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Dave Vebersax snaps a photo of his dog Nicky Flue along the new two-mile section of bike path along the Los Angeles River in Reseda, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Dennis Zine were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the path which runs from Vanalden to Winnetka Avenues.

The concrete ribbon that crosses under Tampa Avenue marks another step in two efforts that have spanned decades and will take decades more: making Los Angeles more bikeable and revitalizing the L.A. River.

"These are things that'll happen over a long period of time, but they're going to happen," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday in Reseda as the city unveiled two more miles of bike path along the south bank of the river.

Last year, the city launched an effort to build 139 miles of bike paths, along with more than 1,500 miles of on-street bike lanes.

That followed a July 2010 accident in which Villaraigosa broke his elbow when a taxi cut him off as he was riding his bike along Venice Boulevard.

The mayor set a goal of 40 new bikeable miles a year.

"We did 76 this year, baby!" he said Friday, smiling broadly at a lectern overlooking the bike path and the river.

Some of those miles are along the concrete-encased Los Angeles River, infamous for decades as a barren, unwelcoming drainage ditch.

People have long talked about bringing the banks of the river back to life - and about making more room for bikes in a city of cars. But for years, there was little progress on either score.

Dash Stolarz, a spokeswoman for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, said bureaucracy stood in the way of helping the river. The Army Corps of Engineers owns the riverbanks, the county owns the rights of way and the city owns the water, she said.

"You could hardly get the county and the city to talk to each other," Stolarz said.

But progress in recent years gives reason for hope, she said.

This summer, the county announced an $8.4 million greenway project at the headwaters of the river in Canoga Park. It will include walking trails, rain gardens and rest areas along 2 miles of the river.

"These aren't just wishes anymore," Stolarz said. "The momentum is there now for change."

The conservation authority, which was created by the state and two parks districts, envisions parks all along the river's 50-plus miles. It also helped open the river to kayakers the past two summers.

Chuck Richmond of Reseda, a retired city worker who bikes every day, came to Friday's Reseda event on his bike. He said it's not just talk from the politicians - the city really is getting more bike-friendly.

Paths give an opportunity to ride without dodging potholes, cars and curbs. And in a clogged city, he said, it's "good for your psyche" to get off the road and see a bit of nature.

Richmond was so eager to ride the new trail he got kicked off it twice in the weeks before it opened, he said.

The event drew a protester, Jon Gerfen, who carried a sign criticizing the city for spending $7 million to $10 million on poorly designed bike paths.

"I've seen them waste a lot more money than that," Richmond joked.

The $14 million for the bike route and bridge work needed to fit the path comes from federal stimulus money, the state and a county sales tax dedicated to transportation, Villaraigosa said.

In another sign of the city's pro-bike efforts, the city agreed Friday to give $1 million to the group behind the CicLAvia street event. The money will fund four planned 2013 events and support the group behind them. Aaron Paley, CicLAvia's executive director, said it will seek matching funds.

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine takes a ride on the recently completed two-mile section of bike path along the Los Angeles River in Reseda, Calif.,
Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine takes a ride on the recently completed two-mile section of bike path along the Los Angeles River in Reseda, Calif., on Friday Nov. 16, 2012. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was also on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the path which runs from Vanalden to Winnetka avenues. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Since CicLAvia started in 2010, five events have opened downtown L.A. streets to bikers, pedestrians and skateboarders. The city says more than 100,000 people attend each one.

CicLAvia is looking at new locations but won't come to the San Fernando Valley until 2014 at the earliest, Paley said.

The city has spent $200,000 at each CicLAvia to help pay for safety measures, but the $1 million shows a serious commitment, said Damien Newton, editor of L.A. Streetsblog.

Lewis MacAdams, founder of the nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River, said there's been a lot of good news for the river lately, including NBCUniversal's agreement to pay for a mile-long bike path along the banks and to fund the study of a path from Studio City to Griffith Park. 

But MacAdams said it will be another generation, perhaps two, before the river is what it should be and L.A. is truly bikeable.

The major missing link on the latter score, he said, is a connection from Griffith Park to downtown L.A.

The L.A. River goes from Canoga Park to Long Beach, where it runs into the Pacific Ocean. The charms along the way are mostly hidden, but there are more of them all the time, Stolarz said.

"From the freeway, it looks like just the sort of drainage ditch thing that it is," she said. "But when you actually go down to the river ... you can't believe what's there and how much potential is there and how much people use it, really."


Staff Writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

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