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

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."

  • Erik G.

    A lot of ship’s crews have bicycles with them to the freedom to get “out and about” during stays in port.

    Why do the Port planners hate freedom?

  • Andy K

    I’ll take the contrarian point of view here. While I am not familiar with this area, I can imagine that there is not a huge demand for bike access on this bridge. Take the tens of millions that putting bike access on this bridge would cost, and use it to provide useful bike access elsewhere – hopefully where there is huge demand.

    The Bay Bridge in Oakland is one I am troubled with. The cost for bike access is $100 million – just to get it to Treasure Island. The chances of it getting all the way to S. F. are slim, not only because of the additional cost, but for various technical reasons. There is very little market for bike access between Oakland and Treasure Island. This $100 million could provide 100 miles of class one bike ways elsewhere. A much better investment.

  • Eric B

    You can’t measure demand for a facility that doesn’t exist. Complete streets policies (by Caltrans and now USDOT) require planning for all road users. A bridge that can’t accommodate bike/ped probably shouldn’t be built.

    We would never build a building that is not wheelchair accessible anymore. It’s just part of the design. You can’t separate the cost of accessibility from the cost of construction unless you’re retrofitting an existing structure. In a decade or so when accommodation becomes routine, structures will be designed and built accordingly. For sure, incorporating bike/ped from the design phase avoids the need to add it later when the connection is in “demand.”

  • Emergency Access!! If you breakdown on the bridge, a walkway (on both sides mind you) would allow one a safer refuge than standing next to one’s vehicle waiting for help (its best to stay in ones vehicle if you have no other place to go) and give one the option of walking to get help.

    And what about emergency evacuations of the port? September 11th proved the value of having places for people to walk on bridges.

  • Never accept “No!” from somebody who can’t say “Yes!”

  • Erik G.

    No wheelchairs too, right? ADA lawsuit!!

    Barden v. Sacramento!

  • Lou Baglietto

    We don’t allow bicycles on freeways because of safety concerns- we should not allow them on major bridges for that same reason.
    Those who wish to cross the Port complex would do better to take Anaheim Street across rather than over the Gerald Desmond Bridge. It is extremely unwise and dangerous (almost to the point of insanity) to attempt to ride alongside the heavy volume of heavy drayage trucks going 50 mies an hour. Commuter cyclists can access Terminal Island via the Schuyler Heim bridge which does not have the steep elevational changes or the heavy traffic as the Gerald Desmond or Vincent Thomas Bridges.

  • asphalt_juheesus!

    In no particular order:

    Lou, cyclists are allowed on many freeways. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Try riding up to Santa Barbara sometime. Try riding from Thousand Oaks into the San Fernando valley.. Once upon a time, you had no choice but to ride a stretch of the freeway. I haven’t done it in a long time though, so who knows what it’s like now.

    Eric G’s comment is 100% correct too. Lots of sailors have bikes.

    Andy K., both ends of the bridge have cycling friendly areas. LBC downtown is a little crazy, but it’s easy to ride around it by going down by the convention center. Once you are South of downtown LBC, it’s quite nice. A *big* competitive Saturday ride rolls through San Pedro. San Pedro hosts quite a bit of bike racing too. San Pedro has decent riding, but not great. It reminds me of riding on the Westside. Lots of cycling potential in San Pedro as opposed to other areas. (ex. Westside)

    There’s more reasons FOR making the bridge cycling friendly than not. But, this is autopia, so the mere idea that a bridge meant for cars might include bikes or (gasp!) pedestrians (… AAAHHH!!!) is unamercan.

    They’ll say no by suddenly declaring budget constraints won’t allow a bicycle friendly redesign. Which is actually a passive STFU kind of thing, but that’s Autopia for you..

  • Anon.

    “The Bay Bridge in Oakland is one I am troubled with. The cost for bike access is $100 million – just to get it to Treasure Island. The chances of it getting all the way to S. F. are slim, not only because of the additional cost, but for various technical reasons. There is very little market for bike access between Oakland and Treasure Island. This $100 million could provide 100 miles of class one bike ways elsewhere. A much better investment.”

