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Crowd control at Art Walk

The Art Walk in downtown L.A. is less about art lately and more about partying in the streets. With such large crowds, safety must be a top priority.

August 11, 2011

The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk will likely never return to the days when perhaps 100 people strolled among a dozen galleries on Spring and Main streets one evening each month. Seven years after gallery owners and business leaders had the idea that Angelenos would promenade a block from Skid Row, the event now draws up to 30,000 visitors, beckoned by four dozen galleries and numerous bars, restaurants and food trucks. It has both spurred the revitalization of downtown and grown with it.

But some patrons seem more interested in carousing than browsing — let alone buying — art. Bitter squabbling among business owners and Art Walk organizers has, at times, threatened to dissolve the event altogether. Critics were already worried about its future when a man trying to park a car on Spring Street during last month's event hopped the curb, killing an infant in a stroller. The tragic accident prompted the City Council to create a multi-agency task force for a much-needed review of the gallery walk, and the changes it ordered will be in effect during the next iteration of the event Thursday night.

We like the diversity and vibrancy that Art Walk has brought to once-bleak downtown Los Angeles. Whether it is still about art is moot. It has become a street party. The issue is how to keep it safe for everyone.

One option the task force considered was simply to close off the streets to cars. But police are rightly reluctant to do so lest the event attract even more people and turn into a monthly Mardi Gras. A more sensible — and less expensive — approach is to improve the flow of pedestrians and cars.

Instead of allowing about 70 food trucks to set up in a few parking lots at the heart of the event, the task force has announced that fire and health officials won't issue any permits for the area bordered by 3rd and 7th streets, Spring and Main. That should help reduce congestion. The city also will step up traffic and code enforcement, which should cut down on unlicensed vendors jamming the sidewalks. And since last month, Grand Central Market has remained open later on Art Walk evenings, which should help draw people to Broadway.

But there's more that could be done. Instead of putting the Art Walk Lounge — the evening's official visitors center — smack in the middle of the route, why not move it to one end or the other? Or set up two lounges, one at each end? Meanwhile, police should strongly enforce laws against public drunkenness. City officials report that people are already complaining about jaywalking tickets. Good. No matter how Angelenos choose to enjoy Art Walk, they should stay out of traffic.

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