It may have taken 10 years from the awarding of the grant to the ribbon-cutting this past August, but the MyFigueroa project is finally in operation. The aim of the project, as has long been trumpeted, is to make the Figueroa Corridor, from Seventh Street to Wilshire, between downtown and Exposition Park, into a safe, “multimodal” street for pedestrians, bicycle riders, transit users and drivers.

“It provides a better balance of amenities for all the users, whether on foot, on bike, using transit, as well as driving,” says Oliver Hou, transportation engineering associate with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “The goal was to connect a really long corridor that's full of amenities — you have museums, you have a big university, USC, you have a sports and entertainment district, a financial district downtown — and it really connects all of it together.”

In addition, there's a spur along 11th Street that saw a lot of streetscape improvements including widened sidewalks, new landscaping, pedestrian light upgrades, wayfinding signs and some new furniture to make it a better pedestrian environment.

The most obvious and impactful feature of the project is the protected bicycle lanes, which have been done elsewhere — there is precedent — but this is the first time in Los Angeles for such a long corridor.

“The project was initially conceived in 2008, 10 years ago,” Hou says. “Under the Community Redevelopment Agency, in conjunction with the Figueroa Corridor BID [Business Improvement District]. The firm Deborah Murphy Urban Planning + Design worked to secure a grant from the state of California.”

As is the norm, the project hasn't been without its opponents. But for the most part, local businesses and residents simply wanted to have their voices heard.

“Obviously, with something that's going to change the way the street works, there may have been some businesses along the corridor who just wanted input, to be part of the conversation,” Hou says. “So that was really important, during this whole process, to involve the businesses in discussing what the outcome is going to be, particularly what it will look like right in front of them.”

Credit: Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Transport

Credit: Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Transport

The original Proposition 1C grant was for $30 million, of which $21 million went to the streetscape project. The remainder funded new parks along the corridor.

Ana Lasso, general manager of Exposition Park, says they have already been seeing the benefits.

“The safety of guests in and around the park is our highest priority,” Lasso said in an emailed statement. “The changes on Figueroa Street have brought about enhancements for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, many of whom visit the park. Our focus now is balancing support for these improvements while still maintaining our operational growth and success.”

Hou also believes that the benefits have been immediately obvious, with a lot more people using bicycles to travel along the corridor.

“That's expected — you have a big university there and a lot of students using the bicycle lanes,” he says. “They've been telling us that, for some of them, they wouldn't have used that street before to commute and they definitely feel safer when they are in the protected bike lane.”

Any complaints, Hou says, have been to do with people getting used to the new infrastructure and design in areas that previously didn't have physical barriers to protect the bike lane.

“Some people originally thought that it was still like a parking lane,” Hou says. “They were parking inside the bike lane. That was really the main issue that we had to deal with. But through changing the design a little bit, putting up better signage and also more vertical protection, along with added enforcement, that's really helped to address and alleviate that.”

Hou believes that, overall, the project has been a success, and there don't seem to be many dissenting views in the neighborhood. He thinks much of that is down to the fact that the community was involved throughout.

“It's important to emphasize that it involved the community's input,” Hou says. “So it's something that wasn't 100 percent organic but feels like it's something that people who live and work along the corridor were able to be a part of.”

LA Weekly