6th Street Bridge: A civic marvel that reflects LA’s promise and its latent problems

In its short life, the 6th Street Viaduct has transformed into so many things competing for so many people: a soaring civic landmark or a pathway to gentrification. Altar of the city’s car culture or TikTok playground for general chaos and anarchy. Boyle Heights Scenic Drive abuelitos or a stark reminder of the lack of public space there and in much of the city.

Basically, is it an architectural and cultural marvel or a symbol of so much wrong with LA?

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

Eastsiders worry about gentrification seeping in from downtown, transit advocates are upset about unprotected bike lanes, and lowriders don’t want runners on deck. Everyone wants to enjoy it in their own way.

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

People release mid-range doves to bless the 6th Street Overpass while the LAPD conducts a ‘traffic control operation’ along the Sixth Street Overpass.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

It was evident on a cool summer night last week, as teenagers skateboarded along the sidewalk, cruisers passed by and pedestrians pulled out their phones to capture the iconic view of the city and the mountains beyond.

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

Traveling from her home in Boyle Heights, she said she was “burning calories” with her husband and 5-year-old daughter as the setting sun turned the pink sky into a deeper shade of blue. The takeover the drivers and daredevils who climb the bridge on weekends, she says, “are not even from here.”

Chris Rosas walked along the bridge with his friends Javier Duran and Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez had filmed the couple performing covers of popular Mexican songs.

“It’s fresh. It’s something new in the city. we haven’t had something like that and it’s a shame people mess it up.”

Goon Ride members gather at mid-span on the 6th Street overpass, forcing police to close the bridge.

Goon Ride members gather at mid-span on the 6th Street overpass, forcing police to close the bridge. Police were in the midst of a ‘traffic control operation’ to limit such occurrences.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Rodriguez said he came to capture not only the beautiful sunset, but also the hype. “We thought we could go a bit more viral because there’s so much media talking about it.”

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

Perhaps never before has a bridge – designed to carry cars and trucks across a concrete river channel and withstand earthquakes – been needed to accommodate so many different interests, including crowded neighborhoods at the is.

According to an assessment by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Boyle Heights, predominantly Latin American, is considered park-poor and in “very bad need” for more open space.

On weeknights, families with pushchairs stroll between tourists taking photos, taking in the fresh air from the elevated terrace. Their own parks are often dark at night, unwelcoming to some walkers and joggers, compared to the brightly lit bridge filled with so many people.

Clouds float over downtown Los Angeles and the new 6th Street Overpass.

Clouds float over downtown Los Angeles and the new 6th Street Overpass.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“We actually didn’t just build a bridge to replace the old 6th Street Bridge,” said Eastside Councilman Kevin de León. “We actually have an elevated open space that we can use much more creatively – which we didn’t do in the past.”

Last week, De León introduced 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 lead to the bridge being closed to traffic more regularly.

“The idea that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are open spaces,” he said. “It’s an idea to float.”

He also asked the city attorney to prepare an order that would specifically target street takeovers, drag races, roadside stops and climbing the bridge’s 10 twin arches.

Some activists are embracing the idea of ​​closing the bridge completely to traffic, arguing that its problems are the fault of the city for not fully accepting how residents of this area would use the infrastructure. One of the biggest complaints is that the cycle paths along the span were not fully protected like the pedestrian walkway, which is bordered by a low concrete wall.

Sahra Sulaiman, a writer for StreetsblogLA, which reports on issues around reducing car dependency, said the bike lanes appear to have been designed for cyclists in Lycra shorts with high-end bikes riding close to the road. traffic speed. She said it was not designed for the day worker, the “journallero it’s trying to get on a mountain bike that isn’t at its best and isn’t moving as fast.

Sulaiman, who covered the bridge’s planning for the website, said questions about usage were too often brushed off.

Over the past three weeks, it has been closed for several nights – including a four-night period – as the Los Angeles Police Department cracked down in an effort to push back takeovers and rowdy passers-by, most recently on Sunday. But the look of the bridge continues to draw crowds, as snaps of the scenic expanse flood TikTok and Instagram feeds.

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

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

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

There was a quinceañera photo shoot, a man getting a tattoo, a barber cutting his hair in traffic, and rock climbers and skaters who have scaled death-defying heights. At the epicenter of influencer culture, her fame cannot be contained.

And the costs of caring for the latest Los Angeles star are starting to rise.

The LAPD has stepped up patrols and assigned additional officers. And last week, city officials estimated it would cost $704,000 to clean graffiti off the bridge for a year. The graffiti-cleaning resources angered members of the San Fernando Valley City Council, who say it was being done at the expense of their constituents.

“How is it that we can seemingly find unlimited funding to keep this half a billion dollar bridge in good repair?” And we can’t come up with money for Canoga Park or the rest of the valley or any part of the city,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said at the committee meeting last week.

The viaduct replaced a popular Streamline Moderne bridge built in 1932 after it suffered from what engineers called “concrete cancer” that left it continually collapsing.

Eugene Hernandez, a longtime member and officer of the Imperials Car Club lowrider, attended its closing. He didn’t come out to pass his candy blue 1976 Chevy Caprice on the new bay partly because of all the antics. Like the other cruisers, he is frustrated.

“I didn’t come to the bridge just because there was a lot that happened with the police presence,” he said. The retired Los Angeles Unified School District administrator said he plans to go on a cruise, but he’s also angry at runners, climbers and others who “don’t respect the new construction or the new icon that we have in the city of LA”.

“It’s disgusting,” he said.

Many fear the bridge could be a gateway for wealthier people moving into the neighborhoods around it, raising rents and evicting longtime residents.

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

“We made it so beautiful and so welcoming, and saying, ‘Oh look, now it’s ready for you white people with lots of money,'” she said. “So don’t worry, just go on and keep moving around this neighborhood. That’s cheaper rent than what you pay.

Lopez, a former city arts commissioner, said she had long been concerned about whether the city was giving full consideration to how people would use the overpass. But now that it’s in place, she says, it’s cemented into our landscape for better or worse.

“I was driving downtown, it feels 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 the [burnout] marks, as if tattooed on the bridge. I think everyone was trying to make their mark, you know – to feel connected.

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