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Every mile is crucial, especially when building a bicycle greenway that would span the length of the 51-mile Los Angeles River from its headwaters in Canoga Park down to Long Beach.
In a deal championed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles cyclists have cause to celebrate as NBCUniversal agreed to put in $13.5-million toward a 6.4-mile stretch of bike path between Whitsett Avenue in Studio City to Griffith Park at Riverside Drive.
Currently, the path has some large sections completed -- 10 miles from Elysian Valley to Griffith Park and 17 miles from Maywood to Long Beach -- but there are still gaps throughout San Fernando Valley, and also from Vernon to downtown Los Angeles. Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), says the money is a "significant chunk" toward filling in the gaps on the Los Angeles River Bike path.
According to Joel Sappell, Special Projects Deputy at Yaroslavsky's office, the Department of Public Works "conservatively estimated that Universal's funding will be sufficient to do all of the planning, engineering, and environmental clearance for the entire 6.4 mile stretch so that we will have a 'shovel ready' project." It would also cover the actual construction of a 1.2-mile stretch between Lankershim and Barham Boulevards, adjacent to Universal property. Leftover funds would then be used to construct the remainder of the 6.4-mile segment. Construction should be done by January 2017.
Though $13.5-million seems like a good sum, Sappell says more than half of the budget would be used on the 1.2-mile segment, including crossings at Lankershim and Barham, though a final breakdown would depend on the design.
Apart from the bike path, NBCUniversal also agreed to build a 1-acre trailhead park along the river on top of the promised funds. The park would be a welcome addition to the river trail. "We like to think the river itself as a necklace with a bunch of pearls on it," says Bruins, "It'll be one of the nice little pearls along the necklace."
The promised funds is part of NBCUniversal's Evolution Plan, which was initially panned by a strong coalition of community and environmental groups for not taking into consideration the city and county River Master plans.
Their concerns were heard. Succeeding negotiations with the studio garnered a promise to contribute $3 million toward a riverfront trail. But as it went through the county process, it was Yaroslavsky's office that really helped up the ante, says Bruins. "They were key supporters of the County Bike Plan. Zev has an awesome staff. They're really sharp. They were able to cut a really great deal."
The Evolution Plan would expand the Universal Studios theme park and backlot to the tune of $1.6 billion. It would also attract Hogwarts aficionados by opening The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
More than adding a few wand-waving fanatics to Studio City, Bruins views the NBC Universal's generosity as a heartening precedent, one he hopes to see replicated by other nearby studios. "I think we've set the bar now," says Bruins, "The studios need to open themselves up to the city and not be so completely walled off that you preclude access to the river."