On the Right Path : New Bikeway Helps Lay Groundwork for the Rebirth of Watts, Officials Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is only three blocks long, but the bike path that officially opened Wednesday in Watts is a source of hope and pride in a community that has long had a shortage of public parks and recreation.

"It makes you proud to be here," said Sweet Alice Harris, founder of Parents of Watts. "We don't even have a swimming pool," she added. "We have to turn on the fire hydrant and swim in the gutter."

The bike path winds through a newly landscaped strip of land that had been a dirt eyesore littered with refuse along the Metro Blue Line tracks between 104th and 107th streets.

The path is the first phase of a project that calls for hundreds of miles of bikeways and beautification along the Metro Rail right of way in Los Angeles County.

The bike path is a cooperative project involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Watts Cultural Crescent Advisory Committee, and other neighborhood organizations and schools.

Plans call for the path to be extended another four blocks to the Watts Towers and to be included in a proposed 10-acre park with a museum and other facilities.

Peggy Moore, vice chairwoman of the redevelopment agency, reminded about three dozen people on hand for the opening that this was only the beginning.

"The Watts Cultural Crescent Project promises to become a symbol of the ongoing rebirth of Watts and South-Central Los Angeles in the wake of last year's civil disturbance and a focal point for artistic expression in the community," Moore said in a prepared statement.

For some residents, the new bike path will have an immediate impact.

"I see it as a place I can exercise in a safe environment. And it's a place I can feel proud of. Usually I have to go to Compton to work out," Linda Forster said.

"And," she added, "I have a little boy (who) is trying to learn to ride his bike."

James M. Woods, a cultural developer for the Watts Community Housing Corp., said of fellow residents: "I think they see a vision that has changed."

He noted that landscaping for the bikeway will allow children to learn to paint murals and create other artwork.

"This park is visually important," he said of the little stretch of land.

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