Final Sixth Street Viaduct Model Showcased at Public Briefing; Expected Completion Date, Early 2019

Cyclists, pedestrians, and cars will all have a place on the Sixth Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
Cyclists, pedestrians, and cars will all have a place on the redesigned Sixth Street Viaduct, slated to open in 2019. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“How was the meeting?” Juan asked me as I came out of the multipurpose room at the Puente Learning Center.

He was just leaving his evening English class and had missed the public briefing on the design of the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement given by Councilmember José Huizar, Architect and Principal Designer Michael Maltzan, design-build firm HNTB, the Bureau of Engineering, and Project Contractors contractors Skanska and Stacy and Witbeck.

“Have you seen it?” I asked.

“No,” he shook his head.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him into the multipurpose room.

“Wow,” he said, impressed. “This looks really nice!”

He was right — the 47-foot model was pretty amazing.

Architect Michael Maltzan describes the 47-foot model of the bridge at a packed public briefing at the Puente Learning Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
Architect Michael Maltzan describes the design elements of the 47-foot model of the bridge at a packed public briefing at the Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Soaring forty-foot arches book-end a “ribbon of arches” that “weave [two disparate] communities together” via a massive multi-modal structure. Thirty-foot arches run the length of the rest of the 3500 ft. span of bridge, with the exception of two sixty-five-foot arches which will be accessible to pedestrians (one is visible in the top photo, at left) looking to either climb high above the structure or access the businesses and park space (to be created as part of the project) below it. Dedicated bike lanes run along either side of the traffic lanes. And the wide pedestrian walkway is both protected from traffic by a concrete barrier and unimpeded by light poles, thanks to the LED lighting that will be embedded in the arches and light both the street and the sidewalks.

Embedded LED lights illuminate the walkway and the street. (Source: Michael Maltzan Architecture)
Embedded LED lights illuminate the walkway and the street. (Rendering: Michael Maltzan Architecture)

The combination of the grandiosity of the design and the accessibility of the structure, project architect Michael Maltzan said, was intended to celebrate the notion that bridges were powerful “city amenit[ies] that should not be underestimated” (please take note, Glendale-Hyperion bridge project).

Which sounds great. Except it apparently almost didn’t happen.

Earlier this summer, the city received a letter from Caltrans stating that certain elements that had previously been approved for the $419 million project — barrier lighting, the stairs to access the top of the arches and the ground below, the ADA compliant spiral bike/pedestrian ramps linking the bridge with the park space below, and the arts plaza area (slated for the west side of the river) — were no longer eligible for Highway Bridge Program (HBP) funds.

Concerned the bike and pedestrian facilities and green space he considered “as important to [him] as the bridge itself” would be lost, Councilmember José Huizar sent district staff to Sacramento and reached out to Congressmember Xavier Becerra and State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León for assistance. With their help, and that of the Bureau of Engineering, nearly $20 million for those facilities was reinstated, ensuring that the new bridge will be what Huizar has deemed a “transformative space for Boyle Heights and the Arts District” and “as iconic as the original.”

And, because they were able to secure the funding for the bike and pedestrian facilities, the project was then eligible to receive an additional $2.5 million in funding from the Active Transportation Program (ATP).

So, the project is now back on track, if somewhat behind schedule.

The improvements slated to be made this summer to the intersections that will bear the burden of increased traffic once the existing bridge is closed for demolition will now happen toward the end of this year. On the bright side, the improvements (crosswalks, new signals, wheelchair ramps, etc.) will be permanent, as opposed to temporary. On the not-so-bright side, improvements in the form of better pedestrian or cycling facilities on those soon-to-be-more-heavily-trafficked streets will unfortunately not be part of that package.

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project
The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed (The 6th St. Viaduct is the center bridge; click to enlarge). Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project

Demolition of the bridge will begin mid-2015 and the bridge should open in early 2019.

The footprint of the right-of-way under the bridge is apparently still being negotiated.

The proposed area is visible in the (hideously terrible, my apologies) photo below.

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The blue blocks represent buildings that will be acquired/demolished. The dotted lines represent the new path of the bridge. The existing bridge is visible underneath. (Terrible photo: Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA)

Principals on the project assured briefing attendees that they were working closely with residents and business owners who would be affected by the project, be it by the demolition of the bridge, the re-routing of traffic, or the need to relocate altogether.

