Every summer they try something new to control the weekend crowds in Westwood Village.
But on warm nights, it still happens. The movie lines and the rest of the human wave on the sidewalks spill into the streets, which are already jammed with cruising students. The result is often one giant gridlock, or close to it.
To the list of tactics already tried--free shuttle buses, thinning the ranks of street vendors, adding equestrian police units and closing streets--the city plans to add a new twist.
Starting June 27, police will close the entire center of the shopping-and-movie district to all traffic from 7:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Police will be authorized to extend the closure to Sundays if they decide it is warranted.
About 550 precious parking spaces in the inner village will be lost. But the plan's architect, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, said Thursday that plenty of parking spots will be available on the perimeter of the village and at the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard, which is served by a free weekend shuttle bus to the village.
Most of the residential streets in the area are already marked off-limits to parking by non-residents. "My recommendation is don't look for a parking space in the village," Yaroslavsky said.
The idea, he said, is to curtail the traffic jams created by young cruisers from the suburbs and also to make the village a more pleasant place for pedestrians. The success of the shopping and eating district on Melrose Avenue, which is also busy with walkers on weekends, shows that people are willing to leave their cars if the ambiance is right, Yaroslavsky said.
"The problem in Westwood is people want to park right outside their movie theater--it's a Los Angeles disease," Yaroslavsky said. "Basically, people who frequent the village are going to have to change their habits."
The weekend traffic ban, which was authorized Wednesday by the City Council, will be tried through the summer and may continue if the experiment is judged a success, Yaroslavsky said.
The idea of transforming Westwood Village into a large outdoor refuge for pedestrians has been buried in numerous planning studies for the last two decades. In fact, on Thursday, yet another report, this one commissioned by the city, again suggested that officials consider closing Westwood Village to weekend-night traffic permanently.
Such plans have always faced the obstacle of the area's split personality. It's as if there are two Westwood Villages--a quiet, upscale shopping and office district that depends on easy access for commuters by day, and a trendy, congested hangout at night.
No doubt the change will lead to chaos the first weekend, maybe longer, and Yaroslavsky said fewer people may decide to visit Westwood on weekends as a result.
But those who make their livelihood in the village said Thursday that they are willing to give the latest tactic a try.
"We have some trepidation," said Scott Regberg, executive director of the Westwood Village Merchants Assn., which represents 150 of the area's theaters and stores. "But as an experiment, it's welcomed to see what the result will be."