Lead Story West Edition

South L.A. pedestrian and bicycle path receives funding

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A $15 million federal grant will help convert a rarely used railroad track here into a 6.4-mile pedestrian and bike path linking three rail and bus lines, transportation officials announced last week.

The walking and bicycling path will replace the Harbor Subdivision, a single-track railroad alongside Slauson Avenue that is used occasionally by BNSF Railway.

The proposed path will travel between east and west, crossing through several north-south light rail and bus lines, including the Blue Line light rail route, the Silver bus rapid transit line and the future Crenshaw/LAX light rail now under construction.

The federal grant will cover nearly half of the costs of the $34.3 million project, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority providing $19.3 million in local and state money.

The $15 million is part of a larger $500 million amount for a total of 39 projects announced by U.S. Department of Transportation as part of its TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Act, program.

The area where the path will be installed is already frequented by 4,300 pedestrians and 2,500 bicyclists, according to MTA figures.

The path would serve an area with about 107,900 residents, and a fifth of the households living a half mile from the railroad track do not own vehicles, MTA officials said.

The MTA has done similar conversions of rail tracks, such as the popular Chandler Bikeway in Burbank, and this “Rail to Rail” project “will bring similar benefits to South L.A. residents,” MTA CEO Phil Washington said at an Oct. 29 press conference announcing the project.

U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez said the MTA won the competitive grant because the funding application “achieved the goals of connecting neighborhoods and helping communities coordinate innovative, multi-modal transportation projects that serve the diverse travel needs of residents and businesses.”

While the transportation aspects of the project were stressed by government officials, the health aspects of the bicycle and pedestrian path made an impression on an official with the county Department of Public Health.

Paul Simon, the director of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said “we are very excited about anything we can do to encourage more people to exercise,” he said. “Between 25 and 50 percent of adults live a sedentary lifestyle.”

Noting that South L.A. has a history of high rates of diabetes and poor heart health, Simon said the path could help to reduce the number of resident suffering from those health conditions.

“It’s quite impressive how significant the benefits are just getting people to walk,” he said. “It improves your mental health and mood.

“South L.A. is an important area to prioritize because it has the highest rates of diabetes and poor heart health,” Simon added. “It has a long history of high rates of poverty which lead to chronic stress and poor access to health care.

“In South L.A., there’s not as much park space and many people can’t afford to go to a gym, so it’s great that the bike/pedestrian path is being built here.”

County Supervisor and MTA Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, thanked the “Obama Administration for sharing the MTA’s vision that this blighted right-of-way can and must be transformed into a corridor where walking and biking can be done safely.”

“With this investment, Angelenos will be able to efficiently access the Blue Line and the future Crenshaw/LAX Line,” while the changes will “make a meaningful difference in the quality of life of the hundreds of thousands of people who live, work and visit the surrounding areas,” he added.

In addition to the path, the project will include the installation of crosswalk markings, curb ramps, repainted stop bars, signs, lighting and landscaping.

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, who represents much of the corridor, also was pleased with the project.

“This is a very exciting project that we welcome with open arms,” Price said. “It’s great news for residents of South Los Angeles who commute to work via public transit, bicycle and/or walking. These folks will now have access to a much-needed corridor where walking and biking is safer.

“When completed, not only will it promote healthy neighborhoods but provide greater countywide connectivity to surrounding areas. As we know, South Los Angeles has a high obesity rate and a low rate of car ownership, and projects like this will greatly help to improve the quality of life for many of our residents.”

Contributing Writer Anne Artley contributed to this story.