Despite the much-hyped opening of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge next week, a bicycle and walk path planned as part of the project may not open immediately—and possibly as long as two years after the bridge opens to traffic.
Port officials initially said the Mark Bixby Memorial Bicycle-Pedestrian Path would open weeks after the new bridge, which opens to vehicular traffic on Oct. 5.
But officials now say they are weighing their options on whether to first construct a new connector bridge that would allow cyclists and pedestrians to access the path from Ocean Boulevard and the city’s trail network. That could take anywhere from 18 months to two years to complete, according to a bridge project spokesperson.
The project for the connector bridge was recently bid out and port officials expect to award the contract around the first of the year, said Duane Kenagy, capital programs executive for the port.
While there’s an entry point to the path at the Pico and Pier E Street intersection, officials say that entrance raises issues of safety.
“There is a lack of sidewalks and bicycle lanes leading to this path entry location,” said a bridge project spokesperson.
Tony Cruz, a former professional cyclist and U.S. Olympian who has served as the city’s bicycle ambassador for just over a decade, agrees that the port should wait.
“I look at it as, number one, from a safety standpoint, and then number two, I think the bridge is also going to be a really unique kind of cool, popular destination and I think the experience for riders and pedestrians should be taken into account,” said Cruz, who currently serves as community programs specialist for the city’s Public Works department.
Once the path is complete, pedestrians and bicyclists will be separated by a painted line, as is the case with Class 1 paths. The 12-foot-wide route will include clear markings for cyclists on one side, and pedestrians on the other. No motorized vehicles will be allowed, and the law against skateboards on sidewalks will likely apply to this path, according to a bridge project spokesperson.
The path is named after the late Mark Llewellyn Bixby, who was 44 when he died in a plane crash at Long Beach Airport on March 16, 2011. A longtime bicycling advocate, Bixby led the push in incorporating the bike and pedestrian path into the design of the new bridge.
Allan Crawford, a longtime cycling advocate who worked with Bixby through the Long Beach-based nonprofit and bicycling advocacy organization, Bikeable Communities, said he went with Bixby to one of the first presentations to the California Coastal Commission on incorporating the path into the design of the bridge.
“It was really all because Mark Bixby one day said, nope, we can’t be a bike friendly city if there isn’t a bike and ped path across that bridge, and it went from there,” Crawford said.
This looks like the new pedestrian/ bike path on the bridge. pic.twitter.com/sDGE8TvVAP— Sebastian Echeverry (@onlyc_bass5) September 16, 2020
Bixby, who hailed from one of the city’s founding families, was also founding director of the Long Beach Bicycle Festival and a driving force in the creation of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, envisioning Long Beach as a city where, by 2040, “bicycling will be the easiest, most convenient way to run errands, get to work or school, or travel for recreation,” according to a 2016 draft.
From early in the process, Crawford has said the question of how path users would get to Downtown Long Beach from the end of the bridge has been a “sticking point,” and that if building the connector bridge is the reason the port is still determining when to open the path, it’s still “a huge stride forward.”
“I applaud that effort, because that will make the bridge much, much more useful,” Crawford said. “If it takes an extra year to get us there, it’s sad, we should have done it five years ago, but we applaud their effort in getting it done today.”
The port has to consider the demolition of the existing bridge, Tony Cruz said, citing the difficulty of having to ride a bike or walk through detours and a construction zone. He estimates the path won’t open until sometime early next year, but they’ll have a more accurate timeline once a schedule for the demolition is released.
The COVID-19 health pandemic is also a consideration, Cruz said.
“If this really does turn into a very popular riding destination, what do we do during COVID-19?” Cruz said. “We can’t have hundreds of people all at once trying to ride up and down and walk up and down on the bridge.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the port is weighing its options on when to open the walk and bicycle path, which may not open until after the connector bridge is constructed.