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One Step Closer to Walking and Biking from Canoga Park to Elysian Valley

MOL Parkway (2)
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MOL Bikeway
Photo credit: Gruen Associates

A bike path is only as useful as how far it’ll get you, ideally without having to fight through traffic lights and heavy metal cars. So, in a bid to design a more multimodal Los Angeles, the Mayor’s office has announced the selection of a design team that is tasked to figure out how to complete the Los Angeles River Valley Bike Path from Vanalden Avenue in Canoga Park to Forest Lawn Drive by Griffith Park. The Mayor’s Office has stated “once completed, the greenway will make it possible for Angelenos to walk and bike from Canoga Park to Elysian Valley.”

Though the San Fernando Valley has received its share of river projects that have transformed once graffiti-laden, trash-strewn riverside areas into pleasing greenways, it is still a patchwork of projects that have yet to realize their full potential.

With a $6 million funding partnership between Mayor Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Mayor announced the selection of Gruen Associates with a team that includes Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Oyler Wu Collaborative. The Bureau of Engineering, headed by City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, is in charge of managing the design and construction of the project.

Don’t hold your breath waiting to see the bike path appear overnight, however, this team was selected to do a feasibility study, weighting the pros and cons—and costs—of different alternatives to create these linkages across 23 roadway intersections through five council districts and nine segments along the Los Angeles River. Working with these many constituents would be a challenge, let alone figuring out the best route for the bike path.

While these new connections may translate to about 12 miles of new bike paths that are suitable for pedestrians, they would also create a much longer 20-mile path in the Valley, estimates Mahmood Karimzadeh, the Principal architect with the Bureau of Engineering.

The specific segments are:

1. South side of the Los Angeles River between Vanalden Avenue and White Oak, which continues the West Valley Bike Path and cross the newly opened Aliso Creek Confluence Park
2. North side of the LA River between White Oak Avenue and the Orange Line Busway
3. South side of the LA River between Balboa Boulevard and Burbank Boulevard
4. North side of the LA River adjacent to Burbank Boulevard and Sepulveda Boulevard
5. South side of the LA River between Kester Avenue and Hazeltine Avenue
6. South side of the LA River between Hazeltine Avenue and Woodman Avenue
7. South side of the LA River between Woodman Avenue to Coldwater Canyon Avenue, through the Richard Lillard Outdoor Classroom
8. North side of the LA River between Whitsett Avenue to Lankershim Boulevard, which connects the Los Angeles Greenway Park
9. South side of the LA River between Barham Boulevard to Forest Lawn Drive

Given the many neighborhoods this project touches on, the project entails even more discussion than other more compact river projects. Questions like which side of the river will the path take? Will there be underpasses, bridges, on-grade crossings? What utilities need to be relocated and what right of way may need to be acquired? All that remains to be debated over the next nine months.

Meanwhile, there is reason to be hopeful, Los Angeles has chosen a great team composed of some established names, each with an impressive project list to back up their claim. Here’s a quick intro to the three main firms on the project.

Gruen Associates

Gruen Associates is a seven-decade old firm of planners, architects and landscape architects. Over the years, through many large projects, the firm has helped shape the city we know now. Firm partner Debra Gerod says one of the firm’s strong suits is managing large teams from different consultant firms towards one goal.

Along with London-based Grimshaw Architects, the firm is master planning Union Station, trying to figure out what will happen to this central Los Angeles location in the future, especially with the addition of the High Speed Rail in the picture. Its plans will also deal with the additional 40 acres of Metro-owned surrounding land.

Gruen is also working on the 96th Street Transit center, which when completed would finally connect to the LAX People Mover. Finally, rail passengers could take the train and get to the airport easily.

Metro 96th Street Transit Center Plan
Metro 96th Street Transit Center Plan

In the past, the firm has worked on the Orange Line Extension, turning a four-mile corridor from Canoga Park station to the Chatsworth Metrolink from a barren railroad right-of-way into a greenway of native plants with a bikeway, pedestrian path, and exclusive Orange Line busway.

It’s also responsible for the Ballona Creek Bike Path, about 7 miles of car-free bike path between Culver City and Playa del Rey. It was the first protected bike path in the county.

