L.A. Seeks Federal TIGER Funds for 50-Mile River Bikeway

Existing Los Angeles River bike path in Elysian Valley. Photo: Joe Linton

Today’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting includes action on the Transportation Department’s (LADOT’s) proposal to seek $13million in federal funding for extending the Los Angeles River bikeway. The federal funding sought is part of a federal funding opportunity called Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), a stimulus funding that encourages innovative and sustainable transportation.

While LADOT’s proposal, detailed at Council File 11-1781, is expected to sail through committee and council approval, it still needs to compete with other municipalities seeking limited TIGER dollars. Overall the city is asking the federal money to cover $13M of an $18M project. The city application is due October 31st 2011, and grantees are expected to be notified in January 2012. If awarded, construction is targeted to begin in 2013.

The L.A. River runs about 50 miles from Canoga Park in the West San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach. About 32 miles of the river are in the city of Los Angeles. Of those 32 L.A. City miles, there’s an existing bike path for 8 miles in Northeast Los Angeles and an additional 2 miles currently under construction in the West Valley. That adds up to 10 miles complete, and 22 to go.

Bike path construction costs easily about one million dollars per mile, plus additional costs for grade separation, especially going under or over bridges. Grade crossings are especially difficult in east San Fernando Valley communities, including Studio City and Sherman Oaks, where vertical channel walls and low bridges require expensive under-crossings to create a continuous, uninterrupted path.  In Downtown Los Angeles, railroad infrastructure parallel to the river makes river access difficult and costly. With all these challenges, and only an $18M project budget, there isn’t quite enough to complete the remaining 22 miles for a continuous 32-mile bike path.

LADOT has smartly opted for an initial hybrid solution. The TIGER funding will create a continuous 32-mile bikeway, comprised of bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes. The grant will build approximately five miles of off-street bike path and that will be complemented by about 20 miles of on-street routes and lanes. River path mileage will all be in the San Fernando Valley, with on-street facilities in the Valley and in Downtown Los Angeles.

Connecting with the existing 17-mile L.A. River bike paths downstream, extending from the city of Vernon to the city of Long Beach, the TIGER L.A. River bikeway project will result in a 50+mile-long L.A. River corridor bikeway, with a mix of paths and streets. As funding permits, additional segments of off-street bike path can be added over time.

For additional information on the city’s river bikeway TIGER application, see coverage at KCET and LADOT. See also ongoing L.A. River coverage by this author at L.A. Creek Freak.

  • Anonymous

    Good to know that bike paths cost about the same per mile as freeway sound walls.

    I know which one I find more useful.

  • BCS

    Joe: Will Council approval of LADOT’s proposed TIGER application deplete Measure R Local Return and/or Measure R Bikeways funds available for on-street bike lanes in East LA, West LA and South LA? Which Measure R funds will be used specifically and in which years?

  • The city has dedicated 10% of its Measure R funds for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, that is a minimum, not a maximum.  The city can always choose to fund projects that make the most sense and not feel bound by the 10% number.  Councilman Parks and former Councilman Smith tried to make it a maximum and they lost, in large part due to the intervention of then Deputy Mayor and now LADOT GM Jaime De La Vega.

  • LADOT would be able to answer this more definitively… but I will wade in…

    Council approval itself won’t deplete anything – yet. The city needs to compete for this federally – just because the council approves it doesn’t mean that the feds will see this as sufficiently innovative and sustainable. When it’s approved by the feds, then I expect that the city’s Measure R contribution would come from the same  local return pot that the 5% set-aside to bike projects. I’d guess that would happen probably in FY2012-13 – assuming that there is a set-aside that year… so far we only won the Measure R set-aside for FY2010-11.
    My hunch is that outside funding like this would put pressure on the city to continue to set aside money for bike projects. More bike projects with more momentum is what’s needed to continue to increase the size of the pot allocated for bicycling.Though funding this would compete with other bike projects (which, I think is your concern), my personal opinion is that that would be ok. The city’s project is 5 miles bike path and 20 miles on-street. Assume half sharrows and half bike lanes (that’s a total guess), then the city gets 5 miles bike path, 10 miles bike lane, and 10 miles bike route for $5M. If TIGER is like other federal stimulus money, it has to be spent relatively quickly (or given back) so that can get projects moving more quickly locally. Generally I agree with you that local moneys should be prioritized toward cheaper on-street projects… but some funding toward some paths is good (and I dig the L.A. River, so I am not neutral here.) Bike lane projects tend to be too cheap for the city to pursue federal funding for (because there are administrative burdens, and for on-street projects, it’s cheaper to just spend local money), so I think that this is a worthwhile overall package. Additionally, bike lane projects are really cheap – money is not the limiting factor for their implementation. Political will is. Within this year’s LADOT bikeways budget we could implement 200+ miles of bike lanes… but it looks like we’re on target to do about 20-30 miles… so I think that means that money is not what’s limiting bike lane implementation. Political will is -so we bicyclists need to identify feasible bike lane projects in the bike plan, and press for their implementation.

