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LA Metro Re-Approves Original Rail-to-River Route After Dedicated Bike/Walk Path Scuttled

This past Thursday, the Metro Board voted to (again) move ahead with Randolph Street as the route for Segment B - the eastern segment of the Rail-to-River bike/walk path.

Cutting through and along the edges of Florence-Firestone, Huntington Park, Bell, Vernon, and Maywood, Randolph was the preferred route Metro had approved back in 2017. Soon after approval, however, the project collided with both the planned West Santa Ana Branch (WSAB) rail line in Huntington Park and Union Pacific's unwillingness to abandon its defunct right-of-way (ROW). That meant the Rail-to-River plans for Randolph would have to be significantly retooled. As a result, Metro (rather half-heartedly) relaunched the visioning process for the Southeast cities route last February.

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Trash and debris can be seen littering the Union Pacific ROW on Randolph on Google maps.

Thursday's re-approval of Randolph moves the full 10-mile Rail-to-River project back on track to fruition, though not in quite the same form it was originally expected to take.

When first proposed in 2012 by then-Metro boardmembers Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina, the ambitious project was conceived as a way to convert a ROW deemed infeasible for passenger rail into a green ribbon stretching across an intensely park-poor section of South and Southeast Los Angeles.

That vision is (relatively) easier to accomplish along the South Central portion of the route (the orange Segment A line, above) because Metro already owns the Slauson ROW.

View of the Slauson corridor right-of-way (ROW) looking eastward. In the first phase of the project, this ROW will be transformed into a 5.5-mile bike/walk path featuring shade trees, drought-tolerant landscaping, lighting, and improved intersection crossings. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
View of Segment A/the Slauson corridor right-of-way looking eastward. In the first phase of the project, this ROW will be transformed into a 5.5-mile bike/walk path featuring shade trees, drought-tolerant landscaping, lighting, and improved intersection crossings. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

To that end, Metro is already at work ripping out the tracks running the 5.5 miles between the Crenshaw Line's Fairview Heights station and the Slauson Blue Line station. They will be replaced with dedicated bike and walk paths, new shade trees, drought-tolerant landscaping, lighting, intersection improvements, and bioswales.

[Segment A broke ground just last month and is expected to be completed by early 2024. See our coverage of the groundbreaking and the history of both the project and that section of the corridor here; Metro renderings of Segment A are below.]

Renderings of the future of the Slauson corridor show shade trees, improved lighting, and safer crossings. Source: Metro
Renderings of the future of the Slauson corridor show shade trees, pedestrian lighting, and safer crossings. Source: Metro

Metro chose Randolph Street for Segment B, in part, because of the expectation that the center-running ROW there would also support a similarly separated bike/walk path (below).

That wasn't the only reason: although Randolph is one of the few main east-west streets running all the way through the SE cities, it starts at Slauson and ends at the river, so it sees far less through-traffic. It also provides a direct connection to the river while linking the greatest number of communities together. And the ROW was already utilized by some in the community as a jogging path, meaning the project would be enhancing an existing asset. Early proposed alternative routes along Slauson or through Vernon couldn't compete.

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The red lines represent the original plan for the Rail to River project, which was for Segment B to utilize the Union Pacific-owned ROW, connecting here to Segment A/Slauson. Plans for Segment A along Slauson remain unchanged, but construction of the West Santa Ana Branch rail line along the Randolph corridor means cyclists will now have to share the road with cars on Segment B.

The WSAB Transit Corridor project - a 19-mile light rail line intended to better connect the Gateway Cities to Downtown Los Angeles - will now be using that ROW in Huntington Park. Its northern alignment will run along the Salt Lake Avenue corridor before turning west on Randolph and heading toward the Long Beach Boulevard corridor.

Despite the blighted condition of the corridor at present, Union Pacific has no plans to remove its tracks to make way for the WSAB. Consequently, Metro will have to build around the existing infrastructure. That means widening the Huntington Park section of the ROW to make room for two sets of light rail tracks.

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The existing Union Pacific ROW will be widened to accommodate the WSAB tracks. West of Boyle/State, one travel lane in each direction will be removed on Randolph. Source: Metro Summary Alternatives Analysis, p. 15.

As a result, Randolph will be reconfigured through much of Huntington Park: west of Boyle/State, the two travel lanes that run in each direction will be reduced to a single lane and the number of intersections along Randolph will be reduced, something which Metro says will further reduce traffic volumes and also potentially allow for the reduction of the corridor speed limit to 20-25 mph.

Because parking will be retained along the corridor, there is no room for a separate bike facility between Holmes Avenue and State Street. Bicyclists will have to share those 1.6 miles with vehicular traffic.

Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 2.50.22 PM
The western section of the project (red) will feature a bike boulevard. East of State Street (blue), there is room for a two-way separated bikeway. The WSAB is the purple dashed line; it joins Randolph at Salt Lake Avenue. Source: Metro presentation

The resulting bicycle boulevard will look something like the rendering below.

Though the project will also feature new sidewalks, improvements at intersections (e.g. curb extensions, high visibility crosswalks, and improved or new pedestrian signals), improved lighting, streets trees, wayfinding, and shade structures, per the executive summary of Metro's report, it appears plans for a dedicated walking path have also been shelved.

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The proposed bike boulevard for the section between Holmes Avenue and State Street. Source: Metro Summary Alternatives Analysis, p. 30.

Full construction of the WSAB is not expected to get underway until at least 2026, however. So Metro has proposed that bicycle lanes be striped between Holmes and State in the interim (below).

Perhaps by that time, Metro and Huntington Park will have arrived at some other solution for that section of the project. Huntington Park's own bicycle master plan had also called for a bicycle path along the ROW and for bicycle lanes to be striped along Randolph in the interim. Community feedback cited in that master plan had also shown strong support for the transformation of Randolph into a multi-modal corridor.

Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 2.39.56 PM
Metro's proposal for interim bike lanes is aligned with Huntington Park's bicycle master plan. Unfortunately, the facilities will be down-, not up-, graded when that interim period ends. Source: Metro

Cyclists continuing eastward along Randolph toward the river will have somewhat more protection once they cross State Street. There, Metro proposes a two-way bikeway be installed with a narrow median (possibly featuring street trees) separating bikeway users from vehicular traffic. The bikeway would be approximately two miles long.

Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 3.46.56 PM
East of State Street, Metro has proposed a two-way bikeway. Source: Metro

Details on how this will be accomplished are not included in Metro's summary report, though it seems likely that it will involve some shuffling around of parking; the bikeway will go in where the row of cars parked at left (below) are now.

Screen Shot 2022-08-26 at 4.16.41 PM
East of State Street, Randolph will be reconfigured to shift the traffic lanes toward the south curb (right) and install the bikeway up against the Union Pacific ROW.

Frustratingly, Metro did indicate in its report that the bikeway could be downgraded to bike lanes or even a bicycle boulevard if it proved too difficult to remove parking.

Bell's bike plan for Randolph does include a two-way bikeway (as well as a walking path on the Union Pacific Row) and labels it a "priority project." Hopefully it will remain committed to that plan.

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Bell proposed a two-way bikeway along Randolph in its bike plan. See page 55.

Newly installed Metro Board Chair Ara Najarian asked that project come before the board again in October 2022 with a funding plan for further development of the project.

For more details on the Segment B presentation and discussion, see the Metro board report, etc. here.

See our previous coverage below:

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