Who Do We Blame for the Next Death on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge?

Current Glendale-Hyperion Bridge deficiencies foster unsafe pedestrian crossings, including High School students who walk to Marshall High School via the bridge. The L.A. City Council approved a design today that will remove a sidewalk from the bridge. Photo: Sean Meredith
Current Glendale-Hyperion Bridge deficiencies make for unsafe pedestrian crossings, including students who walk to Marshall High School via the bridge. The L.A. City Council approved a design today that will remove a sidewalk from the bridge. Photo: Sean Meredith

In a unanimous 11-0 vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved the city Bureau of Engineering’s (BOE) single-sidewalk pedestrian-killer design for the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Though the item was not approved at the Public Works Committee last week, the City Council approved the item today with no public comment, after brief misleading characterizations by Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell.

Non-profits, including Los Angeles Walks, Neighborhood Council representatives, cyclists, and others in attendance who had intended to speak against the project were not allowed to address the Council. Some Atwater Village neighborhood representatives who had come to speak in favor of the sidewalk-deficient design were also denied the opportunity to offer public testimony. Some of the walkability-livability proponents testified during general public comment but, by then, the City Council had already approved the item.

Bridge safety advocates now have 30 days to challenge the city’s adoption of the environmental studies, called an IS/MND – Initial Study / Mitigated Negative Declaration. Advocates are discussing the possibility of a legal challenge. If the project isn’t stopped in court, the city will spend about two years on final designs, then will bid and construct the retrograde facility.

The crosswalk omission anticipates that people will walk up to half a mile out of their way to get to destinations. As occurs all over the world, it is predictable that pedestrians will ignore poor design, and will attempt to walk shorter routes. In this case, the city’s design will push pedestrians into the way of multiple lanes of oncoming traffic.

When the next pedestrian is killed on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, whom should we blame?

It is tempting to just blame a system that favors driving over walking but, in this case, I am going to name the names of people who had a chance to make this bridge safer, and failed to do so.

Let’s start with the deceptive and unprofessional Bureau of Engineering Bridge Program engineers, Shirley Lau and James Treadaway. These engineers have succumbed to fiscal pressures to build costly, unneeded, and unsafe bridge projects. These engineers hide behind the language of not complying with “current design standards” to push projects that endanger all Angelenos. These wrongheaded bridge projects destroy the city’s cultural and engineering heritage in order to move car traffic at unsafe speeds. Bridge Program staff misrepresent the funding situation using suggestive language to create a false urgency over losing funds. Whenever the city contacts Caltrans to reschedule funding, Caltrans complies. The Bridge Program has never lost a penny by delaying an active project, yet BOE documents assert “further delays may result in loss of funds.”

BOE’s consultants also will share the blame for the next pedestrian death. There is a great deal of federal funding bearing down on agencies to make work on their bridges. The consultants crunch the numbers to generate as much make-work construction as possible, then secure lucrative contracts so they can pig out at the bridge desecration trough. BOE’s consultants on Glendale-Hyperion are Psomas; among Psomas’ staff enabling the city’s unsafe design are engineers Anissa Voyiatzes, Alejandro Angel, and Arief Naftali.

Bridge program staff and consultants are unprofessional in playing fast and loose with already-biased traffic studies. The traffic studies use the discredited, wholly car-centric “Level of Service” metric. These are rigged exercises weighted to favor wider roads and faster speeds. Even under these backward-looking metrics, the city’s traffic studies show that there are no “significant” congestion issues in temporarily closing a car lane during construction, hence no full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is needed, and the city can get by with the simpler IS/MND. Though car traffic on the bridge has declined over the past 10 years, project engineers predict massive growth in driving through 2040 (despite declining vehicle miles driven), then conclude that eliminating a car lane (in favor of full sidewalks) is environmentally not feasible. Even with all the car-car-car-car metrics, consultant studies showed that a 3-lane option outperformed the current configuration in terms of delays to drivers.

BOE staff serve under departmental leadership. City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, ironically on a bike infrastructure tour of Denmark cities today, and Chief Deputy City Engineer Deborah Weintraub did not initiate this project, but they let it proceed under their watch.

The city’s Board of Public Works, Kevin James, Monica Rodriguez, Matt Szabo, Michael Davis, and Heather Repenning voted to accept the BOE’s IS/MND.

