Debris-Filled Pedestrian Tunnel to Close

The city hopes to close this pedestrian tunnel at Hollywood Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, citing safety issues and blight. Photo: Erin Hickey Pinheiro.

LOS FELIZ—Los Angeles city councilmembers David Ryu and Mitch O’Farrell have called for the closure of a pedestrian tunnel underneath Hollywood Boulevard where it intersects with New Hampshire Avenue, citing local residents’ health and safety concerns including homeless encampments, graffiti and piles of trash and debris in the tunnel.

“In the 1920s and 1930s the [c]ity constructed numerous pedestrian tunnels under busy streets to provide safe passages for children walking to and from school,” the councilmembers wrote in an August 11th motion. “Over many decades, most of these tunnels have been closed due to public safety concerns and maintenance challenges.”

The tunnel, originally built to provide safe crossing for students of nearby Los Feliz Elementary — now called Los Feliz STEMM Magnet — connects two council districts: CD4, represented by Ryu, and CD13, represented by O’Farrell.

According to Los Feliz STEMM Magnet Principal Katherine Pilkinton, the school has requested the tunnel be closed for years, and they are “ecstatic” that request seems to finally be moving forward.

Such tunnels are an “eyesore,” said Pilkinton. “They fill with trash and there are homeless people living in them.”

Although the city installed a locked chain link fence around the tunnel’s entrances several years ago, Pilkinton said that has done little to mitigate blight.

“People break the locks and pull up the bottom of the fence. That’s how they get in,” she said.

Additionally, according to Pilkinton, a signaled crosswalk has rendered the tunnel obsolete, and its entrances take up an inordinate amount of sidewalk space.

Pilkinton said the city previously agreed to close the tunnel about eight years ago, but the closure never happened for lack of funding. In their motion, the councilmembers requested the city provide a cost analysis and possible funding options for closing the tunnel.

According to Paul Gomez with the Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works, costs to close a tunnel vary greatly, depending on the size and location of the tunnel, the method used to fill it in, and whether or not it is located close enough to a crosswalk to require the installation of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps.

“Typically [to close a tunnel,] the retaining curb [and] walls at the stairwell entrance of the tunnel need to be demolished and the tunnel and stairwells are either entirely filled with concrete slurry or the tunnel is sealed at the ends and the stairwells are filled in,” said Gomez.

But maintaining unclosed tunnels can be costly too, especially if hazardous materials are present.

According to Gomez, “Maintenance costs for the pedestrian tunnels vary widely depending on the amount and type of debris found in the tunnel, ranging from a few pieces of litter,” which he said presents insignificant costs, “to utilizing a subcontractor to remove human waste, needles, and hazardous materials that require specialized equipment and staff,” which is much more expensive.

Although projected costs to close this tunnel are not yet available, a 2015 city analysis for a similar tunnel in Silver Lake near Micheltorena Elementary School estimated it would cost $160,000 to close.

The city began closing that tunnel in July, despite some residents’ requests it remain open, including one suggestion that it be repurposed as an underground art gallery.

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