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Photograph: Michael Juliano

L.A. County is finally allowing streets to be temporarily shut down to car traffic

On Wednesday, the county announced that it would allow cities to temporarily close off streets to car traffic.

By
Michael Juliano
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Los Angeles is slowly starting to reopen, particularly its outdoor spaces. Parks and trails reopened last week, and beaches are accessible for active recreation starting today. But what if you’re not near any of those outdoorsy assets? Well, L.A. County is going to make it easier to spend time outdoors safely.

On Wednesday, the county announced that as part of an update to its “safer at home” order, it would allow cities to close off streets to car traffic and temporarily turn them into pedestrian-only areas.

“Local public entities may, if they want to, temporarily close certain streets or areas to automobile traffic and this would allow for increased space for persons to engage in recreational activity that’s permitted by the health officer orders,” said Department of Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer in her daily briefing.

Of course, just because the county is allowing it doesn’t necessarily mean cities will decide to shut down streets. In early April, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti wasn’t in favor of car-free, open streets initiatives and wrote “I know it’s really tough to just walk around the block or Zoom a workout with friends, but we don’t want people moving much out of their neighborhoods.” But circumstances have changed since then as restrictions have been starting to be eased across the county.

UPDATE: In a Wednesday evening address, Garcetti announced that the city’s “Slow Streets” initiative would kick off this weekend by restricting some residential streets to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Garcetti said he didn’t want to do this just one area, so that people wouldn’t flock to that area, but now about five areas have expressed interest. On Friday, Garcetti followed up with some more info: Streets will still allow resident access and emergency vehicles, but cars will be redirected away from the streets for about a two-mile stretch. The first neighborhoods to participate in “Slow Streets” include Del Rey and Sawtelle.

Outside of L.A., other major cities around the world have temporarily limited some streets to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Or in the case of New York, they’ve permanently shut down more streets to car traffic as part of a larger open streets initiative.

If some streets in L.A. do end up getting rid of cars, just remember that it’s not an excuse to throw a block party as events and gatherings are still banned.

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