Narrow Streets: Los Angeles

David Yoon is a "writer, designer, photographer, and self-confessed urban planning geek" whose blog "Narrow Streets: Los Angeles" plays with an intriguing idea: What if Los Angeles' wide streets could be narrowed? What would it do to the identity of the city, and to the place of people in it? "Narrow Streets' is a notional cousin to the idea of LA without cars, first visualized by photographer Matt Logue and later borrowed by filmmaker Ross Ching, but where those projects attempted to render LA quieter and emptier, Yoon's is after something more elusive: A city rescaled. If you're an urban planning geek, or even just a resident of the actual, wide-gauge LA, it's a stimulating way to think about the place, and it raises a nutty, bracing possibility -- liberation by smooshing.




  1. i live in atlanta, and our streets our very narrow.
    it sucks.
    it’s terrifying negotiating turns in a car, not to mention being a cyclist.
    nice, wide roads are safer and psychologically give us confidence to navigate.

    1. I never had a problem with Atlanta’s streets being too narrow, but then I’m from there, and drove there for several years before I drove in any other city. Also, I tend to drive very small cars.

      My biggest problem there is the third rate public transportation system.

      1. To be blunt, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature– it keeps the news stories from Southwest Atlanta from happening in Virginia Highlands, say.

        1. People from Southwest Atlanta can get to Virginia Highlands on public transportation, though not quickly and efficiently. I don’t think public transportation should be planned around making sure people from poor areas can’t easily get to rich areas. The point is to allow people to quickly and easily travel around the city.

  2. that’s great but now that car is going the wrong way on a one way street or driving on the wrong side of a two way street.

    1. that’s great but now that car is going the wrong way on a one way street or driving on the wrong side of a two way street.

      Maybe it’s a one-way street with alternating directions?

  3. An empty LA was not first visualized by Matt Logue in 2009, but rather by the two filmmakers who made “405 The Movie” in 2000. See

  4. Los Angeles already has too many cars and not enough room to put them. Do we really need *less* street?

    1. #17:
      I don’t think the problem is not enough space; it’s too much cars. We live in a car-centric society, with too many urban and rural designs stemming around how to better accommodate the car. This thinking is backwards. What we really need is a smaller, more human-centric replacement for the car, and then for cities to be designed around the person—not the 4,000 pound metal box we have grown so accustomed to.

  5. I avoid driving in LA because of the horrible traffic, and I despise driving in cities with one-way streets. I can’t see how this would do anything but make it more congested.

  6. Ah, I think I get it now. A “quieter, emptier” L.A. means a city with 2/3rds of the people gone. This would mean fewer cars and you could have narrower streets (I’m just estimating 2/3rds here).

    The part about “liberation” is referring to crowds. Being able to live in a city, get around, and not be piled on top of your neighbors. Ultra-low density cities.

    I actually kinda like this idea. Personally, I’m a big fan of suburb living but if cities were decentralized and spread out enough, I could see myself living in the central part rather than on the fringes.

    1. I actually kinda like this idea. Personally, I’m a big fan of suburb living but if cities were decentralized and spread out enough, I could see myself living in the central part rather than on the fringes.

      How exactly do you live in the center of a decentralized city?

      One of the reasons that L.A. has such bad traffic is because it’s so spread out. People have to drive farther to get to work, mass transit doesn’t meet most people’s needs, and few people live in areas where they can run errands without hopping into a car.

      1. How exactly do you live in the center of a decentralized city?

        Good point. I guess I don’t really know what the interior of a properly decentralized city would be called.

        I lived in Portland, OR which has (by American standards) decent public transportation. I used it to get to work every weekday for 5 years until the end of 2008. When I moved, I vowed to never have to rely on public transportation again.

        Now, I live in the suburbs near where I work. Almost everything I need day-to-day is near by. Most days I drive my motorcycle to work and it costs me about $10/month in fuel.

        For me, happiness comes from living in a place where I have a big (enough) private yard, excellent nearby schools and lots of community amenities (pool, tennis courts, etc…). Locate this close to my office (as I have) and life is good.

