A Tale of Two Future Bridges: New Bike/Ped Crossing on L.A. River, Fewer Sidewalks on Glendale-Hyperion
It was sort of a surreal moment. Even as Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell stood at the podium discussing the benefits of a planned new bicycle and pedestrian crossing over the L.A. River, the Bureau of Public Works released its recommendation (PDF) that the new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge would actually have fewer feet devoted to safe sidewalks than the current bridge.
What was supposed to be a light press conference announcing the opening of a permanent bridge project using existing support structures from an old Red Car bridge across the L.A. River turned somewhat sour for many of the community and traffic safety advocates in attendance when the Bureau announced their plans for the bridge on their website. News traveled quickly among the crowd, and the reporters present suddenly found themselves with dozens of sources for a meatier story than a made-for-bike-week announcement of new infrastructure.
In the fall of 2013, news broke that when the Glendale-Hyperion complex of bridges that connect Atwater Village and Silver Lake 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 adding no bike lanes.
After an explosion of public comment and a community forum which turned into a Livable Streets rally, 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.
Earlier today, the Bureau of Engineering released its analysis of four different designs for the new bridge, concluding that to make space for a pair of bike lanes on the new bridge, the best option was to take out one of the two sidewalks.
At the podium this morning, O’Farrell painted as rosy a picture as possible, discussing the importance of river crossings for all mode users and some of the improvements the new Hyperion Bridge will have over the existing one, including marked crosswalks and bicycle lanes. He even struck a populist tone, declaring his support for “protected bicycle lanes” on Hyperion and across the city.
But that wasn’t enough for many of the safety advocates in the audience. A press release from L.A. Walks noted that any bicyclist or pedestrian on Glendale Boulevard wanting to cross the river on the “Red Car Bridge” would need to travel twelve minutes out of their way–and are thus far more likely to use the limited sidewalk or just walk on the shoulder even without a sidewalk.
“The City of Los Angeles promotes the fact that we have moved past our auto-centric history and want to be ‘A Safe City,’ as it states in the Mayor’s Great Streets for Los Angeles Strategic Plan,” says Deborah Murphy. “We cannot achieve this goal if we can’t provide the most basic of provisions for pedestrians–a simple sidewalk on both sides of the bridge.”
Murphy’s name is synonymous with advocacy for safe streets as Chair of the City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and executive director of L.A. Walks. She is also a Silver Lake resident, and served on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee that examined all of the different options for the new bridge.
“Everybody walks, but not everybody drives. Yet the city wants to build a bridge that only allows you to walk on one side of the bridge.”
After Councilmember Tom LaBonge left to chair a committee meeting at City Hall, O’Farrell remained to answer the tougher questions. A Los Angeles Times transportation reporter cornered the Councilman to try and get an answer on whether or not he would support the Bureau of Engineering’s proposal to create a new bridge with only one sidewalk. Staff tried to shuffle the Councilmember off to a waiting car to avoid the question that he non-answered, “He hadn’t crossed that bridge yet,” citing his need to be at City Hall for a full council meeting at 10 a.m.
(Update, 10:20 p.m. – Staff for Councilmember O’Farrell states that since the event, the councilmember has had a chance to read the report and he supports the BoE’s recommendations, but is going to fight for protected bike lanes and a pedestrian activated signalized cross walk on the Atwater Village side of the bridge.)
The City Board of Public Works will hear the Bureau of Engineering’s recommended plan at its meeting on Friday (agenda).With O’Farrell equivocating and Councilmember LaBonge actively pushing for a bridge design that doesn’t reduce car capacity, some of the focus will slip to the two candidates seeking to replace LaBonge in this year’s election.
Come July 1, either Carolyn Ramsay or David Ryu will be the Councilmember representing Silver Lake, replacing the termed-out LaBonge. Both Ramsay and Ryu are on the record supporting a Hyperion design with sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. Both Ramsay and Ryu have pledged to write the Board of Public Works with their support for the sidewalks.
In a way, the timing of today’s press event and the Bureau’s announcement is unfortunate because the Red Car bridge crossing, while not necessarily news, is a worthwhile project, and O’Farrell is right to be proud of it.
The project will utilize the existing piers once used by the Red Car trolley to cross the Los Angeles River. The bridge will connect the pedestrian and bike trail along the L.A. River to the Red Car Mini-Park on the northeast river bank, making a convenient connection to Atwater businesses and homes.
This bridge will also be used to provide bike and pedestrian access during the future seismic retrofit and historic preservation of the Glendale Hyperion Bridge. In fact, original plans called for the Red Car Bike and Pedestrian Bridge to be a temporary facility.
However, to many of the advocates in attendance today, the Red Car bridge project is no replacement for a Glendale-Hyperion bridge with two sidewalks.
“We did everything by the book, motions passed by the Neighborhood Councils,” said Don Ward, who was one of the leaders of a community effort to gather support for a bridge with two bike lanes and two sidewalks.
“Hundred upon hundreds of conversations with homeowners, residents, businesses, parent groups, principals, churches… the amount of volunteer hours that the safe streets community put into this is staggering.”
A full list of supporting organizations can be found at the end of this article.
The Board of Public Works will meet this Friday at 10 a.m. in City Hall to hear the Bureau’s proposal. If passed, the recommendation will be put on the City Council agenda. However, it will likely go before a champion of Livable Streets, since the likeliest committees for it to go through are Transportation (chaired by Mike Bonin) or Planning and Land Use (chaired by Jose Huizar.)
Hyperion Option 3 – Letters of Support
owners – 42
Atwater Village Farm (petition)
Chester + Co.
Courtney & Kurt
Fur Hair Gallery
The Morrison (petition)
Viet Noodle Bar
Pine and Crane
Rios Clementi Studios
Mack Sennett Studios
RAC Design Build
managers/employees – 84
Manager of the Atwater Village Farmers’ Market
BoHo Upcycle – employee
Wells Fargo – asst manager
Out of the Closet – manger
Out of the Closet – employee
Heartbeat House – manager
Heartbeat House – employee
A Runner’s Circle – 5 employees (petition)
Velo Studio – manager and 2 employees (petition)
Atwater Village Farm – employee (petition)
Alias Bookstore – 2 employees (petition)
TJ’s 67 employees
Community – 20
Marshall High School (Principal Patricia Heideman)
King Middle School (Principal Mark Nualls)
Micheltorena Elementary School (Principal Susanna Furfari)
Glenfeliz Elementary School (Principal Karen Sulahian)
Friends of Marshall Magnet
Friends of King Middle School
Friends of Glenfeliz Elementary School
Friends of Atwater Elementary School
Emiliana Dore – President of Friends of Glenfeliz Elementary School
LAUSD Board Member, Bennett Kayser
Shelli-Anne Couch – AVNC Board Member
Bicycle Advisory Committee
Los Angeles Walks
L.A. County Bicycle Coalition
Friends of the L.A. River
Democrats for Neighborhood Action
Community Advisory Committee – Official Vote 6-3
Neighborhood Councils – 16
Silverlake Neighborhood Council – community impact statement for Option 3
Los Feliz Neighborhood Council – community impact statement for Option 3
Alliance of River Communities (14 neighborhood councils)
Individuals – 15
Members of Moms and Dads of Atwater Village – 9 emails
Atwater Village residents – 6 letters
Petitions – 1,200+
Vision Hyperion Option 3 Petitions – 670+ (mostly Atwater residents)
LACBC’s CicLAvia petition – 300+
AVNC’s Survey – 232