The Glendale-Hyperion Bridge Project, Musings on Bridges as Destinations, and High Hopes for the New Citizen Advisory Committee

Heading up the Glendale-Hyperion bridge into Silver Lake. Appropriately, the battered and painted over sign at the base of the lights reads "DANGER."  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Heading up the Glendale-Hyperion bridge into Silver Lake. Appropriately, the battered and painted-over sign at the base of the lights reads “DANGER.” Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I am sometimes puzzled by how disconnected an infrastructure plan can be from what is good for a community.

Take the plans in the works to widen travel lanes to freeway standards along the Glendale-Hyperion bridge as part of the seismic retrofit it is about to undergo.

In a video celebrating the upcoming project, Councilmember Tom LaBonge speaks without a trace of irony about how important it is to restore the railings of the historic bridge — destroyed by cars slamming into them — to their former glory and to build “a livable city around these bridges.” Which he apparently believes will be accomplished by improving the speed of traffic flows and adding crash barriers.

Speaking over footage of a pick-up truck racing and weaving toward Atwater Village, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell states (also without a trace of irony) that, “due to vehicle speeds on Hyperion Avenue, a median barrier will be constructed to prevent head-on collisions.”

Did it really dawn on neither of them that high speeds are partially to blame for the unsafe and shoddy conditions they are seeking to mitigate?

This disconnect makes sense — to a degree — if one thinks about where we were ten years ago, when discussions began on how the bridge might be improved.

At that time, cycle-commuting was still a new concept to many and there was little infrastructure to accommodate those adventurous enough to try their luck on two wheels.

It certainly felt like a lonely proposition — I remember being able to count the number of cyclists I would see in a week’s time on my own commute on no more than two hands. Friends thought I must have had a death wish. One would even introduce me at parties by saying, “This is Sahra. She rides her bike everywhere. She’s insane.”

It was a dark time.

Thankfully, much has changed since then; planning processes have expanded to include advocates in conversations on how to better accommodate all roadway users.

The Glendale-Hyperion bridge retrofit designers missed that train somehow, however, never wavering from the stated purpose of “improv[ing] traffic circulation to improve the operational efficiency of the viaduct complex” or the idea that “traffic” could refer to anything other than motorized vehicles.

Which makes no sense to anyone who has ever moved across that bridge in a car, on a bike, or on two feet, as I did this past weekend, when I walked back and forth between Atwater and Silver Lake.

What I observed about how people actually use the bridge within just the half hour I spent moving across it made me think it was entirely possible that designers might not have ever visited the site in person.

First, a lot of folks ride their bikes across it, and most of them appear to be doing so because they have to get to a destination. Regardless of the design ultimately implemented on the bridge, they (myself included) will continue to need to cross it on their bikes because there are so few alternative options that allow you to cross both the river and freeway in one shot.

My friend and neighbor Jorga Houy makes his way home from work up the bridge. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
My friend and neighbor, Jorga Houy (at left), makes his way home from work up the bridge. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Second, there is already ample space for everybody, as long as we all behave like adults, travel at reasonable speeds, and respect the notion that we all have the right to get where we are going safely, regardless of our mode of transport.

There is space for cars and bikes to share the road under Waverly, which is the narrowest part of the bridge. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
There is ample space for cars and bikes to share the road under Waverly — the narrowest part of the bridge — if we all behave like adults and travel at reasonable speeds. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Meaning, car travel lanes should not be widened, as the current plan proposes.

Third, there is another very good reason that lanes shouldn’t be wider: CURVES.

People tend to not realize they accelerate and either swing wide or cut too close to a curb when taking a curve. Which helps explain the numerous hubcaps and bits of collision debris littering some of the curvier portions of the bridge.

Allowing for even greater travel speeds by widening lanes, throwing in a center divider, and adding crash barriers (because you realize that by making it easier for people to go faster on curves, you are also making it more likely that they will crash) seems somewhat like ass-backwards reasoning, if I may use the technical term.

Not least because cyclists are likely to be just around one of those blind curves.

A vehicle moving around a curve at 50 or more mph that suddenly comes upon a cyclist struggling his way up the hill might not have time to stop.

Now you see me. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Now you see me. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Now you don't. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Now you don’t. Well, you do if you look hard enough — his left shoulder is just about to disappear around the curve. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Even without cyclists present, the curves are dangerous.

The car at top left was one of several that hugged the curb as they came flying around the curve under Waverly (heading into Atwater). I would have stood closer to the curve so that you could better see the remains of several hubcaps in the gutter, but it felt too dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The car at top, left, was one of several that hugged the curb as they came flying around the curve under Waverly (heading into Atwater). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Cars come flying up Hyperion and around the curve under the Waverly crossing, often grazing the curb.

