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As if parking isn’t a problem on Main Street, last Tuesday City Council approved two parklets requested by the Main Street Business Improvement Association. It wanted council to “OK” converting scarce parking spaces on the busy shopping/dining street to mini-parks or parklets.

Parklets are generally public seating platforms that convert curbside parking spots into “vibrant community spaces.” Each parklet occupies two parking spots and has a distinctive design that incorporates seating, greenery, and/or bike racks. They are designed to “accommodate unmet demand for public space on neighborhood retail streets or commercial areas,” according to city staff. So do parking spaces, but who needs parking, especially on Main Street?

They are typically considered where narrow or congested sidewalks prevent the installation of traditional sidewalk dining or where local property owners want to expand seating capacity or other business-related sidewalk amenities. In other words, it’s all about more money.   

Staff notes that parklets are generally administered or partnered with adjacent businesses and/or surrounding residents. Basic parklet platform structures are provided by the city. The partners outfit and maintain them including keeping them free of trash. They can also be handled by the city like a traditional park.

Santa Monica’s pilot, experimental parklets will be subsidized by three well-known Main Street merchants. The curbside adjacent to 2906 Main will have Holy Guacamole, LLC as the city’s partner. The street adjacent to 2807 Main will have One Red, LLC (dba Wild Flour also Ashland Hill) and Finn McCool’s Iris Pub will partner with the city curbside at 2702/2704 Main. Partners will agree to operate them for one year with two additional 1-year renewal options.

On Main Street, sidewalk dining is taking it literally to the streets. Scarce parking spots will turn into places to relax, dine and drink. Is Montana Avenue next?  Good or bad urban planning? You decide.

My good friend Robin Waner and I go into downtown Los Angeles every few months. We enjoy strolling around the Broadway area (Historic District) and having lunch at the Grand Central Market.

LA city planners have been redoing Broadway from First to Eleventh Streets by calming traffic, widening sidewalks and extending curbs to enhance the pedestrian experience. The number of traffic lanes has been reduced to a total of three car lanes for the ten blocks.

Planters, tables, and chairs have been set along curbs, thus converting parking spots into narrow strip parklets. However, much of the space is empty and inhospitable. The parklet space is separated from parking and traffic lanes by heavy, ugly concrete planters – most of which contain trash, but no greenery.

Although some Broadway seating is shaded by umbrellas, most isn’t. The lack of shade and landscaping has resulted in uncomfortable, uninviting and unattractive empty mini-spaces.

Some spots along Broadway are experiencing solid use, like in front of the Grand Central Market. Here, Grand Central’s overflow customers eat their take-aways curbside where furniture and umbrellas have been set up. It’s usually the only open space where one can sit and eat because counters and tables inside the popular market are constantly in use.

LA traffic planners have installed bike lanes and a parking/pedestrian loading next to the parklets and there’s a travel lane for car and bus use. Unfortunately, busy Broadway’s traffic carrying capacity is half of what it used to be.

Robin and I go downtown because of the retail-dining mix, for the diversity and the exciting vibe. We’re not attracted there by ten mini-dining areas. I think they’re a turn-off. The “pretend parklets” in parking spots look and are stupid.

With cool ocean breezes and shade, Main Street’s parklets won’t be the hot, sunbaked wasteland that Broadway’s mini-parks are. However, if you have to fight traffic to get there, and then drive around and around searching for a parking space, chances are you won’t return. The thrill of hanging out in a Main Street parking spot isn’t that exciting.

The basic rule of thumb: Make the place enticing. Eliminate the negatives.  If you’re like me, you’ll avoid Main Street – including the Farmers’ Markets – because the negatives outweigh the positives and the whole experience just isn’t worth it.

Planning Commission Wednesday night. More disasters to come.

Speaking of negatives, the Planning Commission meets Wednesday night. On the agenda are a couple of items that every resident should be monitoring.

The first item (6-A) is a continuation of a study session on the Downtown Specific Plan. The commission will continue its review of proposed land use sub-areas, development standards, design guidelines, circulation and parking strategies, infrastructure, cultural resources and public amenities. Public input has already been taken so we can only watch and listen. And moan.

Then item 7-A. The commission will make recommendations to council on the adoption of the draft Pedestrian Action Plan. The PAP is supposed to provide a framework for increased pedestrian safety and comfort in the city.

Finally, Item 8-A. It’s an update on the Bike Action Plan covering programs, support facilities (bike parking, wayfinding, bike centers, etc.) and bikeways (lanes, tracks, paths, trails and routes). Commissioners will provide recommendations and/or modifications to update the plan for council’s consideration.

Why don’t I feel good about these items? Because the net result for most of us will be more crap planning, lots more traffic and nothing for the motoring public.

These “plans” are one way streets to an urban utopia of frolicking leprechauns and dancing unicorns – but destined for failure in the real world like other similar schemes concocted by City Hall.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com