Long Beach is in the early stages of two roadway construction projects that are intended to make Atlantic and Orange avenues safer and to create a “backbone” of protected bike lanes that would run for miles through the city.
Major bike-lane projects are already underway on streets such as Artesia Boulevard, Market Street, Broadway and Anaheim Street that run east-west, but north-south streets have lagged behind.
The “Backbone Bikeway” on Orange, which the city is working to complete designing, will bring protected bike lanes, bus islands, curb extensions and other pedestrian improvements to the street. The project will cover the entire 8.3 miles from North Long Beach to where Orange becomes Alamitos Avenue and hits Ocean Boulevard.
“They’re called backbones because they’re intended to run the length of the city and provide structure to our network,” said Paul Van Dyk, the city’s traffic engineer.
The design for the Orange Avenue backbone could be completed sometime next year, Van Dyk said, with construction starting in 2025.
Van Dyk updated a City Council committee earlier this year on the city’s Bicycle Masterplan, which the council adopted in 2017 and calls for 30% of all trips in the city to be taken on a bicycle within 30 years.
That could require a large investment in projects like Orange Avenue because only 26% of respondents to a city survey about cycling said they felt safe while riding.
Bike lanes that are separated by concrete barriers or islands, like the ones planned for Orange, could go a long way in improving the perception of safety, but Van Dyk said in September the city has a long way to go to meet its 30% bike trips goal.
The city is averaging about a mile of separated bike lanes per year, with its best year coming in 2019 when it installed three miles of separated bike lanes.
“Imagine taking your personal best and then doubling it every year in the future,” Van Dyk said of the city’s push to install more protected bike lanes. “That’s our very ambitious goal here in Public Works.”
That could mean more of the types of lanes the city has already installed on Spring Street and Loynes Drive, which use mountable curbs to protect cyclists from vehicles, or the elevated bike lanes that are planned for other projects on Pacific Avenue and Studebaker Road.
Van Dyk said the Orange Avenue project is about 30% designed and is estimated to cost about $10 million, noting that some portions of bike lanes have already been installed.
The improvements to Atlantic Avenue, though, are still very early in the planning stages.
Last month, the council approved accepting nearly $200,000 in grant money from Los Angeles County Metro to fund a study of that corridor, something that Public Works Director Eric Lopez said will allow the city, residents and business owners to develop a plan for what to do to improve safety along Atlantic.
“Part of this process is going to allow us to have a more focused conversation see what’s working and not working in this area and try an build consensus on the potential improvements Atlantic,” Lopez said.
That project would include a total of 5 miles with one segment running between Ocean and Willow Street, and the other running from Del Amo Boulevard to Atlantic Place.
As of now, there aren’t any firm ideas for what could be included in the Atlantic project but Van Dyk and Lopez said that it would have to strike a balance between recognizing that Atlantic is a major street that is important to moving vehicles through the city but also one that could be improved to give pedestrians and cyclists safety.
“Every transit trip begins on foot so that makes pedestrian improvements important,” Van Dyk said.
That could mean improving sidewalk space by adding trees and other amenities to the Atlantic corridor and taking other measures to calm traffic. The tools that the city ultimately decides to use will be figured out through the study and meetings with the public, Lopez said.
A clearer picture of the projected cost of the Atlantic Avenue improvements could emerge in about a year, which is when Van Dyk said the concept plan could be put out to bid.
By doing this work on north-south streets, the city is trying to make a more contiguous bike infrastructure. Van Dyk explained that some of the city’s previous strategies led to bike lanes, protected or not, being placed wherever they could fit, but now the approach is to ensure the city’s bike network has meaningful connections.
“That’s the main thrust of the Orange Avenue backbone,” Van Dyk said. “It’s absolutely critical to connect these other projects that we have completed.”