Photo/ Solomon Hernandez

A three-quarter mile stretch of road in Griffith Park Drive has been temporarily banned to vehicles, allowing for safer passage for pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists, with several changes being planned to improve overall safety.

The vehicle ban — which stretches from Travel Town Museum to Mt. Hollywood Drive — is part of a six-week pilot program in a multiphase project by LA officials to test and review safety measures to protect people from speeding cars looking for a shortcut from the 5 Freeway. Among those measures are speed feedback signs and more speed enforcement along the main thoroughfares.

After the initial six weeks, changes being planned for the park include reducing the hours when drivers can access Griffith Park Drive from the freeway, installing raised crosswalks for pedestrians and equestrians, installing buffered bicycle lanes and reducing vehicle travel lanes from two to one.

Photo/Asa S Kaufman

Long-term changes being considered include closing down upper Crystal Springs Drive to vehicles and improving the quality of bus stops to promote the use of public transit to the park.

For those who have been advocating for Griffith Park to be made safer for people, this latest action has been years in the making.

The now closed stretch of Griffith Park Drive is a narrow road with no bike lane. Cyclists and equestrians have little room to themselves in the face of an oncoming vehicle — particularly one that’s speeding.

“You have a park [where] you have vehicles that are doing 50 miles an hour, averaging 35, but many of them going quite fast in the middle of the park, inches away from a pedestrian or cyclist and there is no protection,” said Damian Kevitt, the founder of Streets Are For Everyone, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of life for pedestrians and drivers.

“This is a park. It’s bad enough that it’s the roads of Los Angeles. It’s supposed to be a sanctuary for the outdoors and for people to be able to exercise and recreate.”

Kevitt said he first started having conversations with then Griffith Park Superintendent Joe Salaices around five years ago to close the road at Griffith Park Drive. However, no concrete plans were made, and any ideas were put on hold after Salaices retired in February 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a month later.

Talks began to renew recently, with LA Councilmember Nithya Raman starting some initial discussions to make the park safer. That timeline was sped up “tremendously,” Kevitt said, with the tragic death of 77-year-old cyclist Andrew Jelmert, who was killed on April 16 by a drunk driver going 80 mph in Griffith Park.

A speed survey by LA officials conducted between May 13 and June 12 found that 75 percent of all vehicles traveling through Griffith Park were going more than 5 mph over the speed limit (the speed limit is 25 mph), and the average speed of cars was 35 mph. The fastest car recorded was clocked at 65 mph.

Kevitt lamented how Griffith Park is seen as a shortcut for drivers, saying that the park was not intended for commuters.

“We have a jewel in the City of Los Angeles that needs to be what it’s meant for, which is a park for the community,” he said.

While the vehicle ban is still only temporary, Kevitt said he is optimistic that the pilot will be successful and the road will be permanently closed to cars but did assure drivers that they would still be able to access the park.

“There’s not a single point in the park where vehicles can’t travel to,” Kevitt said. “It [the ban] does not close off the park in any way. What it does is it eliminates a small section so that cut-through traffic [from the 5 Freeway] is eliminated on that road.”

The stretch of road that has been closed to vehicles is still open to pedestrians. Kevitt said that the community response to the ban has so far been positive.

“I’ve talked to a number of equestrians, and they’re like, ‘Thank God,’” he said. “So many times, they’ve almost been hit or had their horses spooked because cars come zooming down that road. … There’s been a desire to make Griffith Park safer, but there hasn’t been the will to do it.”