Plans to install an integrated bike system along a portion of Pacific Avenue from downtown to north Long Beach that would provide access points to the Los Angeles River bike path continues to gain traction.
Long Beach city officials said a majority of community members surveyed about the project have given their support, even though some residents, primarily in the Los Cerritos neighborhood, have protested the proposed bike lanes and circular medians that would eliminate parking in front of homes and businesses.
Steve Tweed, Long Beach transportation planner, said the City is still moving ahead with designs to be finalized by the end of summer.
“We’ve had our trials up in the Los Cerritos neighborhood, but we will continue… for the next year until we build this thing,” he said during a presentation about the street alterations at a Central Project Area Council meeting on March 7. “Our intention is to continue to move the project forward.”
The nearly $1-million federally funded project includes adding a series of “sharrows” along Pacific Avenue from Ocean Boulevard to Pacific Coast Highway. The green-striped lanes, similar to those first painted on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore, are designed for bicyclists to share the road with drivers. The bike route would continue on Pacific Avenue with a Class 2 bike lane up to Spring Street, winding through other streets in the Bixby Knolls area, including San Antonio Drive, providing access points to the Los Angeles River bike path.
In the Los Cerritos neighborhood, city officials plan to install a traffic signal at Wardlow Road and Pacific Avenue as well as a “roundabout,” which is a landscaped, circular median, similar to those along the “bike boulevard” on Vista Street in Belmont Heights used for “traffic calming.”
The roundabout would be located at Pacific Avenue, 36th Street and Country Club Drive, serving as a “gateway” to the Los Cerritos neighborhood. In addition, city officials plan to construct a “traffic circle,” or round median, at Pacific Avenue and Bixby Road.
Allan Crawford, Long Beach bike coordinator, said a letter was recently sent out to residents from Long Beach City Traffic Engineer David Roseman, providing results of a survey on the project from a community meeting attended by 130 people at the Expo Arts Center in Bixby Knolls in January.
A draft of that letter obtained by the Signal Tribune states that 122 survey forms were returned and all results were tabulated. Overall, 69 percent of the respondents reported that the “proposed infrastructure changes represented an overall enhancement to their neighborhood,” and, on a scale of 1 to 10, the average answer was an 8 when asked whether respondents favored the project.
Survey results about specific elements of the project are as follows: 79 percent favored the traffic signal at Wardlow and Pacific, but only 38 percent favored the left-hand turn restriction; 73 percent favored the traffic circle at Bixby Road and Pacific Avenue; 68 percent favored the traffic circle at Pacific Avenue, 36th Street and Country Club Drive; and 64 percent favored the bike lanes on San Antonio Drive.
Roseman stated that, after listening to ideas and concerns from the community, city officials have adjusted the project accordingly, and they are now moving forward with the traffic signal at Pacific and Wardlow without the turn restriction, traffic circles at Bixby/Pacific and at 36th/Country Club, bike lanes on San Antonio, and a bike route on Roosevelt.
Tweed said another part of the project that didn’t receive majority support from residents was a plan to add bike lanes on a portion of Pacific Avenue, north of Bixby Road. He said city officials plan to modify the project to accommodate residents’ requests.
“The residents on Pacific [Avenue], north of Bixby [Road], really don’t want that pain on their street, so we’re fine with that,” Tweed said. “We’ll just put up a couple signs and a few sharrows.”
He added that construction on the project is expected to start early next year after a contractor is awarded by the Long Beach City Council. However, Tweed added that it’s imperative to move forward since the timeline to use the federal funding expires next year. “The problem with federal money is, not only does it have a lot of strings attached, it has a time limit,” he said.
The survey results are the next step in what has been a nearly decade-long process to map out suitable plans for the proposed bike infrastructure funded by federal grants through the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Pacific Avenue was selected as one of the key corridors for bike infrastructure in a bike master plan that was established in 2001. Nearly five years later, an $862,000 grant, which requires a portion be matched by local funds, was awarded for the project, which was later approved by Caltrans in 2010.
Tweed said the City conducted months of planning and more than eight meetings with various community groups over the past year to provide outreach about the project.
