Thanks to a powerful grassroots effort, organized largely on the Internet with an assist from Los Angeles Walks and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, one of the city’s most depressing road-design projects is becoming an example of what happens when a community demands better from the city’s engineers.
“Good riddance to the Hyperion Bridge Freeway and hello to an elegant crossing,” writes Tomas O’Grady, executive director of Enrich L.A. “Working on this and the Landbridge (at Figueroa) has taught me that Angelenos really do care about this stuff. They get it and they are willing to fight for it.”
Streetsblog will have more on the Landbridge at Figueroa on Monday.
Last fall, news broke that when the Hyperion-Glendale Conference of Bridges would be retrofitted to make them earthquake-proof; local advocates immediately noticed problems with the new design on the street portion of the bridge. Despite appearing on the city’s bicycle plan, the road redesign called for widening the existing car lanes, installing “crash barriers” in the middle of the bridge, removing a sidewalk and no new bike lanes.
After an explosion of public comment and a community forum which turned into a Livable Streets rally, the local City Councilmember, Mitch O’Farrell, announced a citizen’s advisory committee would be formed. The Mayor’s Office submitted a request for an extension to the grant. The old timeline would have precluded any major changes to the proposed road design.
But creating the community pressure to upset the timeline and the status quo was a result of pure advocacy.
“I think that we were all surprised by the rapid organization that happened around the Hyperion Bridge,” writes Matthew Mooney, one of the organizers of the successful strategies to encourage local neighborhood councils and community groups to support a progressive design.
“People came out of every crack to passionately support making this once again a livable bridge. What that tells me is that there is a pent up demand in this city to live in an L.A. before the mid century corporate takeover of this great city by the oil, rubber and auto industries, an L.A. that had the largest interurban light rail system in the world!”
The committee met last week and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation presented three options for the design of the bridge. All of them included bike lanes and a road diet of some sort. One included sidewalks on either side of the bridge instead of just one side.
In short, the battle over the bike lanes is over. There will be bike lanes on the Hyperion Bridge, not just facilities on parallel bridges. The question now is how many mixed-use lanes will there be and will the sidewalk be on both sides of the bridge. And despite the framing by supporters of car-first infrastructure design, this might be the larger question. So there’s two stories here, the first is that the process created by political advocacy is being taken seriously by the city, the second is that the Bureau of Engineering and City Council offices are making sure that the process actually takes into account the work and opinions of the community representatives.
In short, the process is working.
Given the institutional support that existed for just completing the $50 million retrofit of the bridge just a couple of months ago, even getting assurances that bike lanes are a probability is a major victory. Both local City Councilmembers and Mayor Eric Garcetti appeared in a video promoting the project as it previously existed. While Assemblyman Mike Gatto and Glendale Councilmember Laura Friedman both weighed in against the project, the political balance was tipping towards the original design.
There is still a small chance that the work of the advisory committee and city staff will be scuttled if the timeline extension application is denied. Staff with the Mayor’s Office both believe the application will be approved and are getting positive feedback from Caltrans.
Currently, it seems as though there is more institutional support for options A or C (as presented in the image above.) The first option maintains the number of mixed-use travel lanes and is reportedly a favorite of Council Member Tom LaBonge, who represents communities on one side of the bridge. Option C allows for the best mixed options and is the only option which includes two sidewalks and two bike lanes.
“Without the south sidewalk, pedestrians and joggers WILL use the south side gutter and bike lanes to get across the bridge,” writes Don “Roadblock” Ward, a advisory committee member. “This is obviously dangerous for bikes, and dangerous for anyone walking.”
Ward also notes that without a sidewalk on the south portion of the bridge, a pedestrian would have to cross up to 5 signals to get from a point in Silver Lake, to for example, the new Red Car park on the south side of the Hyperion Bridge on the Atwater side. This trip would require about 2200 extra feet of walking, and isn’t in line with a goal of improving pedestrian access across the L.A. River.
“This bridge having proper access for pedestrians by having a sidewalk on both sides not shared with bicycles is as much a civil rights issue as blacks in the South sitting at a Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro,” continues Mooney. “This has really revealed itself as an equal access issue. We sadly live in a city that still gives the auto preferential treatment a separate but unequal society that forces pedestrians, cyclists, the elderly, the disabled and children to sit in the back of the bus.”
To sidewalk or not to sidewalk, that is now the question. But the victories that have already happened are opening space for people to dream even bigger.
“Imagine having dinner on Rowena in Silver Lake and then taking a stroll with the kids across the bridge, stopping to enjoy the river views and having dessert in Atwater Village? Why for goodness sake do we all go to the “Americana” when we can have our own promenade starting at the restaurants of Hyperion/Griffith Park Blvd. and ending in the beautiful downtown of Atwater Village,“ writes O’Grady.