Leader Editorial: Burbank City Council made a wrong turn on bridge span

Signs stating the user rules of the Mariposa Street Bridge are posted at the top of the bridge.

Signs stating the user rules of the Mariposa Street Bridge are posted at the top of the bridge.

(Raul Roa / Burbank Leader)

We find ourselves scratching our heads over an abrupt turnaround by the Burbank City Council regarding the public’s use of the Mariposa Street bridge that leads into Griffith Park.

Last month, in hopes of assuaging Rancho area resident equestrians who object loudly to sharing the structure with bicyclists they fear will spook their horses, the City Council passed an ordinance banning bicycle riding there while still allowing cyclists to walk their rides across the span. It was a sensible compromise that appeared to us to be acceptable by both sides, given the comments made at the time. But it apparently was not.

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This week, when the ordinance was this close to going into effect, the council members unanimously killed it. Why? Because the Rancho residents and other area horse owners decided it did not go far enough toward protecting their interests. They are adamant bicyclists do not belong on the bridge, whether or not they’re riding across.

Primarily, and not entirely unreasonably, they have concerns about the safety of their horses as well as themselves. They pointed out to city officials they wrangled into visiting the site — after the ordinance was approved — that the span is narrow, although it is wide enough to accommodate two large horses riding side by side on it.

They brought up worries about the nature of equines, who can be frightened by sudden movements or unexpected noises. Also, let’s be honest: the horseback riders have not been impressed by cyclists who they deem disrespectful of their concerns. Another point they like to make: there are far more routes available in the greater Burbank and Glendale area to the cyclists than there are to the equestrians.

While we’re not entirely unsympathetic to the Rancho horse owners, we believe readdressing the issue is a waste of staff time and money. Common sense must prevail. The bridge, opened almost 77 years ago, was designed for pedestrian and equestrian use, according to a newspaper clipping of the time.

The span was not created solely for the convenience of horseback riders, and certainly didn’t allow for the exclusion of any user the equestrians deemed unacceptable. Roger Jessup, then the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, in March 1939 presented “the structure to ‘outdoor-minded’ citizens of Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Most reasonable minds can agree that bicyclists, as a whole, are “outdoor-minded.” Therefore, they would seem to qualify as users of the bridge, especially if they use it as pedestrians would, by quietly walking their bicycles across it until they reach the other side.

It’s ridiculous for Burbank officials to try to craft an ordinance that defines pedestrians as people on foot only, who are not carrying a bicycle. How far would the city have to go to be fair to everyone? Would the city have to disallow a pedestrian from carrying across any other wheeled mode of transportation, something like a skateboard? Would baby strollers have to be forbidden? Dogs can startle horses — should pedestrians not be allowed to walk man’s best friend there?

The bridge is a straight line across the river. From either end, a user can see if it’s about to be crossed by a horse or two. Common sense and courtesy should prevail. And if people simply cannot be trusted to employ those two sensibilities, surely inexpensive signs can be created that remind pedestrians and bicyclists alike that they should yield to the horses, for safety’s sake.

We endorse the original ordinance as approved in December that calls for bike riders to dismount and use their feet to cross the span. And we call on the two factions, equestrians and cyclists, to be respectful of each other.