Unequal Access


“Power concedes nothing without a demand. Never did and it never will.”

–Frederick Douglas

In 1965 African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge to protest for equal access to jobs, housing, citizenship and to be able to move freely throughout the United States without harassment. Just as the Black community in Montgomery, Alabama set the example by using a bridge as a symbol of equal access, the residents of Silverlake and Atwater, at a public meeting in Friendship Auditorium in Los Feliz, demanded equal access to the Hyperion/Glendale Bridge–a bridge that spans the two communities, yet is only safely accessible by an automobile.

For the last 50 years safe access across the Hyperion/Glendale Bridge has been limited to people driving cars. Sidewalks that begin on the Silverlake side of the bridge narrow to a few inches and then finally disappear altogether, leaving walkers stranded between two car travel lanes with the majority of motorists reaching speeds up to 55 mph or more. Bike lanes are none existent, which leaves bicyclists traveling from Atwater to Silverlake with an especially harrowing ride as the bridge rounds a curve and inclines. The motorists come up behind the bicyclist taking the curve at 55 mph or more as they step on the gas to power up the hill.

Every afternoon children from King Middle and Marshall High schools, with mostly brown faces, traverse the bridge on foot from Silverlake toward Atwater. At the public meeting one teenager in a yellow jersey spoke about how frightening it is for him to ride his bike across the bridge to and from school. These young people do not have parents who can leave work and pick them up. Many of their families do not have the luxury of owning a car, period.

Instead of designing the ¼ mile bridge to be accessible, inviting and visually appealing for everyone, the project engineers proposed four-foot gutter shoulders that bicyclists might be able to use,  removed the entire sidewalk on one side of the bridge, while the speeds for motorists will continue to be as designed–55 mph. A crosswalk will only be placed on the north side of the bridge–near the area of Atwater with higher incomes and higher housing prices.

After viewing the proposal and presentation, it was clear to me and to the 45 people who spoke against the design (only three supported it) that this was a design intended for motorists. I had envisioned a bridge with a protected walking path, with a bike lane, with benches to sit on to admire a revitalized Los Angeles River and a bridge where there were two lanes of car traffic that move slowly and safely across the river, allowing everyone access to this historic bridge. Sadly, the City engineers didn’t seem to share that vision.


The Holy Grail. A design that considers all users. By RAC Design

After the meeting ended my friend Matthew Mooney greeted Mayor Garcetti’s representative Matt Szabo and asked what the next steps would be. Szabo mentioned something to the effect of not wanting to be locked into a bike lane design as well as some nonsense about building the bridge as it is proposed now and adding bike lanes down the line. I stopped listening at that point because to me it was the same platitude that I’ve heard before. The same platitude the African-Americans who struggled for access to the American Dream, who struggled across the Edmund Pettus Bridge had heard for generations:  “Just wait. Change will come. You’ll get your rights in the future.”

The future can be now. Of course the Powers That Be want us to wait, want us to go away so they can have their Federal Funding and complete the bridge for car usage only. We have plenty of bridges in Los Angeles that cater to the motorist–that are automobile arteries. Do we really need another?

Right now, we have the chance to make a positive change for everyone who lives, works and recreates in Silverlake, Atwater and Los Feliz. This Bridge can be a safe destination and portal for all people whether they walk, bike, or drive. We’ve had 50 years favoring one mode of transportation. Let the next 50 years favor all.

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