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Emerging Street Life of So Cal's San Fernando Valley Threatened

L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne reports on the changing nature of Lankershim Blvd., which appears to be at a crossroads between integrating transit into a multi-modal future or turning to outdated planning strategies.
January 6, 2013, 5am PST | Erica Gutiérrez
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The most vital north-south corridor in the San Fernando Valley “is emphatically on the rise” reports Hawthorne. In the latest entry in his excellent series on L.A.'s boulevards, he looks at how Lankershim Boulevard illustrates how the "hierarchy of Southern California boulevards is being reshuffled by the growth of the region's bus and rail network."

Lankershim Blvd.'s southern end, which is connected to the region's history and wealth, has benefited immensely from the arrival of the Red (subway) and Orange (rapid-bus) lines, with new pedestrian, cultural and economic activity resulting from the investment in infrastructure and redevelopment.

Now, this fledgling pedestrian and commercial activity is being threatened by “plans to build both a $22-million pedestrian tunnel to connect the Red and Orange lines in North Hollywood and a $20-million footbridge over Lankershim at the Universal City subway stop," which though reasonable enough on the surface given pedestrian safety concerns, may have an ulterior motive, he suggests. “What's driving the proposals to remove pedestrians from the boulevard is not just a concern for their safety. It's also a fear of traffic congestion along Lankershim, a worry that all those people on foot are proving an impediment to the free movement of cars.”

Hawthorne asserts that there are far simpler and cheaper solutions to the proposed plans, including: "[widening] the crosswalks, [giving] people more time to get from one side to the other, and [ticketing] drivers who fail to yield.” He also cites studies which show that drivers become more cautious as “more kinds of users crowd together along a boulevard”.

Though Hawthorne concedes that the firm behind the pedestrian bridge plan, Rios Clementi Hale, has “challenged head-on the primacy of the car in Los Angeles and opened up new space for those on foot” in other projects, he calls out the inconsistency of their approach in the Valley, which on the contrary, seems intent on “[mounting] an old-fashioned defense of car culture” “along a boulevard that is otherwise showing the dramatic benefits of an expanding transit network for sidewalk activity and economic development”.

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Published on Saturday, December 22, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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