Bridge plan up­sets pedes­tri­ans

Walk­ing, cy­cling, neigh­bor­hood groups say vote on span ig­nores changes in city

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - EMILY ALPERT REYES emily.alpert@la­ Fol­low @LATimesEmily for break­ing news from L.A. City Hall

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.

Christina House For The Times

EZRA HORN, right, and oth­ers rally for pedes­trian and bi­cy­cle paths in a re­vamped Glen­dale Boule­vard-Hype­r­ion Av­enue bridge.

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