About 75 people gathered at Demuth Park this week for a groundbreaking ceremony on the newest section of the Coachella Valley Link. Once completed, the $100 million project will be a 40-mile long trail for cyclists, pedestrians, and golf carts.
Construction begins next week on the new addition, which will add three miles of bike paths to the city, connecting Palm Canyon Drive to Gene Autry Trail. According to the construction manager from Ames Construction, it should be completed by the end of summer.
Mayor Lisa Middleton, who joined representatives from the city, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG), and the Friends of CV Link, gave a sense of the project’s scope during the ceremony, remarking, “You are going to be able to go from the Palm Springs Tram to the Salton Sea. It will be an absolutely incredible bikeway that will be talked about all over the world.”
Palm Springs is already known as a bike-friendly town, attracting tourists who want to get out on the street and stay active. Advocates for the CV Link estimate it will serve as a significant tourism draw and bring in nearly $1.5 billion in health, tourism, and other benefits.
Planning for the trail began about 15 years ago, and construction started 10 years later once funding was secured from grants and the federal and state governments. Since then, only about 3.5 miles have actually been completed, leading many to ask: What’s taking so long?
CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk acknowledged some of that impatience.
“A lot of people ask us, ‘Well you have all this money, why don’t you just go and build it?’” he said, explaining, “We didn’t have the property rights in order to get this project done.”
Kirk says he and Palm Springs City Councilmember Dennis Woods have spent the last few years working on acquiring property rights from a complex network of property owners, including the Riverside County Flood Control District, Coachella Valley Water District, CalTrans, California Transportation Commission, Coachella Valley cities, and local tribes.
Only once the rights were secured could construction begin in earnest. This year is on track to be the busiest year for construction of the CV Link, with projects starting in La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella. Once this phase is finished, about half of the trail will be complete, and locals will have 20 miles of new bike paths to explore.
All attendees of the groundbreaking emphasized the importance of being able to explore the desert’s natural beauty safely.
According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, in 2019, 27 pedestrians and 18 cyclists were killed on the roads in Palm Springs. Already this this year, a Palm Springs Police Department spokesperson said one pedestrian and one cyclist have been killed.
Despite the benefits of removing cyclists from the streets and onto a dedicated pathway, Kirk remembers some early opposition to the project.
“People were worried that combing golf carts with bikes and pedestrians would lead to major accidents,” he said. “I do know that if an accident happens out on the Link, the survival chance is much higher than it is on Gene Autry or Highway 111.”
Rather than just a painted line, most sections of CV Link are either completely separate from the roadway, or separated by physical barriers. Advocates of the CV Link say when biking is safer, it attracts more people to the sport, which leads to healthier communities overall.
Dr. Conrado Bárzaga, CEO of Desert Healthcare District (DHC), said one of the reasons why DHC invested $10 million in the project is because it believes the CV Link will encourage more people to get outside and exercise safely. He also emphasized an often-overlooked benefit.
“Public amenities are a great equalizer,” he said. “We have members of our community that live in poverty. They can’t afford to use private gyms for recreation. The CV Link will allow equal access for everyone regardless of their income or their ethnic or racial background.”
Still, the Valley will have to wait several more years before all these benefits to come to fruition as construction continues on the remainder of the route. And even then, not all Valley cities have joined in the effort. In voicing opposition, officials from Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage have cited concerns over safety, maintenance costs, and privacy issues for parts of the trail that may be near residential areas. In addition, both cities are geographically smaller than other valley cities, which leaves officials with fewer choices for routes.
Despite that opposition, Middleton appears optimistic.
“Admittedly, a couple of our cities haven’t joined with the enthusiasm of others,” she said. “We’re simply waiting for them to get that enthusiasm. We know it is going to come.”
When asked about how dissident cities could be brought on board, Terry Karsen of the Friends of CV Link replied, “That’s the million-dollar question, right? I just hope the city councils start listening to their residents and understand that they’ve got to keep up with the times. There are plenty of cities in every state taking on projects like this.”
More information: To learn more about the CV Link, visit its website at https://coachellavalleylink.com/