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.”
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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 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. 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.