In normal times, it’s faster to walk along Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles than to drive. The traffic is so constant—some 16,000 cars a day—that closing the street for repairs was virtually unthinkable. Aside from fixing dangerous potholes, officials in America’s most notoriously car-clogged city hadn’t repaved the cracked, uneven roadway in more than a decade and weren’t planning to do so anytime soon.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting statewide lockdown, which cleared Los Angeles’s polluted air as well as its congested streets. California allowed construction to continue, and city officials seized an opportunity too serendipitous to pass up. Crews resurfaced a crucial half-mile stretch of Seventh Street in two days—less than half the time it would normally take, and without the traffic headache it would otherwise cause. “It looks amazing now,” crowed Adel Hagekhalil, the executive director and general manager of Streets LA, the city agency responsible for the upkeep of Los Angeles’s 23,000-mile road network. Like a proud father, Hagekhalil texted me before-and-after photos of the Seventh Street project, and of heavily protected, socially distancing construction workers laying down fresh pavement on an otherwise deserted street in broad daylight.