A very brief history of bike trails in Southern California

As we celebrate 45 years of PBS SoCal KOCE, we’re taking the time to explore how our history overlaps with the history of Southern California.

KOCE came on the air (way back) in 1972, which also happens to be the year the South Bay Bike Trail opened. Running 22 miles, mostly beachfront, the Trail connects Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach in Torrance.

It’s not the first iteration of a beach bike path, however. As with so many things, the history dates back to far before the open date.

As far back as 1899 (and perhaps farther) there’s public record of interest in a beachfront bike path.

On August 21, 1899, the Los Angeles Times ran a column entitled “Local Cycle Paths”. In it, the writer states:

The wheel owners of this city are taking much interest in the proposed bicycle path to Santa Monica. Especially, in this case, among the older and more conservative riders of the wheel who have passed the days of reckless cross-country runs.

The proposed path at that time saw support from women and farmers alike. The women, the writer explains, were excited at the idea of cycling places, as their husbands often denied their requests to travel by car, whereas the farmers felt the bike paths would “advance the interests of good roads”.

Santa Monica Cycle Path By Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
That bike path was completed in 1900 and ran a cool 18 miles from DTLA to Santa Monica. (Fun Fact: This was not Los Angeles’s only protected bike way at the time. The California Cycleway opened in 1900 and ran through the Arroyo Seco, connecting Pasadena to parts of Los Angeles.)

But that was then and this is now. The South Bay Bike Trail (also known as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail after the third-longest serving city council member in the history of L.A.) as we know it was completed in the late 1980s after vehement opposition from Santa Monica homeowners blocked completion of the Trail for over a decade. (Yes, we note the irony.)

Today, the Trail serves as a favorite for cyclists, joggers, and families, and even serves as an alternative route for commuters.