The Los Angeles River has two lengthy bike paths stitched along its sides, stretching more than 30 miles from Elysian Valley into the San Fernando Valley, and from Maywood toward Long Beach. But there’s an 8.9-mile gap adjacent to Downtown LA and Boyle Heights that is blocked by rail tracks, bridges, and other barriers. Yuval Bar-Zemer, a principal at local firm Linear City Development, wants to change that. He has proposed a path extending not alongside the river, but on the concrete channel itself.
The plan for the trail, which Bar-Zemer designed with Geosyntec engineering consultants and wHY architects, is composed of precast or cast-in-place concrete panels that are fluted on their underside to allow the passage of water. The panels sit six inches above the riverbed. Diagonal fissures in the sloped ramps connect bikers on the existing raised paths to the channel path.
Bar-Zemer commissioned a hydrology study along a 1.7-mile length of the route, showing that the path will remain dry 360 days a year. He is also developing a forecasting system to provide water height warnings ahead of time and provide for necessary shutdowns. “Installing such a pass is not a crazy idea. It’s actually a valid, valuable idea,” said Bar-Zemer.
In May, Bar-Zemer received approval to begin a feasibility study from the city and METRO, the county transit agency. The approval comes after a year of delay stemming largely from the hesitancy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which initially objected to any public access inside the channel due to safety and water management concerns.
“It’s a change in paradigm,” said Bar-Zemer. “At one point the river was neglected, but now it’s at the front line of attention, so it’s not so easy to dismiss ideas that would bring value to the community.”
The portion of the river included in the plan flows through several congressional and council districts, and through several community plan areas. Bar-Zemer set up a technical advisory committee task force made up of officials in the city, METRO, Friends of the Los Angeles River, the LA River Revitalization Corporation, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority, the LA County Community Development Commission, LA County Flood Control, LA County Public Works, and the Army Corps.
After METRO completes the approximately $300,000 feasibility study, the developer hopes to receive formal passage of the project from city council, put together a design and construction team, and gain funding through private sources and federal and state bonds and grants. Bar-Zemer hopes to have the path, which he estimates would cost roughly $20 million to build, completed within three years.