Metro Awards Contract for Environmental Study and Design of Phase I of Rail-to-River Bike Path

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east just took another step forward. Source: Metro
The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path along the Slauson corridor (between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east) just took another step forward. Source: Metro

As bike month comes to a close, we have some good news for South L.A. cyclists. At yesterday’s Metro Board meeting, a $2 million contract was awarded to Cityworks Design to begin working on plans for a 6.4 mile segment of the Rail-to-River bike path project (segments A-1, A-2, and A-3, above).

The Rail-to-River bike path, as County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas described it last October, is an important opportunity to turn an 8-mile stretch of a “dormant” and “blighted” rail right-of-way (ROW) in a “historically distressed area” into a biking and walking path that could more efficiently connect people to transit while also bettering the local economy, health outcomes for residents, and the local environment.

Running between the Crenshaw/LAX Line station at Fairview Heights station to just east of the Blue Line station at Slauson and, in subsequent phases, to the river, the path will not only help connect cycling commuters to transit but offer the local residents of a neglected industrial corridor much-needed green space and a place to safely stretch their legs.

Yesterday’s development doesn’t mean the project is about to break ground, unfortunately. Instead, Cityworks Design has been tasked with undertaking environmental review, clearance, and design work for the project. Supporting documents describe Cityworks as specialists in environmental clearance and able to work within the time constraints of the project. Which is a good thing, as the TIGER grant requires the funds be obligated by September of 2017 and expended by 2022.

The project has been a few years in the making.

It was first proposed in September of 2012, in a motion by Ridley-Thomas and then-Boardmember Gloria Molina.

The few members of the public that attended an open house in late 2013 intended to showcase the feasibility study that was underway got a first look at what the project might entail. When I raised concerns at a follow-up meeting that very little outreach had been conducted despite the fact that the corridor cut through densely populated neighborhoods and was heavily used by local vendors on the weekends, I was told Metro didn’t want to get people’s hopes up. They weren’t sure they would be able to find the funds for the project.

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is populated by vendors on the weekends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But the money for the project has been trickling in. In October of 2014, the Board allocated $2.85 million for environmental analysis, design, and outreach along the corridor. Then, in October of 2015, Metro won a TIGER VII grant of $15 million. A month later, it received an Active Transportation Program grant for $8.326 million. Together with the local match funds the Board had to put up to win the TIGER grant, Metro appears to have the first phase of the project – expected to cost $18,805,825 to build and $79,761 to operate and maintain – fully funded.

The overall project will not come that cheaply – it will cost approximately $34.2 million to build, and $145,000 a year to maintain. [See more on costs breakdowns and routes here.]

And those cost calculations do not include any associated with the BNSF easement abandonment which will be necessary for Metro to acquire the ROW that will connect the path to the river. Which is why the project has been broken up into several phases. Metro already owns the ROW for the segment linking the Crenshaw and Blue Lines and construction there will be relatively easy. The negotiations for the BNSF easement are expected to take several years, at best.

A screenshot of how the right-of-way might be transformed. Source: Metro
A look at how the right-of-way might be transformed (bottom panel). Source: Metro

It is not clear when community outreach around the project will begin in earnest. Hopefully sooner rather than later. As noted here and here, the corridor is densely populated by residents who have an interest in seeing the finished product support multiple purposes.

An active transportation corridor is obviously very important, especially along a busy street which is otherwise so overwhelmingly bike- and pedestrian-unfriendly. But for the path to feel welcoming and safe and get maximum usage, the more the design process can encourage local ownership the better. Partnering with local schools and artists, working with the vendors that have been there for years, engaging the health clinics about how the path can be used to improve patients’ health, and speaking with local residents about what kind of space feels welcoming to them will make for a stronger project in the end.

___

*The decision to turn the Harbor Subdivision corridor into a (temporary) bike and pedestrian path that preserves the ROW in the event it should become feasible to construct rail there at some future date has been angrily debated in each of the comments sections of previous articles on this project. Should you feel the need to once again vent your anger over the decision to stop holding the community hostage to blight while waiting for rail to become more feasible, I suggest you channel said anger more productively by contacting Metro directly. Thank you.

  • Thank God CEQA is there to disclose the devastating environmental impacts of building bike infrastructure ;)

  • stvr

    I want to put myself out there as a strong streets advocate who is in opposition to this project. Hoping it doesn’t get built.

    I also think the tone of the postscript is patronizing and not befitting the readership. Maybe comments should just be disabled on your articles if you don’t like them so much?

  • calwatch

    Because we’ve discussed the Harbor Subdivision’s usefulness for rail many, many times. It seems to be divisive – people like Roger Rudick, who is the editor of the San Francisco Streetsblog, seem to think that it’s a fabulous idea, while Sahra, I, and many other transit advocates look at the ridership of the 108 bus and the Title VI issues related to running an express train in a dense area, including the significant amount of fencing that would be required to close off some of the cul-de-sacs (where people currently cut through infrequently used tracks) and have decided that there are many more higher priority rail projects than this one.

  • sahra

    Not at all… there is nothing new to be said about the Harbor Subdivision study and all that that was not said many, many, many times in the comments on previous stories dating back a few years now. Your displeasure has been duly noted. More than once, if I am not mistaken. The only new thing I can think of related to the question of whether this might be feasible as a rail project at some point in the near future is that the prioritization of projects to be funded by Measure R2, should it pass, suggests that the conversion of this corridor to light rail would be very unlikely to happen before 2050, at the very earliest. And, as has also been said many, many times, that conversion is not ruled out by the paving of a bike path in the meantime. If we’re really lucky, by the time that corridor might be viable as a rail project, we will be able to remove car travel lanes from Slauson and turn them over to bikes, buses, pedestrians, and trains. We will all rejoice when that happens. But in the meanwhile, bikes ahoy.

