Proposed Retrofit of LA’s “Death Bridge” Leaves Out Cyclists, Pedestrians

City Terrain, West
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
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NONEXISTENT CROSSWALKS, NARROW SIDEWALKS, AND NO BIKE LANES MAKE HYPERION BRIDGE DANGEROUS FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS. (COURTESY LOS ANGELES WALKS)

NONEXISTENT CROSSWALKS, NARROW SIDEWALKS, AND NO BIKE LANES MAKE HYPERION BRIDGE DANGEROUS FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS. (COURTESY LOS ANGELES WALKS)

Nicknamed the “death bridge,” the Hyperion Bridge between Atwater Village and and Silver Lake in Los Angeles is a hazard to both pedestrians and cyclists. “At heavy traffic times, I often think to myself that I am grateful that I have no children or pets that might be saddened if I were to be flattened while playing this real-life version of Frogger,” Sahra Sulaiman wrote in an article for Streetsblog LA, describing her experience crossing from one sidewalk to the other on the Atwater Village side of the bridge. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Paul Thornton—who swore off traversing the bridge by bike after one attempt—called it “one of the scariest stretches of road in Los Angeles.”

THE LACBC PROPOSES ADDING BIKE LANES, WIDENING THE SIDEWALK, AND REDUCING THE WIDTH OF VEHICLE LANES (LACBC/LOS ANGELES WALKS)

THE LACBC PROPOSES ADDING BIKE LANES, WIDENING THE SIDEWALK, AND REDUCING THE WIDTH OF VEHICLE LANES (LACBC/LOS ANGELES WALKS)

The situation is about to get worse, pedestrian and cycling advocates warn. The city’s proposed seismic retrofit would remove the sidewalk along the eastern edge of the bridge, add a pedestrian crosswalk across Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village, place a median barrier between the two directions of traffic, and widen the lanes to 12 or more feet. No designated bike lanes were included in the proposal.

In addition, the city plans to build a permanent pedestrian crossing on top of the existing Red Car piers downstream of the bridge before construction begins.

Opponents of the city’s proposal don’t have a problem with the project’s main premise: that the Hyperion Bridge is unsafe in case of an earthquake. Instead, they argue that the Bureau of Engineering’s proposal flies in the face of the city’s stated commitment to make LA safer for cyclists and pedestrians. “They should never have been allowed to put forward a design that was in violation of the city’s bicycle plan and the city’s protocol for how we deal with pedestrian access today,” said Deborah Murphy, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks.

RAC DESIGN BUILD'S PROPOSAL WOULD DIVIDE THE ROADWAY INTO A TWO-LANE ROAD PLUS BIKE PATH (RAC DESIGN BUILD)

RAC DESIGN BUILD’S PROPOSAL WOULD DIVIDE THE ROADWAY INTO A TWO-LANE ROAD PLUS BIKE PATH (RAC DESIGN BUILD)

Murphy’s group began advocating for changes to the Hyperion Bridge plan in October, and participated in an awareness-raising walk across the bridge on November 3. Several organizations have submitted alternative designs, including the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC) and architecture firm RAC Design Build.

LACBC’s proposal allows for one seven-foot sidewalk, plus two six-foot bike lanes and two 11-foot drive lanes in each direction at the bridge’s widest point. As the bridge narrows, the sidewalk thins to five feet; the bike lanes and drive lanes are reduced to five feet and 10 1/2 to 11 feet, respectively.

RAC Design Build envisions a sidewalk along either side of the bridge, with the road surface divided into a two-lane vehicular street and a bike path.

Comments on the city’s preliminary environmental review were due November 7. City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell, previously a supporter of the Bureau of Engineering’s plan, has called for a citizens’ advisory committee on the issue, on which Murphy was asked to serve.

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