Dear LAist: The Arroyo Seco Bike Path Has Been Closed Since January. What Gives?
WE'RE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THAT KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. IF YOU HAVE ONE, ASK IT HERE.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 12, 2020, with news that the bike path has been repaired and officially reopened — nearly 13 months after it first closed. This article was originally published on Sept. 6.
When the Arroyo Seco bike path closed last January for repairs, some cyclists thought it would be a short-term inconvenience. Nearly eight months later, it remains closed and the city has not started on the repairs.
The locks and signage came after an atmospheric river rolled through Southern California, bringing heavy rain, flooding, and landslides. In the deluge, a 40-foot slab of concrete on the path was washed away by stormwater, according to Nora Frost, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT manages the path and is responsible for its maintenance).
The two-mile route runs from Mosher Street in Montecito Heights north to York Boulevard in Highland Park and is located within the Arroyo Seco river channel.
Cyclists use the path for recreation and commuting. LAist reader Ryan Resella, an engineer who lives downtown, told us he bikes nearly every day, mainly for fitness, and used the path for its smooth, protected connection to the San Gabriel Valley.
He reached out to us to find out why it was taking the city so long:
"I was riding this bike path two days a week to go from Downtown Los Angeles to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena ... After the winter I noticed the bike path was closed and didn't really think anything of it. I thought maybe the path would be closed for a week or two for some repairs... But the path has never been reopened since it was closed and there are no detour signs ... Any idea why the Arroyo Seco Bike path is still closed?"
If all city workers have to do is replace some concrete, what's the holdup? I reached out to LADOT to find out.
'UNIQUE' GEOGRAPHY AND A VERY WET WINTER
First, a little background on the Arroyo Seco, which is Spanish for "dry stream." The path along the waterway is different from other bikeways in the city in that it runs down inside the flood control channel.
The waterway winds from the Angeles National Forest north of the San Gabriel Valley through La Cañada Flintridge, into Pasadena, then South Pasadena, and through a number of neighborhoods in northeast L.A. before splashing into the Los Angeles River.
Don't let the little trickle typically seen within its concrete banks fool you — this waterway used to be an unchecked force before it was tamed in the 1930s. The county Flood Control District built Devil's Gate Dam to the north and poured concrete along the streamway to direct the water, similar to what was later done to the Los Angeles River.
And while the engineering projects have given local authorities a way to manage rising stormwater, nature likes to test us.
This past winter was exceptionally wet. In one seven-day period, Southern California received almost 30% of the rainfall it typically gets in a year. All that water has to go somewhere, and some of it zoomed down the Arroyo Seco flood control channel, taking a chunk of the city's bike path with it.
A BRIEF TIMELINE
The city closed the bike path in late January, but did not conduct a damage assessment until May, "given the extended wet season," according to Frost. The department did not provide details about what specific factors delayed the assessment process.
Then it took another two months — through June and July — for some action toward action. At that point, the city determined "that permits would be needed to complete repair work in the channel, developed a repair plan, and investigated potential detour routes on neighborhood streets," Frost said.
August was spent applying for said permits (more on that below) and working to post detour signage, which has yet to happen (more on that further below). In a tweet last week, LADOT officials said about 1.6 miles of the path, between the Avenue 60 and Avenue 43 entrances, would reopen in mid-September (we have an update on that at the bottom of this story).
But this week, Frost told LAist that goal is "a bit ambitious at the moment" and the department hopes to have a better timeline soon. The holdup for that part of the route is a missing metal plate that covers a drain under the bike path. That's left a "large gap" that poses a safety hazard to cyclists.
The final half-mile segment between Avenue 60 and York Boulevard, at the border with the city of South Pasadena, "will continue to be closed until repairs are complete," according to the department. No estimate of when that would be was provided.
This Wednesday, we sent LAist photographer Chava Sanchez to the bike path, to see what he could see.
The bike path entrance near Marmion Way and York Boulevard was gated off, with signs stating that construction was underway and that the path was closed for repairs. But there was a hole cut in the chain-link fence just to the left, and no typical signs of construction being underway.
Further south, at the entrance near Avenue 60, the gate was wide open and there was no visible signage indicating the path was closed at all for repairs.
So, again, why is taking so long to even begin to make repairs? The short answer: a perfect storm of multi-agency bureaucracy. Put your helmets on for this part, people.
JURISDICTION WITHIN JURISDICTION WITHIN JURISDICTION
OK, here's the part that made our brains cry.
The bike path itself is the property of the city of Los Angeles and is maintained by LADOT.
BUT that path is located within a flood control channel, which is managed by L.A. County's Flood Control District.
BUUUUUT that channel lies within the Arroyo Seco riverbed, which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
It's basically a Russian nesting doll of local, regional and federal jurisdictions.
The USACE regulates activities that affect U.S. waterways — in this case, the Arroyo Seco.
But the county built the concrete channel on top of the waterway, so the county controls that.
And the city built a bike path within the flood control channel on top of the waterway, and it controls that (if anyone is still reading at this point, here's a cute gif for your troubles).
