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Why Everyone Seems to Be Panicking About L.A.’s New Sixth Street Bridge

Photo by Erick Huerta for L.A. TACO.

Photo by Erick Huerta for L.A. TACO.

Two weeks ago, the new version of the Sixth Street Viaduct was officially opened, bridging downtown L.A.’s Arts District to Boyle Heights. Almost immediately, it became the talk of the town, which, hey, not bad for a bridge to go so viral in an era of such limited attention spans.

But the frenzied discussion about this extensively refurbished spanner is not due to any of its architectural details or impressive load-bearing capacity. Instead, the controversy appears to be mounting over its public reception, treatment, and sense of ownership, including what right, if any, do the people of this great city and the actual neighborhood book-ending the bridge have to enjoy it in their own particular ways.

Meanwhile, the bridge has been shut down to car traffic for multiple days.

The new Sixth Street Bridge, as it’s more commonly known, was under fire from the get-go. It replaced the original Sixth Street Bridge, which was built in 1932 and, since then, quickly became an icon of its own, featured in a gang of movies, shows, and music videos, including Grease, Colors, Terminators 2 and 3, Kanye’s “Jesus Walks,” Kendrick’s “Humble,” and assorted zombie, Purge, and Purge-like films.

No matter what it looked like or how much concrete comprised it, it was locally embraced and beloved because it belonged to Los Angeles, hearkening back to a more civically defensive era before East Coasters were falling over themselves to move here, and L.A. was still slandered far and wide throughout the nation.

The bridge was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. But apparently had one significant flaw: The shit was falling apart, cracking in several places due to the concrete’s high alkali-silica content, and concerning officials that “The Big One” would inevitably lead to its destruction.

Concerned preservationists wanted to see the Art Deco bridge repaired and protected, but after millions of dollars were spent trying to do just that, the city eventually said, “we’ll throw it in the gutter and go buy another.”

In 2016, the bridge was demolished completely for the new one that debuted after six years of construction earlier this month. But not before we got an RnB slow jam from Eric Garcetti about it.

On July 9, the new bridge, designed by Michael Maltzan and HNTB, was officially opened with a reported 15,000 people in attendance for the occasion, a performance by Ozomatli, food trucks, a car show, and fireworks. Garcetti dubbed the new structure “a love letter to the city.”

The $588-million, 3,500-foot construction, which sports 10 pairs of LED-lit arches, is intended to be a destination for sightseers and tourist lenses, who may want to create their own viral selfie moments on or in front of the bridge after visiting the Hollywood sign and that 'Millenial pink' wall on Melrose.

That’s what city officials were hoping for anyway.

Instead, almost immediately, the bridge became a destination for actual Angelenos to play and party on, using it in ways expressive, beautiful, and sometimes destructive. Ways that city councilmembers and politicians weren’t expecting and really didn’t seem to want.

First came skater Meklo Rivera, of the aptly named “Blood In Blood Out” Skateboards, attempting some kickflips down its arches, risking his own ass in the name of something that really, just had to be done in the name of skating L.A.

Next came reports of some dudes doing donuts on the bridge and graffiti crews doing what they do, both marring its once virgin asphalt face with skid marks, throwies, and tags.

At one point, a caravan of lowriders gathered to majestically break ground and cruise it. Street takeovers, in which car enthusiasts illegally descend on a location to make a lot of fucking noise and spin around in circles while narrowly avoiding (or not) members of the gathered audience, were widely reported next.

A crash happened when a driver crashed into the back of a pickup truck on Thursday, followed by another street takeover that led to a crash this past Friday night, following the bridge's reopening after a brief closure to traffic.

But not everyone coming to the bridge was risking the lives and limbs of innocent people here.

In myriad other manners, Angelenos began using the bridge to declare it as their own, more than just some contracted developers’ half-billion-dollar dream.

At one point, two guys climbed up the arches to chill and watch all the automotive activity as a rail of classic cars and ranflas stretched across the bridge, which, looked like a perfect perspective from which to smoke some weed while hanging with one’s friends—if there wasn't the fall-to-your-death factor.

We caught a Dodger-themed churro mobile flying dramatically across its span. This rocker tattoo artist inked someone’s forearm on the bridge, and this guy tattooed someone’s finger there. This barber gave someone a haircut in the middle of traffic. @FoosGoneWild posted a video of someone shadowboxing even, a BMX takeover, and this stunningly beautiful moment of a Quinceañera photoshoot caught by Boyle Heights’ own legend Erick “El Random Hero” Huerta.

Seeing people who look like they may actually come from the community that abuts the bridge enjoy themselves or pay a visit to the bridge has quickly led to widespread panic about the bridge being a “trouble spot” “plagued” with “chaos.”

City Councilman Kevin De Leon has promised to add cameras, and officials are discussing higher fencing and a traffic median to the bridge to put an end to such shenanigans, blaming “scofflaws” and the viral times we live in for helping to spoil the sanctity of the city’s new concrete showcase. After promising to add more LAPD patrols, the city has now closed the bridge to car traffic for three days in a row. Anyone parking on the bridge is said to face maximum enforcement.

While no one is necessarily pro-car-crash in this world, the furor in media, both mainstream and social is not sitting well with a lot of locals, who feel the ensuing panic and hand-wringing is merely part of a system that traditionally ignores the needs or desires of the neighborhood to the bridge’s east or targets it outright.

The recent controversy does seem a convenient new chapter in the narrative of police and politicians, in times when both seem to be using crime, which has strangely surged since activists suggested rerouting some of the LAPD’s Bearcat and non-lethal projection budget to fund measures that might reduce crime from a sociological perspective, thus helping them be safer, to their advantage.

In frustration, L.A. TACO’s Memo Torres tweeted, “You know. All this shit talking about what local raza Is doing on the new $$$$$$$ million dollar 6th street bridge. Car crashing, foos climbing it, barber giving fades. I'm fed up. Like fuck that. It's our city. And it's their community bridge. Shut the fuck up and let LA be LA.”

Huerta, L.A. TACO’s longest-standing contributor, himself wrote: “Fuck your identity politics. Fuck the police. Fuck anyone that whines ‘this is why we can't have nice things.’ That bridge was designed and built for others, not for us, not for the #BoyleHeights community. So make it your own.”

Using 100% fewer fucks than our contributors, income inequality activist Rudy Espinoza put it like this: “All the activations on the 6th street bridge show how starved the Eastside is for public space and infrastructure. Instead of banning people off the bridge, ban the cars. Why not more banda and bikes, and less car traffic!”

To his point, the bridge redevelopment scheme does include plans for a $40 million park below its Boyle Heights flank, next to be under construction, and possibly debuting next year.

Ultimately, the community could eventually transfer its excitement over the Sixth Street Bridge and be able to kickflip, cruise Impalas, or hang out and blaze it with friends in the park underneath it. But as long as social media awards a like or view for posting a video, we suspect L.A. is only seeing the first shot in all the banda-blasting, Quince-throwing, asada-grilling, and ranfla-riding celebrations to come over a project that took six years to complete.

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