second between Spring and Los Angeles. In the following weeks DLANC's Planning Committee held a presentation on the subject, and the neighborhood council ended up passing a motion against the widening.

In spite of this, the widening got written into the project, was bid on and construction is scheduled to occur in February. The community gets one last chance to make its voice heard, as the Bureau of Engineering has asked DLANC to make a presentation before work commences.

So why should Downtowners care about this widening even if they don't live in the Higgins building?

Second Street Extension Construction to connect Second street to Grand Avenue will soon commence. This first phase of the project opened a tree-lined sidewalk to a stairway for the Colburn School.

Second street has a bit of an identity crisis. On the one hand, it's often touted as Downtown's east-west pedestrian linkage, connecting Bunker Hill to the Historic Core and on to Little Tokyo. Some planning efforts reflect this focus. The new Colburn School addition includes a wide sidewalk on Second and stairs that access the interior plaza and Cafe. The new LAPD HQ will place its park space on Second and will include an 18-foot sidewalk with bicyle racks, benches and landscaping.

Next door at Caltrans, the current sidewalk runs from 17 to 25-feet wide, and features a double row of trees just now starting to mature and offer shade to pedestrians. Though the building itself offers the street only a blank concrete wall with some ivy, city officials and private developers have in the past worked together to conceive pedestrian uses for the space, including vending carts and dining space.

Yet despite its pedestrian qualities, Second also tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to planning. The Grand Avenue Project's interface with the corner of 2nd and Olive is a sore point with the community and with lead architect Frank Gehry, who campaigned to add a stairway into the project from that corner.

Now, widening for the LAPD HQ would take away five feet of that Caltrans sidewalk, with it removing one row of trees and much of the span's shade. In return, Second would get a left hand turn lane onto Los Angeles. The block from Spring to Main would similarly get five feet wider, adding a left-turn lane from eastbound Second onto Main and a shorter one from westbound Second onto Spring.

In the time since the project was approved much has changed. New Urban Design Guidelines have been put forth by Planning, and Councilwoman Jan Perry has been successful in preventing street widening around the South Group's projects. It's time for Downtown to rally around its pedestrian identity and make clear to Councilwoman Perry and to the city that this sort of senseless destruction of sidewalk should not take place.

We will be forwarding comments from this story on to Councilwoman Perry's office and to the Bureau of Engineering's project manager for the LAPD HQ construction. Both have expressed a willingness to listen to what Downtown has to say. Additionally, there will hopefully be a presentation to DLANC, though an exact date for that has not been set.

James Rojas' 2006 letter still offers the best summation of why the prevention of this widening should be important to though who live Downtown.

The nexus between walking and land use is in the fine-grained urban design details of the built environment. Most of LA's downtown streets lack wide sidewalks, shade and landscaping that this section of 2nd Street has to offer. No matter how inconsequential the 8 street trees and landscape parkway seems, they are part of wider attempt to make LA pedestrian friendly and livable. Open space begins with our streets and sidewalks. We need to preserve this section of 2nd street to use as model for pedestrian friendly street design!


Second Street Sidewalk

This parkway and line of trees would be removed as part of the 5-foot widening of Second street.

Second street

This shot taken by Ed Fuentes in 2006 shows how much the trees have matured to offer shade in the past year and a half.

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