Ballona Creek  Bike Trail
Ballona Creek Bike Trail

Mia Lehrer and Associates

Mia Lehrer is a ubiquitous name especially when it comes to the Los Angeles River. Its firm has been involved with the river for over two decades.

The landscape firm has contributed to the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, which envisions 32 miles of the river as green space. The plan identifies more than 240 projects that can be implemented along the river. Her firm is already working on many segments of the Los Angeles River Valley bike path in San Fernando Valley, which would make coordination much easier for the design team, we imagine. The firm’s experience with the Los Angeles River would also be invaluable for navigating the many complexities of working on a multi-jurisdictional river. For this firm, there clearly doesn’t need to be an introduction to the Los Angeles River.

Apart from river projects, MLA is also responsible for many urban projects that have given the city much-needed greenery, not to mention water conservation features. In the middle of dense downtown Los Angeles, Vista Hermosa is a naturist’s hideout complete with waterfall, greenery, and most probably chirping birds, not to mention more subtle water efficiency features like on-site water collection, bioswales and cisterns—all with a great view of the downtown Los Angeles beyond.

The firm also helped turn a 153,000 square foot parking area of the Natural History Museum into a garden with more than 200 varieties of perennials and 31,000 plants. Naturally, it’s a homing beacon for the city’s wildlife—and the garden accommodates—just ask the bees and their “hotels” installed at the garden.

Vista Hermosa Natural Park Lamb Grotto
Vista Hermosa Natural Park Grotto
Vista Hermosa Natural Park Lamb Path
 Vista Hermosa Natural Park Path 
Natural History Museum Lamb Water Story Pond
Natural History Museum Water Story Pond 

Oyler Wu Collaborative

Unlike Mia Lehrer and Associates, it is Oyler Wu Collaborative’s debut on the Los Angeles River. “We’re excited to be working in the public scale,” says Jenny Wu, principal of Oyler Wu Collaborative, “We live close to the Los Angeles River and this project feels very personal but also very exciting.” The firm's body of work over the years has shown that it can deliver innovative design solutions that not only look good on paper, but also materialize in striking fashion. It’s a trait that will be indispensible when it comes to solving the complex issues involved when tackling how to cross the streets of San Fernando Valley on a bike or on foot.

The firm has already shown the city it knows how to creatively shade its users. Oyler Wu Collaborative, along with SCI-Arc students, have built not one but three temporary pavilions for the school, all of which were feats of engineering realized in striking fashion. Imagine their ingenuity translated into bridges or shade structures along the bike path.

Oyler Wu Sci-Arc Graduation Pavilion
Oyler Wu Sci-Arc Graduation Pavilion

Their more permanent projects are as compelling. An aluminum staircase, which connects SCI-Arc’s ground floor to a catwalk above, is a mesmerizing play of lines that make walking up stairs almost a feat of daring. In Taipei, the firm is working on a 16-story residential tower that dispenses with the overly repetitive balconies and tall box silhouette in favor of building that introduces subtle variety. Apart from rethinking a 1928 neoclassical bank building into a 21st century food laboratory, Oyler Wu Collaborative also designed a centerpiece of a staircase made of seemingly whirling steel and plywood.

Such dedication to ingenuity and detail will come in handy especially when tackling how to piece together pre-existing urban infrastructures.

Oyler Wu 3ds Culinary
Photo credit: Scott Mayoral/Oyler Wu Collaborative
Oyler Wu Taipei Tower
Oyler Wu Taipei Tower

So, what comes next?

Over the next few months, residents of council districts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 will expect to see community outreach and meetings, to hear what their vision of the future on the Los Angeles River would be.

The results will be a feasibility study that will tackle the different alternatives available to the city when it comes to bridging these gaps. “We have 23 crossing points and through the feasibility study, we will have a better idea of what’s going to happen with each and every one of them. If one crossing needs a bridge, that’s going to impact our timeline, our budgets, and even the traffic at the time of construction,” said Karimzadeh.

Only after the feasibility study is done, then the design and construction phases can begin. Karimzadeh says the team may be asked to continue working on the project once the feasibility study is finished, but the city also has the option to work with another. But that’s a discussion for the future.

In the meantime, all this work has a very enticing prize at the very end, the ability to traverse much of Los Angeles, car-free.

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