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Why the Sixth Street Viaduct in Los Angeles Keeps Closing

LOS ANGELES — Less than three weeks ago, with fireworks, crowds and the civic joy that only a new Instagram backdrop can muster, America’s second-largest city christened a stunning new $588 million landmark: a bridge that would create a “ribbon of light” between the downtown arts district and the historic bungalows of East Los Angeles.

With its 10 sets of white, lit arches, the glistening Sixth Street Viaduct — as it is formally known — replaced an 83-year-old Art Deco bridge over the concrete Los Angeles River that for generations had been a renowned Hollywood location for film noir car chases and dystopian hellscapes. Critics declared it an instant icon. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who narrated a tongue-in-cheek slow jam in the bridge’s honor when construction started, called it “a love letter” to the city.

Now Los Angeles is loving it back.

There is so much love, in fact, that the city is considering installing speed bumps, a concrete median and climbing deterrents after Los Angeles police shut down the bridge last weekend for three nights in a row and closed it again on Tuesday night.

In the weeks since the bridge first opened, it has been besieged by Angelenos yearning to connect with it, use it and own it. First graffiti artists marked it. Then skateboarders and climbers took on the arches. Within a week, exhibitionist drivers were burning rubber, doing doughnuts, targeting the bridge for illegal street takeovers and crashing. In less than 10 days, the bridge’s pristine lanes were covered with black skid marks.

“Look, unlike the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, this is the first major bridge to be built in the social media era,” said Councilman Kevin de León, a veteran Los Angeles lawmaker and recent mayoral candidate whose district includes both the bridge and the communities that bookend it. “Folks are trying to get their virtual fame and go viral.

“Of course, someone might ask: ‘Didn’t you anticipate what has happened?’” the councilman added, before answering his own question.


Actually, the city did anticipate the taggers. The bridge’s maintenance plan included daily graffiti removal, which Mr. de León said was needed within 24 hours of its opening, a buoyant celebration over the weekend of July 10 at which some 15,000 Angelenos watched fireworks, grooved to music and strolled its expanse.

Not all of the love hurt: A barber commandeered the median and gave haircuts one evening as traffic flowed by him. A tattoo artist inked a customer on the pedestrian walkway. Local street photographers caught a photo shoot for a pink-themed quinceañera with the blue sky above and the Los Angeles skyline glittering in the distance. There have been selfies galore.

Allen Rodriguez, a 25-year-old warehouse worker who grew up in Boyle Heights on the east side of the bridge, said he had imagined the project when he first heard about it and walked across with his parents when it opened. How did it compare?

“I think it’s better,” Mr. Rodriguez said. He was so impressed, in fact, that he returned the second day it was open and skated it end to end — legally — with his teenage brother. He pulled his phone out of his pocket to reveal a photograph of himself standing on the bridge walking path, with downtown Los Angeles behind him and, at his feet, his skateboard.

Architectural critics have compared the project to the transformative High Line of New York City. The bridge eventually will overlook a 12-acre riverbed park that will help anchor a long-term restoration of the famously concrete-covered Los Angeles River. Designed by the architect Michael Maltzan, the Sixth Street Viaduct replaces a landmark that, at 3,500 feet, was the longest bridge in California when it was built in 1932.

At one end, in those early days, was Los Angeles’s city core; at the other was Boyle Heights, then a working class melting pot of Japanese, Eastern European, Russian and Mexican laborers. Underneath, the Los Angeles River was still a flood-prone body of water.

But over the generations, the old bridge became seismically unstable. Demolition began in 2016 with a three-year time frame. By then, the river was a storm channel scribbled over with graffiti, and the bridge spanned not only that hard expanse, but also freeways and railways. The downtown side had evolved from a warehouse district into an “arts” district so pricey that few artists could afford to live there, and Boyle Heights was struggling against gentrification to maintain its character as a majority Latino neighborhood.

The Los Angeles police chief, Michel Moore, told the city’s police commission on Tuesday that most of the mischief-makers on the bridge had been from outside the communities that abut it. He compared the attraction to other Los Angeles icons, including the Hollywood sign and Venice Beach.

Still, he said, the space has quickly become known for “outrageous antics”; as a result, the department shut down the bridge three times over the weekend, and by Tuesday had impounded six vehicles and issued more than 57 citations.

On Sunday night, he said, the city began installing speed bumps and looking into a temporary median barrier to deter spinouts and fencing to prevent people from scaling the arches.

Mr. de León said he was especially concerned about the scaling, adding, “God forbid, someone slips.”

In the downtown loft district that has sprung up over three decades from a once drug-strewn warren of industrial warehouses and art workshops, Arthur Garcia, who works in TV and film lighting, sighed that the city had mismanaged the bridge “in typical L.A. fashion.”

Waiting with his dog in the shade, Mr. Garcia said he worried that the bridge would draw more police to the area, which in turn would risk more clashes with its unhoused population. When civic problems erupt, he said, “there’s usually an overreaction, and the reaction is usually policing it and unfortunately that’s just going to create more violence.”

In Boyle Heights, Michael Avilez, 16, said that the bridge’s troubles had left him with a familiar feeling — that this was why his community couldn’t have nice things.

“We can’t,” he emphasized. “I don’t know why people do things like that.”

Manning the cash register of a Boyle Heights 7-Eleven, Darcy Gomez acknowledged that the area around her storefront was now regularly flooded with outsiders — and, now, officers to police them. Still, she said, when she drove the bridge for the first time this month, she was stunned and even calmed by its sun-drenched beauty.

“If you put your windows down, it’s really pretty and relaxing,” Ms. Gomez said. “I wish we took much more care of it.”

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