BOE and StreetsLA in 4 Minutes
This article discusses the history and current activities of the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) and StreetsLA. It is part of a series that provides short guides to different governmental transportation organizations in LA and CA.
Formal Name: Bureau of Engineering (BOE)
What BOE Does: BOE has engineers and architects that design and oversee the construction of streets, bridges, parks, and public buildings.
BOE played an instrumental role in the the development of LA’s transportation system. There were no paved streets 200 years ago, and the position of the “City Engineer” was created in mid-1850’s to build them. You can see what many of LA’s most prominent streets looked like in the past when they were dirt roads here. In 1925, a new city charter established the “Bureau of Engineering” (BOE), and today they exist as one of five departments under the Board of Public Works.
According to the Los Angeles transportation historian Matthew Roth, the high water mark for BOE’s influence in Los Angeles transportation occurred during the three decades between 1920–1950.
Prior to the 1920’s, transportation was dominated by the streetcar magnates who built lines to service real estate developments throughout the Los Angeles region. But starting in the 1920’s, car ownership substantially accelerated in Los Angeles and with it an increased demand for new roads. BOE served as the lead oversight agency for this buildout.
According to Roth, at the same time that BOE was designing and overseeing the construction of roads, the Bureau also became the central hub of funding for state and federal transportation dollars. This meant BOE played a pivotal role in not only building projects but also in determining which projects were built.
BOE today is less directly influential. For one, the street network is pretty much built out. In addition, state and federal money for new transportation projects flow primarily through Metro (the LA County transportation agency) and once this money gets to LA it is divvied up between BOE and other city departments like DOT and StreetsLA.
BOE nonetheless plays a pivotal role for transportation in Los Angeles. They are in charge of the city’s sidewalk improvement program, and continue to play a large role in redesigning existing streets. As one city engineer puts it, “one of the most important roles BOE has in relation to the street is setting standard plans that must be used by the private and public entities working on the street.” This means that if someone wants to put in a new driveway for their home or add a sidewalk for a new development, they need to conform to standards set by BOE.
Formal Name: StreetsLA (Formerly Bureau of Street Services)
What StreetsLA Does: StreetsLA is primarily about keeping city streets and sidewalks in good physical condition.
If BOE built the streets, then Streets LA now functions as their primary caretaker, which can range from minor touch-ups to full-on reconstruction of deteriorated streets.
Street maintenance was carried out by the City Engineer for the early decades of the 20th century until the volume of work merited the creation of a “Bureau of Maintenance and Sanitation” in 1941. When the sanitation function was spun off into its own bureau in 1947 (currently the Bureau of Sanitation) the unit took on the name Bureau of Street Maintenance. This new Bureau of Street Maintenance would add and subtract different street-related functions over several decades before evolving into the Bureau of Street Services, and now “StreetsLA”.
At present StreetsLA takes care of the entire street and sidewalk, and this includes:
- patching potholes and applying “lighter” slurry seals to streets still in reasonable condition
- conducting “heavier” resurfacing work to streets in worse condition
- maintaining street trees in the public right of way
- providing emergency fixes to sidewalks
- issuing permits for sidewalk vendors and events requiring street closures
- issuing citations to people and property owners interfering with the public’s ability to use sidewalks and streets
The workforce of Streets LA is somewhat distinct from BOE, in that while BOE is comprised mostly of engineers and architects (680 total staff), Streets LA has a much smaller proportion of these professions. Most of the 942 positions at Streets LA are part of different crews that go out into the street on a daily basis and perform the physical labor of repairing the street or sidewalk.
Streets LA does have a group of engineers and landscape architects who design “streetscape” projects (shorthand for “street landscape”). An example of a streetscape project would be adding sidewalk trees, crosswalks, and median islands to a street, thus improving the pedestrian safety and general attractiveness of the street.
There is some overlap in terms of the kind of street improvement projects handled by Streets LA and BOE, but historically BOE has tackled larger and longer-term engineering projects while StreetsLA handles ongoing maintenance and less intensive projects. That said, Streets LA can take on larger projects- for example, Streets LA recently received a $25 million grant to implement a major cycle track in South LA.
Go here for the main page of this transportation series.