West Hollywood residents like the concept of enhancing the pedestrian experience along Sunset Boulevard, but have mixed feelings about the three pilot projects currently being tested on the Strip. That was the message that came out of a neighborhood meeting with about 25 people in attendance, held Thursday night at the London hotel.
Of the three pilot projects, the most unpopular is the “intersection treatments” where paint and bollards extending the sidewalk into the street at key intersections. Resident Lorrie Marlow who lives on Larrabee Street, is a walking enthusiast, but felt it was a “bad idea to lure people off the curb into the street” with the red-painted sidewalk bulb-outs, pointing out pedestrians can easily by hit by distracted drivers.
Another resident complained that traffic is backing up on eastbound Holloway near Sunset thanks to the red paint and bollards eliminating room for people to easily make a right turn onto Palm Avenue.
Yet another resident, a bicycle enthusiast living on Larrabee, griped about the sidewalk extensions eating into areas near the sidewalk where bicyclists traditionally ride. “As a bicyclist, you’re taking my space away from me by those things,” he said.
GThe second pilot project, the “parklet” taking up two street parking spaces in front of the Book Soup bookstore, got mixed reviews with several people liking it. The Book Soup manager, Nadine Vassallo, reported her customers had generally positive things to say about the parklet. She also noted store sales have been increasing each month since the parklet was installed in December, but admitted she had no firm evidence the two are connected.
However, one person suggested the parklet seemed “dark,” “harsh” and “solitary.” Another suggested it needed tables and chairs to make it seem more inviting as a place to sit and relax. Someone else noted the wood walls surrounding the parklet extend too far onto the sidewalk, creating a bottle neck area on the sidewalk.
Attendees had little to say about the third pilot project, the “connective sidewalk trail” featuring light poles wrapped in bright colors with directions to nearby restaurants and clubs along with historic facts about the Strip. One person observed that the posters with that information don’t really stand out.
These three pilot projects were the idea of Gehl Studio, a Copenhagen-based urban design consulting firm that also originated the idea of transforming New York’s Times Square into a pedestrian area.
Urban designer Blaine Merker, the managing director of Gehl Studio’s San Francisco office, explained a study found that only 20% to 30% of the people on the Strip cross the street to the other side. The pilot projects are, among other things, experiments to see if they can increase that number. Merker explained the red bulb-outs were created to make the length of crosswalk seem shorter.
However, several people questioned Merker’s rationale for the pilots.
“This seems like a solution in search of a problem,” a Horn Avenue resident commented about the pilots, feeling none of the three especially encouraged more walking since there is so little to do on the Strip these days. “There’s almost no there there.”
Other attendees echoed that idea of there being little reason to walk along Sunset since there is so little to do. Several attendees bemoaned that despite its long association with the music industry, the Strip’s current music scene is nothing like its 1980s heyday.
One man noted the Sunset Plaza area with its shops and restaurants is now the famous street’s main attraction and noted the western end of Sunset (toward Beverly Hills) seemed especially dead at night.
As for other ideas, one resident suggested a coffee cart and other street vendors might be helpful. Others liked the idea of more mid-block crosswalks with flashing lights installed in the pavement to warn drivers when pedestrians were crossing.
Still another resident suggested the solution was to “bring back [street] cruising,” the idea of cars riding up and down the Strip over and over on busy weekend nights. Cruising was a big part of the Strip’s nightlife scene in the 1980s and 1990s, but contributed greatly to gridlock and was eventually banned by the city.
Meanwhile, the West Hollywood Heights Neighborhood Association conducted its own survey about the pilot projects. Among the results, some 63% of respondents the pilots should NOT become permanent fixture on the Strip. The pilot projects are currently scheduled to be removed in June.
The city is conducting an online survey about the walkability of the Strip and the three pilot projects. Visit https://www.weho.org/city-government/city-departments/planning-and-development-services/long-range-and-mobility-planning/ongoing-plans-studies/sunset-streetscape-pilot-projects to fill out the survey.