The span of the viaduct crosses mostly over industrial spaces. There is a set of housing developments on the east side of the flats, just to the north of the bridge. (Source: Michael Maltzan Architecture)
The span of the viaduct crosses mostly over industrial spaces. There is a set of housing developments on the east side of the flats, just to the north of the bridge. (Rendering: Michael Maltzan Architecture)

This seemed to contradict the experience of a few members of the audience. One man who had a business on the west side of the bridge — near where an arts plaza for the bridge was planned — said he’d never been contacted by anybody from the project. Another man stood up and said he was cooperating with the process, but that he still had concerns, and was even involved in litigation with the city over the displacement of his business from the flats area.

Someone from the Para los Niños charter school located on 7th St. wondered what allotments had been made for the parents of the 400 students they serve who would need easy access to the area to be able to pick up their kids during the construction phase.

Others asked about the fact that there appeared to have been little space set aside for parking in the landscaping plans and wondered where all the people who would be drawn to the bridge for events would be expected to park.

Those elements hadn’t been fully developed yet, responded one of the team members.

While they had a rough plan for the landscaping, including a pocket park between Mateo and Santa Fe streets that would connect to an arts plaza on the west side of the river, open green space in the central area, seating, a “spray area” (water feature for kids), and a soccer field made of artificial turf (the $1 million funding for which Huizar was recently able to secure), they were still working to determine the final footprint.

IMGP4328
The draft landscape plan includes an arts plaza, a soccer field, and a “spray area” (water feature) for kids. Click to enlarge. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

I asked Juan what he thought of all this.

The construction timeline and potential impact increased traffic would have on his street seemed to surprise him — he clearly hadn’t been informed about those aspects of the project. But, as a resident living nearby, he was excited by the promise the project seemed to hold as a recreational site for families in the area.

IMGP4331
Briefing attendees admire the massive model of the bridge. This section depicts access to the bridge from the ground and the area that will host the soccer field and green space. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

Whether his perspective is representative of the larger Boyle Heights community is unclear. In the past, residents have worried about whether or not the design incorporated their needs and aspirations and about the fact that the bridge improvements stop just short of Boyle Heights (the viaduct officially ends over the 101 Freeway; a separate stretch of bridge crosses over the 5 and is thus not part of the project).

Very few Boyle Heights residents were on hand last night to take a look at the model or hear about the final design. A handful did come through at the last minute — they had just left the same class that Juan had been in. But they floated out of the room as quickly and as quietly as they had floated in. The one resident I did speak with expressed concern about the soccer field being a potential catalyst for negative behaviors and worried about both the potential displacement of some of the businesses, including an important kosher food supplier, and the “no strike” clause project contractors Skanska and Stacy and Witbeck had worked into the Project Labor Agreement.

So we turn it over to you, dear readers. What say you about the project? Do you have any last minute concerns or questions? Do you want to voice your support for the project? Let us know in the comments below.

If you need more information on the reasons for the bridge renovation, see here. More background on previous public briefings can be found here and here. As mentioned above, construction is expected to be completed in early 2019. Intersection reconfiguration will begin this winter, and demolition will take place next summer. More information about the project can be found here (where they will also post better visuals in about a week), and pretty renderings can be found here.

  • Fakey McFakename

    Looks great. Is there any plan to revise the zoning in connection with this project? A lot of the adjacent areas are warehouses/industry, and if that park’s going to attract families rather than homeless encampments, there needs to be more residential right by the bridge. Channeling development nearby might be a good opportunity to help defray the cost of the new bridge and extract affordable housing concessions out of developers too.

  • sahra

    This I do not know, and I think they’ve shied away from talking about this for a variety of reasons. There is already a set of housing developments just to the north of the proposed footprint of the bridge, and those folks’ concerns have never once been raised, that I am aware of. Which makes me a little concerned that there hasn’t been much engagement with them or incorporation of their needs/discussion of how much this is going to change their environment. But I’ll follow up on that. Thanks!

