Glendale’s Glendale Narrows Riverwalk Coming Soon

May 26, 2010 § 11 Comments

Map of overall City of Glendale Riverwalk project - courtesy city of Glendale

It’s been a long time coming but it looks like the city of Glendale is finally poised to improve their short stretch of the Los Angeles River. Their riverfront linear park will be called the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk, and construction of the initial phase is expected late summer 2010. Creek Freak sat in on a briefing about the project this week and is happy to bring you lots of details about its various phases.Apologies dear reader for another excessively long article. Also, apologies for loading some criticisms onto a project that I do like, and am glad to see moving forward. For a more concise summary of the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk project, I suggest the city of Glendale’s project website which includes quite a bit of helpful information, including the project slideshow they presented at February 2010 public meetings.

Though the city of Glendale has tributaries, including the Arroyo Verdugo (or Verdugo Wash), it doesn’t have that much in the way of Los Angeles River frontage. Luckily, what Glendale does face is a portion of the Glendale Narrows – one of the nicest parts of the river, with concrete sides, but natural earthen-bottom living river, where there are plenty of tall trees, birds, fish, and more.

The whole city of Glendale stretch is just shy of one mile of Los Angeles River, and only the north/east bank of the river is Glendale. Depicted in the map above, the riverfront extends from the end of Garden Street (the eastern edge of Bette Davis Picnic Area – near the intersection of Riverside/Victory/Sonora) downstream to the mouth of the Verdugo Wash. In Los Angeles vernacular, that’s basically from the 5 Freeway to the 134 Freeway. The entire stretch is across from the city of Los Angeles’s Griffith Park.

One of the challenges for making projects work in this area is that there are issues with jurisdictional boundaries. The Los Angeles River used to move around. At a certain point, probably around the late 1900s, the cities drew a line indicating the river’s course which demarcated their borders. After the 1930’s floods, the river was straightened, but the dividing line between the cities wasn’t… so some chunks of Los Angeles ended up on the Glendale side of the river. These include Bette Davis Picnic Area, which is part of L.A.’s Griffith Park, but located on the north side of the river, while the rest of Griffith is south and west of the river.

In the stretch of Glendale’s riverfront there are actually some little chunks of the city of Los Angeles, so Glendale had to get approvals from its neighbor city to proceed. Like many parts of the river, it’s a tangled mess of jurisdictions; in addition to underlying cities, there’re also the County Flood Control District, and freeways belonging to Caltrans.

And then there are the studios… In this case Disney/ABC and Dreamworks (both labeled on the map above.) Both studio campuses are directly adjacent to Glendale’s Riverwalk project. Both were generally supportive… but didn’t want to actually include any access points, at least not on day one.

The project’s initial phase has been delayed for a few reasons (see below), not the least of which was years spent on legal wrangling to finalize the terms of the easement along Dreamworks. The final Dreamworks settlement, widely reported the first week of May 2010, involves some serious reworking of the intersections where the existing river acess road meets the elbow in Flower Street at the very eastern corner of Dreamworks’ campus.

PHASE 1 – Garden Street to Flower Street

Riverwalk Phase 1 – from city of Glendale – click on image for larger version

The first phase of the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk extends from Garden Street to Flower Street. It’s just over half a mile long, with width varying from nearly 100 feet to just 18 feet along (you guessed it) Dreamworks.

The project received state park bond funding about a decade ago. While the city was negotiating the complicated land tenure issues, the project was put on hold due to the state bond freeze.

The city partnered with North East Trees to design and build phase 1. It will include the excellent NET design passive natural park features that many creek freaks have come to know and love: native landscaping, decomposed granite walkway paths, river rock, benches, interpretive signage, etc.

North East Trees' design for mini-park at Garden Street - the west end of project

North East Trees’ design includes native trees and shrubs throughout, with special access point mini-parks at each end. A portion of the site is currently used by equestrians, and that use will remain. Bicyclists and pedestrians will share a paved multi-use path located adjacent to the river channel.   

PHASE 2 – Downstream of Flower Street

Glendale Riverwalk phase 2 in green. Select image for larger version.

Phase two will extend downstream from phase 1. Glendale received a Caltrans community planning grant to develop plans for this phase, but construction is not yet funded.

The project will be just over a third of a mile, and extend along the top of the vertical channel wall adjacent to the Glendale Department of Water and Power’s power plant.

Existing levee-top road constructed recently, looking downstream with L.A. River on the right. Slide from city of Glendale, click for file.

The good news is that Phase 2’s 12-foot wide asphalt multi-use (walk/bike) path has already been partially built. The bad news is that constructions is part of a in-my-opinion (and what else matters in the blog world?) wrongheaded freeway offramp project designed to deliver car commuters directly from the westbound 134 Freeway to the doors of the studios. The project is called the Fairmount Extension. That $44million project has its own page at the city of Glendale website, with lots more documentation than the city’s Riverwalk page.