      2. Personally I think LA is far more walkable (and public-transitable) than it gets credit for. I’m a non-driver living in San Diego and whenever I take the train up to LA I feel like I’m returing to civilization. Okay, it isn’t NYC, or even Boston, but you can get most interesting places in LA relatively easily by walking, Metro, or bus. Not so San Diego.

  7. I’m from the Northeast… this is a joke. You western American assholes wouldn’t know a narrow street if it got out of its car cursing your existence and beat you into the ground.

    Nothing is more hilarious than watching someone from the west coast try and navigate from one side of Cambridge MA to Allston or Jamaica Plains, the next town over. Yeah, go ahead and pull out your GPS. That isn’t going to help you buddy. If the one way roads all intersecting at random angles in a intersection with non-sense lights and signs don’t kill you, the drivers enraged over your timidity will.

      1. I’m just waiting for somebody from Europe to laugh at Rindan, then somebody from Mumbai or Bangalore to come in for the win.

        1. ‘I’m just waiting for somebody from Europe to laugh at Rindan, then somebody from Mumbai or Bangalore to come in for the win.’


          actually, i think rindan was being sarcastic or something.

  8. As a resident of New Orleans, a city whose street were laid out according to a pretty decent plan if you’re a mule cart or a street car, I find this hilarious. We have our share of one-way streets, but older residential areas of the city have a lot of two-way streets that are only wide enough for a single car. Naturally, people choose these streets for parking their gargantuan SUVs, and you end up having to back out of a corridor of Suburbans because the guy on the other end thinks your car has the magical ability to pass through or over his.

    1. #22:

      So true. They should make some of those two-ways into one-ways, at least for the one-car-width streets. But for the streets like Nashville, State, and Henry Clay river-side of St. Charles, which are one-and-a-half lanes at parts, I think we can get by on driving more slowly and being courteous.

      If you drive here long enough, you should be able to recognize that there’s an unwritten protocol of courtesy for driving two-way, one-lane streets. As you mention, though, there’s a problem with bulky vehicles and parking. If there’s enough room to maneuver, you can swerve from one parking lane to the other, but if both sides are filled regularly, sometimes you’ll just have to modify your route. There’s one segment near my house that I just stopped using until the idiots parking side-by-side figured out that they shouldn’t do that. They must have gotten sideswiped a few times. Hooray, conditioning.

      Seriously, though, I’m OK with cars not being the primary consideration in the original “design”. It beats the vehicular nightmare of Jefferson Parish. Ick. It’s just a complete mess over there.

  9. A narrow grassy median would be cool. Maybe wide enough to plant trees whose branches would fan out and create a shady canopy. But, you know, when they put light rail down a perfectly lovely wide boulevard like the one above, it actually seems to make the traffic congestion worse. Driving Montague Expressway in San Jose, for example, you get smooshed into one lane while the light rail takes up this huge swath down the middle. The drivers are inching along in their cars along the sides while big, empty trains go up and down the street. Barely anybody rides those things unless they have no other option or unless they’ve built their whole life around the particular train route. And while your life might change, once those tracks go down, they aren’t going anywhere. Not like a bus route you can move around the existing streets.

    Knew someone who was killed on their bike getting to work during light rail construction. After that, I really fell out of love with the idea that light rail was the transit messiah we’ve all been waiting for. It wasn’t just seeing someone get mowed down by big construction when they were humbly trying to be part of the solution. It was living with the finished project and realizing, no, it was totally not worth it.

    Anyway, I’d rather see cleaner burning buses, better bus stops, bike lanes, good sidewalks, more trees, and less big huge neverending road and transportation projects that are supposedly making our lives so much better. If nothing else, it would be less expensive to make smaller scale changes. And less disruptive to people walking, biking and driving through town.

  10. weird to show that street (Wilshire and 3rd in Santa Momica,Ca) because just south of that Arizona St and Santa Monica blvd. are as narrow as the image that has been photoshopped.

  11. Most of the commenters seem to be denying the existence of New York City.

    The streets are narrow, the population is far more dense, and they generally seem quite happy with this state of affairs.

    A good public transportation network and absence of “car culture” seem to help too. If car ownership in Manhattan were comparable to the national average, you’d cover the entire surface of the island from the tip of Battery Park, up through midtown, and 2/3 of the way up Central Park with a parking lot, and the cars parked end-to-end, door-to-door.

