Movin’ On Up To Incomplete Streets: “Ultimate Traffic Relief” Through The 1946 Elevated Sidewalks Proposal For Los Angeles


How do you solve traffic congestion downtown? By removing pedestrians, of course!

Proposed elevated walkways at street intersection

(Click to enlarge)

In our never-ending quest to collect, organize and provide access to Los Angeles’ historic traffic proposals, we have repeatedly run into some eye-popping proposals worthy of a double — or even triple-take.

Prior to the publicly-governed era which began in 1958, numerous government agencies, task forces and other organizations presented a half-century worth of ideas for solving Los Angeles’ increasing congestion.

We hold many of these plans in our Archive, while we work to obtain and provide digital access to others loaned from other institutions.

But sometimes we discover something heretofore unknown — something buried in a collection or part of a set of maps — which makes any librarian or archivist throw on their detective hat and find out what it is.

And in light of the current “Complete Streets” movement providing safe access for all users, it’s worthwhile to take a look back to see just how different (indeed, opposite!) things were in the past.

Such is the case with the Suggested Down Town Traffic Solution Program from the Plant Engineering Company in 1946.

Proposed elevated pedestrian walkways looking south on Broadway

(Click to enlarge)

This small booklet is easily overlooked.  It consists of only three pages of text, accompanied by ten sheets of renderings.

However, it is one more piece of traffic mitigation history for Los Angeles, and a rare at that.

As freeway planning got underway in earnest in 1946, Plant Engineering made the case for relieving congestion in the Central Business District of downtown.

It makes the case for raising the elevation of sidewalks downtown to the second story level.

This report notes that one large section of the 1939 Chicago World’s Fair was built in this manner, predicting the “City of Tomorrow.”

While an elevated walkway plan would not take the place of either a subway rail plan or rapid  bus system, Plant proposed that such a plan should precede transit planning because it provides almost “immediate relief.”

Stairways and escalators would raise pedestrian traffic above street level

(Click to enlarge)

Of course, the engineering firm states up front that it would welcome being a part of this brilliant solution.

The proposal identifies fifteen “advantages” to raising our downtown sidewalks to the second story throughout downtown:

1. Construction is entirely above ground, and the cost is therefore as economical as any other plan could be

2. Three to four extra lanes of traffic would be provided for all vehicular traffic, which would double the existing traffic lanes, and increase traffic volume four t ofive times its present rate, considering the easy flow through the controls

3. Pedestrians are taken off the street level, so three is absolutely no retardation of vehicular traffic by pedestrian traffic, which at present is the greatest interference, particularly to lanes of turning traffic

4. Existing public conveyances would be affected very slightly, and would be more apt to favor the project

5. Downtown stores would gain an extra floor of display windows

6. All building alterations and restyling necessitated to be part of the cost of the project

7. Stores could expect a greater flow of traffic on their elevators to the second floor elevations, permitting them to display more merchandise for quick sale

Proposed street level parking with sidewalks above

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8. All overhead utility lines could be incorporated into the structure for better appearance

9. Periodic escalators could be provided for the elderly and crippled

10. Foot traffic hazards would be practically eliminated as far as moving traffic is concerened

11. Foot traffic would be speeded up by the elimination of stop and go signals on the upper level

12. Traffic to and from street cars would not interfere with moving traffic, because it would be handled from the center of the street, with the flow of vehicular traffic behind it.

13. This type of structure could be put in service block by block as rapidly as it is completed

14. Old one story buildings adversely affected could be purchased and levelled by the city, or others, to provide for ground level parking. The code could then require that any multi-storied future construction provide the first floor as parking space

15. This sytem would tend to knit the downtown business area closer together by providing for rapid personal liaison between the numerous businesses

Suggested downtown traffic solution

Street-level center-lane transit boarding (Click to enlarge)

So there it is, the solution to downtown traffic lies in removing pedestrian from the equation.

While people would bear the inconvenience of finding and using stairs, escalators and elevators downtown, ground-level sidewalks could be removed to make more room for cars — and ground-level shops could be converted into parking garages.

And we thought that the 1954 underground bus road network proposed for Los Angeles was wacky!

Obviously, this proposal is so fraught with philosophical and practical problems, it’s difficult to determine where to begin.

With “street level walks narrower,” automobiles would be circulating much, much closer to buildings.

For those exiting an office or parking garage in search of the nearest stairway up to the sidewalk, there’s nothing like traffic whizzing by at full speed just inches away to put a little extra pep in your step.

No emergency equipment such as firetrucks or cranes taller than one story could move about downtown streets, so the “City of Tomorrow” could possibly burn to the ground the day after tomorrow.

Forcing the elderly and “crippled” in search of “periodic” escalators from ground-level sidewalks narrower than normal speaks for itself.

Pedestrians above ground, automobile and bus traffic at ground level with center-lane boarding, and subways underground is described as “ultimate traffic relief for Los Angeles.”

Relationship of second-level sidewalks to subway and freeways

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This illustration shows the relationship between second-level walks and the suggested subway extensions and proposed downtown freeways of 1946.

Note the “San Pedro Freeway” running north-south through the east side of downtown where San Pedro Street is today.

The Harbor Freeway was later built just west of Figueroa on the other side of downtown.

So whatever became of this Traffic Solution Program?

We have no idea.

We were only able to locate one other copy of this proposal anywhere — at the USC Libraries.

Ultimate traffic relief for Los Angeles

Underground subways and street-level transit boarding at narrow curbs with sidewalks above is described as "Ultimate traffic relief for Los Angeles" (Click to enlarge)

That copy was printed as being “presented to Milton Breivogel,” not Los Angeles Railway Corporation.

Brievogel was one of the most influential urban planners in Los Angeles history.

He served as the principal planner for Los Angeles County between 1941 and 1953. 

During his tenure, he guided the first freeway plan through the City Council, developed post-war zoning guides for Los Angeles, and began many programs for rapid transit, low-cost housing, open spaces for neighborhood parks and freeway construction.

We assume that Plant Engineering shopped their elevated sidewalk proposal around to anyone who would listen, eager to cooperate in any plans that sprang forth from their suggestions for “ultimate traffic relief.”