This Sunday’s Oscars extravaganza at the Dolby Theater requires the city to close Hollywood for the red carpet, plus a half-dozen other streets for security measures. By the time this year’s best picture winner is announced, the street will have been closed for a total of almost two full weeks.
Why isn’t Hollywood Boulevard shut down to cars all the time?
Closing the street to cars would be the single most effective way to make Hollywood safer and more welcoming to tourists by making it easier for them to walk, bike, and take transit. Getting people out of private vehicles would help the city achieve its ambitious climate goals. Plus, closing the boulevard permanently would alleviate congestion concerns for those who live nearby.
The idea is not as dramatic as it sounds—especially when you look at how often Hollywood is already closed.
You can sign up for Hollywood’s street closure alerts to get a feel for how often cars are kicked off the boulevard. A 2015 Los Angeles Times op-ed advocating for the permanent closure of the street noted that, on average, the Highland to Orange stretch is closed at least three times per month, several days each time, for premieres. In certain months, like last December, it was closed the same number of days that it was open.
These closures are getting more ambitious—in 2016 the Rogue One premiere closed Hollywood Boulevard for a week in order to land an X-Wing on the street. And with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon wanting to promote their original content, there are more flashy premieres than ever.
When these streets are shut down for multimillion-dollar publicity campaigns, there’s no public meeting for local residents to approve the closures. But the idea of completely closing the streets for more people to walk, bike, and ride transit does need to be approved by the community—and it has been met with staunch opposition.
A draft of Hollywood’s new community plan suggests adding protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes to several streets, including on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. But representatives from a local neighborhood council are firmly opposed to the idea.
“It’s kind of out of control. We are a car city, and you can’t make changes like that without total gridlock,” said Anastasia Mann, the president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, which issued a statement: “The plan must acknowledge that Hollywood is attached to the Hills and people in Hollywood will always require cars.”
Closing these streets permanently to cars could help ease congestion and improve the flow of traffic around the densest and most transit-accessible areas of the neighborhood. Hollywood Hills residents who need cars to get to their homes are so used to avoiding the touristy area already that it would actually make their trips more predictable.
According to city transportation department data, 290,000 cars pass through the neighborhood daily. But Hollywood is unique in that many of the trips made to the area are not residents but tourists—coming in numbers which are breaking new records every year. Many of these visitors are not driving their own cars, but using ride-hailing services. These trips could switch to the Red Line if tourists knew that was going to get them closer and more efficiently to the Walk of Fame.
Plus, with cars eliminated, dedicated bus lanes could travel down Hollywood, making it easier for more people to get from one side of the neighborhood to the other.
Recently, New York City and San Francisco both limited private vehicle access on major streets, redesigning them to prioritize buses, bikes, scooters, and walking. Traffic on side streets didn’t get worse—and bus ridership skyrocketed.
Closing this street also addresses several safety issues. The streets of Hollywood are some of the busiest in the city, which is why the city’s transportation department installed a scramble crosswalk at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland. The scramble has dramatically reduced collisions and eliminated deadly crashes since it was implemented in 2015. In 2018, another scramble was added at Hollywood and Vine.
But if you walk other stretches of Hollywood Boulevard, including the area in front of the theater where the Oscars are held, it’s clear these places are not designed for the many people who have come here to navigate the street on foot.
In recent years, the sidewalks have become so crowded that people are walking in the street, trying to orient themselves and posing for photos, as vehicles speed by. The narrow sidewalks do not offer enough room for basic amenities like benches or bus shelters. Now there are scooters in Hollywood, too. With no safe place to ride, people try to squeeze onto the already busy sidewalks.
Even street vendors have been targeted by law enforcement officials who argue that they cannot sell items there because there’s not enough room on sidewalks.
A closed Hollywood Boulevard, outfitted with areas for sitting and places to seek shade, enough space for entertainment and vending, and more transportation options would be a better experience for everyone who uses the street.
Last month, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office debuted a proposal by Gensler that would widen Hollywood’s sidewalks, remove lanes of car traffic and street parking between Argyle and La Brea, and add bike lanes, landscaping, and sidewalk dining. Parts of the street could be turned into pedestrian plazas using retractable bollards.
Those are all encouraging signs that Hollywood’s leaders are trying to make more room for people. But there’s no room for vendors. Buses navigating through the proposed streetscape would be forced to merge back into traffic, resulting in delays. And there are still far too many cars.
Oscar Sunday might seem especially frustrating to residents, but in a way, it’s the best illustration of how well drivers can avoid the area. Everyone adjusts to the fact that thousands of towncars will be dropping off celebrities to walk the closed-off streets like a CicLAvia for the Stars.
We should look at the way that Hollywood adapts to this week’s small inconvenience as inspiration for the way this street could be safer and more welcoming to people all of the time.
If you don’t believe it, try it out for yourself this weekend. The best-kept secret for residents is that once Hollywood is completely closed for the Oscars, you can stroll part of the car-free street from Cahuenga to Highland.
Or you can follow Ed Begley Jr. as he makes his legendary green Oscar commute. The Hollywood and Highland station is closed for security, so he usually gets off at Vine and hoofs it to to the red carpet.