A proposal to turn the old Riverside-Figueroa Bridge into a High Line–style park appears to be dead after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order to demolition crews. Introduced by RAC Design Build and EnrichLA last fall, the Figueroa Landbridge would have preserved part of the 1939 bridge for use by pedestrians and cyclists while the replacement span for vehicular traffic was built upstream.
RAC Design Build’s Kevin Mulcahy blamed the collapse of the Landbridge scheme on the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, who he said exaggerated the extent to which the plan would impact the replacement project. When they first introduced the Landbridge, he said, the designers were optimistic. The city had new leadership, many of whom had championed the revitalization of the LA River during their campaigns. “But what we learned is that those promises are not easily embraced,” said Mulcahy. “The politics eroded in an immediate way a very sincere opportunity. The Bureau of Engineering read the political tea leaves and said, ‘We’re not supporting this.’”
At the June 2 hearing, lawyers for RAC Design Build and EnrichLA argued that the city is obligated to conduct further environmental review before removing the bridge in light of its status as an historical monument. (The bridge was declared an historic monument seven years ago, one year after the initial decision to demolish it.) The city attorney, meanwhile, claimed that delaying the demolition of the old bridge would stop all work on the new span, to the tune of $18,000 a day. Judge James Chalfant decided in favor of the city, on the grounds that the Landbridge’s proponents should have made their case in 2011. That’s when the Bureau of Engineering decided to build the new bridge upstream of, rather than in the same location as, the 1939 structure.
“The judge made his ruling on a failed assumption,” said Mulcahy. “We weren’t here in 2011 because the [Bureau of Engineering] changed the work and they never daylighted that fact. We’re not late because the public has failed here, we’re late as a result of the failure of the Bureau of Engineering to act timely and appropriately.”
Mulcahy isn’t sure what happens next. “We’re trying to decide what to do,” he said. “The only way to get [the story] out is to follow through with a lawsuit, and that’s not why we’re in this. We don’t exactly know where we’re going to go with this.” In the meantime, he was heartened by the public’s response to the Landbridge proposal. One Angeleno even organized a “wake” on the old bridge following the hearing. “Here we were on a Sunday with kids running around, just free play with no traffic,” said Mulcahy. “It was a day of a park spanning the Los Angeles River, an absolute proof of concept.”
Whether or not the Landbridge is built, Mulcahy still sees value in the lessons learned over the past nine months. “We set out to just ask questions,” he said. “What we discovered were gaping holes in the process, and that’s both unfortunate and—I’m a little bit of an eternal optimist—we can turn that on its head. When we see these kinds of failures, these are opportunities to actually improve things. We’ll see where this goes, but it may bring about change that can actually help the next project.”