After installing bicycle infrastructure on streets in downtown and along the coast that put Long Beach on the map in the last few years, the City is now rolling its bike-friendly efforts to the north– north Long Beach that is.
City officials presented residents with final plans for the nearly $1-million Pacific Avenue Bike Corridor project during a meeting at the Expo Center in Bixby Knolls last Wednesday, Jan. 9. The meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people, including a throng of bicycling enthusiasts, according to attendees.
Some residents said they support plans for bike lanes and circular medians in Bixby Knolls and Los Cerritos neighborhoods as a way to: connect communities, businesses and transit modes; beautify the streets; and create a safer passage for children and adults. Other residents, however, said they fear the infrastructure would only constrict traffic, make streets more dangerous and eliminate parking for residents.
The proposal also includes constructing a 20-foot “roundabout,” a curbed, landscaped round median (similar to those installed along the “bike boulevard” on Vista Street in Belmont Heights), at Pacific Avenue, 36th Street and Country Club Drive that would serve as a “gateway” to the Los Cerritos neighborhood, in addition to placing a “traffic circle” with the same diameter at Pacific Avenue and Bixby Road.
According to presentation materials, the project’s goals are to reduce vehicle speeds on residential streets, minimize “cut-through” traffic through neighborhoods, ensure safe crossings for pedestrians and cyclists on busy streets, and provide safe and convenient access to schools, parks and businesses.
Long Beach Traffic Engineer Dave Roseman, who led the presentation, said the infrastructure is part of a bike master plan first established in 2001. The project is being funded through a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority grant that requires that a percentage be matched by local funds.
The plan aims to create a route that would connect other neighborhoods from the Los Angeles River trail to the Blue Line light rail and other transit modes, while linking to Bixby Knolls businesses and local schools.
Original plans were to merely add bike lanes and the new traffic signal, but the community insisted that the City come back with improvements to the project, Roseman said. The most recent proposal is a culmination of nine months of planning and community meetings with residents and various neighborhood groups to come up with “the best mix of project elements,” he said, adding that more than 3,400 notices about last week’s meeting were mailed out to residents. Roseman said he hopes to summarize the comments from residents soon to formulate a “consensus.”
Allan Crawford, the City’s bike coordinator, said plans should be finalized in a few weeks and do not need City Council approval, since the overall project has already been approved. However, he said the construction contract has yet to be awarded. Construction is expected to start later this year or early 2014, he said.
So far, some cycling enthusiasts, transportation advocates and residents have praised the plans.
“It’s really part of a broader picture of connectivity and increasing bicycling and walking,” said Georgia Case, a Los Cerritos resident who founded the first Bikestation in Downtown Long Beach in 1996 with her husband John Case. “It’s really terrific that we have the ability to start connecting north and south.”
While Bixby Knolls has various bike events, such as Kidical Mass, an organized bike ride for families, and Bike Saturdays, when local businesses offer discounts to cycling patrons, she said it’s not always easy to connect from other parts of the city.
“This bicycle infrastructure will help bicyclists navigate more safely and easier to our community and within our community, potentially making the traffic slower and making it a really nicer entry into our neighborhood,” she said.
Parking and traffic disputes
Installing bike lanes on San Antonio Drive, however, would ultimately entail removing parking on the north side of the street, Roseman said. Still, he said the City plans to provide residents with “preferential parking” to address parking impacts as a mitigation.
The primary source of contention, however, is that the proposed roundabout at Country Club Drive, 36th Street and Pacific Avenue would chop some residential parking.
John Deats, who lives directly across from the proposed roundabout site, is one of two residents who would be directly impacted by the project, which he said would eliminate 150 feet of parking space in front of his house.
“I don’t know what’s driving this, but it’s… insane,” Deats said, adding that he plans to post signs on his truck urging residents to “blame” 7th District Councilmember James Johnson for any problems that the new infrastructure will cause residents. “…I question [whether] it is worth the detriment of the quality of people’s lives, having parking stripped away from them,” he said.
Bill Kessler, who lives across from Deats, said he and his wife Mary are only opposed to a roundabout that would take away parking from residents. “We’re not objecting to having a roundabout there– we’re just objecting to the design,” he said.
Roseman, who admits that parking is a major issue for the community, said that the proposed roundabout comes after the City has learned from the project on Vista Street, which also eliminated parking. That project called for corrective action after the medians couldn’t accommodate emergency vehicles and school buses.
“We’ve learned how to do things a little bit better,” he said. “We believe these improvements are going to be an enhancement to the neighborhood or else we wouldn’t be proposing them. I also understand how change can be scary… but we’re not going to push something we don’t have a majority support for.”
About the proposed traffic signal, Deats said installing light at Wardlow Road and Pacific Avenue for automobiles would only increase traffic by attracting more vehicles to cut through the neighborhood.
However, Mimi Fox, a neighborhood-watch activist who lives on San Antonio Drive said restricting the intersection with no left-turn signal for vehicles is an “unnecessary burden on the residents who use the intersection most.”
She added that the proposed sharrows along Roosevelt Road will create a “useless complication” and will “constrict traffic” further, since the street is already narrow. “I have no problem with bikers– we’re all sharing the road together– but don’t make them special,” Fox said. She added that the roundabout isn’t needed since there is already a dip in the road and residents are “already forced to slow down to avoid damage to our cars.”
‘Bike, dine and shop local’
Even with the loss of some parking, some residents and cycling advocates said the benefits still outweigh the impacts. Crawford said encouraging biking and walking only frees up more parking for vehicles. Once the project is completed, cyclists along the new bike route would be able to connect to the historic Los Cerritos Rancho site, the Dominguez Channel gap, and the LA River trail, while encouraging people to “bike, dine and shop local,” he said.
Case said statistics show that creating more bicycle infrastructure increases the number of bicyclists. She added that not only do biking and walking increase quality of life and reduce cars on the road, they improve overall public health since exercise can help stem rising diabetes and obesity rates. “At the end of the day, what we’re really looking at is a community that needs to improve its health,” Case said.
Case added that the infrastructure should make the community more “human”-scaled. “When you see people, not just cars, it actually makes the community more friendly and more accessible,” she said.
Janet Watt, who has a 13-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, said she too is looking forward to the bike infrastructure to make a safer route to school for her children, who currently are only able to utilize the bike lane along Bixby Road. “I think it’s better for the whole community,” she said. “I think the big picture is that this will make it safer… you have to look at the big picture and what’s good for the entire neighborhood.”
The route will also benefit cycling commuters. Michael Jensen, for instance, who lives in the Los Cerritos neighborhood, said he plans to use the new bike lanes along San Antonio Drive during his five-mile bike ride to and from work every day. “It will make it better and safer for everybody involved,” he said.
Crawford said statistics show that traffic circles and roundabouts in the Belmont Heights area reduced traffic accidents by 80 percent, decreased vehicle speeds and tripled the amount of children riding on bikes. He said the City would propose more traffic circles and roundabouts throughout Long Beach, but funding is limited since the structures cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 each.