Protected bike lanes in North Long Beach were one of the more recent additions to the city's growing network for cyclists. Photo: Asia Morris
With two late-night votes, the Long Beach City Council took steps toward making the city more walkable and bikeable with unanimous votes to approve updates to its pedestrian and bicycle master plans last night.
The Communities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention Pedestrian Plan (CX3) focuses on low-income neighborhoods in the city and ways to improve their safety and walkability, but also their food types and sources. Many of the communities targeted in the plan are in the central and western parts of the city where food deserts exist and parks and playgrounds are often absent.
Baktaash Sorkhabi of the design firm City Fabrick which played an integral role in shaping the CX3 plan over the past three years, said that it’s applicable for other Long Beach neighbor hoods and could be even be utilized citywide. The two-fold approach, he said, is meant to assess the conditions present in the identified neighborhoods and pave a path for improving the pedestrian environment. It also aims to lay out tools and policies for improving the neighborhoods as whole.
“In Long Beach, the Cx3 study area is made up of ten neighborhoods in Central and West Long Beach that lack strong connectivity within the pedestrian environment as it relates to the design and conditions of public infrastructure,” Sorkhabi said. “While these neighborhoods were developed during an era where jobs, services, schools and community amenities were located within walking distance of most residents, the transportation infrastructure has evolved over time to primarily serve private automobiles traveling through these communities.”
One example highlighted in the presentation given before the council last night was the Washington neighborhood which borders the Los Angeles River and is sandwiched between Pacific Coast Highway to the north and Anaheim Street to the south.
While that neighborhood was found to contain plenty of convenience stores and small markets, it had no community gardens, farmers markets and few parks or playgrounds. Only 20 percent of its stores were found to sell quality fruits or vegetables and only five percent of its streets were considered to be “safe and walkable,” according to the plan’s assessment.
One portion of the project that seeks to shrink those inequities is the proposed 14th Street Greenbelt which will turn the street into a park of sorts between Daisy Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard. The move would create a green bridge between Seaside Park and 14th Street Park once completed.
The plan also calls for traffic control reconfigurations in the Lafayette neighborhood, which would include a road diet.
The neighborhoods included in the CX3 project area needed to meet special criteria, including having at least half its population at or below a poverty level equal to 130 percent of the federal mark. In total, 76 capital projects are identified in the CX3 plan including walking/jogging loops to be installed around Long Beach Polytechnic High School and the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College.
Detailed designs of specific projects have yet to be drawn up and funding for the projects have yet to be secured. The CX3 plan, once implemented, seeks to curb the nation’s growing obesity epidemic by making a more walkable city with access to better food choices.
The update to the bicycle master plan adds a second part to that effort as the city continues to connect its bike paths to make them more continuous and inviting to riders throughout Long Beach.
Despite recent additions to the city’s bike infrastructure, the document itself was last updated in 2001. The ambitious plan calls for a large swath of bikeway improvements that will make it easier for people to bike around the city uninterrupted by vehicle traffic.
Recent progress includes road diets on Alamitos Avenue and another proposed diet on Ocean Boulevard, separated bikeways and bollards being installed throughout the city and a renovated beach bike path that allows for pedestrian and cyclist movement on two separate avenues.
Director of Development Services Amy Bodek explained that the city intends to do more, using the “8 to 80” term to highlight Long Beach’s efforts to make cycling accessible and safe for users of all ages.
“We are trying to establish a citywide network where an eight-year-old or an eighty-year-old can feel comfortable accessing that network,” Bodek said. “That is how safe and accessible and equitable that bike network or that mobility network is throughout the city.”
The equitable aspect of the updated plan was recognized by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson who pointed out the use of the word “equity”—something he has pushed for in trying to get city projects to extend to the north.
One of Richardson’s constituents echoed the vice mayor’s approval of the proposed updates to the bicycle master plan applauding the recent additions of bike infrastructure in the ninth district as well as proposed expansions in the updated master plan.
“Long Beach does not stop at Del Amo Boulevard, it actually goes on beyond that a little bit,” said Jim Dorsy, a resident of North Long Beach. “I’m glad that the plan does include so many of the areas of the city that often get left out of these things.”
To continue to link together these parts of the city, the city will have to close several gaps in the bike network.
Mayor Robert Garcia questioned city staff about the progress of some projects that were already years behind their projected completion dates. A bike boulevard on 6th Street is expected to be started this summer and completed by the end of the year, however, a long talked about north-south artery on Daisy Avenue is still tied up in the process of finding funding.
“We’ve been planning the Daisy project since the 6th street project was a twinkle in the eye,” Garcia said. “That’s concerning, not that the other one isn’t important because it is. I just want to make sure that that north-south connector, which connects the north and south of the city, it has been put on the back burner over and over again. I just want to make sure that it gets the priority it deserves.”
Many of the projects that will close gaps in the city’s network and improve awareness and utilization of existing bike lanes will require funding. Until that funding is secured, the city’s bikeways could likely remain mired in underutilization said Michelle Mowery, a bicycle planner with the City of Los Angeles for the past 23 years.
“With all due respect, there is not a current bikeway network,” Mowery said. “We have a fragment of abandoned bikeways that don’t connect and until you connect the network we’re not going to have people riding and actively using that space.”
However, former Long Beach Mobility Coordinator Allan Crawford said that the improvements that have already taken hold have made an impact on the city. In the areas where they’ve been made, he said, bike ridership is up and accident rates have dropped. More importantly though, activity of all kinds are increasing because of the city’s continued investment in making Long Beach more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.
“What’s so cool about it is it makes Long Beach such a desirable place to live, to work and to play,” Crawford said. “Look at what’s happened to downtown just in the last few years since we put in the separated lanes. We’re doing things that make people want to move here. We’re doing things that make people want to build businesses here.”