6th Street bridge: A civic wonder that reflects L.A.’s promise and its simmering problems

In its short life, the 6th Street Viaduct has morphed into so many competing things for so many people: a towering urban landmark or a street for gentrification. Altar of the city’s car culture or TikTok playground for general chaos and lawlessness. Panoramic boardwalk for Boyle Heights Abuelitos or a glaring reminder of the lack of public space there and in so many parts of the city.

Is it basically an architectural and cultural marvel, or a symbol of so much that’s wrong with Los Angeles?

The $588 million, more than half-mile span connecting the Arts District to the historic Eastside and Whittier Boulevard has become a new totem for the city’s cracks in transit, policing, housing, justice, culture and land use.

Eastsiders are concerned about the gentrification creeping in from downtown, public transit advocates are angry about the unprotected bike lanes, and Lowriders don’t want the racers on the bridge. Everyone wants to enjoy it in their own way.

“Since opening, it has become overwhelmingly clear that not only does the community need a functional bridge for cars to drive across, but that there is also a very real need for public community space,” said Betty Avila, executive director of Self Help Graphics, MD nonprofit arts institution in Boyle Heights.

People release doves at the center to bless the 6th Street Viaduct

People release doves midway to bless the 6th Street Viaduct while the LAPD conducts a “traffic enforcement operation” along the Sixth St. Viaduct.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

That was evident last week on a chilly summer night as teenagers drove down the sidewalk, cruisers rolled by, and pedestrians Pulled out their phones to capture the iconic view of the city and mountains beyond.

“It’s like the first time we have something because I feel like Boyle Heights always gets left out,” said April Campos, 32.

Stepping out of her Boyle Heights home, she said she was “burning off a few calories” with her husband and 5-year-old daughter as the setting sun turned the pink sky a deeper shade of blue. The takeover Motorists and daredevils who climb the bridge at the weekend are “not even from here,” she said.

Chris Rosas walked the bridge with his friends Javier Duran and Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez filmed the couple performing covers of well-known Mexican songs.

“Its fresh. This is something new for the city. There’s a certain spice to it,” said Rosas, who hails from La Mirada and goes by the stage name Khris Ro. “It’s been a while since we’ve had anything like this and it’s unfortunate that people screw it up.”

Goon Ride members gather in the middle of the 6th Street Viaduct, prompting police to close the bridge.

Goon Ride members gather in the middle of the 6th Street Viaduct, prompting police to close the bridge. Police were in the midst of a “traffic enforcement operation” to curb such events.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Rodriguez said he came to capture not only the stunning sunset but the hustle and bustle. “We thought we could go a little more viral since there’s so much media coverage.”

Rodriguez later said the strategy worked; The trio landed on a local Spanish-language station.

Perhaps never has a bridge — designed at its core to carry cars and trucks across a concrete river channel and withstand earthquakes — been able to accommodate so many diverse interests, particularly from the crowded neighborhoods to the east.

According to an assessment by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Boyle Heights is predominantly Latino and has a “very high need” for more open space.

On weekdays, families with strollers stroll among tourists, snapping photos and getting some fresh air from the elevated terrace. Their own parks are often dark at night, which is unwelcome for some strollers and joggers compared to the brightly lit bridge filled with so many people.

Clouds hover over downtown Los Angeles and the new 6th Street Viaduct.

Clouds hover over downtown Los Angeles and the new 6th Street Viaduct.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“We didn’t actually just build a bridge to replace the old 6th Street Bridge,” said Eastside Councilman Kevin de León. “We actually have elevated open spaces that we can use in a much more creative way — which we haven’t done in the past.”

Last week, De León presented a motion that would calculate the cost of occasionally closing the bridge to cars and opening it to cyclists and pedestrians. The effort, he hopes, could result in the bridge being closed to traffic more regularly.

“The idea that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays is an open space,” he said. “That’s an idea for levitation.”

He has also asked the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance specifically targeting street takeovers, drag racing, stopping along the street and scaling the bridge’s 10 twin arches.

Some activists support the idea of ​​closing the bridge entirely to traffic, arguing that its problems stem from the city not fully considering how people in the area would use the infrastructure. One of the biggest complaints is that the bike lanes along the span were not fully protected like the pedestrian walkway, which is lined by a low concrete wall.

Sahra Sulaiman, a writer for StreetsblogLA reporting on issues related to reducing car dependency, said the bike lanes appear to be designed for riders in Lycra shorts with high-end bikes riding close to the speed of traffic. She said it was not designed for the day laborer who “jornalero it’s trying to get on a mountain bike that isn’t in the best shape and isn’t moving as fast.”

Sulaiman, who covered bridge planning for the site, said questions about usage are too often swept aside.

It’s been closed several nights in the past three weeks — including a stretch of four nights — as the Los Angeles Police Department cracked down to ward off takeovers and rampaging spectators, most recently on Sunday. But the charm of the bridge Keeps drawing crowds as footage from the scenic span floods TikTok and Instagram feeds.

A person climbs one of the arches of the 6th Street Viaduct.

A person climbs one of the arches of the 6th Street Viaduct.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

There was one quinceanera photo shoot, a man getting a tattoo, a barber cutting his hair in traffic, and climbers and skaters scaling death-defying heights. At the epicenter of influencer culture, their fame cannot be contained.

And the cost of grooming Los Angeles’ newest star is starting to rise.

The LAPD has increased patrols and assigned additional officers. And last week city officials estimated that it would cost $704,000 to remove graffiti on the bridge for a year. The graffiti cleaners angered San Fernando Valley City Council members, who said it was at the expense of their constituents.

“How come we can find seemingly limitless funds to make this half-billion dollar bridge look good? And we can’t find money for Canoga Park or the rest of the valley or any part of town,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said at the committee meeting last week.

The viaduct replaced a popular Streamline Moderne bridge built in 1932 after it suffered what engineers called “concrete cancer” that caused it to constantly crumble.

Eugene Hernandez, a longtime member and board member of the Lowrider Imperials Car Club, attended the closure. Partly because of all the antics, he wasn’t keen on driving his candy blue 1976 Chevy Caprice on the new span. Like other cruisers, he is frustrated.

“I didn’t get on the bridge just because a lot of stuff happened there with a police presence,” he said. The retired administrator of the Los Angeles Unified School District said he plans to take cruises, but he’s also angry at the racers, the climbers and the others who “don’t like the new building or the new icon that we have in the city of LA, not respecting”.

“It’s disgusting,” he said.

Many fear the bridge will be an entryway for wealthier people moving into surrounding neighborhoods, raising rents and displacing longtime residents.

“I’m very concerned about this bridge,” said Josefina Lopez, the founding artistic director of Boyle Heights theater CASA 0101.

“We made it so beautiful and so inviting and said, ‘Oh look, now it’s done for you big money white people,'” she said. “So don’t worry, go ahead and move on to this neighborhood. The rent is cheaper than what you pay.”

Lopez, a former city commissioner of arts, said she had long worried about whether the city had fully considered how people would use the viaduct. But now that it’s here, she said, it’s cemented in our landscape for better or for worse.

“I took it downtown, you look like you’re entering the Emerald City because it’s so beautiful and so white,” she said. “Coming back was a different experience. You could see that [burnout] Markings as if they were tattooed on the bridge. I think everyone was trying to make a name for themselves, you know — to feel connected.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-02/whats-dividing-l-a-sits-along-the-sixth-street-bridge 6th Street bridge: A civic wonder that reflects L.A.’s promise and its simmering problems

Alley Einstein

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