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A bridge too narrow

A venerable – and well used – equestrian bridge survives effort by bicyclists to make it theirs

Special to the Horsetrader - March 3rd, 2016 - General News

BURBANK — After a two-hour public hearing on bicyclists’ access to the Mariposa Equestrian Bridge into Griffith Park, the Burbank City Council last month ended the controversy simply: no bicycles on the bridge.

Known as the “swinging bridge” that connects to the Griffith Park equestrian trails, the bridge carries hundreds of horse-and-riders daily and as many as 1,000 on a weekend. The seven-foot wide bridge, commissioned in 1938, was the result of efforts by movie actor Gene Autry, who understood that once the Los Angeles River banks were built out, equestrians would be cut off from riding in the park.

“It has been under intense pressure by a bike club to be declared a ‘multi-modal’ bridge that would include bicycle access into Griffith Park,” said Lynn Brown, Vice President of the Los Angeles Equine Advisory Committee and a champion statewide for equestrian interests.

At a Burbank City Council meeting last November, an ordinance was introduced for a City Council vote to restrict the riding of bikes the bridge. Instead, bikers would be required to walk or carry their bikes across. The Council vote to allow the pushing across the bridge was divided — of the five City Council members, three voted to allow bikes to push bikes across and two voted against it. Another hearing would ensue.
“ The language and presentation of the ordinance was so confusing that citizens who opposed the ordinance voted for it, thinking the ordinance denied bike access to the bridge and the park trails,” said Brown.

It also didn’t solve the problems of safety and access. First, granting bicyclists access into Griffith Park via the bridge, where bikes can only be ridden on streets, seemed problematic. As for safety, a person carrying a bike is no less dangerous on a narrow bridge than riding it would be.

“It was a risky proposal, endangering horses and their riders,” said Brown. “It is unsafe and a clearly incompatible use.”

It was discovered that, contrary to long held belief, the bridge belonged entirely to the City of Burbank. Upon exiting the bridge – onto the park – it became jurisdiction of the L.A. City Recreation and Parks.

“It was also discovered that Burbank had no ordinance against bikes on the bridge, so there was a huge gap in enforcement,” said Brown. “L.A. Rec and Parks or LAPD can’t enforce in Burbank, and Burbank had no way to enforce, either. It left a huge hole in the enforcement ability of law officers.

“Basically, it was anarchy until we could get it fixed,” she said.

Brown was contacted to provide a letter of support regarding an ordinance that would address the enforcement issue. She and her fellow equestrians did their homework. Old maps and permits on land use were checked. Then, she came to a conclusion.

“The bike lobby were using a lot of half-truths in their argument for access,” she said. “ We knew we were on solid ground with these maps. It is not prudent to go into a formal hearing without knowing the facts of your case.”

The vibrant equestrian community in the area reacted by coming together. Equestrians, hikers, business owners and realtors were upset over how a combined use of the bridge and trails would impact their lives. A flood of action to spread awareness followed, including leaflets placed in barns, restaurants, stapling flyers on telephone poles, personal phone calls, posts on Facebook and other social media.

“Concerned citizens worked together in amazing ways to deal with this issue,” Brown said. “It was as if they had stuck a stick into a hornet’s nest.”

The impact of a simple change to access on a bridge would have been widespread, she said.

“In the Burbank Rancho, people have expressly bought homes and choose to live and do business in Burbank in order to have the right to keep horses on their property,” Brown added. “ Bikes crowding over the bridge and onto the horse trails and tunnels would drive equestrians off one of the few places in the area where they may enjoy their recreational riding.

“Burbank receives income from the equestrian community in many ways and enjoys excellent land values due to the fact that people are willing to pay top prices for housing where they may also keep their horse,” continued Brown. “ Equestrians will not stay where they feel unsafe to enjoy the trails of Griffith Park. This could disenfranchise a large and profitable traditional user group of Burbank homeowners and business people. Equestrians do not wish to have their lives and their horses’ lives put in danger by confrontations with bikes.

“Bikes have many miles to ride their bikes, local equestrians only have Griffith Park for the equestrian riding users.”

At the first hearing in February of this proposed new Ordinance, there were three bikers who pushed for the Ordinance. However, there were well over 100 angry equestrians, home owners and business people filling the City Hall. There were also over a 100 emails from people who were unable to attend.

“Importantly, during their testimony in City Council, people spoke eloquently — each addressing a different point to the issue,” said Brown. “There was very little repetition of the same points over and over, and no one yelled, got angry or insulted the bikers.”

Bikes will not lack for access over the L.A. River: Two more bike only bridges are in the works.

“The most important aspect of this successful opposition was that the equestrians and other concerned trail users worked together,” Brown said. “They showed up en masse, without bickering and back-biting among themselves. The greatest weakness in the equestrian community is when people disagree within their ranks and don’t present a united front. We often ruin our strength before we even get to the battle.

“Another point, she added, is that this was not just equestrians fighting bikes – others joined in the cause.

“We had hikers from the Board of the Sierra Club who don’t want to get knocked flat by an unexpected speeding bike,” said Brown. “The Burbank Realtor Board got involved, and they are not necessarily equestrians. However they had a clear idea of what would happed to local property values if bikes were to gain access.

Having a united front in a cause with other groups lends credibility, Brown insists.

“Some land managers will roll their eyes and think, ‘Oh, it’s the horse people again — they’re always complaining about something.’ If it’s a wide panoply of users who aren’t equestrians, it gets even more attention.”

One comment has been made on “A bridge too narrow”

  1. Marilee Lowe Says:

    Yeah, a victory for equestrians! We are fighting so many fights and surrounded by people trying to limit or end equestrian trail use and increase bike use on trails that are becoming damaged by the ruts bikes cause. Add to that the danger and lack of trail etiquette bicyclists exhibit making it dangerous not just for equestrians but for hikers as well.
    We are in danger of losing more and more public trails as development takes over our open spaces for mitigation purposes and to grow their bank accounts.
    More trails for us and less tax breaks for big money…sounds like a plan.
    Thanks for this article, it shows solidarity where it is much needed.

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