Following an outcry from cyclists and walkers over a proposed redesign of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, Los Angeles officials sent out a notice saying they will conduct a hearing Monday evening.
Holding this hearing is a smart move. To this cyclist, and I would guess to many others, the historic and photogenic bridge across the Los Angeles River and the 5 Freeway is one of the scariest stretches of road in Los Angeles. And this city, enlightened as it is about making streets more hospitable to walkers and riders, wants to redo it.
By making it more dangerous.
The saga over redesigning the bridge that connects Silver Lake to Atwater Village and Glendale has been reported extensively by Streetsblog LA, the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition and elsewhere. In a nutshell, despite being designated for new bikes lanes in L.A.'s 2010 Bicycle Plan, the city and the state are redesigning the span as a mini-freeway with wider lanes meant to move cars along at 55 miles per hour. And those bike lanes?
They didn't make the cut.
My personal experience on the bridge some years ago had me swearing off ever riding the span again — after only one crossing. But first, some history.
In short, I love the bridge. As a teenager growing up in Glendale, crossing the bridge by car was sort of like traversing the tunnel into Roger Rabbit's Toontown. It connected by road the familiarity of my suburban upbringing with the edginess and instability of L.A.'s core, allowing for a brief 400-foot interlude between the two urban worlds to contemplate the difference. As a teenager I was so drawn to those concrete arches and era-evoking streetlamps looming over the L.A. River that late on the night before I left for college, I impulsively jumped in my car for one last crossing.
So naturally, when urban cycling became something of a personal obsession in 2008, the bridge called again. Aware that motorists emerging from traffic-choked Silver Lake onto the open span for the sprint into Atwater tend to push the gas pedal down pretty hard, I decided to visit the bridge on a Saturday afternoon during a ride between Hollywood and Glendale.
The calm weekend traffic and perfect weather would make for an idyllic crossing. Or so I thought.
The short story is this, and I don't remember many of the details (funny how trauma tends to do that): Swiftly pedaling northbound into Atwater, the potholed, uneven road surface forced me to ride in a less-than straight line near the curb. A fast-traveling car (it was a sedan, not an SUV — that much I recall) nearly sideswiped me, forcing me to veer sharply to the right while clamping down on my handlebar brake levers. At a slow speed the front tire brushed up against a curb, and I was lightly ejected from my saddle away from traffic.
I escaped largely unhurt, and fortunately for me a pair of padded gloves and a long-sleeve shirt prevented any evidence in the form of nasty scrapes from accumulating on my arm and giving my wife another reason to take away my Trek.
But I nevertheless imposed a ban on myself: from riding on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. (And I was riding in the northbound lane, which is slightly downhill and faster than the side taking riders into Silver Lake. I can only imagine how harrowing it is for riders braving the uphill southbound side, with cars whizzing by cyclists laboring slowly up the span.)
In a practical sense, this self-imposed ban doesn't matter much. Sure, it's emotionally wrenching to swear off a stretch of pavement that has sentimental value, but for cyclist commuters who live or work in the communities connected by the bridge, sentimentality isn't an issue. For riders who must get to and from anywhere near Silver Lake and anywhere near Atwater (think Glendale and points north), there aren't many practical options besides Hyperion, the flattest and most direct link between these areas. The choice for these cyclists is between saving time and taking a chance on the bridge, or traversing alternate routes that add miles and hills (not unlike what blogger Ted Rogers noted about the alternatives to cycling on Wilshire Boulevard in West L.A.).
For those cyclists, transforming the potholed, already inhospitable Glendale-Hyperion Bridge into a mini freeway without the protection of bike lanes presents a real, potentially mortal danger. For others like me, who value the span for its aesthetic and sentimental value, it means I can continue to enjoy the bridge — by looking at it as I ride past it on the L.A. River bike path.