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Eyes on the Street: Recently Widened Soto Street Bridge over Valley Blvd

The newly widened Soto Bridge is disappointing from a walking, transit and bicycling perspective - and the city plans more widening on Soto just north of the bridge project

5:50 PM PDT on September 5, 2023

The city widened the Soto Street Bridge, but missed a lot of opportunities to make the facility safer and more welcoming for people on foot, bike, and transit. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

This article supported by Los Angeles Bicycle Attorney as part of a general sponsorship package. All opinions in the article are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of LABA. Click on the ad for more information.

Los Angeles recently completed widening the Soto Street Bridge over Valley Boulevard. The bridge is located about three miles east of downtown L.A., straddling the L.A. City neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, El Sereno, and Lincoln Heights. The city Bureau of Engineering's $17.2 million Soto Street Widening over Valley Blvd. and UPRR [Union Pacific Railroad] project was completed in June 2023.

Soto Street Bridge over Valley Boulevard
To widen the historic 1936 Soto Bridge, the city added a new extension along the west side of the bridge. In this photo, the old (metal) bridge understructure is visible along the bottom of the bridge and the new (concrete) understructure is above/closer.

The project widened the bridge by 25 feet. The historic span remained in place, with additional width extending the structure westward.

The Soto Street Bridge project removed an unused adjacent rail bridge which formerly served the Pacific Electric Pasadena Short Line.

The bridge widening project did not add any more new car lanes to the bridge, but widened the four existing travel lanes, added a striped median, added/lengthened turn lanes south of the bridge, and added bike lanes.

The bridge widening project is disappointing from a walking, transit, and bicycling perspective.

Though the bridge itself includes sidewalks on both sides, the $17 million expansion managed to leave sidewalks off of the bridge approach on the east side. Signage indicates pedestrians are supposed to use only the continuous sidewalk on the west side of the bridge.

The east side of the new Soto Bridge has a sidewalk, but it does not extend further than just the bridge itself
The Soto Street Bridge's only working sidewalk is on its west side

DASH bus stops there have no shelters, no seating, no shade trees, all of which should have been included in a multi-million dollar infrastructure project.

LADOT DASH riders standing in the hot sun last week on Soto. The city BOE spent millions widening car lanes, but left transit riders without shade or seating.

The project also worsened transit conditions by removing a couple of shade trees (and one empty tree well) at the bus stops. A project designed to benefit transit riders and pedestrians could perhaps have removed the slip lane for northbound drivers continuing straight from from Valley onto northbound Soto.

According to the city's Mobility Plan, this portion of Soto was approved for new protected bike lanes, but the city implemented basic unprotected lanes instead.

New unprotected bike lanes on the Soto Street Bridge
Soto's southbound bike lane ends a couple hundred feet shy of Alcazar Street, so the city could put six car lanes there (four through lanes and dedicated right and left turn pockets)
The northbound bike lane was omitted just north of the bridge. The city's engineers opted to include sharrows directing cyclists to merge into the fast-moving northbound travel lane instead.
Just further north, the city's sharrows continue to direct cyclists to share the fast moving car lane, despite the outer lane being so wide that the city striped off its shoulder.
Further north, just below Multnomah, the city resumed the Soto bike lane. Unfortunately, the bike lane doubles as de facto parking in front of the Metropolitan Water District building there (and has for a long time according to Google Street View).

The new Soto bike lanes extend nearly a half-mile from Alcazar Street to Multnomah Street. The city decided to omit the northbound bike lane for about 700 feet north of the bridge (instead just installing sharrows). This is at a very short pinch point, where Soto narrows to 48 feet across. With no parking, and four car lanes, the city couldn't find space for a continuous bike lanes - which would fit if the city used 10-11 foot car lanes. (Ten-foot lanes are not uncommon in Los Angeles, especially in older parts of the city; it's unclear why the city used wider car lanes on Soto.)

The Soto project's big missed opportunity is the historic rail right of way, which has long been seen as a potential bike/walk path connecting from Hazard Park to El Sereno.

Most of the rail along Soto has been removed, but these tracks remain in front of industrial buildings near Multnomah
Pedestrians using the unimproved rail right-of-way along Soto last week - just south of the widened bridge.
Closed-off rail bridge abutments immediately west of the Soto Bridge. The city removed the former rail bridge in order to widen the adjacent street bridge.

And the city is not done widening Soto Street.

Immediately north, a second project, Soto Street Widening from Multnomah Street to Mission Road [webpage, info sheet] would spend $23 million to widen Soto, adding one more lane for drivers. It would require partial right-of-way acquisitions from 13 hillside parcels east of Soto.

The city plans to widen Soto Street north of Multnomah, to expand car capacity from three lanes to four.
Cross section of the future Soto Street widening project - via the Mitigated Negative Declaration document. The project would include a large retaining wall, one added lane for driving, new and repaired sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and watershed/drainage features.

That future widening is already environmentally approved. The project would add a large retaining wall, a missing sidewalk, a painted median, and protected bike lanes.

The city doesn't need to widen Soto to stripe basic bike lanes on that stretch. It is currently 40 feet wide, with three lanes for car traffic and no on-street parking.

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