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What Makes a Bridge Better? Redesigning and Redefining the Hyperion Bridge

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After nearly a century of service as one of L.A.'s vital connections for communities separated by the L.A. River, the Hyperion Bridge is in need of a facelift. What it should look like and, more importantly, who will have access to cross, has been a matter of serious debate. With a federal grant of $50 million to strengthen the bridge with seismic retrofits, Los Angeles also has the opportunity to design a more navigable roadway.

Hyperion Bridge is not your common bridge. It does not simply cross over the Los Angeles River as a single continuous street. It is one of seven structures that comprise the Hyperion-Glendale Viaduct -- together the skeletal network merges Hyperion Avenue and Los Feliz Boulevard, along with traffic coming off the 5 freeway, as it arches north onto Glendale Boulevard at the mouth of Atwater Village.

A year has passed since a new set of plans for the bridge was emphatically rejected by the community -- but the bridge redesign has been in progress for nearly a decade, since federal funding became available. The latest plans spurred public outcry for various reasons, but one thing was clear: it catered to cars and did a poor job serving anyone else.

At 85 feet across, the bridge is already predisposed to travel by car. The southern sidewalk is narrow and ends abruptly on either side, and there is no crosswalk in place to offer a route across to the north side. The freeway exit encourages cars to speed into traffic on the bridge without pause, and the ascent is something of a blind curve.

"There's no way to get to Hyperion [from Glendale Boulevard] without taking your life in your hands," says Deborah Murphy, founder of L.A. Walks. "It functions as a segment of freeway."

Murphy is one of nine area residents who make up the Hyperion Bridge Citizens Advisory Committee. Established to evaluate several design configurations for the bridge, the advisory committee convened this summer to make its final decision, weighing three possible configurations to carry out. In August they reached a 6-3 decision in favor of Option 3, which would provide sidewalks and bicycle lanes in both directions, along with three lanes for automobile travel -- two going south into Silver Lake and one for northbound traffic. This multi-modal option would provide drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians access across the bridge on both sides.

"It's pretty dangerous out there now. If we're going to make improvements to the bridge, we need to then make it better for everybody," said Murphy.

The dissenting voices among the committee favor the design presented in Option 1, which provides for two bicycle lanes but only a single sidewalk on the north side of the bridge, while maintaining four lanes of traffic.

"Because it's so confined, to add a bicycle lane -- one on either side -- something has to give," said Sergio Lambarri, who serves on the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council and is a member of the advisory committee. "You either give up a traffic lane or you give up a sidewalk."

Option 1
Option 3
Option 3

The Hyperion Bridge serves the needs of Angelenos at an essential junction in the city, as a connector between three communities and everything that extends beyond them, and as one of the few viable places to cross over the L.A. River.

"As of now there are no safe ways to get to and from the river from Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, Hollywood, Koreatown and beyond," said Don Ward, a member of the advisory committee and longtime bicycle advocate [and a KCET contributor]. "Creating a livable Hyperion Bridge connection will finally accomplish this worthy goal."

A pedestrian bridge, meant to accommodate cyclists and walkers temporarily while the bridge is under construction, has been incorporated into the project as a permanent structure. The Red Car Park Bridge will span from the western bank of the Los Angeles River to the Red Car Park on the eastern side. The bridge will connect the park to the river path, but it won't provide street level access -- without which could lead to pedestrians and joggers using the south side bicycle lanes to travel across the bridge.

"If you take the sidewalk out on that side of the bridge, then you're forcing people to cross Hyperion, twice," says Ward. "The second problem with getting rid of that sidewalk is that on streets that don't have a sidewalk -- for example, Zoo Drive does not have a sidewalk, but it does have a bike lane -- so people walk where there's no cars; they'll walk in the bike lane. If we have no sidewalk, four lanes of traffic and a four-five foot wide bike lane, people will use the bike lane to jog or walk in rather than crossing Hyperion twice."

Passionate campaigns for both Option 1 and 3 are sparking a wildfire of community engagement. Hundreds of residents throughout the river communities have signed their names onto petitions supporting one or the other, and day by day more area business owners are speaking in favor of their preferred choice. While the Silver Lake and Los Feliz neighborhood councils, the Alliance of River Communities, and the owners of the Dresden in Los Feliz and Kaldi coffee shop in Atwater Village, are among those who have expressed support for the two-sidewalk option (Option 3), the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council and the Atwater Village Chamber of Commerce support Option 1.

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There is concern that removing an auto lane will lead to increased congestion as the number of cars traveling over the bridge increases with area density. Traffic projections have been illustrated at a worst case scenario of one percent increase in throughput (traffic volume) annually, while actual traffic volume over the past 10 years shows a slight decrease.

There are a few significant factors that are not calculated into the traffic model, including the impacts of high-density housing developments, localized economic investment, and pedestrian and bicycle facilities -- the very elements that make up the Mobility 2035 plan. Reflective of the Complete Streets Act adopted by the California legislature in 2008, the plan provides a roadmap for achieving a balanced transportation system.

One telling trend in mobility is the increase in pedestrian traffic, which has gone up by 56 percent between 2000 and 2010. And as values shift, traffic volume is being phased out as a practical metric in favor of enhanced mobility through greater accessibility, shorter travel times, and lower household travel costs.

Figuring out how to serve everyone's needs is often challenging; in this case planning the redesign of the Hyperion Bridge has put everyone's ingenuity to the test. After nearly 12 months of numerous community meetings, a committee dedicated to the issue, and a hefty amount of petitioning and developing new designs, everyone involved in the matter is still wondering what the outcome will be.

"It is a tiring process and people are getting impatient," said Lambarri.

Councilmember Tom LaBonge of District 4, which includes Griffith Park and Los Feliz, has expressed support for option one, adding the bridge to a growing roster of truck routes; Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell of District 13, which includes Atwater Village and Silver Lake, has yet to make a decision.

"We are concerned that as we move forward the 6-3 vote may not be utilized as a formal statement from the community, and that the councilmembers may choose to recommend option one instead of option three," said Murphy.

Share your thoughts on the bridge redesign by emailing LaBonge, O'Farrell, and City Council at at tom.labonge@lacity.org, councilmember.ofarrell@lacity.org and cm.public@lacity.org.

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