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A Bike Path in the L.A. Riverbed Proposed for Downtown

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While it is possible to ride a bicycle through all 52 miles of the Los Angeles River, it isn't always easy, especially when you get to downtown. A proposal by real estate developer and downtown resident Yuval Bar-Zemer of Linear City seeks to amend that by building an almost 9-mile bike path right on the river bed, connecting Riverside Drive to the north, to Atlantic Boulevard in Vernon to the south. The connection would create a single 31-mile bike route from Griffith Park to Long Beach.

A cyclist himself, Bar-Zemer had grown tired of simply complaining about the lack of access to the river in his part of town. "It's interesting. Downtown, where the community started next to El Pueblo, is the most inaccessible part of the river," commented Bar-Zemer.

Using his personal funds, he worked with geo-engineers at Geosyntec and designers at wHY Architecture to explore solutions. "We haven't officially started on the design, but I've engaged with hydrologists and civil engineers to figure out the least intrusive way to put a bike path on the bottom of the river flood control capacity and without causing storm drain problems."

Bar-Zemer's ad hoc team came up with an ambitious solution. The Los Angeles River itself could become the bike path. By laying down pre-cast concrete panels elevated six inches from the river bed, cyclists would be able to ride the river smoothly yet also allow water to flow beneath them. A study of a 1.7-mile section by Geosyntec determined that the path would only be submerged in water five days of the year. The rest of the time, cyclists going through downtown could use the path.

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As part of Bar-Zemer's proposal, the various agencies controlling parts of the river would have to provide access on five separate sections: Riverside Drive, Main Street, Sixth Street, Washington Boulevard, and Atlantic Boulevard. Some access points would require building a ramp that would gently slope down to the riverbed, allowing cyclists a smooth ride down to the channel. Bar-Zemer says this would be the more expensive part of the project because it requires removing earth from the sides of the channel. Bar-Zemer also has to negotiate with the different agencies that have jurisdiction in various points of the river to gain access to these five entry points. The whole project is estimated to cost around $20 million, though it is in its very early stages.

Bar-Zemer has already floated his proposal to engineers at L.A. County Public Works and staff at the Los Angeles County Fire Department. During Bar-Zemer's presentation at the recent L.A. River Cooperation Committee meeting, David van Dorpe, Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), seemed supportive, but emphasized that safety would be the Army Corps' first consideration. Romel Pascual, Director of Partnerships for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, saw potential. The Friends of the Los Angeles River supported the proposal.

Bar-Zemer's next move is finding a non-profit or government agency that would be willing to take his initial suggestion further. He estimates another $300,000 would be needed to do comprehensive environmental studies.

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Renderings courtesy of Linear City, wHY Architecture and Geosyntec.

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