Bridge plan upsets pedestrians
Walking, cycling, neighborhood groups say vote on span ignores changes in city
The perennial Los Angeles road wars over the competing needs of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians have spread from crowded, aging streets to the marbled chambers of City Hall.
In the latest skirmish, lawmakers have backed a hotly debated plan to retrofit a historic bridge connecting Silver Lake and Atwater Village. The controversy pitted activists and residents pushing for sidewalks on both sides of the span over the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River against other groups loath to lose a car lane on the bridge.
“To needlessly create a regional traffic jam five days a week because of a road diet is just folly,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents Atwater Village, said before Tuesday’s council vote. O’Farrell spoke up for the city plan that provided a single sidewalk, saying it would preserve four lanes of vehicle traffic and still give pedestrians a safe, uninterrupted path across the bridge for the first time.
The City Council voted unanimously with O’Farrell despite the opposition of David Ryu, who was recently elected to represent neighborhoods on the Silver Lake end of the bridge. Longtime Councilman Tom LaBonge, who is being replaced by Ryu, said he was eager to get the plan passed before he leaves office this month.
Pedestrian, cycling and neighborhood activists who opposed the decision said they may sue, possibly under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Bicycling advocate Don Ward said the council action was out of sync with a city “undergoing a sea change.”
“The sea change is that we want more options than just the car to get around,” he said.
The bridge battle comes after Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a citywide plan that aims to increase walking. Downtown is being reshaped as a more pedestrian-friendly hub. And city officials often say strollable streets are a major goal. But Ward argued that the decision Tuesday showed that such pronouncements are “just talk.”
The Glendale Boulevard-Hyperion Avenue bridge, built more than eight decades ago, is slated to undergo a $50-million makeover for seismic safety. It has narrow sidewalks that don’t meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The bridge also lacks bicycle lanes and is at risk of serious damage in an earthquake.
Bicycle activists, pedestrian advocates and several community groups argued against the council-backed plan, which calls for a single sidewalk on the west side of the bridge. Because some Atwater Village residents would have to walk farther to use a safe sidewalk, activists argue the plan increases the risk that teens will make dangerous crossings or walk in the planned bike lanes on their way to nearby Marshall High.
Some added that it fails to comply with federal laws guaranteeing equal public access for the disabled. “It’s going to create barriers for students, people who are disabled and for everyone else trying to get across,” said Matthew Mooney, who represents the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council.
During the recent council campaign, Ryu and his opponent, Carolyn Ramsay, joined the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in backing an alternative plan that would include sidewalks on both sides of the span, but only three lanes for vehicular traffic. That plan was also backed by an advisory committee formed by city officials.
City staffers said they opted not to pursue that plan because few people cross the bridge on foot. A city study found that in 12 hours, 106 people walked across the bridge, most of them on the west side of the span. Los Feliz resident Sean Meredith said that assessment was unfair because it was based on the current, “totally unsafe” conditions.
“I am shocked that children use it at all now,” Meredith said.
Other neighborhood groups, including the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council and the Los Feliz Improvement Assn., backed the city plan to retrofit the bridge with a single sidewalk. Many were concerned that cutting the number of car lanes would worsen traffic. Reducing lanes on nearby Rowena Avenue had already caused backups, some pointed out.
The Atwater Village Chamber of Commerce warned lawmakers that such a “road diet” would turn away shoppers. Others raised concerns about constricting a key route out of the city in a disaster. “Removing one lane would greatly increase our gridlock and overflow into neighborhood streets,” said Don Seligman, treasurer of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn.
O’Farrell also stressed that a new pedestrian walkway was being created nearby. City officials also have warned that reducing car lanes would require more review of the bridge project under the California Environmental Quality Act, and said further delays could put some federal funds for the project at risk.
But critics of the city plan pointed out that a California Department of Transportation employee testified at a recent hearing that the city could seek extensions. Mooney argued that the city should have delayed a decision until Ryu took office. If “God forbid something happens on that bridge … Ryu is the one that’s going to have to deal with it,” he said.
EZRA HORN, right, and others rally for pedestrian and bicycle paths in a revamped Glendale Boulevard-Hyperion Avenue bridge.