Roseman has stated that the City planned to summarize comments from residents to formulate a “consensus” before moving forward with final designs, adding that the City would only move forward with plans that a majority of residents support.
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.
Still, some residents have expressed opposition to parts of the project. John Deats, a longtime resident, lives directly across from the proposed roundabout site in Los Cerritos and is one of two residents who would be directly impacted by the project, which includes eliminating 150 feet of parking space.
Other residents have opposed the traffic signal at Pacific Avenue and Wardlow Road out of fear that it would encourage “cut-through” traffic through the neighborhood.
However, Tweed said that, after conducting an analysis, City officials concluded that the traffic signal was warranted due to the volume of traffic and the time it takes to make a left turn at the intersection. He added that, although there were no fatal crashes, there were 48 collisions over a 10-year period at the intersection and 23 of them deemed serious and required hospitalization.
“I don’t know if you folks have tried to cross that and make a left turn, but it’s tough,” said Tweed, who added that the new traffic signal would include crosswalks, push buttons, pedestrian curb ramps and countdown timers.
In addition, he said installing bike lanes on a four-block section of San Antonio Drive would ultimately entail removing parking on the north side of the street. Tweed said residents so far are “surprisingly” in favor of the plan.
In the letter, Roseman stated that, since several residents have expressed concerns about the design for the traffic circle proposed for Country Club Drive and 36th Street, city officials plan to work with designers and residents in an attempt to “minimize loss of parking.” He added, however, that the City’s number-one concern is “safety for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Roseman added that the City plans to work with residents on San Antonio Drive to develop a “preferential-parking” policy and a “street-sweeping” policy that “best fits their needs while gaining safe bike lanes.” He stated, “We will be working with our design consultants to finalize the plans for each element of the project. We are confident that as a result of those conversations we have ended up with a far better project that will meet the needs of the neighborhood as well as the City at large as we work to become the most bike-friendly city in the U.S.”
Designed for ‘short trips’
The Pacific Avenue bike corridor is one of several bike projects moving forward, including a 10-mile route along Daisy Avenue that would include adding eight roundabouts, 11 traffic circles and three traffic-signal modifications, Tweed said. The city has received about $17 million in grants earmarked for bike infrastructure, he said.
Crawford said, however, that the intent is to develop safe passages for residents to make “short trips” to local businesses, stores and restaurants.
“We know most people aren’t going to ride from the north part of Long Beach… they’re going to ride a mile or two miles,” he said, adding that nearly 40 percent of the trips that drivers make are a mile or under, and the average number of trips per day per household is about eight by car.
“What we’re trying to do is make it really comfortable,” Crawford said. “People say, ‘you know, I really want to go to the restaurant or I just need a loaf of bread or some milk’ and say, ‘you know, I could more easily ride my bike than get in the car, find a parking space, not get exercise’… What does that do for traffic on your streets? What does that do for our air quality? What does that do for the health of our neighborhood?”
Bike fever in Bixby Knolls
Krista Leaders, a bicycle advocate and project coordinator for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), said that, although some residents still aren’t “totally hip to the idea” of the proposed bike infrastructure, the overall goal is to make it easier for cyclists to get around.
“I don’t think any of the bike infrastructure is going to impact anything negatively,” she said. “I think it’s just good for the neighborhood.”
She added that, even though the bike infrastructure wouldn’t be located directly along the business corridor as it is in Belmont Shore, the plan is to make residents more confident to cross major, busy streets, ultimately leading them to local businesses.
The BKBIA’s regular Kidical Mass bike rides attract about 50 to 60 people, and biking in Bixby Knolls, which is a bike-friendly business district, continues to gain momentum, she said. The BKBIA is planning a bike festival in May to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Kidical Mass bike rides that were started last year, said Leaders, who is a certified bike instructor and member of Women on Bikes SoCal.
In addition, 8th District Councilmember Al Austin, in collaboration with Bike Long Beach, last Saturday kicked off a series of bike tours called “Know Your Neighborhood” that are scheduled to eventually take place in every council district.
“The goal is to get parents and kids out,” Leaders said. “If we do it in a group, there’s safety in numbers, and we can take them by the hand and show them how it’s done.”