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Could the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge Become a High Line-Style Park?

Construction on the new Riverside-Figueroa Bridge has been ongoing since 2011, but recently Elysian Valley architects RAC Design Build has approached the city with the possibility of preserving the steel section of the old bridge and turning into an elevated park, a la New York City's High Line.

"Why are we dismantling infrastructure that could otherwise be repurposed?" asked Kevin Mulcahy of RAC Design about eight months ago, when the whole idea was investigated in earnest.

In the original plans from 2006, the old bridge needed to be demolished because the alignment between the new and old bridge would overlap. But revised plans, circa 2010, show that the two bridges would actually have a 4-feet clearance between each other. The clearance provided an opportunity to explore options for saving the steel portion of the old bridge, and start to create a green space that would provide community benefits, says Mulcahy.

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The idea began with an innocent bike stand. The Department of Transportation approached RAC Design Build for permission to use part of their property, which lies by the Los Angeles River, to build a bike stand for cyclists using the Los Angeles River Cycleway. The firm easily agreed, but that spurred a larger conversation on how cyclists and pedestrians would be further served by upcoming city projects. This naturally led to a tantalizing question regarding the Figueroa-Riverside bridge: "What if the old bridge would be saved and it could be turned into a fantastic turnout for cyclists and pedestrians?"

Where most people would have stopped at daydreaming, Mulcahy pursued the matter, conducting many meetings with the Bureau of Engineering (BOE), the lead agency for the construction. He found that there was nothing stopping the halt of the demolition.

Structurally, the bridge was still sound. In fact, it was seismically upgraded in 1987, says Mulcahy. The only reason the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found the bridge deficient was because of its almost-90 degree turn along its path, which can be problematic for cars.

Mulcahy also discovered in a meeting with Linda Moore, Bridge Program Environmental Manager at BOE, that keeping the steel bridge wouldn't affect any previous approvals that the new construction has garnered.

Finally, Mulcahy found that keeping the bridge wouldn't affect the project timeline. No new approvals needed to be sought, even an initial meeting with the FHWA received a positive response. FHWA was used to refinements in the final construction contracts and dealt with these types of changes in every project.

In short, there are no foreseeable delays due to this change so far. "I am not interested in stalling the current work," says Mulcahy. "I'm just not an advocate for throwing good infrastructure away if you can reuse it."

RAC Design Build has come up with a broad strokes version of their proposal. "Vision is really the best way to describe it, we haven't designed or engineered this. We haven't determined the absolute best use, resolved the connections and how this would be defined," says Mulcahy.

Its initial presentation included six possibilities. The simplest proposal would simply be to cap off the bridge, similar to the High Line. "It just ends, but it keeps the original structure and leaves the possibility open to add to that bridge," says Mulcahy. The eastern end of the old bridge needs to be demolished because it doesn't provide enough clearance for taller trains to pass underneath. The next five proposals get more ambitious from there.

Firmer plans and designs are still further down the road, says Mulcahy, but to get to that point, RAC Design Build needs a feasibility and scoping study conducted by the city. The study would detail the tangible impacts of preserving the bridge on the city. "It would put real numbers and real issues on the table," says Mulcahy. Contracts would have to be changed, plans tweaked, which may or may not result in cost changes.

City council members, their staff, BOE and RAC Design Build, will be in a meeting Friday to discuss whether or not to green light a feasibility study, knowing that the city may not have the funds to follow through with its recommendations.

If funding is an issue, however, Mulcahy is confident that philanthrophic support would be available. Already, he says a number of individuals have approached RAC Design Build with interest in the project. "I am serious," he says. "We have real philanthropic support, which could be big enough to buy the bridge from BOE, if that's what it takes."

The first step is green light that feasibility study, reminds Mulcahy. Without it, City Council would not have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

If you feel this is a worthy project for the city to pursue, show your support for the project by contacting your Councilman before Friday, October 4.

Images courtesy of RAC Design Build.


About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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