Reimagining a more livable San Gabriel Valley; dissecting national cycling death statistics

It’s a simple question, really.

Why should L.A. area cyclists give a damn about a freight transportation project — especially one that would follow the course of the San Gabriel River, the near-mythical waterway that flows well east of Downtown, where most Angelenos fear to tread?

The answer is equally simple.

Because it has the potential to dramatically transform transportation and livability of the east L.A. basin, bringing renewed life to communities currently choked by diesel fumes and roadways gridlocked with big rigs. And at the same time, restoring one of L.A.’s concrete-clad water disposal systems to the natural, free-flowing waterway it was before fears of flooding overwhelmed common sense and drove nature to its knees.

Oh, and it includes a bike path, too.

Rick Risemberg, of Bicycle Fixation fame, wrote me last week to call my attention to a proposed project I had been only vaguely aware of, and to which I hadn’t given more than a few moments thought.

GRID — the San Gabriel River Infrastructure Development project — would replace the current system of loading cargo at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with integrated cargo cranes that would load cargo containers directly onto electric trains, cutting offloading time from 36 hours to two. And at the same time, eliminating the need for thousands of semi-trucks that currently ply the ports and clog SoCal freeways.

The trains would then run through special bunker-strength tunnels placed under the banks of the San Gabriel River up to distribution yards in the Inland Empire, where the cargo would be transferred to trains and trucks for transport throughout the country.

The result would be a dramatic reduction in freeway traffic along the 710 and 605 freeways, virtually eliminating traffic congestion and improving air quality. In fact, traffic could be reduced to such a degree that one or both of the freeways might become obsolete and candidates for removal — greatly improving the livability of an area blighted by massive roadways.

At the same time, a second tunnel could be built for passenger rail, tying into existing Metro Rail, Metrolink and Amtrak railways. Existing high-voltage power lines would also be placed in underground tunnels, freeing thousands of acres of power-line right-of-ways for redevelopment, while pipelines could be included for fresh water and sewage.

And the massive construction project would provide an opportunity to rip out the concrete banks of the river, and return it to the natural riparian basin it was before we felt the need to “improve” it. The result would be a natural riverway lined with parks, wetlands and nature preserves, as well as what would undoubtedly be one of the area’s most beautiful and popular bikeways along the full course of the river.

Yes, it would be expensive. Costs would undoubtedly rise well into the billions, if not more.

But it would provide tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs in the short term, just as construction of the Hoover Dame did during the last Great Depression. And in the long term, it would result in savings and tax revenues that could far exceed the cost to build it, while providing much needed wildlife habitat and improving the quality of life for every community along its banks.

And it would eliminate the need for the much-debated tunnel under South Pasadena to complete the 710 freeway — which would free up hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for construction costs, while preserving the quality of life in one of the area’s most livable communities.

Of course, getting a massive, expensive project like this approved by today’s small-thinking, auto-centric Tea Party-addled Congress would be challenging, to say the least — even though it would be build largely, if not entirely, through private funding.

Then again, a couple of years ago, I would never have imagined that a bike-friendly L.A. might happen in my lifetime, either.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released statistics for bicycling deaths in 2009; 630 cyclists were killed in the U.S. and another 51,000 injured. That works out to 2% of all traffic deaths, as well as 2% of traffic injuries, and marks a 12% reduction over 2008.

Contrary to common perception, only one-third of the deaths occurred at intersections, while 72% occurred during daylight hours — though they define daylight as anytime between 4 am and 8 pm.

The average age of cyclists killed and injured on the streets has gradually risen over the previous 10 years to 41; cyclists under the age of 16 accounted for just 13% of fatalities and 20% of injuries. Seven times more men were killed than women, and four times as many men were injured.

Forty percent of fatalities involved alcohol use; surprisingly, 28% of the cyclists who were killed had been drinking.

California had more than it’s share of fatalities, with 99 cyclists killed; 3.2% of the total 3,081 traffic fatalities. That works out to 2.68 bicycling fatalities per one million residents, which places us in the top ten most dangerous states per capita. Yet that pales compared to Delaware and Florida — which once again ranks as the nation’s deadliest state to ride, with 107 cycling fatalities — at 6.78 and 5.77 fatalities per million residents, respectively.

Main, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia had no bicyclists killed in 2009.

Just in case you’re thinking about moving somewhere a little safer.


Rick Risemberg endorses bike advocate Stephen Box for L.A.’s 4th Council District, with some reservations. LACBC calls on cyclists to bike the vote, offering survey responses from some of the city’s council candidates. Grist says the new bike plan shows the cabbie who ran Mayor Villaraigosa deserves a big, fat tip, while the National Resources Defense Council says the plan paves the way for a greener Los Angeles. The L.A. Times endorses the bike plan, though that might have carried more weight before the council vote.

