The Sixth Street Bridge Is The Hottest Thing In LA Right Now — And Maybe That's OK
The hottest new thing in L.A. is not our summer weather. It’s the Sixth Street Viaduct — but you probably already know that.
There’s been primos getting fades on that bridge, a podcast was recorded (wish I had thought of that!) and obviously all of the photo ops you can think of. But, of course, it wouldn’t be L.A. if there wasn’t at least one car crash and other dangerous behavior.
The Los Angeles Police Department has shut down the throughway most nights this week. In its Twitter feed, the LAPD cited “illegal activity” as the reason for the shutdown. Chief Michel Moore on Tuesday pointed to “outrageous driving antics” and folks who’ve climbed the bridge’s arches.
Thing is though, there’s a lot of people enjoying the bridge, too, who are NOT risking life or limb. When the plan was made for a new bridge a few years ago, it was presented as something that would connect Boyle Heights and other communities to downtown L.A. and the rest of the city.
But, so far, that’s not how it’s turning out.
“Oh my gosh, baby. Jesus. I cannot begin to tell you the frustration,” Erick Huerta, a longtime Boyle Heights resident, said when I asked him about what’s been happening with the bridge.
There’s a lot to unpack here: the shutdowns, the safety, and — most importantly — the community.
A Disconnect Between Community And The City
“There's a disconnect between what the city had planned for,” Huerta said. There was not enough engagement between the residents and their needs and city officials. Huerta is also a board member for People for Mobility Justice and hosts a podcast, Órale Boyle Heights.
As plans were being plotted, officials reached out to the community, but Huerta said meetings weren’t at the best times. Folks had work or other responsibilities. It was like they were checking “a box” in order to move forward with the project, he said.
The bridge’s opening in early July was met with cheer. There was essentially a weekend block party and then Councilman Kevin de Léon drove in a low rider from one end to another to signify the opening.
But there were a few things missing: additional pedestrian and cyclists entryways and a park that’s supposed to sit underneath the bridge. (Right now, there’s only more roads and a field of metal and dirt.)
A Grand Opening Without Some Key Features
That right there — a park — would’ve been crucial for the opening of this $588 million throughway that’s essentially an open space where folks can gather, exercise and travel.
Boyle Heights is a neighborhood that doesn't have a lot of parks — it has only 0.7 acres of park per 1,000 people. And pollution in this area is a problem.
“If I had a dream list of what the rollout for this bridge would look like, I would've liked to see that park open, to see a new space to have folks to be able to just hang out, enjoy some green space,” Huerta said. “Enjoy all these things that were promised to us.”
Other folks have rallied behind that thought: more public spaces sans cars in L.A.
Listen to the people. Address the need. The City has a beautiful opportunity to respond to LA: make 6th Street Bridge a public park. Drop the car industrial revolution nostalgia and its dangerous allegory of “bridging communities”, instead give us public spaces.— Marty Preciado (@martypreciado) July 27, 2022
Here’s a thought, just shut down the bridge to cars… even if only for a couple times a week.
Because there are safety issues.
Safety Issues Lead To Shutdowns
Cyclists aren’t very safe from cars. They’re basically separated by low bumps and fixed plastic posts. My colleague Ryan Fonseca, who reports on transportation and mobility, delved into why things are the way they are with the bridge’s bike lanes:
LADOT was tasked with striping the pavement on the bridge and also worked with the construction contractor on the design and installation of the bike lanes, according to spokesperson Colin Sweeney. He said the decision to place the bike lanes outside the concrete walls that protect the pedestrian walkways came from Caltrans.
“Since there are no shoulders on the viaduct, Caltrans requested that the bike lanes be ‘permeable’ to act as an emergency lane,” Sweeney told LAist, saying the bike lanes offer “the highest level of protection that could be accommodated by the width of the bridge while also allowing emergency vehicles to enter if needed.”
LAPD authorities said earlier this week that speed bumps in the car lanes were being implemented, but L.A.’s Bureau of Engineering told Ryan no speed bumps have been installed on the bridge. Huh? (Ryan is continuing to report on what officials are planning.)
The car crashes, citations and stunts have led to police shutting down the bridge.
“Some of those things that are happening on the bridge are unsafe and nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, but at the same time, it's new,” Huerta said. “I can't remember in my 30 plus years of living in this city, the last time a brand new piece of infrastructure this big, this important was open. And for folks to see that in their lifetime, it's, it's a big deal, right? That 30 years from now, to say “I was there at the opening under this bridge.”
The unveiling of the Sixth Street Viaduct might not have been successful in the eyes of some people, but the story isn’t about the bridge — it’s about the people and how the community uses it.
Folks are gonna make what they make out of that bridge. And to me, that really speaks to the rasquachismo vibe. The rasquache vibe that Latino communities have had, where we take something that was intended for one purpose and we remix it.
For now, I’m curious to see what the next TikTok will be. I already saw a video of a marriage proposal on the bridge and a mini banda concert. Will there be someone making street hot dogs? I’ll be scrolling to check it out.
Producer Evan Jacoby contributed to this report.
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