  • neroden

    This was the Santa Fe freight mainline.

  • sahra

    I wish more folks were familiar with the kind of blight that this unused ROW corridor has created over the years it has sat idle, the way it has bisected so much of South L.A., and the many safety issues (traffic and otherwise) neglect of the ROW and the wider corridor have created for the people that live and move through that space. Rail corridors can be blighted enough when they are heavily used (like Long Beach Ave as it cuts through South LA). But an unused ROW seems like an excuse to let the entire corridor fall apart. The intersections at Slauson (and indeed, much of Slauson itself) are quite dangerous and lack proper safety infrastructure for pedestrians, despite it having several transit stops that see high numbers of boardings.

    While I never presume to speak for all of Streetsblog, on this particular subject I can assure you there is no anti-rail conspiracy on any of our parts, nor does there appear to be one on the part of anyone involved with the project. In fact, at the first open house on the project a few years ago, Metro was adamant that the tracks would not be disturbed because they wanted to preserve them for future use. Only later did they decide that, because new tracks would need to be laid for the corridor to be used for rail, that the tracks could come out. As noted above and below, these are all things that have been hashed out in previous comments and in previous stories. So, when I suggest contacting Metro, it isn’t to be cheeky. If someone has concerns about preservation of the ROW, now is probably the best time for Metro to hear them.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Orange Line bus rapid transit was built on a old railroad right-of-way. That line is listed to be converted to a light-rail line on the upcoming November ballot measure. That ROW never went away, it was resurrected as a corridor used for transportation with a BRT line due to the impracticality of installing a rail-line at the time. The possibility of installing a functioning rail line was not permanently eliminated after the old tracks were ripped up and that ROW was paved with asphalt.

    The median of Chandler Blvd east of the Red Line subway station is also a old railroad right-of-way that has part of it converted to a mixed use path. That also can brought back as a rail corridor anytime that Metro feels the need to do that and there is sufficient amounts of money available. In the meantime, it has been made useful again for transportation by building a pedestrian and bicycle path on it. I’ve counted up to 190 people at a time using that path while bicycling along its entire 2+ mile length. Its used as a place to stroll with very young children or pets or to recreational bicycle and skateboard. In addition people are using active transportation on that path to get from point A to B.

    I’ve ridden on the mixed use paths all over the San Fernando Valley. When the mixed use path along Canoga Ave was paved in conjunction with the Orange Line BRT extension in 2012, and before the pedestrian level lights were working, there were dozens of mainly Hispanic families that were using it in the evenings walking and bicycling along it. The crews that were installing the lighting, trees and bushes resorted to installing barriers across the path to try and keep people out. That didn’t work. Lots of people were flocking to that path. There was no sidewalk on that side of Canoga Ave previous to the installation of the path.

    The most recently built mixed use path in the SFV runs along San Fernando Rd within the city of LA just above the city of Burbank. This is in addition to the train tracks that are in use. The first time I bicycled along that mixed use path, shortly after it opened, I saw maybe a dozen people using it. One of those people was a young man that was manipulating his wheelchair using a stick in his mouth to access a bus stop. Afterwards I thought how did he get to this bus stop before it was paved? Installing the mixed use path made it easier for him to access mass transit. There was no sidewalk on that side of the street before that mixed use path was installed.

    Heading further south along San Fernando Rd past the mixed use path I used the street to ride my bike. I decided to try riding on the sidewalk after feeling uncomfortable with the speed of the motor vehicle traffic. I discovered after riding a short distance that there were sections where there was no sidewalk. Several times I reached a situation where someone in a wheelchair would be unlikely to go forward without traveling in the street with that fast moving motor vehicle traffic.

    I believe that all areas of Los Angeles should have a mixed use path installed to encourage active transportation. Using old railroad right-of-ways is the most practical way to install a mixed use path. Doing so does not permanently eliminate the possibility of installing a mass transit rail line in the future.

  • calwatch

    At least the Orange Line has proved that there may be a need for rail transportation in the future (although I think the money could be better spent by creating parallel bus only infrastructure on streets such as Sherman Way and Roscoe, which would serve more people, and grade separate the Orange Line busway when necessary to increase capacity).

    The Slauson bus currently serves 17,000 riders a day, which while a good number, also includes the section east of the Blue Line station to Paramount Boulevard, and the section from Crenshaw west to Culver City and Marina Del Rey. So the comparables for existing ridership on the Harbor Subdivision corridor are likely half or at most 2/3 that.

    East west Rapid service in the South Central Los Angeles area, like the 711 on Florence and the 715 on Manchester, has been cancelled due to lack of ridership. I believe the 705 on Vernon Avenue may still be there only because of Federal funds used for the signal synchronization – same with why the 762 on Atlantic still exists. The Slauson line would not be competitive for federal funding and is not funded under the potential ballot measure.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Listing the Orange Line for a upgrade to light-rail on the potentially upcoming ballot measure was not about a need for it, this was included to get votes in favor of the measure. Building some grade separation and getting longer 80-ft buses would probably be able to meet the demand well into the future. Buses, however, are not sexy and shiny enough to get a super majority to vote yes.

    The project that most people in the SFV seem to want is to have a transportation improvement along the Sepulveda Pass. And since the Orange Line goes across most of the SFV east to west, its also reasonable to expect that an upgrade to the Orange Line would also get support across a great swath of the SFV.

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