Glendale's Fairmount Extension plan - from city of Glendale website - click on image for larger file

Readers tired of Joe’s obligatory anti-freeway pro-bicycle rants can skip ahead… because I do want to be highly critical of the Fairmount Extension.  The project basically takes Fairmount Avenue out of the city street grid and turns it into an offramp for the 134 Freeway. Fairmount is currently small street located on the other side of the railroad tracks – between the Verdugo Wash and the 134 Freeway.

I don’t see it confirmed anywhere, but I’ve heard it said that this freeway offramp was something that the city proposed/promised in order to woo the studios to locate their campuses in this industrial area. Rather than investing $44million in transit, or river, or bike, or walking infrastructure, the city is undertaking its largest public works transportation project ever to extending the 134 freeway to the doorstep of Dreamworks and Disney. This may be a strategy for getting the studios to locate themselves in this fair city, but it seems to me to be a way to minimize spin-off benefits of economic development. If a Dreamworks excutive can hop on a freeway in, say, Pasadena, and that freeway delivers her pretty much directly onto the Dreamworks campus, then that executive is unlikely to stop in Glendale for coffee or breakfast or groceries. The freeway to doorstep conveyance allows studio employees to bypass the city of Glendale.

The project’s freeway exit ramp street runs about 28 feet from the river for the entire ~1/3-mile length of phase 2 of the Riverwalk. I expect that the fast moving cars exiting the freeway are going to contribute plenty of noise to the planned linear park. With the 5 and 134 Freeways nearby, it wasn’t a quiet pristine area to begin with, but the Fairmount Extension brings that noise down to grade – and puts fast moving cars 18 feet from the bike and walk path. The city doesn’t call this stretch Riverwalk an equestrian facility, because, guess what, the horses get spooked by fast-moving loud traffic. Perhaps those horses know something we don’t.

Who put that freeway offramp in my creek? Freeway offramp pillars in the Arroyo Verdugo. Photo from city of Glendale.

The new offramp jams quite a bit of infrastructure into an already infrastructure-burdened stretch of the river. The area is identified in the city of L.A.’s River Revitlization Master Plan as one of five top opportunity areas for large-scale restoration. The LARRMP calls for the city of L.A. to work with Glendale to naturalize the mouth of the Verdugo Wash. The project would be located nearly entirely within the city of L.A., but would actually be most accessible to the nearby residents of Glendale. The Fairmount offramp project bridges over the Arroyo Verdugo, putting support pillars down in the channel. That creekbed is already all concrete, but (as seen in the above photo from the city website) there’s quite a bit of vegetation that grows on sandbars that settle there. Adding this offramp makes it more difficult, more costly to restore this area… and makes it more difficult for Glendale residents to access future park areas.

(And if the freeway offramp was a step in the wrong direction, it’s likely to be compounded with the introduction of high-speed rail… but that’s another story.) 

The mouth of a tributary at a confluence is a special area – a coming together, a mingling space… often historic, sometimes sacred. The mouths of the tributaries present unique possibilities for restoration and revitalization. The Arroyo Verdugo can be widened and naturalized here, without adversely impacting flood protection capacity. Pummeling the area with lots of concrete and infrastructure precludes, or at least makes more difficult, these possibilities. 

My critique is a moot point. The offramp project is a done deal. It’s under construction, and expected to be completed in August 2010. It represents the city’s past attitude toward its riverfront as a low-value marginal area; that attitude was typical of nearly all cities in Southern California for most of the 20th century. For Glendale, and many other cities, the outlook on the river is changing… but the bad plans with long timelines continue to be implemented and continue to dregrade our maligned waterways.

It’s better to include the bike and walk path in this area than to just sacrifice every inch of the city to more and more and more cars… but it does feel to me like ten steps backward and one step forward. In the long run, Glendale Narrows Riverwalk will be one imperfect but passable stretch in a 50-mile-long river greenway corridor. Better a weak link than a missing link.

PHASE 3 – Bike/Ped Bridge from Glendale to Griffith Park

Phase 3, being planned in tandem with phase 2, is a not-yet-funded bicycle/pedestrian bridge at a location yet to be determined. The bridge is planned to span the Los Angeles River, connecting Glendale Residents with Griffith Park (and connecting Angelenos with Glendale amenities, too.) For folks on foot or on bike, there’s currently no way to cross the river (and the Freeways) for the entire ~3-mile stretch from Betty Davis Picnic Area (Riverside/Victory/Sonora) to Los Feliz Blvd. A resident of Glendale might live a half-mile (as the crow flies) from the L.A. Zoo, but would need to bike four or more miles to get there. These barriers and distances, of course, tend to encourage that person to drive, instead of walking or bicycling.

The city is looking at various alternatives for where the bridge should be located, and what sort of bridge would be most appropriate. 

The city of Glendale’s presentation features shots of gorgeous fancy expensive bridges from around the world – including Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge in Redding – which is a great bridge! Creek Freak suggested that the consultants might look to inspiration from the city of Glendale’s exisiting historic bridges.

They’re not mega-flashy, but the 1930’s and 1940’s bridges over the Verdugo Wash are like no others in Southern California. I like the somewhat basic diamond-pattern railing bridges found across the Verdugo in northwest Glendale. The best examples of this are on Cañada Boulevard (two different bridge) and on Glorietta Avenue, but below is the best photo I could find, which is of the Mountain Street Bridge.

