The Ballona Creek Bicycle Path stretches approximately seven miles between Culver City and Marina del Rey, taking cyclists along the creek and offering views of the varieties of birds and flowers native to the nearby Ballona Wetlands.
Avid bike riders can use the path to access other scenic trails, such as the South Bay Bicycle Path that takes riders along the coast.
Many Ballona Creek trail users enjoy riding the Class 1 path, which is for the exclusive use of bicycles, as a way to escape from the congestion of vehicles at other bike routes.
“It’s beautiful in there and there are no cars to deal with,” bicycle rider and Del Rey resident Howard Hackett said of the Ballona Creek path, adding that he can see all kinds of birds and wildflowers on his rides. “It’s better than riding on the street. It’s a great way to get to my doctor without using my car.”
But while the creek path has its advantages for cyclists, some neighbors who live near one of the path entrances in Del Rey say that it also has advantages for those committing crimes in the area, providing them an easy getaway route.
Residents who live near the path’s entrance on Culver Drive between Purdue Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard claim that the site has been a loitering point for alleged gang and other criminal activity. The entrance, which has a lockable gate, has been the site of drug deals, fights and attacks on residents, and nearby homes have even been burglarized, neighbors allege.
“There’s something just about every day,” resident Felicia Thayer estimated, referring to various incidents that have occurred near the bike path entrance.
“We shouldn’t have to live like this.”
Thayer’s husband, Bob, added, “It has always been a problem and we’re fed up with it.”
Determined to rid their neighborhood of criminal activity they claim originates near the bike path, the Thayers and some of their neighbors have called for the entrance at Culver Drive between Purdue and Sawtelle to be closed.
The proposal was addressed at a community meeting earlier this month, which was attended by path neighbors and other local residents, cyclists, various bicycle groups, as well as representatives from City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the city Department of Transportation and local Neighborhood Councils.
Path neighbors have argued that closing the Culver Drive entrance appears to be the best solution to reducing crime in the area because a main problem is the “design issue” with that specific entrance.
“This is a design problem on the bike path,” Felicia Thayer said.
Bob Thayer claims that the way the entrance is currently designed allows suspects to see any police responding to the area and then have an easy getaway route down the bike path, thwarting their being caught. If that entrance were closed, the suspects would be forced to go to another entrance near a busier corridor, such as Sepulveda Boulevard, and they could not get away as easily, Thayer said.
But Del Rey Neighborhood Council president Mark Redick claimed that closing off the access at Culver Drive is a “Band-Aid approach,” saying that it would not solve the crime problem in the neighborhood.
“It’s not addressing the problem, it’s just moving the problem east or west,” Redick said of the proposal.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council voted in December to oppose the gate closure proposal.
Some cyclists who regularly use the Ballona Creek trail have also rejected the plan, saying that it would not prevent people from continuing to access the area and would only force cyclists and other path users to get on the trail further down, where they would have to deal with cars.
Hackett says he rides the path approximately two to three times a week and has never encountered any problems.
“They need to prove to me that it really needs to be closed,” Hackett said. “It seems like a non-logical answer to the problem.”
Felicia Thayer noted that the cyclists may not understand the need to close the entrance because they “don’t live here.” She stressed that the neighbors are not calling on closing the path but just moving the entrance away from their neighborhood.
“We don’t want to close the bike path,” Thayer affirmed.
Another regular bike rider, Culver City resident Sheldon Cohen, said a key advantage to the Ballona path is that riders have an open road without cars, and forcing them to go to another entrance would make them have to deal with traffic.
“It’s like a freeway for a bicycle,” Cohen said of the Ballona path.
Cohen and others have also argued that closing the Culver access could be a safety issue, as path users who might get injured would have one less place to get out.
Police have acknowledged that the area near the entrance has been the scene of various crimes but they have limited resources to combat the incidents. Closing the gate would not solve all the problems but it could help improve the situation, police have said.
Officer Heidi Llanes of the LAPD Pacific Division did not return phone calls from the Argonaut seeking comment.
Redick suggested that instead of working to close the entrance, officials and community members should explore ways to combat the crimes occurring in the community.
“The Ballona Creek bike path is a community resource,” Redick said. “Let’s address the bigger issue,” he added, referring to crime.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council plans to continue working with community members, police and Rosendahl’s office to look at other potential solutions to the issue, such as installing security cameras at the entrance, Redick said. Officials will try to devise a solution that works for everyone, he said.