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Griffith Park Traffic Response: Poorly Defined Free Parking Expansion Pilot

Cars parking and turning on Mount Hollywood Drive, until recently one of Griffith Park's car-free recreation roads. Photo courtesy Friends of Griffith Park
Cars parking and turning on Mount Hollywood Drive, until recently one of Griffith Park's car-free recreation roads. Photo courtesy Friends of Griffith Park
The new Griffith Park plan minimizes car access while adding new shuttle service. Photo courtesy Friends of Griffith Park

The city of Los Angeles' Griffith Park is a 4000+acre green-space gem at the heart of highly developed region.

Since the early 1990s, the park has had an extensive network of closed-to-cars paved roads that crisscross many of its wilderness hillsides. These roads offer a quiet respite from the city, plus incredible views. Like other car-free spaces, they are very popular with people on foot and on bicycle. Friends of Griffith Park's board president Gerry Hans calls these roads "an unexpected mecca for passive recreation, especially bicyclists."

The city of Los Angeles' Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP, which as of press time had not responded to SBLA's inquiry) recently began a trial that opened up a one-mile car-free stretch of Mount Hollywood Drive to driving and parking. This is the park road directly west of the Griffith Observatory.

The trial is poorly defined. DRP has yet to put anything in writing about it. In theory, DRP is testing out 200 additional parking spaces, which may someday become paid parking to help drivers access the park and to help the department capture revenue. The plan, as explained by Hans, is for DRP to eventually charge for parking at three locations: Griffith Observatory, Western Canyon Road, and Mount Hollywood Drive. Today, all Griffith Park parking is free, other than at the L.A. Zoo. Why the DRP is giving away free parking to test paid parking is unclear.

During the trial underway, park staff are surveying people who drive and park on the newly-gridlocked Mount Hollywood Drive. Hans reports that DRP personnel are refusing to take input from hikers and bicyclists present, surveying only motorists. The newly opened road, like many places with free parking, has been full of cars driving, parking, and turning around. It has already become an uncomfortable place for walking and bicycling.

The trial opened last Friday, March 20, and is set to last for three weeks.

What's putting pressure on DRP to do something? It apparently has to do with the longstanding L.A. icon called the Hollywood Sign, which resides in an essentially inaccessible area of Griffith Park. 

Tourists come to Los Angeles from all over the world and want to get to--and take their picture in front of--the sign. The tourists drive through the upscale Beachwood Canyon neighborhood. The Beachwood residents push local politicians to keep non-resident traffic away. Hence, the city is trying to steer tourists to the Griffith Observatory for great views of the Hollywood Sign. (Tourists should really follow Streetsie-winner Alissa Walker's advice for accessing the Hollywood Sign, but that's another story.) Below is a screenshot of Google Maps directions to the Hollywood sign today.

Google Maps directions to the Hollywood Sign actually take users to the Griffith Observatory.
Google Maps gives directions to the Hollywood Sign that actually take users to the Griffith Observatory instead. From there, the dotted line represents the view of the sign. Screenshot via Google Maps
Google Maps directions to the Hollywood Sign actually take users to the Griffith Observatory.

Seeing more car traffic in Griffith Park and more congestion around the observatory, DRP is looking for ways to manage traffic volumes. Hence, DRP opted to temporarily convert Mount Hollywood Drive into a new free parking lot.

The Friends of Griffith Park, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club are opposing the trial and any further loss of car-free recreational space in Griffith Park. The Sierra Club posted this alert urging readers to contact DRP. Friends of Griffith Park submitted a strongly worded comment letter [PDF] critiquing the overall vagueness of the trial. The letter concludes:

The problem of too much vehicular traffic can only be solved by reducing the number of vehicles entering the park, not by making more parking available beyond the points where the traffic itself is problematic.

Hans is urging DRP to cancel the trial, and to do an actual plan, studying options such as shuttles connecting with public transit, all vetted in a thorough public process. To some extent, DRP finds itself in a tight spot, trying to balance the needs of locals, tourists, recreation, wildlife, maintenance, and more. But merely plopping in an ill-conceived trial will not please anyone, and is even serving to unite disparate interests against the trial.

Concerned individuals are encouraged to speak about this issue at a public meeting of the city's Griffith Park Advisory Board. The meeting takes place this Thursday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Griffith Park Visitors Center Auditorium [map]. Additional information is available on the meeting agenda [PDF] and Facebook page. There are group bike rides to the meeting from Sunset Triangle Plaza and from Toluca Lake.

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