City Breaks Ground on West Valley River Bike Path

Councilman Dennis Zine, far left, leads a team of activists and city staff breaking ground on a new bike path. Photo: ## Streetsblog/Flickr##

City Councilman Dennis Zine served as master of ceremonies at the groundbreaking for the West Valley Los Angeles River Bike Path yesterday.  Construction has begun on this first phase of the path, a 2.2 mile stretch that extends from Vanalden Avenue to Corbin Avenue.  The path won’t just be a stretch of concrete, but will also have some landscaping, access some mini-parks and have overhead lighting.

The total cost of the 2.2 mile path?  $7 million.

To read Joe Linton's ongoing coverage of this issue, click on his picture.

But, as Joe Linton points out at Creek Freak, because of all the amenities the path is more like a 2.2 mile linear park than a bike path.  Over $5 million of the budget comes from federal stimulus funds and the rest comes from a state grant program programmed for the expansion of open space.

There are 32 miles of L.A. River embankments in the City of Los Angeles, and currently only eight miles have adjacent bike paths, so this is a significant investment by the city in improving access to the river.  Future phases of the River Path are funded, but the construction timelines are unclear.

At the groundbreaking, Zine introduced a handful of speakers and repeatedly stressed that this path is a recreational, not commuting, bike trail.  Oddly, Zine spent a large part of his speaking time talking about how he wants to commute Downtown on a ten speed instead of in the Buick he drove to the conference.  Later, before introducing LADOT Senior Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery, who commutes on a portion of the river trail when she bikes from Long Beach to Los Angeles; Zine commented that “we all should ride our bikes here for the groundbreaking.”

But not everyone was in the mood to celebrate.

This sign waver was upset with the cost of the bike path, that it didn’t connect to any major attractions or population centers, and that it would take too long for the path to be completed.  It’s hard to argue with any of his points.  If I were given a $7 million check and told to make Los Angeles a better place to ride a bike, this path wouldn’t be high on my list.  That being said, the funding for this project came from state sources that were earmarked for parks and federal funds that needed to be spent by 2013.  This project fits both bills.

And by the way, if one is concerned that the complete path will take too long to finish, then one should be advocating for more funding for bike paths.  If one is upset at how much bike paths cost, then one should be advocating that no more funds be spent on bike paths.  Pick an argument!  You can’t have both.

The 2.2 miles of the West Valley River Bike Path is due to open in 2012.  Streetsblog will be there to see if Zine is riding his bike.

  • Dominic

    Sometimes I feel quite embarrassed as a cyclist when I see how much money is spent on useless cycling infrastructure in Long Beach (Bike Boulevard on Vista, segregated lanes on 3rd/Broadway, Bikestation, etc.)

  • Will Campbell

    “…and currently only eight miles have adjacent bike paths…”

    I’m adding up what I know and I’m finding much more than that. Certainly it’s not continguous, but when you look at the miles of river bikeway between Griffith Park now down to the south end of Elysian Valley, and then add the bikeway along the river between Vernon and Long Beach, that’s way more than 8 miles.

  • Eric B


    Those 8 miles are within LA City limits. The Vernon to Long Beach segment is not included.

  • Don Ward

    1000% AWESOME. Imagine one day that the LA River Bike path were actually one contiguous bicycle freeway that connects the Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach and a street connection to Ballona Creek / Marina Del Rey. What a city treasure!

    I’m so glad that Joe Linton pointed out that this is not just a bike path but a park corridor. I’m guessing that a good chunk of the total cost is for the park amenities and not the path itself. Is there a way to separate out the cost of just the bike path? It always sounds so insane when they attach a total cost figure like this and blame it on just the bike path.

  • It would be reasonable for a 2.2 mile, 12 foot wide paved bike path to cost about $3 million dollars. It currently costs $1 million per lane-mile to repave a city street, and this is brand-new construction. So I would imagine that at least half the cost is for other amenities in the parks (other sidewalks, grass, trees, landscaping, gates, fences, benches, etc).

    Compared to $1 billion for 7 miles of one carpool lane on the 405, it doesn’t sound like so much. But it does show how much more cost-effective it is to re-use existing street space.

    The cycletracks (8 foot wide bike lanes separated from the street by parking and bollards) in Long Beach, on Broadway and 3rd, will cost $700k for 2.4 miles (1.2 miles on each street), less than 1/3 of the cost per mile of bike path, and this includes a couple dozen new signals (most of which are for cars as well as bikes). In areas with fewer signals a separated bike path could be made for much less than this.

  • This is the classic LA bike facility dodge: high cost, low conflict. This is a perfect contrast with WIlbur Avenue bike lanes, which are low cost, high political conflict.

  • I can’t blame the politicians… the amount of resistance to alternate modes of travel is great, and the city moves slow on offering more options.