Glendale's 1936 Mountain Street Bridge over the Verdugo Wash. Photo from

The first U.S. examples of the riveted-girder Vierendeel Truss were located in Glendale. The existing Vierendeels at Kenilworth, Geneva and Glenoaks are designated city historic landmarks. They’re pretty utilitarian, but they have a certain old-fashioned industial aesthetic that I’ve come to appreciate.  Below is a photo of the Glenoaks Boulevard Bridge.

Glendale's 1937 Glenoaks Boulevard Bridge - a Vierendeel Truss. Photo from

True bridge geeks can read even more about Glendale’s historic bridges on pages 275-276 of my book Down by the Los Angeles River.


Phase 1 will be getting its final final approvals in the next couple weeks, then construction is expected to begin in July 2010 and take less than a year. The city expects to host a groundbreaking event in July.

The city is still receiving community input on plans for Phase 2 and 3. They’re planning the project’s next public input meeting  for June 30th. The meeting time and location will be available soon at the project website, and  I’ll post them at L.A. Creek Freak when I get them. By August they intend to have selected a preferred bridge alternative and to soon thereafter approve a master plan for phase 2 and 3.

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§ 11 Responses to Glendale’s Glendale Narrows Riverwalk Coming Soon

  • lewis macadams says:

    Joe, nice piece. I really liked those older Glendale bridges – probably a more realistic model for Glendale than Calatrava’s Reddiing masterpiece. Wish you’d mentioned the idea of the cities of Glendale and L.A. forming a permanent joint committee to strengthen each other’s ambitions on the Verdugo Wash, the Ferraro Fields and any bridges in-beween

    • Joe Linton says:

      Friends of the L.A. River founder Lewis MacAdams was at the same briefing and mentioned something really important that I barely alluded to – that making this project work will really take a serious commitment from both Glendale and Los Angeles.

      The phase 3 bridge will start in one city and touch down in the other… so it’s critically important that the two cities work together… as Lewis suggests under some sort of ongoing partnership. There’s some collaboration already underway (reps from Glendale have met with LA’s river leads), but it will need to be lasting and robust.

      Watersheds, rivers and creeks have a way of crossing political boundaries and bringing folks together across divides.

      Thanks, Lewis.

  • […] City of Glendale's freeway offramp vs. river walk and bike paths (Creek Freak) […]

  • Sonia Nicholson says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Joe. I look forward to seeing you ride on the Glendale bike paths.

  • […] moves forward with a riverfront park, including a bike/pedestrian bridge connecting to Griffith Park. Evidently, you can’t just make a scraper bike; now there are […]

  • Nate says:

    Great write up. Thanks, Joe!

  • Peter Weinberger says:

    Joe – thanks for the update. What can I do to help things go the right way?

  • Joe Linton says:

    Well… I don’t think that there’s a lot that that folks can do about the freeway project that’s already nearly completed construction (short of a well-timed highly-localized earthquake or flood?)

    I would recommend that people attend the June 30th meeting I mentioned and show their interest in the river. The city has posted the flier for the meeting on their website – find it here:

  • Ely Lester says:

    Thank you! I’ve been scratching my head about this construction on my daily drive-the industrial park on the old airport is already readily accessible from the 5 for Dreamworks and ESPN. I have often wished for a pedestrian route from Glendale to Griffith Park at the 134/5, but this is no help. I don’t see how this bridge to nowhere makes sense.

  • Rick Tomas says:

    Great information on the proposed Glendale Riverwalk. However, went to the June 30, 2010 meeting conducted by Glendale staff and consultants but was dissatisfied how this “Open House” meeting was held. First, staff and consultants would not take questions and offer answers in front of the whole group, but rather only in separate “stations” that only a handful of people could hear.
    When the consultant’s PowerPoint presentation stop working, initially so did the consultant–until an audience member asked if they could ask a question during the computer glitch. A firm “NO” to questions was the consultants answer. When asked why questions would not be allowed in the open in front of the entire public that took time to show up, both consultant and lead Glendale staff refused to take any questions where the answer could be heard by all!
    Second, as soon as the meeting started (which was later than advertized) several staff got up and started to take pictures that seem to go one throughout the meeting. It felt more like a birthday party than a professional community meeting. If they wish to video the entire meeting, than at least you will have an audio portion to hear, not just pictures which can be formatted later to eliminate the frustration felt by many in attending this “Open House”. In fact, many left early.

    Something needs to be done by senior Glendale officials to open future meetings for questions and answers before all that attend. With the June 30th meeting, this was not allowed which seems less than has been (historically) typical with most community meetings in past years.

    • Joe Linton says:

      Thanks for the update.

      I am disappointed that the meeting wasn’t more open and welcoming of public involvement. When I met with them, I think they might have been a bit offput by my critiques of their freeway offramp project… even though I do like their actual river walk projects.

      I am glad that you, and hopefully other river and bike supporters attended – to show that there is community support for the appropriate projects.

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