  • Ebplanted

    Priorities? Instead of those recreational paths we need real on-street improvements.

  • I agree – and would like to make sure you understand that this will be 20+miles on-streets and 5 miles path.

  • Roadblock

    This is not recreational to me. I use the path every week for commuting purposes. The cost of implementing the path may seem expensive but understand that bike path is years and years of use whereas bike lane on the street is as good as the next re-pavement and the whim of whatever city councilman is in place. I wish for the day that we could have a complete bicycle freeway from canoga park to long beach with branches at arroyo secco and ballona creek.

  • Komera

    Do we have any idea where the street and path sections will be specifically?

  • To second Roadblock’s comment; “recreational” bike paths can be great for commuting too, if not designed too frustratingly. I live in Santa Monica, work in El Segundo, and the bike path down the beach is a godsend on days when I don’t want to deal with traffic. The sand and tourists have both abated somewhat with winter, and since there’s no stoplights it breaks even with Abbot Kinney/Main st.

    Of course, ideally I think we’d have something like the one on Dockweiler beach, which is well-paved and straight (and a blast to ride with a tailwind), but anything well-paved and straight gets overrun by cars sooner or later in this city.

    Of course most of this particular project is, in fact, on street, not path, meaning it can be stolen from us when a politician in a foul mood chooses to.

  • I haven’t seen any maps. The KCET article linked says “two miles would be installed in Reseda and three in the Sherman Oaks/Studio City area” and the rest would be streets. You might ask LADOT (Nate Baird there was helpful in backgrounding this article, and stated that LADOT planning to share their plan maps) – comment at the LADOT website linked.

  • Alex Thompson

    So Damien/Joe/RB – do you expect a city in perpetual budget crisis to set aside additional Measure R funds to match the Tiger funds?  I’m w/ BCS here – I think this will sponge up all the funds for on-street.  And while it might be 20 miles on street and 5 miles off street (details?) that 5 miles of off street would go a lot further on the street . . . perhaps as much as 100 miles.

  • @Alex Thompson yes – I do expect a city in budget crisis to set aside additional Measure R funds for bike projects, including this one.I think the more popular, urgent bike facilities in the mix, the more money the city approves for bikes. On-street facilities are super-cheap… money is not the limiting factor.
     Assuming that $4M out of $5M of the city’s match is going to bike path, and assuming that we could spend that on bike lanes next year at $30K/mile then we’d have funding for 133 miles of bike lane. (4,000,000/30,000=133) I don’t think that John Fisher’s LADOT will build 133 miles of bike lane in a year. More likely: the city fritters away the money on expensive time-consuming EIRs (in which case $4M gets, what, a bunch of corridor studies that result in, who knows, 20? miles of bike lane after “18 months”… if you believe that 18 month number think again, announced by LADOT in April 2011, and the clock hasn’t started yet… and after the study we still have a fight on our hands, because you know LADOT’s studies are gonna say “no” to a lot of bike facilities. I think what will be effective there is to get the city to adopt the AEP [Association of Environmental Professionals] new CA standards, which won’t require EIRs for bike lanes.)I generally agree with you that the lion’s share of bike facilities prioritized and completed should be a network of safe bikeable streets. That’s where the money goes the furthest and is most effective. But I am not an absolutist about that – I think that where it’s possible to get outside money to supplement building some paths, that’s good too – as long as it doesn’t completely obliterate the pot of money for on-street bike facilities. Bike paths do serve purposes for the broad range of cyclists – especially families and beginners. We don’t need to bet the farm on them, but some funding for paths is good in my book. (Yah – and the L.A. River kicks butt, too!)

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