    (Also, Light Rail is good. Streetcars are easier, which makes them better in the short term. Bike lanes are the easiest, and are spreading like wildfire. DC’s installing them everywhere.)

  12. It makes it look like a quaint little town that was built during the age of horsecarts, and that apparently sets off a lot of people’s Norman Rockwell/Nostalgia gene and makes them feel all warm and fuzzy.

    But aside from that, it’s a pretty stupid (and, thankfully, completely impractical) notion.

    I’m relieved to see that the post labels “liberation by smooshing” a “nutty” idea. Saves me the trouble.

    Now, if we could only get all the people who constantly piss and moan about how they want LA to be something that it’s not, to move to somewhere else that is whatever it is they want (usually, a ‘big city’ that looks like the ‘big city’ they saw on TV while growing up in the suburbs of Des Moines or somewhere), then LA would be a truly heavenly place to live.

  13. The recent month long closure of most of downtown Vancouver, BC to cars during the 2010 Olympics had an interesting effect. I believe there are upwards of 250,000 vehicle trips in and out of the core on a normal working say. The transit system picked up the diverted load and was used extensively, including by the hundreds of thousands of visitors. After the event was over people decided that there were advantages to staying with public transit, and even though the streets were reopened the level of traffic has dropped dramatically. Another interesting experiment is Car Free Days, where selected neighbourhoods are being closed off to cars on Sundays in the summer and people take to the streets for performances of various kinds and crafts and food and dancing.

  14. Narrow streets = more room for other stuff

    Cars are a horrible waste of space. It’s time to move on from the car-centric city designs like LA.

    1. Narrow streets = more room for other stuff

      Except for island cities (like Manhattan), that pretty much isn’t true. America is big and quite empty. For most places, there’s plenty of real estate available.

      If you don’t like cars, live somewhere that makes them unnecessary. I like living where there is enough green space between my neighbor’s home and my home.

  15. I’m really amused by how many people are bad mouthing narrow streets. Because those same people will pay serious amounts of money to go walk around cities famous for their narrow streets:

    Amsterdam. Venice. Rome. Copenhagen. And the big granddaddy, Prague.

    Seriously. Nobody would look twice at those places if they had wide, 4 lane streets all over.

    1. ocschwar, there’s no inconsistency. I am one of those would love to visit every one of those cities that you listed (except Venice). It doesn’t mean I want to live in there. The best example of this is Las Vegas: fun for a visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  16. How about imagining double the cars on the road that we have now. It would have the same effect on traffic without the expense of altering the streets.

  17. If you don’t like cars, live somewhere that makes them unnecessary. I like living where there is enough green space between my neighbor’s home and my home.

    How charmingly selfish.

    1. What’s selfish about how I want to live? I like having enough space for a small garden. I’m thinking it might be neat to get some chickens like Mark Frauenfelder has written about so many times right here. I like my neighbors. I’m a pretty happy relaxed guy.

      1. Sorry, I guess I thought it went without saying. Suburban/sprawl living/planning has a negative effect on the larger society that you’re (whether you or us like it or not) a part of. If you’re managing to pull it off with minimal impact then kudos to you for being a rare exception. Even so, think of the roads, expanses of grassy yards and so on:

        1. Sorry, I guess I thought it went without saying.

          No, it’s far from a settled issue. The response section of that page does a fair job of defending low density development.

          To be fair, most suburbs are not like the one I live in. There isn’t enough well planned and executed low density development but new developments (and redevelopments) are getting it right. I think the wikipedia article you pointed to is a fairly dated impression of suburbs.

          The subdivision I live in has a very stable population and I think that makes all the difference from a social point of view. I know almost everybody that lives here thanks to the block parties we have had this year (two so far). The developers left a lot of green spaces around the subdivisions and there are about 10 miles of unpaved trails. I’m able to walk my kids to school everyday, and there are community tennis courts, soccer fields, and swimming pools less than 1/2 mile away (an easy walk). There’s a pretty constant stream of walkers and cyclists on the pathways connecting the neighborhoods.