Or worse.

Don’t believe me?

Exhibit A. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Exhibit A. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Exhibit B. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Exhibit B. Where hubcaps go to die. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

How could engineers not have seen these things? Or thought that building a mini-freeway connecting two very pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhoods could have been the best possible solution to a problem I don’t believe ever existed — namely, the need to go faster on the bridge?

Weirder still, how is it possible that they never really envisioned the bridge as a destination?

There certainly has been ample discussion of its lustrous history by folks like Tom LaBonge, but precious little thought given to making it possible for future generations to enjoy the unique views the bridge affords you of the river, Griffith Park, the mountains, Atwater Village and even the 5 freeway (for better or worse, freeways are also symbolic of L.A. and oddly beautiful in their own, environmentally damaging way).

The views are actually pretty amazing.

This is why the bridge needs to be seen as an asset. The VIEWS. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog.org
This is why the bridge needs to be seen as an asset. The VIEWS. View looking northeast from Waverly. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog.org
For Sale. View looking north from the Hyperion Bridge. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Yes, the VIEWS. View looking north from the Hyperion Bridge. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Amazing enough to make me, and also apparently this guy (below), waive our better judgment and trek under Waverly to get back and forth across the bridge.

Walking under Waverly is a dicey proposition. Especially when there are two of you. I stepped into the road to allow the other pedestrian to pass. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Walking under Waverly is a dicey proposition. Especially when there are two of you. I stepped into the road to allow the other pedestrian to pass. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And to brave both the human feces along the bridge and the Isle of Pedestrian Despair you reach as it descends into Atwater Village.

Cars fly up Hyperion or towards the 5, flying past me as I stand on the Isle of Pedestrian Despair. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Cars fly up Hyperion or towards the 5, zooming past me as I stand on the Isle of Pedestrian Despair, waiting to cross to a sidewalk (at left). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Thanks to the tireless efforts of concerned advocates and community members, area neighborhood councils have condemned the current design and endorsed a letter requesting a more “livable” bridge that featured reduced speeds and adequate bike lanes, and strongly encouraged sidewalks for pedestrian access on both sides.

Garcetti has since requested that Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration grant the city an extension to consult with experts and community members on the design. And a Citizen’s Advisory Committee — comprised of cycling, pedestrian, river, and other advocates from the appropriate council districts — was recently created to bring more transparency and accountability to the redesign process, should there be one. Their first meeting will be December 12th.

All of which is welcome news, assuming that those behind the creation of the committee are sincere in their intentions and plan to actually incorporate citizen input as they move forward on the project. It is also important that the process be transparent and open to the public, so that those stakeholders and advocates not formally appointed are able to follow and participate in shaping the new vision for the project.

As one of those advocates active in lobbying neighborhood councils on this project, Matthew Mooney, noted at a meeting in Atwater Village, any improvements to the bridge will likely stand for the next hundred years. Which means we should really be thinking beyond efficiency.

A hundred years from now our children will not be thanking us for helping them get to Atwater Village 2.5 seconds faster than we are able to today. They might, however, greatly appreciate having a unique vantage point from which to enjoy views of the revitalized river or fall sunsets that turn the mountains pink.

We can and should do better by such a historic bridge, in other words. I just hope that our city’s politicians and planners are willing to help us do so.

  • Paul Berolzheimer

    Thank you, Sahra.

  • jennix

    Well said! Thanks for this piece!

  • Salts

    Great post that captures what’s wrong with the current situation and the proposal. Any politician that reads this would agree with your comments, especially since you have the visual evidence to back it up. Unfortunately I think they’re set on freeway design because they want to cut a ribbon and “break ground” ASAP

  • John K

    Excellent write up of the situation.

  • james

    LaBonge has been sharpening and polishing his oversized golden scissors. He needs to cut something and he needs an audience to watch him cut. He is hollow without our attention.

  • jim

    How do we get to know . Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell read this too? Is it possible that they really don’t understand that the private automobile is the problem. i guess i sound a little naive. A large proportion of our neighbors don’t understand this fundamental fact. By making the Hyperion bridge one lane down hill, two lanes up hill and providing a safe and separated paths for pedestrians and cyclists we will significantly decrease the amount car traffic on the roads and cars will finally flow at better speeds. This conversation applies to every foot of public space in the city and by extension the country and the rest of the planet. The bridge is a tipping point. We must continue from here,

  • Don Ward

    Great write up. Matthew Mooney needs to be on the committee as a representative of Vision Hyperion. His ride or die effort and leadership to get the attention of the area NCs was crucial.

    I would also like to see Dan Koepel and Marty Chambliss appointed.

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