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It's Car Versus Car Versus Pedestrian at the Urban Garage

July 11, 1991|DOUG SMITH

There should be an inquiry and a suitable punishment imposed--say life without parole in a video game arcade--on all those responsible for the Glendale Urban Garage.

Anyone who has entered this seven-level sarcophagus for cars must have wondered if it was conceived by one of those frenetic types whose nerves are desensitized by too many hours in front of the color monitor, fingers on the joy stick, steering through waves of alien invaders.

The garage could only have been set up the way it was by someone who thought that people enjoy playing chicken in a cave, backing up broadside to a blind curve or driving straight at pedestrians lined up against a wall.

Many who haven't experienced these thrills are likely to soon, as the garage is at the heart of the revitalized city, just across the street from the new eight-screen Mann Theater on Maryland Avenue.

In fairness to those responsible, let's not equate quixotic stress and risk of human life with failure. It is plain that the Glendale Urban Garage is a huge success. It was built for The Exchange, that combination of new and refurbished brick-faced buildings that bring together offices, restaurants, theaters and specialty stores along leafy walking lanes.

Strollers have to drive from somewhere, and so it is the garage that pumps life into The Exchange.

The root of the garage's problem may be that it lies at the center. All cars moving to and from it must cross territory that has been made alluring to foot traffic. The more strollers, the more cars, necessarily, dashing across their paths.

"Which is great," said Glendale architect Andy Feola, whose firm designed The Exchange. "The worst thing we could have in this Exchange project is an empty garage. These are good kinds of problems."

Feola accepts criticism with grace, but may not be wholly to blame. After all, it was his assignment to squeeze the maximum number of cars into the minimum space and to make it all look more like an old building than a garage.

Thus the almost invisible eye-slit openings with the toll gates set back in the dark recesses from which cars lurch toward daylight on Maryland Avenue, only to meet cheery, distracted pedestrians caught up in the spirit of granite sidewalks under jacaranda limbs.

Neither the pedestrian nor the driver actually come eye-to-eye until only alacritous body movements can prevent contact. By then, the car is across the sidewalk so that the pedestrian must walk behind it, toward the bumper of the next car lurching out of the gate.

An added degree of difficulty is achieved by the placement of stop signs and handicapped markers at each opening. These block the path of pedestrians along sidewalks squeezed into the entrance. Anyone walking out of the garage must step in front of traffic to pass the signs.

There is a misunderstanding about these sidewalks. Feola contends that they are curbs to guide cars away from the wall. No one foresaw that pedestrians would use them as the shortest route from the garage to the theaters and stores on Maryland.

"That is a condition that is under study," he said. "We are getting a lot more people than anticipated. We are studying how to prevent a collision between vehicles and pedestrians."

The possibility of collision between vehicle and vehicle deep inside the garage may also require study.

Drivers must negotiate short, narrow, steep aisles with hairpin turns while scanning left and right for that rare empty spot among tightly packed cars, all the while watching for pedestrians. There is oncoming traffic to watch out for, too, and no way to turn around except by finding an empty space and backing out, a maneuver requiring the less gifted to make several passes.

By the time Mann opened its first four screens, people in City Hall had reached two obvious conclusions: that the garage was too tight and that strollers venturing into it faced hazards.

"It is not user-friendly unless you're turning right out of the elevator into The Exchange," said Mayor Ginger Bremberg, who conceded that the city may have asked too much.

"We may have," Bremberg said. "But there's the other side of the coin. Why didn't people who submitted proposals say, 'This is too difficult. We can't do what you're asking us to do?' "

Whatever her fraction of culpability, Bremberg has atoned by admitting the defects and nagging for a couple of changes that may help.

The first, already accomplished, was reduction of the spaces from 740 to 680 to loosen up the turns. Next will be removal of the signs so that the sidewalks can actually be used.

So, who does that leave to bear responsibility? All of us.

Redevelopment Director Jeanne Armstrong has a modest proposal.

"If everyone went 5 m.p.h. in the garage, it would probably function a lot better than with people trying to cut corners and going faster than they should," she said.

Armstrong is immune from blame herself, having risen to her position after all this began.

If no one then is to be punished, someone should at least take credit for thinking up the name of Glendale's garage. The emphasis is on "Urban."

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