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Sixth Street Viaduct in Los Angeles: Ribbon of Light

Laura Puttkamer
Los Angeles
Photo: Venti Views / Unsplash




Los Angeles’ newest viaduct by Michael Maltzan Architecture is complete. The connecting bridge called Sixth Street Viaduct opened on July 9th, 2022. Read all about it here.

Modern infrastructure architecture

Sixth Street Viaduct is Los Angeles’ newest bridge. This ambitious piece of infrastructure architecture has replaced the old 1932 Sixth Street Bridge, which was falling into disrepair. Michael Maltzan Architecture’s new viaduct is characterised by a graceful design with 20 “dancing” arches. The architects themselves call their viaduct the “Ribbon of Light”.

After a five-year construction period, the bridge opened on July 9th, 2022, with a two-day communication celebration. Its first users were pedestrians, who enjoyed musical performances, food, and other festivities as well as fireworks and the official lighting of the arches. On July 10th, the viaduct was open to bikes and pedestrians. By now, it offers space cars as well.

Sixth Street Viaduct is a tied-arch bridge with ten pairs of arches. They rise and fall along the edges of the structure, which measures more than 1,000 metres from east to west. The design pays homage to the earlier bridge. With the tallest pair of arches in the same place of the original arches, the bridge easily spans the LA river. It also has an additional tall pair of arches as a gateway on the east. All of the arches lean outwards to create a sense of movement and dynamism. Therefore, the bridge is often likened to a dancing ribbon.

Cars vs. people

Underneath the busy Sixth Street Viaduct, a new 12-acre public park designed by Hargreaves Jones Associates offers some calm green space. This is intended to offer a bit of respite for the busy area. However, the new viaduct has already faced some criticism. While the connection between downtown Los Angeles and the historic Boyle Heights neighbourhood was necessary, it was also expensive. The pandemic delayed construction by two years. Overall, it took six years to build the bridge at a total cost of 588 million USD.

Critics have said that the majestic new bridge mostly benefits drivers. They are seen as the real beneficiaries for the new transport link. In a county with more than 8 million cars, transport tends to be less friendly towards pedestrians and cyclists.

However, similar to the old viaduct, the new one is already very popular with skater, cyclists, rollerbladers, pedestrians, and other non-motorised flaneurs. Countless influencers have given popularity to the new Sixth Street Viaduct. While some consider the bridge to be a new civic landmark, others see it as the roadway to gentrification.

Conflicts around the Sixth Street Viaduct

While the conflict between cars vs. people is playing out on the bridge like in so many other parts of the US, there is another worrying trend: Daredevils and Fast & Furious style racers are using the architectural work for illegal purposes. As a result, the viaduct has been termed a “TikTok playground for general mayhem and lawlessness” by the Los Angeles Times.

Authorities have had to close the bridge at night several times already to prevent dangerous bike races. At the same time, there are complaints about unprotected bicycle lanes as well as the general lack of community space as evidenced by the misuse of the bridge.

Residents of Boyle Heights have reacted positively to the new landmark, pointing out that this is the first time the neighbourhood has its own iconic site. They also told the Los Angeles Times that the daredevils who misuse the bridge are not from the neighbourhood, worried about the consequences of the social media hype.

Eastside Councilman Kevin de Léon has introduced a motion to calculate the cost of occasionally closing the bridge to cars. He hopes to open it only to cyclists and pedestrians. This would help in using the Sixth Street Viaduct as a public space which can accommodate many different interests. He hopes to achieve car-free Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on the bridge.

Climbers and racers

In the few weeks since the Sixth Street Viaduct opened, is has already been closed for several nights, including a four-night-stretch. The Los Angeles Police Departments is making efforts to fend off crowds, but mostly rowdy bystanders, racers, vandals and illegal bridge climbers.

However, shots of the picturesque bridge keep drawing crowds. Many visitors have seen the viaduct in their TikTok and Instagram feeds. As a result, there have been quinceañera photo shoots, tattoos and haircuts given among traffic, and countless photographers. The bridge has quickly made it into Los Angeles’ influencer culture, including some dangerous social media challenges. First graffiti are defacing the bridge already and brake marks testify to night-time races.

However, the design team including Michael Maltzan Architecture (Design Architect), HNTB (Engineer and Executive Architect), Hargreaves Associates (Landscape Architect), and AC Martin (Urban Planning) anticipated that the viaduct would be “more than a simple replacement thoroughfare crossing the Los Angeles River”. Their structure’s big spans create large areas of open space that will become new green spaces, connected to the viaduct via five pedestrian stairways and two bike ramps. Once these public spaces are developed, climbers and racers will have another playground.

Interested in bridges? Read more about the French bridge that serves as both path and place.

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