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Broadway Planners Want Community's Input Into Design and Street Life

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009, at 12:03AM
Melendrez Conceptual Broadway Render Meléndrez

A conceptual sketch by Meléndrez shows Broadway sidewalks remade with colorful paving, plantings and sidewalk dining.

Imagine you are designing a street: You need to make it work for pedestrians, cars, buses and even a streetcar. How would you do it? What would it look like?

Those are the questions the community will get to provide their input on next Tuesday at the "Broadway Walk," an event put on by the Bringing Back Broadway project and landscape architecture firm Meléndrez.

The results of the day will help inform the Broadway Streetscape Plan, a document Meléndrez has been contracted to produce. The plan will guide changes made to Broadway in upcoming years.

To get some more input into what the firm will be studying, I sent some questions over to Melani Smith, a partner with Meléndrez.

ERIC RICHARDSON: The term "streetscape" is one that most people outside planning circles aren't familiar with. How would you define the term and the scope of what Meléndrez has been hired to do?

MELANI SMITH: In Allan Jacobs’ introduction to his landmark book “Great Streets” he says, “Some streets are better than others: to be on, to do what you came to do.” Jacobs simply states that the role of designers should be to “…help make future great streets – streets where people will want to be.”

Meléndrez has been hired by the CRA/LA to plan improvements to the physical fabric of Broadway, or the streetscape– what all of us see when we look down the street.

This “public realm”, which we will be working on, includes: the number and organization of lanes in the street itself; locations for automobile parking; lanes in which transit systems run and locations where they stop to pick people up; the sidewalks (their widths, and what they are paved with); the crosswalks (how they are paved, how wide they are, how the signals assist both pedestrians and automobiles); planting; lighting; street furniture; bicycle racks or bicycle shelters; and newspaper stands.

Some of these things have humbly been called “city comforts” but they are also elements which, when planned and coordinated, will ideally add up to a whole street that is greater than the sum of its parts. We also are looking forward to investigating a range of potential concepts for greening Broadway, by using energy efficient lighting, or stormwater management (green streets) techniques.

Working with both the public at large and those with technical knowledge of Broadway, Meléndrez will develop a Streetscape Master Plan focused both on elements that might be installed over time in the future, as well as some to be installed immediately in order to improve the pedestrian friendliness and walkability, or “comfort” of the street, and its attractiveness as a destination. The suggestions and opinions we hear from everyone involved will contribute to the plan we will generate as part of the process.

The big idea is that the streetscape improvements included in this Streetscape Plan will support the other focus areas of the overall Bringing Back Broadway effort: revitalization of the theater district, spurring economic development, reusing and celebrating existing buildings and historic assets, all within an active and lively street scene.

ER: Your work is going to have to interface with quite a few other projects that will help shape the street. How important is it to coordinate with efforts like the streetcar, the design overlay planning and the upper floors working group?

MS: We think it is critical for our work to be coordinated with all of the Bringing Back Broadway initiatives, not least of which is, the streetcar project. For that reason, IBI Group, the firm responsible for the streetcar feasibility study work to date, is a part of our team for the streetscape plan.

We will be looking at the traffic impacts of potentially reconfiguring the street to again accommodate a streetcar, as well as ensuring that the street design addresses safety and comfort for pedestrians, and good access to wayfinding and transit information, as well as the flow of automobiles and transit vehicles. We will also pay particular attention to the transit station areas on the street, and ensure that we maximize the opportunities for placemaking and interaction in these locations.

Further, we understand that everything we do must support the economic revitalization of Broadway, enhance its character and image, and be a source of pride for the businesses, property owners and residents here. So our signage, wayfinding and identity consultant, Selbert Perkins Design, is keenly interested in exploring the historic elements of the street that have contributed to its glamour and appeal over time, and ways in which to reestablish a strong image and identity for the street going forward.

ER: In your initial renderings, you show a street with accommodations for many modes of transportation -- pedestrians, cyclists, autos and the streetcar. What are the challenges of dealing with that many different types of user?

MS: We feel that accommodating mobility options isn’t necessarily a challenge, but rather an opportunity. Streetcar projects, for example are proven economic development catalysts in other communities, such as Portland – so it is exciting to think about that opportunity here in our own downtown.

Transportation choices bring people into the public realm and contribute to an atmosphere within which street life thrives. For ages, concerns over traffic flow and automobile-centered models of transportation have dominated the physical design of the public realm all over the country, but especially in Los Angeles.

Is it challenging to figure out where and how bike lanes might fit in with cars and streetcars, and at the same time ways to shorten crosswalks to make it easier for pedestrians to cross? Sure, but we see this as the opportunity to creatively use space and balance different users needs.

Streets rich in mobility options can have smoother flowing traffic, by reducing pedestrian-cyclist-transit-automobile conflicts, and in the end be better places for all users.

ER: What sort of feedback do you hope to get from the Broadway Walk?

MS: On Tuesday February 17th we are looking forward to hearing and capturing the community’s thoughts and ideas about a vision for Broadway, what you value about the street and its character now, and what you think should be changed or added.

To get your ideas flowing, we will show you what other cities have been doing to improve their streetscapes, from streets that are historic in character, to streets with streetcar systems, to those with sustainable design elements.

Then we will send you out for a self-guided walking tour, directing you to several stops along the length of Broadway from 2nd to Olympic where you will interact with our team and assess the existing conditions of the streetscape and various physical design issues facing Broadway and offer your ideas.

ER: Meléndrez does projects all over Southern California (and elsewhere). Is it particularly fun to work on a project that will go just a couple blocks from the office?

MS: We were all really excited to be selected from a list of so many talented consultants to work on the Broadway Streetscape. Meléndrez is a downtown firm. We have been located in the Oviatt Building for many years. We are excited about the opportunity to influence positive transformation in our community right down the street, and hopefully to spearhead a unique and fast-paced design effort that will result in near term improvements to downtown Los Angeles.

We have a stake in the success of this project, just like others in the wide array of Broadway stakeholders. Frankly, it’s a great honor and responsibility to be working on this, and we are very much looking forward to creating a Plan that is responsive to, and colored by, the wisdom, expertise, creativity and enthusiasm of the Downtown community.

The Broadway Walk takes place on Tuesday, February 17, and runs from 4 - 7pm. It's an open house format: attendees can come any time in that window. Start at the Chapman Building (756 S. Broadway) and you'll get further instructions there. Organizers recommend planning to spend an hour to walk both sides of Broadway between 2nd and Olympic.


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