  • Bridge Skeptic

    If there are “dedicated bike lanes,” why are they not visible in the model or the photos? Prediction: bikes will be allocated narrow gutter lane “shoulders” and as a result the majority will opt to take the pedestrian path. What’s so hard about putting a cycle track on a bridge being built from scratch?

  • sahra

    Because my camera isn’t that great in low light and the line markings on the model were a very faint reddish hue? They’re there. In the top photo, that cyclist is riding in a lane. The specifications of lane widths were not given, and it was made clear that they were not going to be protected lanes (the funding was likely lacking), which is unfortunate. That would be something I would suggest you go on record with, contacting either Huizar’s office or the 6th St. project folks. http://sixthstreetviaductreplacement.org/

  • sahra

    actually, if you click on the photo, you can see the lane markings. still… it’s not great, i agree.

  • BJToepper

    The “bike lanes” are infuriating. If funding is the issue, then join the sidewalk and bike space make it shared space. Why WE CAN’T GET THIS RIGHT at this late date makes no sense!

  • BJToepper

    The Santa Monica lanes between the 405 and Century City were also promised as “dedicated,” if I recall correctly. You can judge for yourself whether they delivered — and whether the lanes are first class infrastructure for cycling. Meanwhile, people looking to park their cars along the boulevard do so in curb-protected zones. Our priorities — protected car parking but painted bike lanes — are really confused.

    From what I can see in the drawings, we’re going to repeat this mistake on the bridge. If the mayor and his office are really serious about Vision Zero, they’ve started off on a bad leg.

  • sahra

    Well, as I suggested to the other commenter, go on record with that comment with Huizar’s office and/or the project contractors. I’ve raised this issue with the project people before (they hadn’t even included bikes in the original drawings and I had to go through a few people to find out whether or not lanes were actually part of the program), but no one was there to advocate for this. People grumbled about this after the last article I wrote, too, but the crowd at all the meetings has largely been city people, bridge and architecture enthusiasts and a smattering of stakeholders from the arts district. It was no different last night. It’s stupid that we should have to advocate for such things every single time a new project comes on line, but it is the way things go (see: Glendale-Hyperion). Unless people start making noise, it’s unlikely anything will change.

  • Laurie Perlowin

    At earlier meetings, most Boyle Heights residents expressed deep disappointment that the old bridge must be torn down, and will not be replaced with an historical replica. Now I think they have resigned themselves to the new bridge. I myself like the new design. One thing I’ve learned in my 68 years is that everything always takes longer than expected. I hope I will see the new bridge completed.

  • axel

    The renderings all show groups of people casually strolling around and very few cars. In reality, I doubt many people will be crossing the bridge on foot, and those that do will be relatively spread out given its length. At the same time, the new bridge will be wider, so the traffic will be faster. It’s going to be loud and unpleasant, equivalent to walking on the side of the highway. This is another case of rendering vs. reality.

  • Joseph E

    419 million for 3500 feet is over $630 million per mile! That’s more expensive than the last 3 mile phase of the Red Line subway, which opened in 2000. The Red Line has capacity to carry 4 times as many people per hour as this bridge.

  • brianmojo

    Feedback sent! Everyone else should do the same, it’s the only way this might change!

  • sahra

    Truthfully, it is wide enough and open enough now that if people want to speed through it, they can. And they do — often, and liberally. I doubt that that will change in any significant way. What I think will make a difference is whether or not they extend the improvements to Boyle Heights. Right now, it is really uncomfortable to cross the freeway on ramp to get to the bridge. I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable taking kids or grandma past that section of roadway. If they can make that crossing easier, I have a feeling a lot of folks from the community will use the bridge. There aren’t too many public spaces youth can hang out in… they need something like this.

  • User_1

    I’m assuming the model is on display at the PUENTE Learning Center? Completed in 2019 huh? You guys know we’re not building a trail in the woods right? I’m hoping that at least half will have been built by 2019!

    Great to see we’ll have trees on the LA River by 2019!

  • Joe Linton

    I think that lane widths matter. If people are speeding right now, then we should be narrowing the bridge. I worry that this will be a shitty loud freeway, with fancy arches stuck on.

