Will the Pandemic Make Los Angeles More Pedestrian-Friendly?
Outdoor dining and slow streets programs are chipping away at Southern California’s deference to cars.,
PASADENA — Along bustling Colorado Boulevard, friends clinked wine glasses in the glow of twinkle lights. A few blocks away, another group of diners ate beside massive potted plants as a crooner serenaded them from onstage.
It was a typical summer evening in Southern California, except that the restaurant-goers were sitting in what was, just months ago, a busy lane of traffic.
Pasadena, a city of approximately 141,000 in Los Angeles County, narrowed roads last summer to allow for more outdoor seating, a move popular among customers and businesses alike.
“OK, so people are going to sit in the middle of the street?” Jack Huang, a local restaurant owner, recalled wondering when the idea was first proposed. “I guess they are.”
The success of outdoor dining expansions, as well as slow streets programs that made roads safer for pedestrians, has helped chipped away at a long-held tenet of life in L.A.: deference to cars.
“There’s a lot of attitude to use spaces differently than we had in the past,” Madeline Brozen, an urban planning expert at U.C.L.A., told me. “I think there’s interest in trying to reclaim some of the spaces that had been set aside for cars only.”
Over the past 18 months, initiatives giving pedestrians the right of way have cropped up across the country. San Francisco prohibited cars on the boulevard that cuts through Golden Gate Park so cyclists and walkers could roam freely. New York closed 83 miles of streets to automobiles for more walking, cycling and outdoor dining.
But there are few places where cars are as dominant a force as in Southern California.
Brozen told me that before the pandemic, L.A. restaurant owners with limited outdoor space would generally reserve it for parking spots for customers.
But that calculus changed when outdoor dining was deemed safer than indoor for limiting the spread of the coronavirus. And the resulting expansion of outdoor seating revealed pent-up demand, she said.
“L.A. has historically just done a very poor job of having outdoor dining,” Brozen told me. “But people want to be outside. That’s a big reason why people live in Los Angeles — the great weather.”
The outdoor dining programs aren’t perfect, she pointed out. For example, putting tables outside can block parts of the sidewalk and make it harder for people on foot.
But these programs showed Angelenos what they may have needed to see to believe, Brozen said: that when you took away some space from cars, “the world didn’t come to an end.”
Brigham Yen, a real estate agent and pedestrian advocate in L.A., said he believed that outdoor dining programs also made streets appear more inviting, so people may be more motivated to move around on foot.
As Yen and I strolled through Old Town Pasadena, the city’s commercial center, he pointed to restaurant patrons drinking pints of beer on patios and others talking over plates of pasta.
“People see people outside, and it activates the street,” Yen told me. “When you see a whole bunch of people outside, people get excited: ‘Wow, what’s going on? This is a happening place.'”
Indeed, when we turned onto a block without outdoor dining, the street felt sterile by comparison — no music or din of conversation. There were people, but they sat behind tinted glass windows.
Lisa Derderian, Pasadena city spokeswoman, told me that the outdoor dining program, which has been vital to helping restaurants survive the pandemic, had been extended through the first quarter of 2022.
She said that the reduction in car lanes had affected traffic, but that she thought there would have been more pushback if had happened at any time other than the pandemic.
“People now are getting used to that and working around it,” she told me. “We’re getting great reviews.”
If you read one story, make it this
In a major victory for tech companies, Californians last year passed Proposition 22, which classified gig workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, as independent contractors, instead of full-time employees eligible for health care, unemployment insurance and other benefits.
But on Friday, a California Superior Court judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional and unenforceable, my colleague Kate Conger reports.
Though the decision is not likely to immediately affect the new law, it has reopened the debate about whether such workers deserve full benefits.
The rest of the news
Larry Elder: Alexandra Datig, the former fiancee of Larry Elder, a Republican candidate for governor, says that she broke off her engagement after Elder threatened her with a gun, Politico reports. Plus, state regulators have started an investigation into whether Elder failed to properly disclose his finances, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Low vaccination rates: Across much of California, Covid-19 vaccination rates are significantly lower among law enforcement than the rest of the population, The Guardian reports.
Janitors rally: A union representing more than 20,000 janitors across California that is demanding higher wages voted Friday to authorize a strike as soon as September, The Sacramento Bee reports.
Recall lawsuit: Two California voters have filed a suit saying that California’s recall system is unconstitutional, but experts say that the state’s recall process will probably survive this latest legal challenge, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Caldor fire: Max Whittaker, a wildfire photographer for The New York Times, provides an inside look at the Caldor fire, which forced his family to evacuate their home in Pollock Pines.
Barack Obama Boulevard: A half-mile portion of Autumn Street in San Jose was renamed for the 44th president, The Mercury News reports.
Virtual festival: Because of growing Covid concerns, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival in San Francisco will not be held in person for the second year in a row, SFGate reports.
Lassen: On Aug. 5, all of Lassen Volcanic National Park was closed down because of the fast-approaching Dixie fire. The San Francisco Chronicle details the process.
Afghan community protest: Dozens of Afghan Americans marched in Fremont on Saturday in support of refugees, demanding that the Kabul airport be kept open past the Aug. 31 deadline, according to KQED.
California’s “ark”: An effort by conservationists and biologists working to preserve the state’s rare and delicate flora and fauna is like a modern-day Noah’s Ark, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Mariposa mystery: Investigators are struggling to determine what killed a family of three and their dog on a hiking trail in Mariposa last week. The San Francisco Chronicle shares what the police know.
Dangers of butt lifts: In Los Angeles and other major cities across the nation, women are dying from butt lifts, a procedure that has the highest mortality rate of any cosmetic surgery.
Indoor mask order: Following a number of other jurisdictions in the state, Ventura County has begun mandating that residents wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Town-and-gown relations sour: Some residents who live near San Diego State University say they are angered by students’ partying habits and worry their behavior has contributed to a recent rise in Covid-19 cases, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Phony clean air campaign: A joint investigation from several news outlets found that in 2017, at least 20 Los Angeles and Long Beach residents were paid by the natural gas industry to speak out in favor of gas-powered trucks, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Political sermons: Leaders of some Southern California churches are using sermons to deliver right-wing rhetoric, conspiracy theories and Christian nationalism, according to The Orange County Register.
What we’re eating
This chocolate banana pudding is best the day it’s made, but can last for up to 24 hours — if you can wait that long to eat it.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Peggie Morgan, a retired Cal State Fresno librarian.
Peggie recommends Fresno’s Forestiere Underground Gardens, an open-air museum that’s a state historic landmark. The gardens, a network that spans several acres, were built over 40 years by a Sicilian immigrant.
And before you go, some good news
It’s never too late to record your first album. Or at least that was the case for Russ Ellis, a celebrated architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who released his first record at 86.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: L.A.’s region, for short (5 letters).
Miles McKinley, Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.