DTLA – Bicyclists are increasingly zipping across nearly all of Downtown Los Angeles, many drawn to the green-striped and protected lines that separate riders on two wheels from those in cars. Yet despite increased pedaling in communities such as the Historic Core and South Park, no one is riding at one of the most inviting areas — along the Los Angeles River.
That could change in the future. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the early stage of designing an eight-mile path along the eastern edge of Downtown. The Los Angeles River Bike Path Gap Closure Project would connect two existing paths — one just north of Downtown near Elysian Valley, and the other outside the city of Vernon — creating a 32-mile pedestrian and bicycle route running from the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley to downtown Long Beach.
The project is part of the city’s “Twenty-Eight by 28” plan, which seeks to fund and construct 28 transportation projects before Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Metro held a public meeting at Union Station on Nov. 8 to present information on the project and seek public input. Approximately 30 people attended the session, where the chief concerns included questions of safety, accessibility and equal space for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The project is in the planning phase. The second stage, which includes the environmental review and permitting process, is expected to begin next spring. During that period, four route designs will be created.
Jacobs Engineering Group and Alta Planning + Design won a contract in July to perform environmental studies and create initial designs.
The aim is to break ground in 2023. The path’s forecasted opening is between 2025 and 2027.
“This is a big walking and biking project,” Metro project manager Julia Salinas said during the public event. “Los Angeles County has not had anything close to this sort of project before.”
Early estimates set the price at $365 million. Salinas said the high cost is due to potential construction and infrastructure challenges along the route, including needing to work around or incorporate train tracks, rail yards and old Los Angeles Department of Water and Power high-voltage lines.
A 2016 feasibility study estimated the construction cost at approximately $200 million to $320 million, including contingency, planning, engineering and permitting costs.
The river channel itself poses issues. Along some portions of the path, the channel is vertically walled, which, according to the feasibility study, provides little to no room on the riverbank for the path, and would require the construction of elevated or cantilevered sections.
In other portions of the river path, bridge crossings, such as the Broadway Bridge, have been deemed historic and would require augmentation to preserve the structures’ original characteristics. The feasibility study indicates 10 bridges along the river route designated by the city as Historic-Cultural Monuments.
The project is set to receive funding through Measure M, which was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2016 to pay for regional transportation projects. It was one of the first efforts to be earmarked for potential funding.
During the Union Station event, Salinas noted four similar projects that Metro used as base comparisons during the feasibility study. These included the Light Path in Auckland, New Zealand, and a bike path along the east bank of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.
The closest project, the $100 million Coachella Valley Link, will run 50 miles and will connect eight cities once completed. The first segment opened in 2018.
Lyndsey Nolan, policy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said that she believes that once completed, the path will spark an increase in bicycle ridership.
“At the very least, the people who already bike to work will be more protected,” Nolan said. “Right now I have a lot of friends and co-workers who would like to commute, but they don’t feel safe, or the route is way out of their way.”
Downtown resident Bradley Stokes welcomed the plan, and said he would ride along the path once construction is complete.
“The Olympics are a long ways away, but I can’t imagine not using the path once it’s done,” Stokes said. “It won’t change my work commute, but it’ll give me another reason to take my bike for the weekend.”
Community outreach is ongoing. According to Metro Community Relations Manager Michael Cortez, prior to the Nov. 8 Union Station event, Metro had reached out to 3,500 people through surveys and events.
Dave Sotero, Metro’s communications manager, said community meetings are also scheduled for early next year, though none have yet been scheduled.
Information on the project is at metro.net/projects/lariverpath.