  • sahra

    You know far more about bridges than I, but the bridge is actually pretty quiet/low-key, save a few busy times of the day, and I’m not sure that would change significantly just because a new bridge went up. I could be very wrong, too. The 4th St. bridge is the one that gets really hectic and I’m very concerned about just how unsafe it will be for pedestrians and cyclists come the demolition of the 6th St. structure. Either way, it’s up to advocates to make that case for slowing traffic and uprgrading the bike facilities NOW. So much of the focus has been on the design of the arches, that the public discussion I am aware of around the actual functioning/vehicular movement across of the bridge has been surprisingly minimal…even after I raised concerns about the bike facilities nine months ago. I’m guessing, as someone commented, that unless bike facilities are enhanced, all but the more confident riders will choose to ride along the pedestrian walkway…And I’m not sure that’s in anyone’s interest.

  • BJToepper

    Thanks for the tip. I have hollered with this note:

    ————————————-

    Mayor Garcetti’s recent “Vision Zero” document provided a ray of hope for bicycle commuters like me. However, the infuriating cycling infrastructure plans for the Sixth Street Viaduct shows up one reality of the City’s commitment to reducing vulnerable user traffic deaths.

    Pedestrians and cyclists bear the brunt of traffic deaths in Los Angeles.* If Vision Zero is to work, the road design policies that have led to these appalling statistics have to change. The “dedicated bicycle lanes” promised on the Viaduct plans are nothing more than painted lines alongside the thoroughfare. Such infrastructure does not protect cyclists from drivers. The League of American Bicyclists statistics** show that over forty-percent of cycling deaths come from drivers rear-ending cyclists, much like Milt Olin’s death last December in Calabasas, where an L.A. Country sheriff struck him from behind while he was riding in a bicycle lane. On a bridge, especially, where there are no side-streets to slow drivers, and no traffic lights to stop them, such separated traffic is critical.

    A Streetsblog.org article*** yesterday detailing Viaduct plans and cost considerations mentions that separated lanes might be too expensive. Beyond the obvious and maddening implications that some commuters lives are worth more than others, the cost factor should simply go away if we start thinking about cyclists as “strong
    pedestrians” rather than “weak drivers.” If we really don’t have the money to put in Class I or Class IV bicycle lanes on the Viaduct, then all we need to do is rethink our sidewalks. Make them wider! Paint lanes
    separating pedestrians from cyclists! Put vulnerable traffic modes with other vulnerable modes!

    I hope it’s not too late for this bridge design changes. I also hope the City doesn’t repeat the same mistakes it made when redoing Santa Monica Boulevard from the 405 to Century City, where parked cars get curb-separation from traffic while cyclists are thrust into the highway. These are bad priorities, and bad for Vision Zero.

    *”[P]edestrians accounted for about a third of all traffic fatalities, or nearly triple the national average of 11.4%. About 3% of the fatalities were bicyclists. That compares with 1.7% nationally.”

    *http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/02/business/la-fi-mo-auto-traffic-deaths-20121001

    **http://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/EBC_report_final.pdf

    ***http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/10/07/final-sixth-street-viaduct-model-showcased-at-public-briefing-expected-completion-date-early-2019

  • sahra

    I don’t know…I’ve asked, but no word yet.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Bicycling infrastructure in this country seems to be continuously relegated to some sort of second or third class treatment, even if there is adequate funding for a much better design.

    Take a look at a new multi-modal bridge in the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Notice that there is a barrier protected bike path leading up to the bridge and on the bridge the space between the cyclists and motorist is narrowed. There is still a barrier. The buffer area is replaced by a clear shield that reduces buffeting from wind and noise from the motor vehicles.

    http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/new-bridge-in-nijmegen-the-crossing/

    A stripe separating bicycles from fast moving motor vehicles is only going to attract about 7-8% of the adult population to ride there. Its just to stressful to ride a bicycle under that circumstance for the vast majority of the population.

  • Melanie Freeland

    Is the model still available for viewing somewhere? I’d love to see it if possible. Thanks!

  • sahra

    I asked, but still don’t have an answer…

  • Sakhal Nakhash

    Am I the only one that thinks the replacement is hideously ugly and out of place? I don’t care what the P.R. people told me to think about it, it’s an eyesore, and I don’t think it will age well.
    Who keeps approving this garbage?

  • da face

    Where’s the expansion area for Light Rail or the like??

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