By Alfredo Santana
LYNWOOD — Ernesto Rea believes the new bike trail being built on Fernwood Avenue in Lynwood will encourage many residents to exercise along the 1.5-mile stretch, or use it as an alternative to reach public transportation stations nearby.
Rea is a Lynwood resident who lives two blocks away from the current construction at the Ricardo Lara Linear Park. With a winding pedestrian path, Rea visits it “almost every day,” and gives thumbs up to the project’s timetable issued by the state’s Department of Transportation to have it ready for public enjoyment by late October.
“A lot of people on the walking paths come and bring their dogs, to exercise or get around,” Rea said. “This bike path makes sense in that it will give us more time without using cars.”
Following years of negotiations and a lengthy process of securing permits, the city of Lynwood and the state Department of Transportation held a groundbreaking ceremony June 25 to announce construction of the urban bike road that abuts the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway’s north embankment, from Birch Street to Wright Road.
As it stands, the trail will be grafted into the linear park, named after the current California insurance commissioner, Lara, who secured design and construction funds when he was a state senator from 2012 to 2016.
Most of the bike trail follows the trajectory of the mile-long walking path that meanders below sycamore trees, leads to plots of fenced gardens leased to residents growing vegetables, and tells users of metrics such as steps and miles strolled from start to finish.
Currently administered by Caltrans, the strip of land used for the bike path will transfer to Lynwood after construction ends, so the city’s recreation and community services department can provide maintenance and arrange upgrades in the future, said Councilwoman Marisela Santana.
The new path will also feature the addition of native plants to embellish the landscape, calls for more than 300 new trees to replace those removed along the road, and will feature drinking fountains and new traffic signals at intersections on Atlantic Avenue, Harris Avenue and Gertrude Road.
“It’s a great accomplishment for the community,” the councilwoman said. “We are working to enhance all our parks.”
Bringing the project to fruition marks the first time Caltrans has coordinated with a city to develop a green space on what has been deemed a freeway’s “excess land,” Santana added.
The park’s enhancement will include more safety features such as lighting on segments besieged with homeless encampments at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and increase police patrols to deter vandals from painting graffiti on benches, drinking alcohol on premises and thievery.
Also, the bike path helps to address concerns raised in the city’s 2017 Connectivity Plan, providing connections through open spaces that ease access to important sites such as Ham Park, Lynwood City Park, City Hall, the Lynwood Library, the youth center and other locations.
“It’s one of many projects we are kicking off in the city of Lynwood,” Mayor Jorge Casanova said of the bike trail. “We are proud to be one of the first projects in the state with Caltrans to utilize this type of land and turn it into something useful and fun for our residents.”
Although the project’s estimated cost has not been disclosed, Caltrans and Lynwood worked to secure funds from different agencies and two county measures approved by voters.
Financial sources for the project include the California Natural Resources Agency, the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountain Conservancy, bonds issued by Measure M and money generated from Proposition C.
Approved in 2016, Los Angeles County’s Measure M is a sales tax increase aimed to generate $120 billion over 40 years to expand public transportation networks and bike roads with the goal to reduce traffic in the region.
Proposition C is a voter-approved initiative that in 1990 added a half-cent sales tax hike to support transportation projects in the county.
The bike road is one of several infrastructural projects currently under development, or in the process of refurbishment in Lynwood.
For instance, the city’s aquatics facility received a $5 million cash infusion to repair damaged pools and the outdoor ceiling of an enclosed swimming facility due to humidity and aging.
The City Council expects the site will be ready to reopen sometime this summer for children and families to swim and cool off before classes resume in August and early September.
And last week, the city announced construction of the new Fernwood Avenue Park to be located about a mile west of the bike path, between Beechwood Avenue and State Street, with a $1.3 million allocation from state funds.
Viola Silvestri, a Ricardo Lara Linear Park visitor and Rea’s girlfriend, said the bike road is a natural fit for a space heavily used by walkers early mornings and families with kids and toddlers after temperatures cool down late in the afternoon.
“You can see a lot of people come. At sunset, it is usually packed with people and dogs,” Silvestri said.
Although an elevated C Line light rail station on Long Beach Boulevard is less than a mile away from the park’s westward entrance, and a bus layover station with two routes to Los Angeles is below it, there are no current plans to expand a bike linkage road.
However, Santana did not rule out an extension could be eventually engineered as county and state transportation agencies have decided against bulldozing homes to widen freeways, and choose friendlier options to get rid of carbon pollution in neighborhoods.
Caltrans Deputy Director Gloria Roberts agreed that it is time to redefine unused land to benefit cities long assailed by a lack of public spaces where residents can thrive.
“We are pleased that this open space land can be returned to the community,” Roberts said