          It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a very relaxed, slow paced lifestyle that I personally enjoy. I totally understand how some people like the faster paced, higher energy life when downtown (they would be bored in my ‘burb), but I find that more stressful than exciting.

          I like my neighbors, I like my short commute, and I like that when I do drive, traffic is light and stoplights are rare.

  18. But of course, Chesterfield, you’d never, ever want to live in Amsterdam. Pardon me if I giggle at your posturing.

  19. ocschwar, you’re right. At this point in my life I wouldn’t want to live in Amsterdam. When my kids are off to college, my wife and I likely will move either to someplace almost off the grid or into a condo in a city. One extreme or the other. There isn’t one location that is the best place to live for all stations of life.

    One thing is constant, I will never live someplace that makes my commute more than 20 minutes. I’m a big advocate for living and working in the same neighborhood.

  20. Well, I can live almost anywhere except LA. I did a lot of 2nd hand smoking in childhood, and my lungs are subpar. I landed in LAX once, stepped outside, took a breath, and realized living in LA was a nonstarter for me.

    But if the smog wasn’t there, I’d have to reconsider that statement. And in the meantime, I have to sympathize with Angelenos who have the initiative to look at the world beyond the LA basin and consider ideas that might make their hometown better. Is it really so ridiculous to imagine an LA where you can walk down a major street and not have to share it with 2 ton vehicles zooming by at 45 MPH? Other cities manage it. So can LA. Wide streets are built for cars. Narrow streets are built for people. And since I hear there are actual people living in LA, I think they might want to consider remaking the city to accomodate themselves instead of the cars they rely on.

    1. LA doesn’t even need to look outside LA, it just needs to look back in history. The city had a pretty extensive electric railcar system through the ’30s. But big obstacles are SoCal’s identity being entwined with the romance of the automobile, and snobbery towards mass transit (buses are only for poor people). There are more and more SmartCars around, though.

    2. I landed in LAX once, stepped outside, took a breath, and realized living in LA was a nonstarter for me.

      How long ago was this? You do realize that the smog has gotten much, much better over the past few decades, right?

      1. That’s right. My older brothers were born in L.A. in the early 50s, and the family moved to San Diego (where I was born) in the mid 60s. My brothers remember L.A. air being intolerably fetid. I remember a school field trip I took to the Huntington Library in Pasadena in 1984 or so, and I found the air physically painful to breathe that day. But since I moved to L.A. in 1994, I can’t ever remember the air being that bad, except during one of the larger fires. The smog problem hasn’t vanished by any means, but it’s heaps better than it used to be.

        That said, the air at LAX will probably be far fouler than any other point in the L.A. Basin, I’d imagine.

      2. That was in 2008. Yes, my lungs are that sub-par. If I lived in LA I would seriously risk my health.

        1. Wow! That’s too bad; I can’t criticize you for watching out for your health.

  21. I love narrow streets. I lived in San Francisco for 5 years and walked to work downtown for 3 years of that. Personally I get a better sense of comfort from narrow streets. The environment is more suited to to the pedestrian. There is an air of comfort and a sense of neighborhood. Berkeley/Oakland offers an interesting case study. Most of the good and interesting action happens in neighborhoods with relatively narrow streets, such as telegraph and college avenue. During Art Murmur in Oakland, most of the activity occurs on the side streets. Streets such as Shattuck and San Pablo don’t foster community. Commercial areas located on these streets are less successful. Someone familiar with Berkely might give counter that example with North Shattuck, but even there the streets are a bit narrower and there is a nice grassy median where people often hang out and eat pizza. Downtown Berkeley around Shattuck also has the fortune of being where Bart is. Come to think of it the eastern bay area is a great case study in Narrow Street/ wide street. The areas with the most activity and culture are always the narrowest.

    Finally, look at San Francisco. San Francisco is broken into two major grids. The grid south of Market (SOMA) has much less overall daily activity than a comparable neighborhoods with narrow streets: Polk Gulch, Cole Valley, Lower and Upper Haight. These are the areas San Francisco is known for and unlike what a previous commenter said about good place to visit/bad place to live is actually pretty false. San Franciso is a wonderful place to live… if you can afford it, but that is a completely different topic.

