As ‘Outrageous Driving Antics’ Persist, Can LA Make The 6th Street Bridge Safe For Everyone?
Back in 2015 when Los Angeles officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for what would become the new 6th Street Viaduct, Mayor Eric Garcetti said its multi-modal design would “change the way we move as people.”
But in the roughly 18 days the bridge has been open to the public:
- People’s movement across it has been restricted multiple times by police.
- The bridge was shut down four of the last five nights, with LAPD officials citing public safety concerns brought on by dangerous driving and other “illegal activity.”
- The viaduct was closed at least two other times prior to last weekend.
Speaking at Tuesday’s L.A. Police Commission meeting, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said “dangerous speed displays” and “outrageous driving antics” have caused crashes and created unsafe conditions on the viaduct. Police blocked access to the bridge Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights as a result.
Moore also noted that some bridge-goers have been climbing the arches, which he chalked up to people looking to “find their 15 minutes of fame.”
“There will not be a tolerance for the continued violation… of climbing onto the structure, risking themselves as well as first responders who attempt to govern that conduct,” he said.
LAPD officers have made arrests and issued 57 parking tickets in a four-day span, according to Moore. Six vehicles have been impounded so far, he added, warning that those seizures “will continue as long as this conduct continues.”
Then just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, LAPD officials announced on Twitter that the bridge “will be closed until further notice due to illegal activity and public safety concerns.” The bridge reopened to traffic at 4 a.m. Wednesday, minus any notice from police.
What Happens When It's Closed
When the bridge is closed, is it off-limits to all road users? LAPD officials gave me conflicting answers. One officer in the media relations department said when it’s closed, it’s closed to everybody. Another said it sometimes affects pedestrians and cyclists, but not always.
Social media posts indicate that people have been walking, biking and riding scooters in large groups on the bridge despite shutdowns in the past several days, so it’s unclear to what extent police are enforcing these closures.
The closures have also impacted public transit users. L.A. Metro’s 18 Bus Line just started using the 6th Street crossing again on Sunday, July 17 after years running on a detour route while the bridge was being built. But the bridge closures have caused the bus line to be detoured on six occasions in the past ten days, Metro spokesperson Rick Jager told LAist.
How The City Is Responding
Several safety advocates have suggested adding a center median to end full roadway takeovers and discourage drivers from performing burnouts, but so far city officials haven’t shared much about how the bridge could change — or when.
Jennifer Marroquin, a spokesperson for Garcetti’s office, said the mayor “recognizes that the celebration of this bridge is overwhelmingly positive” but “he has no tolerance for behavior that keeps Angelenos from enjoying this new landmark.”
L.A. leaders are “reviewing additional safety options and will be taking immediate action to ensure the bridge is safe and accessible for everyone,” Marroquin added, though it’s unclear right now what the extent of that action will be.
Speed Bumps? Or Not?
Chief Moore told police commissioners Tuesday that the city’s Bureau of Street Services “began applying speed bumps onto the bridge” Sunday night.
“We're also going to pursue alternatives such as a center median — at least on a temporary basis,” he said, “as well as some fencing that can be installed on a temporary basis — my hope — that will discourage individuals from scaling onto the arches of this roadway.”
But Mary Nemick, director of communications for L.A.’s Bureau of Engineering, told me speed bumps have not been installed on the bridge. She did not indicate if that measure was being considered (I reached out to the Bureau of Street Services directly but have not yet received a response).
One feature has been added, though: “raised reflective markers” in the center median along the length of the viaduct, Nemick said. She described these as “yellow plastic domes” that measure 8 inches in diameter and just under 3 inches in height (something similar to this).
“As decisions are made on any additional measures to deter illegal activity, we will move as quickly as possible,” Nemick said.
I asked LAPD officials to clarify Chief Moore’s comment about speed bumps (perhaps he was referring to the plastic reflectors?) but did not get a response.
What About A No Car Bridge?
Some safety advocates have suggested that the city take this as an opportunity to reduce or eliminate car access on the bridge and prioritize space for people to walk and bike across it.
Every time the bridge is shut down it becomes an unofficial @CicLAvia — @kdeleon just give the people what they want! Shut down the bridge to cars on the weekends all together and during the week 1 lane in each direction, rest of the space for people walking and on bikes. https://t.co/n4o4QHCB3X— Michael Schneider 🇺🇦 (@schneider) July 27, 2022
I asked BoE if that option was on the table. “This is not under discussion,” Nemick told me.
For Tafarai Bayne, chief strategist for CicLAvia, the state of the bridge is an example of the “confused messaging” from local leaders about how our streets are used. And how they’re used relies largely on how they’re designed.
“When streets are not designed for bicyclists and pedestrians specifically, then the cars take over,” Bayne said. “And we know that cars just don't create safe spaces for people.”
Several other safety advocates have chastised city leaders for the so-called “protected” bike lanes on the bridge, which amount to plastic tubes and rubber strips, spaced far enough apart for a standard car to comfortably fit through. Bayne said design choices that prioritize car travel make dangerous driving inevitable.
“If you don't design it to prevent it, it's going to happen, because you're just dealing with human nature and vehicles that are designed to go fast — and to be slightly unsafe.”
Bayne hopes the city will truly consider converting the viaduct into a car-free destination for people to walk, bike and generally enjoy.
“People are dying for public spaces,” he said. “They're treating the bridge like a park — maybe we need more parks.”
The city is slated to build a 12-acre park under the viaduct, creating sports facilities, dog parks, an art plaza and other amenities on both sides of the river.
Once the Sixth Street Viaduct is completed, BOE will begin construction of the 12-acre PARC Project, a recreational space for the public to engage in community gatherings, biking, sports, playground equipment and so much more 🏞️— 6thStViaduct (@6thStViaduct) March 11, 2022
You can learn more at https://t.co/4BCQkUXKcW pic.twitter.com/cHSgV7TImU
Who’s In Charge Here?
L.A.’s Department of Transportation usually takes the lead role in street safety issues, but that’s not the case for the viaduct.
Spokesperson Colin Sweeney said LADOT “is reviewing the feasibility of various engineering and design solutions to deter and prevent street racing,” but noted that any design changes would happen “in collaboration with Caltrans and [BoE] in order to comply with the weight and design constraints of the bridge.”
BoE has “sole jurisdiction on the bridge” right now for “alterations of any kind,” he said, clarifying that “LADOT's role is advisory to BoE.”