So, because of the Inception-level government bureaucracy, the city had to file two separate permits — one to the county and one to the Army Corps — to make the repairs, which "must satisfy the conditions to protect wildlife and water quality as each of those agencies determine," Frost explained.
"Everyone's been very collaborative. I don't think anyone's intentionally dragging their feet," she told LAist. "But since everything's a process and... wildlife's involved, we have to do our due diligence to make sure that the process is respected."
Initially LADOT hoped the closure might present an opportunity to make upgrades to the concrete and culverts that make up the bike path. But, as Frost explained, after submitting permits to the county and the USACE for that construction, the city was informed that additional studies would be required, so officials decided to stick to a simple repair of the missing concrete.
"We still have applied for the upgrade permit," Frost said. "But of course, our priority is to get things in operation so that we can reopen the bike path as soon as possible, especially because we are coming up on [the] rainy season in October."
Once those two permits get approved, the city "can hit the ground running on those repairs," she added. The USACE did not respond to our request for comment.
WHY HASN'T A DETOUR ROUTE BEEN POSTED?
One thing Ryan Resella and other cyclists are wondering about is why a detour route has not been created and made clear with signage. Turns out that's a whole other issue involving another government agency.
Originally, LADOT planned to install detour signs for cyclists around the damaged portion of the bike path between Avenue 60 and northern terminus near Marmion Way and York Boulevard. The signs would direct cyclists to and from the bike lanes on Monterey Road.
Because the route extends north into the city of South Pasadena, LADOT needed that city's approval to post detour signs, Frost explained. South Pasadena did not grant it to them. That city's public works department did not respond to our request for comment.
Frost added that the city "can install detour signs facing southbound bicyclists on Monterey Road" within L.A. city limits, but did not say if that plan is moving forward.
In the meantime, cyclists continue to express their frustration and confusion over why the fix has taken almost eight months and counting.
@LADOTofficial @LACoPublicWorks @ladpw when is the Arroyo Seco bike path going to get fixed? People are getting injured down there. You can't just lock the gates forever (apparently now working). pic.twitter.com/zq9w7oxLIP— Ryanthi (@RyanTeehaa) July 9, 2019
As we've said previously, we're surprised that there aren't agreements in place already so the City can make repairs when needed. In addition to fixing the path, such agreements should be established now for the future. @LADOTBikeProg @MayorOfLA @ArmyCorpsNAD @mikebonin #bikeLA— Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (@lacbc) August 29, 2019
Frost acknowledged the feedback from L.A.'s "active and vocal" cyclist community, saying city officials "share the frustration" and are eager to reopen the bike path "as quickly as possible once we have the blessing of the other agencies."
"For some people, it's a necessary route in their community," Frost said. "But it's [also] nice and enjoyable. We want to give the community back that pleasure of having that unique experience."
We'll be checking back with the city about the repair process and will update this post when we have new information. You can also follow the LADOT's Liveable Streets program on Twitter and visit its bikeway maintenance page for *possible* updates.
On Oct. 1, LADOT announced a portion of the bike path had been reopened "between Avenue 43 and Avenue 60," though the section from Avenue 60 north to Marmion Way /York Boulevard access point remains closed.
The Arroyo Seco Bike Path is (partially) open again! Grab your 🚲 and enjoy the ride between Avenue 43 and Avenue 60. Please note that the path remains closed between Ave 60 and Marmion Way/York Blvd due to storm damage and pending repairs. See map here: https://t.co/PvVedPJajP pic.twitter.com/9wAJjEduc0— LADOT Livable Streets (@LADOTlivable) October 1, 2019
The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition tweeted Wednesday that it was pleased at the progress, but criticized the amount of time it took LADOT to reopen the section, as well as the condition of the access point.
This is LADOT's recommended access point to the Arroyo Seco path from Ave 60. We're not sure this is a better option than a temporary steel plate over the damaged part of the path or the detour we created. It took LADOT roughly 8 months to provide this option. #bikeLA https://t.co/qeYVSehaQZ pic.twitter.com/kFXO0KKl7J— Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (@lacbc) October 2, 2019
PATH REPAIRED AND FULLY REOPENED
More than a year after its initial closing, the Arroyo Seco bike path was officially reopened on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, according to LADOT spokesman Colin Sweeney.
The agency tweeted and shared an Instagram post of the repair process last week.
Colin Bogart of the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, said the group is glad the bike path is back open, but said he hopes the long-delayed project serves as a wake-up call to LADOT's bike path team.
"We encourage LADOT to establish the necessary protocols with the Army Corps, County flood control, and other relevant entities to anticipate future problems and streamline the process of permitting and repair," Bogart told LAist. "We would not accept 13 months for a simple road repair and it's not acceptable to take that long to repair a 10-foot section of path. LADOT can do much better."
Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, 11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with an announcement from LADOT that repairs were completed this month and the bike path has been full reopened.
Thursday, Oct. 3, 8:55 a.m.: This article was updated with an announcement from LADOT that a portion of the bike path has been reopened.
This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 6.