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Broadway to lose a lane to boost downtown LA foot traffic

Los Angeles’s Broadway is getting a facelift. The L.A. Department of Transportation is working this week removing a southbound vehicle lane in favor of more sidewalk in a bid to increase foot traffic on Broadway.

It’s the first phase in what City Councilman José Huizar is calling the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan, resurfacing the iconic street known for its vintage architecture and historic theaters.

Phase 1: A slimmed-down dress rehearsal for Broadway

Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the entity working on implementing phase one of the plan, is scheduled to close Broadway's two center lanes in sections from Second Street to Olympic Boulevard until Feb. 11. 

Once that is complete, crews will work on one side of Broadway for a few days until switching over to the other. If all goes as planned, the far western lane heading southbound will be completely out of commission for commuters starting March 24. 

LADOT says it doesn't have a breakdown of exactly where and when the work will take place on the street, as crews will be moving up and down Broadway "as needed," says Bruce Gillman, communications director with the department.

The street will be resurfaced and re-striped. One southbound lane will be blocked by traffic posts and large planters to dedicate more space to pedestrians. This will give sidewalks on the west side of Broadway an additional 16 feet of space. The east side of the street will gain about 8 additional feet, says Huizar senior advisor Rick Coca. 

Currently, Broadway has five lanes. Three heading northbound and two heading southbound. Through the streetscape plan, both sides on Broadway will get a curb extension and space for 24-hour parking. In place of the southbound lane will be a seating area. One northbound lane will be reconfigured to accommodate a proposed streetcar.

From Broadway Streetscape Master Plan

The initial "dress rehearsal" phase of the project — to which $1.5 million has been dedicated by the Los Angeles City Council — will be a semi-permanent slimming down of the major thoroughfare. Coca called the step to take away a vehicle lane a primarily "psychological move." It will also allow the city and businesses to assess the impact to traffic.

Phase two will include pouring concrete to permanently widen the sidewalks, Coca says. But that will only come when the budget allows. A current fee on new development on Broadway will go toward that effort, he said. 

"Pouring concrete is pretty expensive in the city of L.A.," said Coca. "And we've worked it into agreements with anybody who does any new construction on Broadway, or redevelopment—  they're paying into a fee" that will go towards the next, permanent phase of the project.

Streetscaping part of a broader Broadway revitalization attempt

The work is part of Huizar's larger "Bringing Back Broadway" effort, which  includes an effort to fill an estimated million square feet of empty commercial space in the area and of installing a streetcar, though that effort has hit some speed bumps.

In late January, theaters  along Broadway opened their doors and allowed hundreds of people to see inside the area's beautifully ornate, but mostly empty, movie spaces.

"Broadway is a pretty interesting street in that it was once the entertainment and retail capital of Los Angeles," said Coca. "Back in its heyday when Los Angeles was really thriving, Broadway was the jewel of that recognition."

Today, many of Broadway's businesses are vacant or rundown. Letters on grand signage are missing or broken. Transients can be found sleeping on the street in broad daylight.

But, at one end of Broadway — near Olympic — that former grandeur is beginning to return, with major new retailers now open, including the new Ace Hotel and Urban Outfitters. Several more are on their way. But further down the boulevard, closer to 4rd Street, a number of storefronts have recently emptied and remain vacant. 

"For the years that we’ve been here, we’ve never seen so many establishments empty on Broadway," said Sonia Nolasco, who helps manage Casa India on Broadway near 4th Street. "I don’t know what they’re trying to do over here, but I hope it’s for good."

Nolasco’s brother, Juan Carlos, adds that the project doesn't necessarily benefit all businesses along the street.

"[Casa India] has more than 50 years established. They're going to affect us. They didn't come to talk to us and see how we felt or how the business is going to be affected. I don’t think it’s fair that they’re only fixing that side of the block," Juan Carlos Nolasco said, referring to the west side of Broadway where Grand Central Market is located. "It’s going to affect this side because people are only going to walk on that side. This business is going to keep going down."

Individuals who have specific questions about the daily work schedule can call LADOT's streetscape project hotline: 213-972-8628.

Work for phase one is expected to finish July 4.