Bridges Over Troubled Water
The Pedestrian Bridges Across the Los Angeles River
How does one cross the Los Angeles River? By bridge, of course. And there are four pedestrian bridges across this oft-overlooked waterway.
Crossing the Los Angeles River
Yes, Los Angeles has a river. It’s known, logically enough, as the Los Angeles River. It runs for nearly 50 miles from Canoga Park, through the heart of the city, and empties into the Pacific Ocean at the Port of Long Beach, just across Queensway Bay from the Queen Mary.
In fact, Los Angeles exists where it is because of the Los Angeles River. It was a source of sustenance for the Tongva people who lived throughout the Los Angeles basin before the Spanish arrived in 1769. During their journey into Alta California, the Spanish Portolá Expedition named the river El Rio de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, which roughly translates to “the river of our lady queen of the angels of Porciúncula” (Porciúncula is the town where St. Francis of Assisi lived, and expedition member Father Juan Crespí was a Franciscan monk).
Eventually Los Pobladores, the original 44 founders of Los Angeles, would settle at the confluence of then-Rio Porciúncula and the Arroyo Seco — and the city of Los Angeles would grow outward from this spot.
Back then the Los Angeles River was an alluvial river, which meant it changed its course often depending on the flow of water. This also meant that it flooded quite regularly when it received a significant quantity of water from storms or mountain snowmelt.
After a devastating flood in 1938, there was intense public demand for a solution. The Army Corps of Engineers stepped up to line the majority of the river’s length in concrete with a central channel to prevent erosion.
Of course one problem when dealing with a river, especially one as long and wide as the Los Angeles river, is getting from one side to the other. And that’s when you build a bridge.
Here are four pedestrian bridges that span the Los Angeles River, most of them along the 11-mile stretch of the river known as the Glendale Narrows.
La Kretz Bridge
One of the most striking bridges across the Los Angeles River, the La Kretz Bridge (also known as the North Atwater MultiModal Bridge), is a steel bridge suspended by cables attached to a central angled spire rising 126 feet into the air. One side of it is located just outside Griffith Park and it runs 325 feet across the river to the southern end of North Atwater Park.
Initially, La Kretz Bridge was meant to be an equestrian-only bridge that would be built entirely with private funds donated by philanthropist Morton La Kretz. But, as often happens in Los Angeles, the $4.75 million he gave to the bridge didn’t cover the full cost of the project. Eventually the bridge cost more than $16 million, and most of that was paid by taxpayers.
Although it was initially planned to open in 2013, if finally opened in February 2021. It provides an easy access for horses and their riders to travel across the Los Angeles river from the stables in Atwater Village to the riding trails in Griffith Park. There’s a space in the middle that splits into separate a sections for pedestrians and cyclists on one side and equestrians on the other. Hence, MultiModal.
The Sunnynook Pedestrian Bridge is the oldest bridge and narrowest bridge on this list. But perhaps its better known as the Atwater Village Love Lock Bridge. This alternate name started on New Years Day in 2013 when two gents named Billy & Glen locked twin padlocks to the chain-link fence along the span.
This act was modeled after the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, and soon other Los Angeles couples followed suit. In a relatively short period of time, more than 100 locks were attached to the bridge, proclaiming the eternal love of the lockers. The bridge even has its own presence on Facebook (though it hasn’t been active since 2019).
The city of Paris removed all the locks along the Pont des Arts in June 2015 out of concern for structural stability (all those locks are heavy) — and the Pont des Arts was a sturdy bridge. The Sunnynook Bridge doesn’t look all that sturdy, so attaching more locks to it may prove to be detrimental.
One side of the bridge is adjacent to Sunnynook River Park, while the other is at the end of Sunnynook Drive in Atwater Village.
Red Car Bridge
The Red Car Bridge connects Silver Lake to Red Car River Park just outside Atwater Village. Located just south of the heavily trafficked Glendale-Hyperion bridge (and an easy walk from the Sunnynook Bridge above), it allows pedestrians and bicyclists to avoid the traffic snarl where Hyperion Avenue turns into Glendale Boulevard. It will also provide a vital throughway between the two neighborhoods when the Glendale-Hyperion bridge undergoes a seismic retrofit in the near future.
The bridge is built on five concrete pilings, the remnants of a former bridge that once supported tracks for the city’s long gone (but fondly remembered) Pacific Red Car Trolley. Honoring the former street car line, it features a red-painted steel stripe that runs down each side of the bridge. The $4 million bridge opened in January 2021 and, with its 400-foot span, is one of the longer bridges across the river.
Taylor Yard Bridge
The Taylor Yard Bridge (nicknamed Rumblefish by its designers SPF:architects), the latest bridge to cross the Los Angeles River, isn’t built yet. Work on the bridge began in June 2019, and initial plans had it scheduled for completion in June 2021, but the pandemic slowed that way down. When finished, it will connect Cypress Park with Frogtown.
Update: The Taylor Yard bridge finally opened to pedestrian and bike traffic on March 21, 2022.
With its bright orange framework, which the bridge surface “floats” inside of, it’s one of the more noticeable spans across the river. Also around 400 feet in length, the final price tag for the Taylor Yard Bridge will come in at $18 million, up significantly from the 2014 estimate of $5.3 million.
More Bridges to Come?
There’s a fifth bridge that will span the Los Angeles River, connecting Glendale and Atwater Village, likely at the confluence of the Los Angeles River and the Verdugo Wash. But it’s still in the planning stages, and not everyone is fond of the idea, so it may not happen.
If you like bridges …
An elegantly styled Gothic bridge, named for William Shakespeare, spans a dry stream bed in the Franklin Hills.
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