The demise of the Sunset Strip, or at least the Sunset Strip as what it used to be, has been a subject of discussion for the past decade. There was the collapse of the Sunset Strip Music Festival, an event that featured a lot of aging musicians playing rock music in an era where Millennials were more focused on EDM. BusinessWeek published a story in January saying “for decades, the Sunset Strip was known for its rock clubs and celebrity hot spots. Now, the once-gritty stretch of boulevard is becoming better known for its luxury hotels.”
How to revitalize that famous 1.6 mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard? The answer to that isn’t yet clear. But a study commissioned by the City of West Hollywood reveals some of the challenges the Strip faces and suggests some possible solutions.
The study was conducted by Gehl Studio and is part of a presentation titled: “The Sunset Experience, Piloting Change on the Sunset Strip Toward Public Life Improvement.” The presentation is a study of the impact of recent efforts to make the Sunset Strip more accessible to the public, with a major focus on walkability. As part of it, Gehl conducted a “Public Space Public Life” survey that reports the following:
— A lot of people visit, but few walk on the Sunset Strip. The survey showed an average of 88 pedestrians per hour between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays and 99 per hour during that period on weekends. The highest average count was on the sidewalks at Sunset Plaza, where there was an average of 173 pedestrians an hour during the week and 350 on the weekend. Cars? An average of 2,144 per hour, calculated over a period of 24 hours. By contrast, there are more than twice as many people walking on Santa Monica Boulevard, and only slight more cars (an average of 2,224 an hour).
— Few of those walking along the Sunset Strip cross the street. The survey shows that only one in three pedestrians do so, indicating that they may not feel safe doing that.
— There are few people sitting outside on the Sunset Strip. The survey found an average of 27 people per hour sitting outside along the entire 1.6-mile stretch, with a fourth of them on Sunset Plaza. “This could indicate a need for more invitations for public life on the Sunset Strip,” the Gehl report says. Of those sitting or standing outside, 60% were dining at restaurants, waiting for tables or waiting for valets to bring their cars. Only 2.5% were just relaxing in a non-commercial space.
— The Sunset Strip’s sidewalks don’t support those who are standing outside to wait for admission to restaurants, bars or nightclubs. “During venue opening hours, 60% of all stationery activity was people standing, with more than 50% of that being those waiting in lines on the sidewalk.”
— Local residents come to the Sunset Strip often, but they wish there were more neighborhood amenities. Gehl says that 40% of those local residents who were interviewed said they come to the Sunset Strip daily on foot. However, they wished there were more ameinties such as grocery stores, dog parks, movie theatres a post office, sidewalk seating and shade and affordable retail stores and housing.
— Few people working on the Sunset Strip stay for other reasons, despite travelling far to get there. Roughly 7,000 people work in 700 businesses located on the Sunset Strip, the Gehl study says Those workers wish there were more affordable places to eat and live nearby, less traffic and safer street crossings and better public transportation and parking for those who commute to work.
— Visitor and tourists come for events, food and drinks, but wish there were more diverse offerings. The study notes that there are more than 45 bars, restaurants, hotels and other venues for tourists and that the average yearly room occupancy rate for the hotels on the Strip is 82%. But visitors and tourist would like to see better public transit, less traffic and more parking, more outdoor social space, seating areas and activities and more shopping, cafes and restaurants.
The Gehl study also assessed the public’s reaction to the installation of a “parklet” in front of the Book Soup shop on Sunset Boulevard, the creation of a “sidewalk trail” from Marmont Lane to Doheny Drive that includes sidewalk posters calling out the history of the Sunset Strip and 21 additional sidewalk seats and the addition of “bulb outs,” which are curb extensions that allow pedestrians to better view the traffic as they are trying to cross the street and that slow that traffic.
The Gehl report says that 80% of those surveyed found the parklet a “satisfactory experience” and said they would like to see more of that on the Sunset Strip. A report from the city’s Planning and Development Services Department says that “thus far, the parklet has been used for major book signings, a community engagement pop-up by the city, and used on a daily basis as a place to have lunch, read a book or magazine, or to hold informal meetings by nearby office workers.”
Three-quarters of those surveyed liked the historical posters on the sidewalk trail and 57% liked the improving walking environment. Respondents also asked for more public seating, more street trees and shade, wide sidewalks and preservation of cultural landmarks.
There has been significant community opposition to the bulb outs, which some argue get in the way of vehicles. As a result, the city’s Planning and Development Services Department is proposing to remove the temporary bulb out installations on Sunset at Horn, at Larrabee, on the southeast corner of San Vicente and on the south side of the Sunset/Sherbourne intersection.
The city will make permanent the intersection treatments at the southwest corner intersection of Sunset, Holloway and Palm, the northeast and southeast intersections of Holloway and Palm (across from Dialog Café and State Social House), the northwest corner of Sunset and Clark Street (near Whiskey A Go Go), the traffic island at the eastern crosswalk of Sunset and Horn and the northeast corner of Sunset and Sherbourne Drive. It will put white stripes and in-ground reflective markers at those locations.
The city proposes to keep the parklet in front of Book Soup in place for six months while responsibility for maintenance of it transfers to Book Soup.
A report on the survey to the City Council notes the opposition the Sunset Strip projects have faced from residents of the West Hollywood Heights neighborhood. In an email message to City Hall staff, Elyse Eisenberg, chair of the West Hollywood Heights Neighborhood Association, said its members believe “the city has wasted money on a poorly executed solution to a non-existent problem, i.e. Walkability on Sunset.
“It should be noted this is not Hollywood Blvd with throngs of tourists. There are no activities on Sunset for tourists, especially in this area. There is virtually nothing left of “historic” WeHo, thanks to the rapid development of hotel row. Spago’s is long gone. Tower Records no longer exists. Is Aahs a destination store? No, and it has a parking lot in back. The cigar and liquor stores and tattoo parlors? Is that who we’re doing this for? For the one destination retail outlet – Book Soup, a couple of parking spots are now gone. There is no other non-local retail nearby other than Sunset Plaza, which is not affected by this project.”