Glendale-Hyperion Bridge Political Contortions Forcing Unsafe Compromise Design

Los Angeles' latest "Option 1A" propsal for the Glendale Hyperion Bridge would preserve two sidewalks. Detail - click for full page.
Los Angeles’ latest “Option 1A” proposal for the Glendale Hyperion Bridge would preserve two sidewalks but not include the planned bike lanes. Detail – click for full page.

Last night, the Citizens Advisory Committee for the design of the new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge met to discuss the city’s latest proposal.

L.A.’s historic Glendale-Hyperion Bridge opened in 1927. It connects the Los Angeles communities of Silver Lake and Atwater Village. About ten years ago, city plans to renovate the bridge got underway. In 2013, the city proposed a dangerously high-speed highway-scale bridge design. Communities objected to the proposal. The city went back to the drawing board, and formed an Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing various possible configurations, and coming up with a better plan for the new bridge.

In August, the committee voted to move forward with Option 3 which includes bike lanes and sidewalks, and a road diet. Four existing car lanes would be reduced down to three lanes.  L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who represents the area on one side of the bridge, rejected the committee’s selection in favor of one that preserved four traffic lanes.

Given the width of the bridge, there is not quite enough room for two sidewalks, two bike lanes, and four car lanes. LaBonge’s insistence on preserving four car lanes meant that either bike lanes or a sidewalk would be eliminated.

The project stewed internally for a few months.

At last night’s meeting, attended by LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds and City Engineer Gary Moore, LADOT presented a new design – called Option 1A. The new option is an attempt to preserve both sidewalks while meeting LaBonge’s insistence on four car lanes. This eliminates the bike lanes. Preserving both sidewalks (via either Option 1A or Option 3) is important. As it would be prohibitively costly to go back and add sidewalks at a later date. Lanes, whether for bicycles or cars, can be reconfigured relatively inexpensively.

The city’s Option 1A cross section labels the bridge sidewalks as “shared use path[s].” Advisory Committee members Deborah Murphy (L.A. Walks), Don Ward (Los Feliz Neighborhood Council), and Eric Bruins (L.A. County Bicycle Coalition) all commented that these are just sidewalks, not designed for shared use. For most of the bridge, Option 1A shows an 8-foot sidewalk. Under Waverly Drive, the sidewalk narrows to 5.5 feet. The bridge is sloped, which means most cyclists will travel at fairly high speeds downhill. With limited width, limited sight lines, and significant speed differences between people walking and bicycling, Bruins characterized Option 1A as a “recipe for disaster.”

It appears that the political deadlock is poised to result in a design that preserves sidewalks, but is not safer for anyone. Wide roadways will mean higher speeds and less safety for people in cars. Narrow sidewalks shared by people bicycling and walking will result in conflict. And that assumes that bicyclists will choose to ride on the sidewalk and not in the mixed-use lanes with the cars on a high-speed street.

Though Option 1A was presented last night, no final decision was made. Advisory Committee members Ward, Bruins, and Murphy continued to express support for Option 3. Ward suggested that it might take an environmental lawsuit to get the city to do the right thing.

Streetsblog will continue to follow this story.

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