For the first time in 20 years, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks' opened 1.1 miles of Mount Hollywood Drive in Griffith Park to passenger vehicles on March 20 to accommodate the park's growing number of visitors.
To increase traffic flow and improve safety conditions, cars are now only allowed to park on one side of Western Canyon. The overflow has to go somewhere and for the next three weeks, it will be along Mount Hollywood Drive, which will be open to motorized traffic until April 12.
The trial period is scheduled to run both during Spring Break and the Easter weekend holiday which is when the park typically sees its heaviest use. However, the Greek Theatre's 2015 season begins April 24, and is likely to compound the traffic problem, which has now impacted nearly every area of Griffith Park.
The good news is that tourism in Los Angeles is up, and Griffith Park -- the nation's largest city park with urban wilderness -- is more popular than ever. Locals, Southern California daytrippers, and tourists are flocking there in record numbers.
The bad news is that all this popularity is causing massive traffic jams on surrounding streets, clogging up Griffith Park's roadways and parking areas, and choking its visitors with the fumes from thousands of idling cars waiting for a spot. According to the park's traffic counters, 6500 vehicles entered the park on a Saturday alone -- just through Vermont Canyon Drive.
In response to growing tensions in Beachwood Canyon over access to the Hollyridge Trail and tourists driving through and parking on their streets in search of the Hollywood Sign, the City of Los Angeles initially enacted a number of strategies to relieve traffic there. Cars were routed to Griffith Observatory to avoid driving through residential neighborhoods to get to the Hollywood sign. Officials even worked with Google Maps and Garmin GPS devices to change their navigations to the Observatory instead of to the sign's actual location at the top of Mount Lee. The city is also steering people away before they actually get to the park, installing electronic sign boards at the bottom of Beachwood Canyon Drive to announce restricted access.
The problem is, all of this causes a severe traffic congestion problem around the Observatory.
Last Thursday, citizens appeared in droves to the Griffith Advisory Board's March meeting to voice their objections to the reopening of Mount Hollywood Drive, citing safety concerns for the pedestrians, bicyclists, and equestrians who have used that paved road to avoid traffic, as well as concern for the park's abundant wildlife.
According to Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Mike Shull, safety concerns prompted this study in the first place. Traffic jams have been so bad that emergency vehicles might not have a clear path to the top. If they did nothing and let the traffic work itself out, Shull says he fears that "somebody's going to get seriously injured and we won't be able to get them help."
"I am not going to allow this unsafe condition to exist up there," Shull says. "You don't go to the park to sit in traffic."
The Advisory Board's members made it very clear that they do not support opening up any formerly closed roads or fire roads. However, board member Chris Laib said they are "in favor of doing something" to relieve the problematic gridlock.
Unfortunately, Griffith Park on the east and the west side has a capacity limit. A new standing committee of the Advisory Board will be charged with creating a comprehensive plan for vehicular entry and exit, and will be headed by Laib. Ultimately, they need to figure out both how to have less cars in Griffith Park, and how to accommodate those visitors who just want to take their photos and leave.
At Thursday's meeting, speakers from the community expressed concern over the long-term effects of a pilot project like this. "We cannot trust that somewhere in the future, someone is not going to allow cars again," said Wolfpack Hustle's Don "Roadblock" Ward, an advocate for livable streets and organizer of group bike races.
However, Shull attests that this is just a three-week trial, and that there's "no grand master plan of opening the roads in Griffith Park."
Shull agrees. "You can't do these types of things halfway.... If we feel we can't manage it, then we won't do it," he says, citing the lack of funding needed to hire more park rangers. The financial side of this is inescapable: "If we figure out what we need, I need to figure out how much it will cost."
Upon its completion, all data from the feasibility study will be reported to the Griffith Park Advisory Board, which will discuss the program at their April meeting. The public is welcome to attend, fill out comment cards, and request to speak.
"Change happens when you all speak politely," said Advisory Board Chair Susan Swan. "We will work together to make Griffith Park the place we want it to be."