UPDATE: The Los Angeles City Council today voted unanimously to approve a four-lane redesign of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge that does not include the expanded and protected bike lanes and twin sidewalks sought by many area residents. See below.
As community activists from Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Atwater Village battle over whether a redesign of Glendale-Hyperion Bridge should be more car-friendly, or more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, a Caltrans official's testimony has debunked the city's claim that L.A. would lose several million dollars in design funding if the Los Angeles City Council doesn't vote for a redesign by the end of June. The council's vote is tomorrow.
Last week, Dale Benson, a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Caltrans Division of Local Assistance, told the L.A. City Council’s Public Works Committee that if the city fails to meet design deadlines — the city council's prevailing argument for approving the controversial car-friendly design tomorrow, June 9 — L.A. would lose only a few hundred thousand dollars, not millions of dollars. And even those funds could be extended, he said.
Benson's revelation gives pedestrian and bicycling advocates some traction tomorrow in asking the council to hold off on the officially favored redesign, which includes four traffic lanes, two unbuffered (or unprotected) bike lanes, and a sidewalk along only one side of the busy bridge. The bridge crosses the 5 freeway and Los Angeles River, connecting the Atwater Village and Glendale areas with Silver Lake and Los Feliz.
The council's expected vote on the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge tomorrow would be among the final important decisions by outgoing City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents Los Feliz and backs the car-friendly design, as do some residents, including Atwater Village businesses. But his replacement as of July 1, newly elected Councilman David Ryu, opposes the plan, along with many residents. Ryu has called for the pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly design known as Option 3.
That alternative vision calls for a “road diet,” reducing the bridge’s four lanes to three in favor of buffered bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the iconic, century-old bridge. When Ryu replaces LaBonge he'll likely be a representative of activists who call for better pedestrian access. But officials at the city's Bureau of Engineering insist a decision needs to be made by June 30, one day before Ryu takes office.
The federal government has allocated $50 million for seismic retrofitting and redesign of the bridge. Mary Nemick, spokeswoman for L.A.'s Bureau of Engineering in the Public Works Department, told L.A. Weekly that 16 percent of that money is for the design process. Officials at the Bureau of Engineering have publicly said that if the design is not approved in June, design funds set to lapse in 2017 will be lost.
But Benson last week said that's not the case. He says only about $625,000 is set to lapse — and it won't all lapse by 2017. Some federal funds will lapse in 2018 and 2019, Benson said, with the opportunity for extensions.
Benson emphasized before the council's Public Works Committee that Caltrans is neutral in the debate. He was barely audible and visibly nervous when he spoke during public comment.
The recent Council District 4 election of Ryu, a major upset victory by a City Hall outsider, could change the dynamics if the decision is delayed until LaBonge departs. LaBonge and District 13 Councilman Mitch O’Farrell both support the car-friendly redesign of the bridge, which connects parts of their two city council districts. Since the city council usually defers to the desires of the individual council members whose districts are directly affected by a project, the vote tomorrow is very likely to be in step with LaBonge and O’Farrell.
Activists are urging the city council to wait three weeks until Councilman-elect Ryu takes office. After Dale Benson’s comments at the Public Works Committee meeting last week, Councilman Curren Price said, “I thought the constraint was we had to get some approval by a certain time or lose the funding. If we have some additional time, I think it’s worth continuing the discussion.”
If the city council votes with LaBonge and O’Farrell, that will be far from the end of the discussion — at least outside of City Hall. On Sunday, the group Vision Hyperion, which advocates for three car lanes and the road diet, staged a protest walk along the bridge’s narrow sidewalks in hopes of swaying public opinion.
Updated at 12:08 p.m.:
By a 12-0 vote, the L.A. City Council approved Option 1, the redesign long favored by city officials but fought by a coalition of bicyclists and walkability advocates including LosAngelesWalks.org. The elected officials refused to hear public comment until after the vote, angering many who had gathered in city council chambers downtown to be heard.