Griffith Park, that pristine piece of picturesque public space, has a major traffic problem. And the city thinks the best way to fix it, ironically enough, is to let in even more cars.
Which is why last night, more than 100 cyclists descended upon the monthly Griffith Park Advisory Board meeting, all there protesting the reopening to cars of a 1.1-mile stretch of pavement—including the adding of about 300 parking spaces.
A temporary pilot experiment, which allows drivers to use the vehicle-free roadway for three weeks to see what happens, has wiped out one of Griffith Park’s finest stretches of outdoor recreation space.
The three-week “feasibility project” opened the road to cars on March 21. It’s scheduled to remain so until April 12, at which point the city will close the gate again and let a traffic consulting firm decide whether adding more road surface will alleviate the park's congestion. Anyone who has attempted to drive up to the Griffith Observatory on a weekend or evening is well aware of the challenge, and ostensibly should welcome any attempt to alleviate the noxious traffic.
But there are a couple of serious problems with the city’s plan, as the cyclists pointed out. One is that this particular “solution” wipes out some prime hiking, cycling and equestrian space. The other is that the city itself has significantly worsened the congestion by telling tourists to drive to the Griffith Observatory for a good view of the Hollywood Sign.
The road in question is Mount Hollywood Drive, some very people-friendly pavement that's usually gated off between the western end of the park's landmark tunnel and the terminus of Western Canyon Road (aka Fern Dell Drive).
The section the city has temporarily opened to cars stretches all the way to “Three Mile Tree,” more than a mile up the mountain from the tunnel.
“I see it like someone in the city said, ‘Oh. Let’s see where we can delete some car-free space,’” said Don Ward, aka Roadblock, the towering, 6-foot-7-inch mastermind behind Wolfpack Hustle and its yearly fixed-gear racing series. “I get that there’s a traffic problem, but removing very usable park space and replacing it with parking is just wrong. It’s a fucking park, not parking.”
Mount Hollywood Drive offers some spectacular views of the Los Angeles Basin. More critically, however, the immediate area now also serves as the city’s officially promoted viewing spot for the Hollywood Sign. This, thanks to angry residents in Beachwood Canyon who cried that tourists with selfie sticks were clogging up their residential streets.
In response, city officials beefed up parking restrictions on streets leading to the Hollywood Sign and, without much serious thought to the new problem they were about to create, designated Griffith Observatory as the place to go if you want to see the sign. Consequently, all the tourist traffic once floating around Beachwood Canyon is redirected to the park, adding to the increasingly jammed-up situation.
“I get that they don’t want the traffic around their homes. I really do. I wouldn’t want it either,” said Brad Adams, a cyclist and proprietor of an L.A.-based bike-bag company, before the meeting. “But they should have thought of that before they moved there.”
He continued, “Griffith Park is beautiful and fun. And one of the best parts of it is that I can ride my bike all through it without being worried about getting mauled over by a driver who’s on Facebook.”
It took about 20 minutes after the meeting’s start last night before the advisory board discussed the Mount Hollywood Drive agenda item. As public comment opened up, it became clear there was a single opinion shared by constituents in the room: Re-close the road to automobile traffic, and figure out some other method of dealing with traffic woes.
“Why not try expanding the shuttle system instead?” floated a heavily tattooed, red-haired woman wearing a green tanktop. “I mean, you’ve already got one going to the observatory. Why couldn’t we expand it to include other parts of the park, too?”
Others had similar ideas. In fact, the vast majority of the city's own board members seemed to agree with the commenters, often echoing that eliminating open space in favor of parking was just a bad idea.
Board member Laura Howe explained that when she visited the disputed road section a few days ago, she found it unsafe.
“There isn’t a sidewalk there, or anything. I saw lots of hikers walking through traffic as drivers made U-turns and tried to park,” Howe said. “I’ve got to wonder that if this [road] opening becomes permanent, are we going to cut down the trees on the side to put in a sidewalk, too?”
The tension between recreation space and parking spaces leaves Los Angeles Recreation and Parks superintendent Joe Salaices between a rock and a hard place. Salaices is one of the characters behind the city’s three-week “feasibility test.” For him, solving Griffith Park’s traffic woes is something of a balancing act.
“It’s a tough nut to crack. And honestly I feel like I have to take a step back in order to take a step forward,” Salaices said. “I mean, I’m all for us working toward a Griffith Park without cars. I’d love to see a park where you leave your car at the [L.A.] Zoo lot or at Travel Town and you use a hop-on-hop-off shuttle to get around. The problem is finding the money to pay for it all.”
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For Salaices, the most immediate problem is traffic. Given the volume of cars inside Griffith Park each day, it’s a challenge that needs to be dealt with quickly, lest the problem render the park simply inaccessible — essentially all filled up.
The advisory board is on the job, however. At the end of the evening it passed a vaguely termed motion, more or less saying its members will create a transportation committee of some sort to address the problem: “The Griffith Park Advisory Board shall work with the Recreation and Parks Department to create a comprehensive plan for Griffith Park ingress and egress.”
Like that’ll get to the heart of it.
Matt Tinoco is @onthatbombshell