Tree Hugger offers a list of bike Twitter accounts to follow; Joe Anthony’s Bike Commute News and Long Beach expats PathLessPedaled were the only Southern Californians to make the list. A bike ride a day could keep the doctor away. Utah shoots down a proposed Idaho Stop bill. While New York police continue to crack down on cyclists, they continue to ignore far more dangerous behavior by drivers; the Wall Street Journal says Gotham cyclists really aren’t that bad. Protected bike paths increase riding while easing congestion. The New York assemblyman who proposed a law requiring license plates for all cyclists has wisely withdrawn his bill. Fairfax VA’s bike coordinator position is under attack as a “political statement position.”

Finally, a ban on biking London’s South Bank is reversed, and considerate cyclists are now welcomed. And a British drivers’ organization says kids should glow in the dark; maybe we should require anyone under 16 to wear a flashing neon sign that says “Don’t Hit Me.”

After all, there’s obviously no point in asking drivers to pay attention.


  1. Zeke says:


    A further cut on the data that would be interesting would be to know of the 28% cyclists that had been drinking at the time they were killed, what percent of them were multiple DWI offenders who had lost their license to drive a car. Based upon my 35+ years working with DWI offenders, I know that many of them begin to ride either mopeds or bicycles upon loss of license and, of course, continue to drive/ride under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

    Of less interest, I also didn’t make the Tree Hugger list but then, I didn’t see any listings from the south. Maybe I just overlooked them… 🙂

    – Zeke

    • bikinginla says:

      Good point. I hadn’t gotten that far in filtering the data through my sleep-deprived brain, but it’s highly likely that a significant segment of those BUI victims were riding because of previous DUI convictions.

      As for the Tree Hugger list, maybe you should tell them that y’all got the Internet down South.

      • Zeke says:

        Jes soon as I git ma dial up modem to work, I’m a gonna fire that there message right off! 🙂

        – Zeke

  2. Judy Bergstresser says:

    As someone involved with the GRID project, I’d like to point out that there are six currently planned projects that attempt to rectify only a fraction of the problems that GRID resolves completely.

    Despite enormous and decades-long opposition, the MTA has not wavered from their timeline for widening the southern end of the I-710 (estimated cost $6.5BIL) and extending the northern terminus of the 710 (conservatively estimated at $14BIL) – both intended to increase highway capacity for semi trucks. Union Pacific and BNSF railways have competing “Intermodal Container Transfer Facilities” (ICTFs) scoped to expand current cargo handling capacity without improving any of the know cost, labor and efficiency problems ($.5BIL each). The Port of Long Beach has a $1BIL expansion project and the Port of Long Beach has it’s Midharbor project at $.75BIL.

    Individually and in total these projects, primarily taxpayer financed to the tune of $23.55BIL, will increase cargo truck traffic on highways branching from Long Beach over a radius that spans Ontario and Bakersfield. They will cause excessive and localized pollution, disproportionately affecting already blighted communities. They will increase greenhouse gas emissions, air, water and noise pollution, expand negative health impacts, increase total goods cost and traffic congestion.

    We transitioned from horse-and-buggy to whale blubber to fossil-based fuels, we are going to transition this time to more sustainable and less damaging energy sources. We can do this. We might even make it back to self-powered, self-sufficient living. GRID is a green project that is technologically feasible, economically viable, ecologically sustainable, environmentally superior, made in America and politically acceptable. This is how we dare to dream and this is how we win the future. It will happen.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks Judy — I really appreciate you filling in the blanks, particularly the potential savings due to the unneeded projects. Is there an estimate of the total cost for GRID yet?

  3. Joe Anthony says:

    Treehugger’s Twitter list just started and is still growing. Definitely tweet them @treehugger with your suggestions. We need more #bikeLA representation!

    (I see someone suggested @bikinginLA so you’ll be on the list soon if you haven’t already been added.)

  4. DuraAceRider says:

    I am really unhappy and skeptical of this project. There is already a 40 mile bike path that runs from Azusa Canyon to Seal Beach along the San Gabriel River – Its called the San Gabriel River Bike Path!!! I have ridden on it every weekend for the last 15 years – and the path has existed for near 50 years, as my dad rode on it as a child! This bike path is already wonderful (housing, parks, ect.) – I am training on a team to be a professional cyclist, and many great and professional riders use this route! Thousands of people every weekend! I fear this project will destroy my cycling life forever!! Tearing down this river is a major mistake!
    Also – what are these people going to do – “eminent domain” everyone’s houses, schools and businesses?! How can they say this will create jobs and add housing, when there is already no room for this project without tearing down people’s lives to build it?!

  5. Regarding zero deaths and “safer” — how many people rode bikes in West Virginia in 2009?

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