  • The thing that always pissed me off about these high cost low conflict paths was that I had mail to mail, groceries to buy, shops to shop in, etc. and the path just kind of mimed at me, “Good luck with that sucker!”

    On the other hand, I did haul ass between Hollywood and NELA recently, using the river trail instead of Riverside Dr. and (for a cargo bike with 150 lbs. of stuff) it was remarkably fast, smooth, and peaceful.

  • Grade separated limited access bike paths are bicycle freeways for through-riders, a supplement to, and not a substitute for, onstreet lanes and paths.

    Freeways are hideously expensive–Portland’s 300 miles of bikeways cost about the same as one mile of freeway–and have been overprovided without much complaint for decades.

    As the bike path network grows, it will begin to be used more. Induced demand–same thing that causes new freeways and arterials to clog up within five years. Bikes take up so little room that congestion is unlikely (though you do see bicycle congestion in some highly-populated Asian countries).

    Just as with car infrastructure, though, it won’t work without concurrently providing bike parking at destination facilities. Fortunately, this is easy and cheap to do–if you can get the benefits of it into people’s heads.

    Here’s an article of mine on the subject:

    There’s a more rigorous one in the current issue of Cycling Mobility, but that’s subscription only, sad to say. (It’s at , for those who can write it off.)

  • Calling the river paths “Bike freeways” makes a good point. It’s true that this path will be grade-separated (since streets cross above the river for obvious reasons), and limited-access due to the limited number of bridges. Basically you have the same trade-off as with a freeway for cars: you limit access and crossings to provide a nice, fast, separate path. And $1 million per mile may be 100 times as much as a $10,000 per mile bike lane, but it’s only the fraction of the cost of a new mile of freeway for cars. The hard part (grade separation) has been done for us when the rivers and streams were channelized and bridges were built above. We might as well find the money to put in a nice wide two-way bike paths.

    Although it seems odd to be building bike freeways before we have a good network of bikeable streets, there is certainly enough money in the budget for both bike paths and bike lanes, if the city and county shift a tiny bit away from car-oriented transportation.

  • Bike lanes should cost nothing if they are implemented with the repavement schedule. Boss made a promise to the BAC to share it’s schedule 15 months in advance. With that information available people can work with neighborhood councils and the public to create safer streets for no cost.

    Meanwhile spending money on bicycle freeways that last for generations provides both a long distance commuter backbone and a recreational space for people to “give it a shot” without exposing themselves to streets that they don’t feel safe on.

  • Manu

    @Dan Ward.

    It is a nice thought, but the state would have to issue bonds to fund it at the price of 7 million per every two miles.

  • Manu

    “2.2 mile path? $7 million.”

    I really have to invest in concrete!

  • @manu

    Especially when you see how much it would cost to put in 2.2 miles of freeway…..

  • Manu

    @the dude abides

    I am not against the bike lane, I’m against the cost.

  • @Manu and others: re: “2.2 mile path? $7 million.” I really have to invest in concrete!

    Structurally, this is not just a strip of concrete – this project includes FOUR grade separations. It will include bike path undercrossings at these four bridges: Corbin, Winnetka, Vanowen and Mason. (Stickler note: Technically it’s only three undercrossings, because Vanowen and Mason bridges are close together, so one long cut that crosses under both of those.)

    The cost of just a flat “concrete” (actually asphalt) path is a minor part of the project… I don’t know the breakdown exactly, but, with no grade separations, 2.2 miles of path costs something like ~$1-1.5M. Doing ramps under bridges costs ~1$M each or more. Grade separation is the major cost for bike paths (and if you think it’s expensive in the West SFV, wait till you see the East SFV – it’s worse there!)

    The rest of the $7M is a whole slough of park features: art, benches, signage, bike parking, drinking fountain, landscaping, and more.

    (In my opinion, it’s a bit over-built… the city could do a utilitarian project here for something like ~4-5$M… but they sought park grant funding and got it, so they added a bunch of park features. They probably could have done fewer park features… and done a ~$5.5M project that would have been fine… but they sought grant funding and beefed up the project.)

    If you handed me $7M and said “spend this in the best way for biking in Los Angeles” or even “spend this on getting the most bike paths in Los Angeles,” then this is not the project I would have chosen. That’s not the case. Basically the city said “we’re widening some bridges in the valley [so we can get more cars through – another story – a bad one], while we’re at it, Metro, ARRA, State Parks, how about you give us $7M for a bike path… the funding agencies said yes… and the project is under construction now. If the Metro RST and ARRA monies hadn’t gone to this, they could go to street widening or building a parking lot or a freeway. If the state monies hadn’t gone to the park features, they could have gone to a river park in San Diego or Pasadena or Northern California.