The City Council’s Public Works Committee, Joe Buscaino and Curren Price, held their noses and passed the item along to City Council, knowing full well that this all but guaranteed its approval.

Los Angeles City Council approves a bridge to the 1950s.
Los Angeles City Council approves a bridge to the 1950s.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously in favor of the project. Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, Mike Bonin, Joe Buscaino, Gil Cedillo, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, Bernard Parks, Curren Price, and Herb Wesson all voted to approve, deferring to project proponents Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge. This is typical – councilmembers almost never overstep their jurisdictions to block a project located in another district.

Above the fray, but also squarely responsible for the department heads and commissioners he names, Mayor Eric Garcetti failed to intervene to keep pedestrians safe, despite his stated livability and sustainability goals.

  • SZwartz

    You may be correct. I do not know. The legal issue may be more complicated.

    Did you make comments on the public record, especially in writing? If not, then you will not have standing to file a CEQA Petition. That is why we always urge people to make written comments and maker certain that they actually are in the public record and that you or your group is identified as making them.

    Did you add scientific or other material on which experts in this area generally rely to the public record? If not the Administrative Record for the court to review may lack the data required for the court to rule in your favor. That is why we always urge people to add substantive, scientific data to the public records rather than personal opinions. Analyses of public data is often helpful as it applies the facts to your particular project.

    If you can get standing to file a CEQA Petition but no one has added the scientific material to support your claim, you most likely will be relegated to arguing that the City lacked data to show substantial evidence for its position. ‘Substantial evidence” can be as low as 30% probability — The City does not have to meet the Preponderance of Evidence Standard [51%].

  • SZwartz

    Or, you could take the time to oppose the bad plans by planning far in advance. It’s not as if activists have never encountered Garcettism before.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    There are several possible results that could occur if there is a change in design. The option that would probably come to the top of the list would be to install a sidewalk on both sides and have a bike lane on only one side with sharrows for riding in mixed traffic on the other side. The least likely scenario is to remove a motor vehicle lane. Essentially there is 16-feet to work with for pedestrians and bicycle riders. Its very unlikely that the 4-motor vehicle lane design will be reduced to only three. The question should be what is the best use of this 16-ft for both pedestrians and bicycle riders?

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Dennis – I actually agree with your proposed design. This bridge needs both four lanes of automobile traffic and sidewalks on both sides.

    Under the current design, pedestrians will jaywalk in the bike lane. How many cyclists will get in accidents serving from the bike lane into the general travel lane? And of course, the injured cyclist will be found at fault because he violated CVC 21208.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    I did not propose a design, I gave what I believe to be likely scenarios. If one of the grade separated bike lanes is taken out of the design then there will be much less people willing to use a bicycle on that bridge. Less than 1% of the adult population is willing to ride in mixed traffic with motor vehicles traveling at a high speed. Keeping the bike lane increases the amount of potential bicycle users by several fold.

    Your hypothetical scenario of the danger of people swerving into traffic from the bike lane is very unlikely to happen. The bike lane will be grade separated.

  • Sergio Lambargini

    attorney was hired in Oct 2013. Letter was submitted by said attorney. Project stopped. Attorney has challenge prepared. 2 weeks to file.

  • SZwartz

    Good luck

    Remember, your atty can also use any other issue or materials which others may have placed in the official record. He/she is not limited to what he/she wrote in Oct 2103.

    Sometimes, one cannot go from point 1 to point 2 without taking a detour to point #27B. In other words, another issue may get a remand for entire do over.

    Good luck
    When you file can you give us your case number. It should start with “BS + 6 digits

  • Sergio Lambargini

    “It is similar to the auto emissions inhaled while biking in a main
    artery. The average for the entire stretch of the bike lane may be OK,
    but there are often spikes of ultra high emissions, e.g. from a diesel,
    which are more relevant than the average.” <— This obviously means we need to decommission fossil fuel cars and regulate smog 5 times as much so car drivers are forced to replace them quicker. Obviously cars are a hazzard to those of us who use our own two feet to get around.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Hey! Someone get this woman a Garcetti reelection campaign donation envelope!

  • GEAH

    People who threaten a pie in someone’s face deserves shaming and humiliation.

  • ubrayj02

    Your tears = my happiness.

  • ubrayj02

    Because that is who the real villains are. People with delicious pie.


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