    Its actually shocking to me that so many people reading a progressive blog such as Boing Boing think that the narrow streets/dense city idea is crazy.

  22. Wide streets are built for cars. Narrow streets are built for people.

    Nonsense. Wide streets are built for people. People in cars.

    And since I hear there are actual people living in LA, I think they might want to consider remaking the city to accomodate themselves instead of the cars they rely on.

    We already did that. We remade the city to accomodate ourselves. And that meant wide streets, because we drive cars.

    People in cars are “actual people”, no matter what the car-haters may think.

  23. I don’t get it. Is the extra Banana Republic that you can fit in with the narrow street the “liberation”?

  24. Nonsense. Wide streets are built for people. People in cars.

    Well, Salt Lake City’s wide streets were built for people driving wagon teams, so that they could turn around without backing up. Though it’s politically and culturally not my cuppa cocoa, I think SLC is a lovely city. My favorite city in the world is London, with its chaotic clusterfrak of narrow, winding 1000-year-old streets that change names four times over the course of a mile, but after the exhilaration of getting around in that amazing burg without becoming permanently lost, it’s refreshing to visit one of Utah’s strict north-south-east-west grids, wherein the streets are sensibly numbered (so that a perfectly typical street address like 435 North 300 West serves as instantly visualizable coordinates) and invitingly broad. Definitely a vibe coming from the wide-open Old West.

    Still, the Beehive State’s nickname is apt. I’d feel like an industrious hive insect in a honeycomb cell if I had to live at a lyrical, evocative address like 435 North 300 West all my life.

  25. I love the idea.
    L.A. and any major city would benefit from ‘shrinking streets’.
    Yes, L.A.’s smog has greatly improved over the years and L.A. is generally a great city to live in and I enjoyed my year living in Miracle Mile.
    However, much of that year I had my only sinus infection, black oily dust collected on our porch (we lived along San Vicente), and when I jogged in the hills tourists would literally stop and gasp in shock as they saw they could look down atop the smog layer.

    A dense city can mean low environmental impact, savings in stress, travel costs, and a more efficiently managed life to make room for more funtime (and funtime’s what we want right?).

    Smart cities will be developed with rapid non-petrol based transit but until then cities can shrink their streets in a number of ways:
    large bike lanes, ‘lanes’ for farmer markets and cheap vendor slots for local buy/sell/trade, lane space for neighborhood compost deposit sites, playgrounds for children.

    I agree with comments above–the car as we know it is unsage at any MPG as long as user error and supporting industries continue to accrue the deaths, injuries, and environmental damage as we see currently.
    Better cities will happen and with creative minds and organizing we’ll do it sooner than later.

  26. I’m developing a loose theory about nice cities, and the evidence (aka anecdotal rubbish) I have thus far collected seems to suggest that either hills or canals make cities nicer. Amsterdam, Venice and Copenhagen are the canalised cities that are my examples, San Fran Rome and Brighton the hilly ones.

    Quite why this may be the case is open to debate, but I think that these features provide gentle barriers that make the concentration of ‘urban villages’ within the wider city a more persistent feature. Basically, they make it a bit harder to get from a to b, but not impossible, so you tend to hang out a bit more locally.

    Hills also dull the spread of sound, and somehow canals affect the noise too (not sure how!).

    So how does this impinge on this discussion? Well, perhaps LA would benefit from canals down the middle of its wide sprawling boulevards? Yeah, a wild idea, and the ecological impact would be awful- evaporation would be dreadful,even if you planted them intensly with groovey trees. Still, could be worth a try. Imagine living on a houseboat on Sunset and Vine!

    1. “Hills also dull the spread of sound, and somehow canals affect the noise too (not sure how!). ”

      No, they actually enhance it. Amsterdam and Copenhagen really are as quiet as you remember. That’s what happens when 50% of traffic is by bike and most of the rest is by foot.

  27. Funny, aren’t these the same sort of people who lambast places like New York for having narrow canyons of streets where the sunlight never penetrates?

    Try downtown L.A. Narrow streets enough to satisfy anyone but I do not recall anyone holding it up as a paragon of urban delight.

  28. People have pulled this off in real life without a big budget. Check out the Better Block Project in Oak Cliff (Dallas), Texas:

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