Metro staff are recommending a $45.9-million contract with CH2M Hill, Inc., to perform the environmental studies and design work for the Los Angeles River Bike Path Gap Closure Project. The Metro Board of Directors will consider the contract during their May round of meetings; here is the staff report.
The project will build a bicycle and pedestrian path along an eight-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River from Elysian Valley to Vernon. This would close the gap in the existing river path to the north and south and create a 32-mile bike/pedestrian path running from Griffith Park in the San Fernando Valley to downtown Long Beach. Connections to communities along the way could make this a tremendous north-south bike/pedestrian highway of sorts linking to the region’s largest job center (DTLA).
The project has $365 million in funding from the Measure M sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2016 and is scheduled to break ground in 2023. Metro’s Twenty Eight by ’28 Plan — to complete 28 major projects before the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympics — also includes this project.
I took this photo, which I think neatly explains some of the challenges involving this project. In plain English: there’s a lot of existing stuff in the way that the river path has to be around or over.
A few other pics that show some of the challenges:
Some other questions we’re getting about the project:
What are some of the obstacles?
Think about why these eight miles haven’t been completed yet. The space at the top of the river’s concrete banks where a path would usually go is just not available here. There is a ton of existing infrastructure already there — low and historic bridge over-crossings, old and huge DWP high voltage lines; adjacent and heavily used rail lines, and; the river channel itself, which is in some places vertical-walled and has been deemed a historic structure.
Why is the project taking so long?
In addition to design challenges, Metro has to do the environmental studies for the project required by state law and obtain building permits, including from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has an agreement with L.A. County to operate a 22-mile stretch of the river. This process takes years to work through before we can begin construction. This is also an important time to engage communities in the design process so that we can make sure the project will serve the needs of the region, as well as adjacent communities.
Where is the path going to be?
An alignment has not been determined yet. Following the example of most waterway-adjacent paths, this path would most likely be at the top or near the top of the channel walls. Some new structures may be needed to support the path and the path could in some places be carved into the existing channel walls.
The project could look to other similar projects that have added walking and biking paths through constrained urban environments for ideas: Copenhagen’s Cycle Snake, Xiamen’s Bicycle Skyway and Auckland’s Lightpath are all good examples.
How is the river path going to connect to communities?
Metro very much understands that the more connected to communities the path is, the more it will be used. The challenge here is that each access point to the path will cost many millions of dollars and have to span the industrial activities and active rail lines next to the river. A large part of the design effort will focus on balancing design of a great river path, including key community connections, with funds available for construction.
Who is going to use this path?
Recreational bicycle riders will no doubt use this path — as they do the existing sections of the river path. Those commuting to work and school may use it, too, with the river offering access to DTLA (our region’s largest job center), Boyle Heights and the Eastside, Chinatown, Little Tokyo and the Arts and Industrial districts, not to mention places along the entire path including Vernon, Long Beach, the Elysian Valley, Glendale, Silver Lake, etc.
The design of the path will be focused on making less skilled bicycle riders and pedestrians feel comfortable and safe. This path is meant to be used by anyone who could use an off-street walking or bicycling connection between the Valley and Long Beach or anywhere in between.
Will scooters and skateboards be welcome?
Yes!!! The idea is to create a path for any non-motorized transport.
Aren’t there other government agencies already involved in managing the river?
Metro staff are also asking the Metro Board to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (LACDPW) to oversee construction of the project (with Metro retaining review and approval rights). The LACDPW has built other sections of the existing river bikeway and oversees the L.A. County Flood Control District that has easements along the river.
To help coordinate the project, the Board is also being asked to approve going forward with a “cooperative agreement” between Metro and the cities of Los Angeles and Vernon.