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'Rail to River' Project Envisions Greenway Along Train Tracks

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Industrial blight might soon give way to cyclists riding through an 8.3-mile park-like path, winding south from Santa Fe Avenue near the Los Angeles River downtown to Slauson near South Los Angeles, then heading west until it reaches its terminus on Florence Avenue and West Boulevard, near the future LAX/Crenshaw Metro line.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has launched a feasibility study into what it's calling the "Rail to River" project. The agency is looking into the possibility of turning this section of the city into an active transportation zone that would host pedestrians and cyclists along a safe and well-lit path. If implemented, it would connect to the Los Angeles River to Metro's Blue Line, Silver Line, and future LAX/Crenshaw Metro line.

Metro initiated the study on the request of of Los Angeles County Supervisors (and Metro board members) Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina, according to Metro's Transportation Planning Manager Alice Tolar. The path is part of a larger 26-mile long Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor, through which the Metro owns the right of way. The Harbor Subdivision was purchased by Metro in the early 90s from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, which still operates freight rail on the path.

On February 24, Metro hosted a community meeting to present some draft concepts for the pathway, which met with support from the fifty people that had attended, including City of Huntington Park Vice Mayor Rosa E. Perez; Councilmember Ofelia Hernandez; and representatives from the offices of Metro Board Director Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Curren Price, the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, neighborhood councils, and various advocacy groups.

According to a report from Ridley-Thomas's office, residents see potential in the project.

"From what I can see of the vision, it looks like it could be a good thing for South Los Angeles," said Lynda Wilson, a Windsor Hills resident. "I can see biking from Western and Slauson and taking that eight mile ride to the river."

Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor | Metro
Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor | Metro

"I'm most excited about re-purposing the railroad tracks," said urban planner Bruce Chan, who compared this project to New York City's High Line project that re-envisioned the elevated railway tracks into a park perched above the city's streets. One of the promising draft concepts of Rail to River involves removal of the existing train tracks to make room for a two-way bike path and a walkway.

"These concepts will be refined as needed and included in the Final Feasibility Report that will be presented to the Metro Board in September of this year," said Tolar, who emphasized that many things could still change as the Metro progresses with its study.

Tolar further notes that though the concept is exciting, Metro still faces many challenges when working on this site. She explains that much of the Metro-owned right of way is between 30 to 40 feet, which is too narrow to accommodate an at-grade rail line or Bus Rapid Transit, as well as a continuous bike path. At the north-south portion from Santa Fe to Slauson Boulevard, the widths are as narrow as 12 feet. Not only will Metro have to find a way to fit other uses on this narrow path, it would also have to do it in a way that it would not hinder future transportation projects that might be done on the same path as required by Metro's Rights-of Way Preservation Guidelines.

A draft of the feasibility study will undergo internal review by May 1. A final report is due to be presented to Metro's Board in September 2014. Depending on the results, the Board will ultimately decide whether to progress with the project and also how to fund it.

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