Should South L.A.’s New Bike Path Be a Rail Line?

The Rail-to-River project is a great amenity but also a lost opportunity

Plans are moving ahead on the Rail-to-River “active transportation” corridor through South Los Angeles, a new bike and pedestrian path cutting across a wide swath of the city. The plan is to turn an under-used rail right-of-way (ROW) along Slauson Avenue into a place to bike, stroll, and easily make east-west trips.

Rail-to-River, scheduled to open in 2019, will initially run from the under-construction Fairview Heights Crenshaw Line station in Inglewood all the way to the Blue Line Slauson station, over six miles east. An extension of the bike and walking path will eventually stretch all the way to the L.A. River; a community meeting earlier this month looked at different routes through southeast cities like Bell and Huntington Park.

Park-poor South L.A. is desperately in need of more active transportation options and locals are pushing for the new project, which will include chairs for sitting and a place to safely walk dogs and burn some calories. Many are asking though, since the bike/walking path is running on a rail ROW, why isn’t being turned into a functioning rail line?

The Expo and Gold lines both operate on old freight ROWs, which cut down on their building costs. Both aforementioned light rail lines also include bike and pedestrian paths that run parallel to the train lines for much of their routes. While the Expo and Gold bike paths are a lot less impressive than what’s planned for Rail-to-River—lots of landscaping and park-like amenities—a light rail line would likely still offer a safe place to get around via feet and wheels. Some posters on Streetsblog have also suggested an elevated train line along the corridor, since it would create a shaded space below for walkers and bikers, while still offering east-west rail service between LAX and the downtown area.

Of course, a rail line would cost a lot more than the fully-funded Rail-to-River project, which will likely run under the $100 million mark. The Expo Line, by contrast, cost over a $1 billion. But if there’s any agency currently flushed with cash, it’s Metro, which just won the passage of Measure M last month, which will bring in $860 million annually for decades.