    I think it’s worthwhile to have a dialog on this – bike paths are expensive. It’s important to question prioritization, etc, especially if the city wants to use flexible local dollars (ie: Measure R) on (Josef’s characterization) “high cost, low conflict” expensive projects like this, we will spend a lot of money and not get very far. $7M in Measure R money could implement most of the on-street (all lanes plus many bike boulevards) miles in the city bike plan… but I personally think that $7M of federal and state money for a shovel-ready 2.2 miles of asphalt, three undercrossings, and a linear park is a good thing.

    I am looking forward to riding the initial segment of the path next year.

  • oops – even I get these projects confused… there are 4 grade separations – under 5 bridges. I left out Tampa in the above list. Moving downstream to upstream the undercrossings will be at:
    1. Tampa Avenue
    2. Corbin Avenue
    3. Winnetka Avenue
    4. Vanowen Street and Mason Avenue

    For diehards wanting even more info on this project, see

  • Fart Box 3000

    Well, where I come from $7.7 million is a lot of money. Plus, everyone knows that car-only FREEways pay for themselves with economic benefits like increased asthma rates (cha ching!), lots of crashes and deaths (body shops = economic growth, call the amberlamps = jobz), and the vaunted “mobility” I hear so much about form the Cato Institute.

    You know what we oughta do? We oughta round up those cyclists and issue them social security cards, and tax their payrolls, and tax their incomes at the state and local levels, and then we oughta tax them at the cash register, and any time they file documents in court or buy alcohol (MIDNIGHT RIDAZZ REPRESENT!).

    That would learn ’em good, those no-good tax dodging cyclists not paying for roads that all that gas tax I pay covers 40% of.

  • @joe et al

    Is there any data on bike path usage? I think investing in bike paths makes sense. Most people bike for recreation and one of the main venues for this recreation is the bike paths we have. I know most people that follow this site would say $ for $ money spent on the road is better, but is there any analysis on usage.

    I am still for lanes on the street and dirt paths in the parks (go eat a horse) but to say that this money is wasted I disagree.

    Plus these paths are good for the neighborhoods as a good place to walk.

  • This is a big gaping hole that bike planning in LA has to deal with: there is NO good data on how many people use this stuff. That will soon be remedied (maybe), but for now we’ll have to go on the numbers put together by the team that put together the Bike Plan.

    $7.7 million could do an awful lot of on-street facilities, bike parking, and community outreach.

  • Manu

    How about a bike bath across the Valley along the train tracks from Chatsworth to Burbank and on.

  • Eric B

    These are the kind of projects everyone loves to hate:

    Non-cyclists think they cost too much and building them is a waste.
    Cyclists think they cost too much and would love to spend the money on other kinds of facilities.

    Joe laid out the case perfectly, so I’ll just summarize the key points:
    1) Unique opportunity to combine with bridge renovation overhead
    2) Unique opportunity to utilize stimulus funds, etc.
    3) Unique opportunity to build a linear park rather than just a bike path

    While the greater political truth still is that the City would rather waste money on non-controversial bike paths (anything that doesn’t take capacity from cars), this path doesn’t fit that narrative due to these circumstances.

    For dollars where paths compete with lanes/BFS (e.g. Measure R, Call for Projects, BTA), advocates should absolutely favor on-street infrastructure. For dollars that do not pit on-street against off-street projects (e.g. parks money), we should be thrilled with a gold-plated bike path through a park.

    Thank you Joe for making these points in detail.

  • I love riding on a nice bike path, I like it even more when it gets me where ever it is that I am going. Bike paths tend to have a pretty steep price tag, grading is really expensive, retaining walls to keep dirt out of the watershed…. and grade separations are a beast! There are a lot of funding opportunities out there. It is a matter of matching up the right project with the right funds. As a bike planner that seeks these funds I look at it like a game, how can I implement all of the projects in my plan and what project is going to give me the competitive edge to get those funds. Grants are competitive! This is a prime example of that game. ARRA has a very limiting component to it that restricts what projects can be funded. They have to be “shovel ready”, which means that politically conflicted projects need not apply! Park funding is not something that bike planners generally look to for funding, but here is an opportunity to dip outside of the box and add some nice amenities… that is just sexy! What this provides for the community is huge. Not everyone is going to ride their bike 12 miles to work, but they might enjoy an evening stroll and they might take their bike out of the garage, dust it off, and inflate the tires for a little reminder of how much fun it is to ride. WIN!

  • West Valley Wheelmen

    I enjoy the bike path very much, it’s been another outlet for my family and I to get out and have some fun. At the same time there are huge problems that need to be taken care of. One being dog owners that don’t clean up after their pets, it’s discusting!!! A bigger problem is the potheads and drunks that use the trail as a hiding spot to do all of their unlawful activities. It wouldn’t cost the city extra to send a couple of policemen on their bikes to patrol the trail. We need to be able to enjoy our community without having to deal with the lowlifes around…


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