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They're Walkin' : Some Downtowners Like the Futuristic Passageways but Disillusioned Urban Planners Say L.A. May Get No More

August 07, 1989|MYRNA OLIVER | Times Staff Writer

Legal secretary Annie Yakutis traverses at least three pedestrian walkways each morning as she rushes five blocks from where she parks her car at 2nd and Figueroa streets to the law office where she works atop Bunker Hill.

"The pedways are sort of futuristic," said Yakutis, making the turn with two colleagues between pedways crossing Figueroa and 3rd streets. "It brings a 'Blade Runner' aspect to our daily lives. There is a science fiction element to it."

The relatively few pedestrians who have discovered and use downtown Los Angeles' system of 10 elevated public pedways and or concrete foot bridges--scurrying from residence or garages to office, or from office to appointments, lunch or shopping--praise it as convenient, safe, healthful and fun.

At the same time, they point out minor problems with cleanliness and major problems with byzantine design, which attorney Karen Ann Widess says forces a pedestrian to "do a lot of upping and downing" in the buildings linking the pedways.

Planners Disappointed

Users wish the system stretched farther--but that isn't going to happen, say planners who became disillusioned with pedways about the time the first system around Bunker Hill was completed.

Extensive enclosed pedway systems have been successful in eastern cities where cold winters make heated passageways attractive--St. Paul, Minneapolis, Atlanta, for instance. Similarly, humid Houston has kept pedestrians happy with an air-conditioned system built mostly underground. But extreme temperatures pose no problem in Los Angeles' climate, making a pedway system less attractive.

There is a bigger reason to explain planner wariness toward expanding the system.

"In Los Angeles," said John Spalding, director of planning and urban design at the Community Redevelopment Agency, "it has been found in certain cases that street life can suffer if you force people to go up to a second level pedway system."

The agency's favorite example of the kind of street life it hopes to foster throughout downtown happens along Broadway, a teeming shopping district.

'Street Activity'

"We find it is more desirable to reactivate the streets or to maintain street activity," Spalding said. "We need the interaction between pedestrians and vehicles. On Broadway, drivers cruise the streets, see what movie is playing, see if their friends are on the street, then park and walk around."

Private planners agree that elevating pedestrians above streets is a bad idea for Los Angeles. Like Spalding, they endorse isolated, privately built pedestrian bridges linking a parking garage to a plant or linking separate buildings of one establishment, such as the California Mart downtown. But they consider any extensive system of public pedways outdated thinking.

"Downtown, this whole second level for pedestrians, with cars on the first level, has just made it very uncomfortable along the ground level," said Elaine Carbrey, planner and architect with the Gruen Associates urban planning firm.

"Some people say you can have it on both levels, but you can't, because there is just not that much retail to go around. And it is costly for the developer to build in two lobbies in every office building."

An angry critic of this attitude is Calvin S. Hamilton, Los Angeles' former city planner who designed a more extensive downtown pedway system. City planners, however, do not currently plan to build more of the walkways.

"If pedways had been done the way we recommended," he said, "it would have created a much better pedestrian environment in the central business district. It would certainly have made it easier to walk around, and would have eased the traffic congestion."

Despite their disillusionment with elevated pedways, the current planning officials are not about to tear down the 10 that did get built.

Design Concepts

The Bunker Hill pedways, Spalding said, were planned 20 years ago for two reasons--to help pedestrians conquer the steep topography of the hill itself, and to serve as a feeder system for a mechanized "People Mover." The Disneyland-style carts, aborted when the federal government eliminated funding in 1981, would have had stations one level above the pedways at the World Trade Center, California Plaza, and the 444 S. Flower building.

Usage of the current pedways has never been measured.

An informal count indicated that several hundred commuters use the Flower and 5th Street bridges for daily treks from car to office; while the Figueroa pedways are far less traveled.

While planners debate their merits, the pedways are enthusiastically endorsed by those who use them.

"It's the fastest way between parking in the Arco Plaza Garage and my office in Arco Towers. It's a direct line," said attorney Roland G. Simpson as he dashed over pedways crossing Flower Street, wrapping around the outside southeast corner of the Bonaventure Hotel and crossing 5th Street to Arco Towers.

"It keeps you out of traffic," added Eric Bader, an accountant walking the same route.

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