For Cyclists, It’s a Bridge to Nowhere

3_15_10_bridge_pic.jpgPhoto: Drew Reed

The Port of Long Beach is green. Very green. And no, we're not talking about the unsightly tint the port used to give the Alamitos Bay. Port administrators are making a concerted effort to make the giant shipping facility as environmentally friendly as it can be.

And they want to make sure you know exactly how green they are. They've launched a massive publicity campaign around the city and beyond, including newsletters, pamphlets, videos, online ads, and banners on streetlights. The ads feature clever slogans, such as "Thinking outside the docks" and "Now that's turning the tide!" And while the port has generally been good at instituting substantive reform, its latest plans to replace the Gerald Desmond Bridge have clearly thrown bike-friendly planning overboard.

The port is heading up an environmental impact review for the replacement bridge. The project's info page touts the increased effectiveness for cars and freight trucks through the port area, but absent in the glossy videos and renderings are any kind of bike or pedestrian access whatsoever. The bridge is effectively being upgraded to freeway standards, and thus all non-motorized vehicles are out of luck. Buried in section 2.1.5 of the draft EIR is the following reason for why there is no bike or pedestrian access on the bridge:

Terminal Island is an industrial area within the Harbor District where there is currently no residential, retail, or public recreational facilities. Since the closing of the Naval Shipyard and the opening of the Pier T container terminal, there has been low demand from nonmotorized traffic (e.g., pedestrians or bicycles) on Ocean Boulevard over the Gerald Desmond Bridge, despite a patchwork of sidewalks that exist along the roadway. In addition, Terminal Island does not include any designated bicycle route.

In all fairness, the bridge plan doesn't completely leave cyclists out. This handy map shows the new route bikes will be allowed to take across the bridge. It's perfect for people who love to breathe diesel exhaust.

3_15_10_bridge_design_2.jpgFor a full size image, click here.

It's true that Terminal Island and the port complex would not be a huge draw for walkers or cyclists. But this doesn't mean that the port should be removing bike and pedestrian access. In my letter to the port, I've laid out a number of reasons the port should include a bike/pedestrian pathway in its replacement bridge; not the least of which is that the current bridge has a pathway. Instead of making life difficult for cyclists, the port should work to make cycling and walking a less ostracized mode of transportation within its jurisdiction - especially for projects like this, which have a deep effect on not just the port but surrounding areas as well.

While Long Beach is busy knocking out bike access from its bridges, Northern Californians have seen fit to add bike access to some of their better known spans. The Bay Bridge's eastern section replacement is slated to have a bike/ped pathway, with additional plans to add one to the western section, thus creating a bicycle link between San Francisco and Oakland. Coincidentally, the Long Beach-San Pedro route over the Gerald Desmond and Vincent Thomas bridges is roughly the same
length as the bay bridge. And like the Bay Bridge, it traverses bike-unfriendly industrial areas between dense population centers. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from the Bay Bridge pathway is that it is billed as a "maintenance" pathway; if the Port of Long Beach is unwilling to build a walkway on its new bridge simply to help walkers and cyclists, perhaps the ease of upkeep added by a pathway will change its mind.

With any luck, input from the community will help convince the port to rethink its bridge plans. If you want to send feedback, contact Richard Cameron, the port's director of environmental planning, at cameron@polb.com.

The deadline for community input is March 22, so there is still time to tell the port to fix its bridge plans. But if the plans go through as-is, the port will do damage to its eco-friendly claims, and Long Beach will be one step further from being "America's most bike friendly city."