One part railroad trestle, one part Sol LeWitt sculpture, the Taylor Yard Bikeway/Pedestrian Bridge traverses the Los Angeles River with a minimalist gesture: An 18-foot-wide pathway seems to float inside a structural grid. The 400-foot-long, traffic-cone-orange steel-frame structure is part of a larger revitalization of the 51-mile river, which once was seen as nothing more than a concrete drainage channel. But in the past decade, Angelenos have found a new love of the waterway—especially its soft-bottomed stretches, which are dotted with islands of tall grasses and scruffy trees and edged with the Los Angeles River Trail, a popular greenway and bike path connecting Downtown L.A. to Griffith Park.
The three design schemes look totally distinct on paper and come with different names — “Island,” “Soft Edge,” “The Yards” — but they all have the same goal: restore wildlife habitat, plant people-friendly landscapes and develop flood-control strategies for a place that has been the subject of so much neglect, speculation, dreaming and debate: the L.A. River.
Some of the loudest conversations about the transformation of the 51-mile L.A. River center on Taylor Yard, what had been a greasy, soot-filled tangle of rail lines and boxcars. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, freight trains rumbled to and from the yard named after the Taylor Mill that once stood on the site. When Southern Pacific Railroad vacated the land in the mid-1980s, the company left behind a contaminated plot along the concrete-lined waterway.
It would be cliché if it wasn’t true. On a day hazy with smoke from the Woolsey fire, Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas is grumbling about L.A. traffic. Specifically, the two hours it took to get across town on a Friday.
Sitting in the cushy lobby of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Koolhaas is a cautionary futurist. He once called multimodal Los Angeles a prototype habitat for the future of all cities because of its flexibility, networks and mobility.