The day was Sunday, July 10, and thousands had gathered for the opening of the Sixth Street Viaduct, a bridge connecting downtown Los Angeles with the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood. They came on foot, bicycle, rollerblades and skateboards; they took selfies and walked in wonder along the kilometer of pavement. After a forced delay of two years due to the pandemic, the new construction, which in all took six years to build and cost $588 million, finally opened. First for the enjoyment of pedestrians between 11.00am and 4.00pm and, hours later, for the drivers, the real beneficiaries in a county with more than eight million cars. The opening set the tone for the immediate future of the viaduct, which has basically caused a commotion. In the last few weeks, it has attracted streams of influencers, Fast & Furious style racers and daredevils determined to climb the concrete arches of the work designed by architect Michael Maltzan..
The chaos has been the cause of countless headaches for the Los Angeles Police Department, who have closed the bridge to traffic several times since it opened. On Tuesday night, the LAPD posted on Twitter: “The 6th Street Bridge will be closed until further notice due to illegal activity and public safety concerns.” The reopening was announced a few hours later with another message. The closure remained overnight, the favorite time for car racers, who have chosen the viaduct as the setting for their stunts and competitions. Residents of Boyle Heights describe how the screech of burning tires has become a common sound at dawn; tire marks remain on the pavement as a sign of baptism.
Multiple traffic tickets have been handed out on the bridge, and several vehicles have been seized. And not only cars have taken to this new attraction: the viaduct has also become the source of surreal images, such as that of a man sitting on a barbershop chair and getting a haircut in the middle of the street. A few days ago, a 16-year-old boy was arrested for climbing one of the arches that support the structure. He is not the only one who has climbed them, as proven by dozens of Instagram.
Cameras are not uncommon at this LA spot, one of ten bridges over a dry river. The channel that crosses below will be familiar to almost everyone, as some of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood have been filmed there. That was where John Travolta raced at the climax of Grease (1978); in The Terminator (1984), Schwarzenegger rode a Harley-Davidson there so James Cameron could create one of the most admired car chases in film history. A couple of years later, Arnold would return to the scene for Last Action Hero (1993). Gamers might recognize it from the popular Grand Theft Auto.
Police Chief Michael Moore said that they are asking for some kind of barriers that can prevent people from crossing the lanes, and the city has announced that it will install speed bumps to discourage adrenaline junkies. The authorities have also requested surveillance cameras and sensors to reduce the number of incidents. These are measures that worked for the emblematic Hollywood sign, another of the great attractions in the area that had also
suffered from the creativity of graffiti artists and the fans of the social media challenges.
The Los Angeles Times said that everything that has happened in recent weeks is an opportunity to rethink the city’s infrastructure and public space. Maybe the temporary closures could be made permanent –the newspaper suggests in an editorial – turning the viaduct into a shared area for walking, cycling or just meeting on weekends or in the afternoon. It even suggests ideas for its use, such as a venue for public concerts or a market with local products.
In tonight's episode of "Issues on the new 6th Street Bridge"... haircuts right in the middle of the bridge! LAPD says they're stepping up patrols, no sign of them at the Bridge Barbershop. #CBSLA pic.twitter.com/qtKSgI2pUT— Mike Rogers (@MikeRogersTV) July 21, 2022
Mayor Eric Garcetti said during the opening that the new bridge was “a love letter to the city.” The affection is more than reciprocated, partly because the ashes of a long relationship remain on the site. In February 2016, the demolition of the old bridge that connected downtown with East Los Angeles – an area with a 94% Latino population – began.
The last day of that old bridge, which had been standing since 1932, was also marked by commotion. The atmosphere was that of a peaceful party, but the authorities thought that trouble could arise, and in the evening the police riot squad was deployed to break up the crowd that had gathered there to say goodbye. Then, many arrived in vintage cars and in the popular low riders, collector cars tuned to stand out and gain the respect of the neighborhood. With the return of the viaduct there was a nod to that past in the form of a caravan of these vehicles that paraded through the bridge on its first day. On the weekends, it is still a popular meeting point for fans of these cars.