The paved bikeway plunges into the buckwheat-and-sage-scrub-covered spreading grounds of the San Gabriel River, projecting an unobstructed view of the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the curved, concrete spillway of the Santa Fe Dam.
But the spectacular views are not the new bike path’s only firsts.
The 1.1-mile, $1 million path is the first bike-only on-ramp to the existing 28-mile San Gabriel River bike path stretching north-to-south between the mountains and Long Beach.
It’s also the first car-less bicycle-train connection in Los Angeles County, joining bike rider with train rider at the Metro Gold Line Duarte/City of Hope Station on Duarte Road and Highland Avenue.
“Connecting the Metro Gold Line to 28 miles of the San Gabriel River Bike Trail: that in and of itself is an accomplishment,” said county Supervisor Hilda Solis on Thursday at the trail’s grand opening.
In truth, the bike trail is only half completed. The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation say the first section of the trail from the Gold Line station to the river area is scheduled for completion in 2021, at the earliest.
Also, there are no signs pointing to the new bike path. Train passengers have to walk their bikes across a busy section of Duarte Road, then find the unmarked, decomposed granite trail that leads northward to the new paved bike trail that cuts across the river grounds.
This first phase of the new bike path took 11 years to complete.
The process began in 2005 with the city of Duarte City Council asking and receiving in 2007 a $460,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro), said Karen Herrera, Duarte deputy city manager.
But the city is trying to complete the trail from Duarte Road, along the City of Hope auxiliary parking lot that will connect to the paved bike trail, Herrera said.
Some say the county’s stated goal of building more protected bike lanes is moving at a snail’s pace, slower than other cities.
“We need to get faster,” said Wes Reutimann, executive director of Bike San Gabriel Valley, who pointed out New York City has committed to building 15 miles of protected bicycle lanes in 2016.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who did not appear at the ribbon-cutting, sent his chief of staff Kathryn Barger, who is running for his spot in November. Barger agreed that 11 years is too long to build a 1 mile bike path without a true connection to the Gold Line station and with no signs pointing the way.
“We want to work with City of Hope to getting better connectivity right here. You want it to be accessible. You want people to know where it is,” she said.
Delays have come from many sources, Herrera said.
First, the project was stopped in June when a California gnatcatcher was discovered on the spreading grounds. The endangered bird species requires that habitat is not destroyed and any work must wait until after breeding season.
Second, the Army Corps of Engineers was concerned about putting a bikeway through a flood zone and moved very slowly. “The Corps was very concerned about safety and maintaining their flood infrastructure. That’s been the holdup,” said Zach Likins with the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
This is only the second crossing of the San Gabriel River connecting walkers and bikers to the San Gabriel River Bike Trail. The other is north of Huntington Drive on the Puente Largo Bridge, Herrera said.
Duarte is trying to add sidewalks to the south side of Duarte Road to make it easier to ride a bike to the decomposed granite trail. That project will cost $21,000, she said.