California Incline Pays Homage to the Past, Ready for the Future

August 12, 2016 3:56 PM
by Curtis Castle

Things that are well built tend to hang around. Here in Southern California, the built environment is constantly evolving, so it’s easy to assume new and formidable structures just happen, quickly and flawlessly. It’s easy to forget about “how” it happens.

The California Incline is a formidable structure; and boy, it’s hung around since the 1890s. It used to be called the Sunset Trail before it was rebuilt in 1930 for automobile traffic. That’s what stood for over three quarters of a century, through rain and earthquakes, up until it was time to rebuild it again.

California Incline circa 1930's

In the early ‘90s the City started trying to secure federal funds to rebuild the California Incline, but the project was delayed following the Northridge Earthquake in ’94. Still, the Incline, survived the earthquake and hung around, ferrying vehicles between Santa Monica and PCH. From that perspective, it was still doing its job.  But, it was a structure engineered and built in the ‘30s, on the side of a bluff-face—its age was apparent.  And the Incline wasn’t becoming archaized by its structural deficiencies alone. It was reconstructed during the era when automobiles were the only future, and it simply could not hope to accommodate the ever growing needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

It would be the easy route to bemoan the bureaucratic process that seems to slow development of projects like these to a sluggish crawl. Sure; if the project was built sooner, say 15 years ago, it may have cost less—there may have been less traffic to divert. But if it had been built back then, designed in the mindset of over a decade ago, would our Incline have a shared pathway for pedestrians and cyclists? We may never know, but looking back, it’s a silver lining; our Incline was built with the multi-modal mindset and it was well worth the wait.

In 2007, the City was able to resume work, and on April 20, 2015, the California Incline Bridge Replacement Project broke ground.  The new California Incline is stronger and truly multi-modal, with a dedicated bike-lane and pedestrian overcrossing, and echoes the classic, streamlined modern look of the old bridge.

I got to thinking about “how” because of my son. He’s three years old now, and much better than his father at asking that sort of thing. The short and honest answer: hands. I told that to my son and he looked down and at his own hands, simultaneously impressed and perplexed. I could see him imagining how he could hold an entire bridge in his little hands. With the California Incline, it came down to people measuring, cutting, placing, nailing, drilling—all with their hands, and fewer than you might expect.

Over 1,000 soil nails stabilize the bluff along the east edge.  The new balustrade pays homage to the old barrier rail, albeit with more contoured arches and pilasters. The new, post-tensioned concrete bridge deck now sits on 96 cast-in-drilled-hole concrete piles thrust deep beneath the bluff’s surface, supporting a 16-foot shared path, exceeding strength requirements while offering plentiful access to every mode.  

As you read this on your phone or tablet, swipe back or tap on to the next story, just remember what you’re holding, how capable you are, how much can be accomplished with your hands. Our new California Incline is not only a feat of modern engineering, it’s the fruit of great human effort, sure to be with us for some time to come.

The community is invited to explore the new California Incline by foot or bike on Thursday, September 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. before it opens to cars at 5 p.m. Don't miss the view!

California Incline Grand Opening poster

Authored By

Curtis Castle
Principal Civil Engineer