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To Road Diet or Not on Glendale-Hyperion Bridge

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Rendering for Glendale Hyperion Bridge, Option 3 | Image by Enrich LA, courtesy of Los Angeles Walks

On the banks of the Los Angeles River in Atwater Village, a complicated story of pedestrian advocacy unfolded.

As Councilmen Tom La Bonge and Mitch O'Farrell stood in front of a local crowd on a chilly Los Angeles morning and touted the benefits of the $3-million Red Car Bridge, a crossing created for pedestrians, skateboarders, cyclists connecting the bike path along the Los Angeles River to Atwater Village's business corridor, the Bureau of Public Works released a report advocating for a Glendale-Hyperion Bridge that had a sidewalk only on the west side for pedestrian crossing.

The Red Car Bridge will connect Atwater Village to the L.A. River Bike Path by non-motorized means. Although located on the Silver Lake side of the river, the path does not have direct access to neighborhood amenities due to the presence of the 5 Freeway and its ramps.

The project has been championed by O'Farrell, who has been facilitating meetings between Caltrans, the Bureau of Engineering, and the city for over ten years. "One of the neighborhood groups approached me in 2003 with the idea of constructing a lookout area that would extend over the river and provide views," recalled O'Farrell. From that initial idea came the thought to build something that physically brings the communities together by using the old Red Car supports. "I thought it was a great idea. It would connect residents in a safer way rather than using Hyperion Bridge, which isn't the most pleasant experience. By connecting Silver Lake and Atwater Village via a footpath and bike path, we're creating an easier, safer way to go back and forth."

Part of the $50-million fully-funded project for seismic retrofits and historic preservation of the Glendale-Hyperion bridge complex, the Red Car Bridge would initially be used to provide bike and pedestrian access between the neighborhoods during construction, but it will remain a permanent fixture even after all the work is done.

Deborah Murphy, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks agrees that the Red Car Bridge project is a positive thing, but she argues that it doesn't change the need for a "Complete Street" bridge that's accessible and friendly to everyone -- pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists -- on Hyperion Avenue itself.

Rendering for the Red Car Bridge next to the Glendale Hyperion bridge | Image: L.A. Bureau of Public Works
Rendering for the Red Car Bridge next to the Glendale Hyperion bridge | Image: L.A. Bureau of Public Works

In a statement released the same day as the Red Car Bridge announcement, Murphy stated, "The City of Los Angeles shouldn't build a bridge that only allows you to walk on one side of the bridge. Without both sidewalks, pedestrians -- children, students, seniors, the disabled, parents with strollers and everyone else -- would have to walk, roll, or be pushed almost a 1/2 mile, over 2200 feet, over a 12-minute walk (up to Glenfeliz Boulevard, across Glendale Boulevard and back) to get to destinations on the other side of the street, like Red Car Park. If a driver was detoured this far out of their way, the City would never find that acceptable and they should not find it acceptable to require pedestrians of all abilities and disabilities to go that far out of their way just to make connections in their community."

The fight for a more pedestrian and bike-friendly Glendale Hyperion bridge has been brewing for a few years now beginning with the preliminary environmental impact report released in 2013. Community controversy continued to boil into the next year, as a citizen's advisory committee convened to parse different options for bridge configurations:

  • Option 1 has four lanes of traffic (two going north, two going south), sidewalk on the west side, and bike lanes on both sides. A subordinate option (Option 1A) switched out the bike lanes and sidewalks for a shared-use path between pedestrians and cyclists on either side.
  • Option 2 has three lanes of traffic (one going north, two going south), a sidewalk on the west side, bike lanes and bike lane buffers on both sides.
  • Option 3 has three lanes of traffic (one going north, two going south), two sidewalks on either side, bike lanes and bike buffers on both sides as well.

The citizen's advisory committee eventually voted 6-3 to recommend option 3, which would preserve the two sidewalks and bike lanes, but reduce the extra northbound lane that they say isn't needed to maintain traffic flow.

Some community members came out in support of this option, writing over 150 letters of support and 1,200 signatures, cites Los Angeles Walks. This includes the support of Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, and the Alliance of River Communities. 

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Luis Lopez, Executive Director of the Atwater Village Chamber of Commerce, says Option 1 "is the most inclusive and common-sense design option; every one gets something and it preserves the existing traffic lane configuration. More specific to the Chamber's position ... The Glendale-Hyperion Viaduct is an important part of Atwater's vehicular infrastructure. It gives local drivers and far-flung commuters easy access to Atwater and surrounding communities, the 5 Interstate Freeway, and nearby businesses. Since its construction the bridge has primarily served to facilitate vehicular travel."

Lopez says that local consumers, including the elderly and disabled, seem to prefer driving. A road diet would cause added traffic and delay for consumers seeking to shop and visit Atwater Village. "This would force consumers to other shopping areas as they change their driving routes to avoid the added congestion. The end result would be more traffic congestion, less road safety, and a loss of income for small businesses," he says. Lopez adds that road diets on a commercial corridor seem to have a negative effect, citing Silver Lake's Rowena Avenue road diet as an example. After one lane of traffic was removed in each direction, car traffic reportedly has backed up. Residents living in the backstreets have begun to see more activity coming by their front doors.

According to Torrin Dunnavant, co-chair for the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, the council has voted in favor of Option 1 multiple times over the year, citing increase in traffic due to a road diet as the primary reason.

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O'Farrell has also come out in favor of Option 1, which consolidates the two sidewalks into one ADA compliant sidewalk where none existed previously on the west. "I'm okay with Option 1 because I'm not there with supporting a road diet on Hyperion Bridge," explained the councilman. "I've heard from lots of constituents who were concerned about the road diet, especially if they have to share one car lane with emergency vehicles, trucks."

The councilman also pointed out that there would be a balance still. There are dedicated bike paths on the Hyperion bridge, but the footbridge will also provide pedestrian access not too far away, downstream from the Glendale-Hyperion bridge. O'Farrell also cited the increased traffic congestion experienced on Rowena Avenue.

Though O'Farrell is in support of Option 1, he would like to further improve the experience by advocating for protected bike lanes and pedestrian-activated signal crossings on the Atwater side.

Another consideration to the project is its tight timeline, points out O'Farrell. The Red Car Bridge project won't begin until July 2018, a lot has to be accomplished by then. "I would like to begin tomorrow," says O'Farrell. The contested Board report has to be approved before design work begins, which "gives over a year to really prepare and get all the packets to submit for state funding," said O'Farrell. "[If] we didn't move forward now, we would have to re-circulate another mitigated negative declaration for a road diet, which could jeopardize funding for the project."

This post has been updated for accuracy and clarification.

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