Traffic in Griffith Park: Mitigating the Urban in This “Urban Wilderness”

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“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file,  for the plain people…”        ~ Col. Griffith J. Griffith bequeathing his gift to the City of Los Angeles

“Griffith Park was originally envisioned as a natural escape from urban pressures,” says a press release from the office of LA City Councilmember David Ryu, whose 4th Council District includes the Park. But the urban pressures Ryu mentions are increasing apace in our city, and some of them reach relentlessly into Griffith Park.

Attempting to drive almost anywhere in L.A. at almost any time of day is a trial by traffic that leaves many of us honking our horns, grinding our teeth, sighing, muttering and contemplating a move to the interior of Alaska. (Some of us also vow to limit our trips to places to which we can walk, bike or take public transportation.) L.A.’s motor vehicle-clogged streets are not limited to those outside Griffith Park. Traffic snarls afflict the narrow roads in the park too. Is driving to the observatory on a weekend an “escape from urban pressures”? Hardly.

In an effort to mitigate the traffic problem in Griffith Park and to improve public safety and preserve the park’s “urban wilderness identity,” the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks, along with Councilmember Ryu’s office, announced a “Griffith Park Action Plan.” At a public meeting at the Chevy Chase Rec Center on March 9th, the plan was outlined and explained by Joe Salaices, Superintendent of the Griffith Region; Kevin Regan, Assistant General Manager; Mike Shull, Recreation and Parks General Manager; and Councilmember David Ryu.

One announced change is that East Observatory Road and West Observatory Road will become a one-way loop which will feature diagonal parking. This parking, in the words of Joe Salaices, will be “monetized.” Pay stations are planned, and the parking fees collected will help pay for free shuttle service. The fee amounts are yet to be determined. There will be no charge for parking before 11 am. Early morning hikers will be able to score a free parking spot, but “premium parking” at or near the observatory will be available after 11 am only for those willing to pay. This will in some respects mimic the two-tier parking system at the L.A. Zoo. Visitors arriving late on a weekend morning are usually forced to park in the fee section of the lot. The zoo, however, is a bit of a special case in that it is partly managed by GLAZA, a private entity, whereas funding for the observatory was provided in Col. Griffith’s trust.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, speakers expressed concern about monetizing the park (Is this the top of a slippery slope?) and about dividing park users into premium class and peasant class. (“This flight will now begin the boarding process, starting with our Sky Master passengers”). That access to the park be free of charge was a desire of Col. Griffith, but probably he could not have imagined 21st century traffic jams. Kevin Regan assured us plenty of free parking would remain available in the Greek Theatre Lot and in Lot #9 at the north end of Fern Dell.

Parking fees might discour age some drivers from joining the crawl up to the observatory. What might really get people out of their cars, however, and help those without cars, is an enhanced fleet of buses. Rec and Parks will “work with relevant agencies” to offer DASH service seven days a week, every 20 minutes. The schedule on Saturday and Sunday will extend from 10 am to 10 pm. Buses or shuttles will leave from the Vermont-Sunset Red Line station, stopping at Franklin, at Los Feliz, and at the Greek Theatre before ascending to the observatory. There will also be shuttles to the observatory from the Merry-Go-Round and Fern Dell parking lots. DASH service from the Red Line began in March. Check websites for updated information (http://www.ladottransit.com/dash/routes/LosFeliz/losfeliz.pdf).

The Action Plan does not offer a solution to congestion on city streets leading into the park. An example is Vermont Avenue north of Los Feliz Blvd. Residents have called this area “the gates of Hell.” Councilmember Ryu remarked that those working on the traffic mitigation plan had spent 35 days searching for a parking lot south of Los Feliz Blvd. They wanted to find a big lot where parking would be free and from which people could catch a shuttle to points in the park. Guess what? No such place could be found. For those of us who live in Hollywood, the idea of a big, free parking lot in our neighborhood provokes hysterical laughter. Still, there may be possibilities. Are some of the Kaiser-Sunset parking structures available on Sunday? How about the parking lot at Hollywood High?­ Here is some really good news. Kevin Regan admitted that every scheme Rec and Parks proposed for reopening Mount Hollywood Drive, to private vehicles and/or shuttles, met with howls of protest from Griffith Park’s traditional users. Just so. The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, Friends of Griffith Park, and other groups advocating for the safety and rights of hikers, runners and cyclists, as well as for the sensitive ecology of the park, went to meetings, wrote letters, and made it quite clear that they did not want to sacrifice the upper section of Griffith Park, what Mike Eberts called “a haven for anyone wishing to escape the maddening din below,” in order to accommodate more private cars and shuttles filled with Hollywood Sign seekers. Because of the fuss we made (and probably for other reasons too) Mount Hollywood Drive is once again closed to all non-emergency vehicles. Hooray!

Members of Friends of Griffith Park, the Sierra Club and other stakeholders reminded the meeting that the habitat Griffith Park provides for its sometimes rare species of plants and animals merits at least as much consideration as human visitors, their cars, their photo ops and their recreational preferences. It is the resident plants and animals, and the geology of the park, which furnish the wilderness component of “urban wilderness.” We are blessed to have such biodiversity in our midst, and we need to preserve and protect it. That should always be first on our list of priorities.

Stakeholders also asked that Rec and Parks officials not advertise Griffith Park as a Hollywood Sign viewing area. When Tom LaBonge was the CD4 councilmember, he yielded to Beachwood Canyon homeowners’ pressure to reroute Hollywood Sign tourist traffic into Griffith Park.

We are dealing with a shared resource: Griffith Park. One of the problems facing humans is balancing individual needs and desires with the needs of Earth as a system. Griffith Park is a sensitive and finite system. It cannot serve as a repository for everything people want in the park or do not want in their own neighborhoods. The Griffith Park Action Plan leaves some questions unanswered and many problems unsolved, but it takes a helpful step in the direction of preserving the park.

~ Carol Henning

photo, top: Western Canyon Road during Christmas through New Year, Spring Break and other holidays offers little respite from visitors in vehicles. A portion of the new traffic mitigation plan to implement paid parking and one-way flow on Western Canyon Road has been temporarily halted pending further Los Feliz area traffic studies at Fern Dell Canyon and Vermont Ave.

A recent editorial in the LA Times also discusses issues related to increased traffic, parking and overwhelming numbers of visitors to Griffith Park. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-0126-griffith-park-traffic-20160126-story.html
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