    If that’s correct, that’s kind of terrifying. I’m all for ped/bike access…but hell, you could just buy every biker in the Bay Area a year long BART pass for that much money.

  • Anon and Andy K. here is the bay bridge FAQ

    Read what it says about the BART restrictions. Eventually, it will go all the way to the City. I think there is a significant market for that.

    The bottom line is what Eric B and Eric G said. Very good points by both of them.

  • Erik G.

    To those of you who think the Bay-Bridge from Treasure Island will not have to be replaced (with one that has a bicycle-pedestrian lane) in the next 50 years, I have another bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to discuss selling.

    As it is, the current Bay Bridge, both parts, have auto capacity that was stolen away from rail transit (Key System), so perhaps one lane of the lower deck could be reconfigured for bike/ped?


  • Joseph E

    RE: “Those who wish to cross the Port complex would do better to take Anaheim Street across rather than over the Gerald Desmond Bridge.”l

    Lou, have you driven or biked on Anaheim Street? I commuted along Anaheim for a few weeks last month while working in Westside Long Beach, and the trip over the Los Angeles river was always miserable, with at least one truck or car honking at me. The sidewalk is only 3 feet wide and has no curb-cut, so you have to take the right lane. PCH and Willow, the next two bridges to the north (and the only crossings near Downtown, for 3 miles) are no better; 3 lanes for cars, no sidewalk to speak of, and onramps to the 710 freeway to cross when you get to the other side.

    The current design for the bridge includes 12-foot wide shoulders on both sides of the roadway. They should be able to get a few feet for pedestrians and bikes. Perhaps the bridge does not need 3 lanes, or does not need shoulders next to the left and right lanes in each direction (this is equivalent to 10 lanes or 120 feet of space for cars). We only need a few feet.

    I also would like to see Anaheim and PCH have bike lanes and wheelchair accessible sidewalks added over the bridges, but those bridges are a mile away and serve a different neighborhood. Fortunately, they can be fixed with paint, bollards and a couple feet of concrete sidewalk added to the current structure.

  • The Port of Long Beach keeps sending all of us LBC residents mailers touting its accomplishments, and identifies itself as “The Green Port.” Therefore, it MUST have proper pedestran access on the bridge, along with a dedicated bike lane on the bridge, if it wants us to take it seriously.

    And as to the port complex not being a huge draw for cyclists — that’s changing. :) Long Beach cyclist Allan has started a Port Tour ride the first Thursday of each month… next ride meets at 9pm 4/1 at the H.U.B. @ 1740 Long Beach Blvd (just S of PCH).

    I haven’t been able to do this ride yet, so have no clue if they go over this bridge. But over time, we should be seeing INCREASED access by peds and bikes in ALL areas of the LBC, not less!

  • Lou Baglietto

    Folks, I see a certain absence of sensibility of those of you who believe that cycling on Terminal Island would be fun. IT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS AREA IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA!!! It makes the 405 Freeway look like a kindergarten. Trucks spewing noxious fumes that will choke your lungs, creating vortexes of wind that will pull you under their wheels; drivers who don’t see cars- much less bicycles. Why any one would want to ride in the Port is beyond comprehension. I have has a friend who has been killed by a truck while riding, and have had a friend who has woken up in St. Mary’s Hospital after his front wheel got caught in a rail crossing. The Port is not a place for bicycles, and if your being honest, will never be a big spot for cycling- so why the demands for a bike lane to get to a place where people shouldn’t ride in the first place?

  • Lou, perhaps you can create a map in Google Maps to delineate all the areas in Southern California ‘where people shouldn’t ride in the first place.’ It would be a good Public Service.

    Just to clarify on the Port bike ride, however — the Port is apparently closed in the evening on the first Thursday of the month, which is precisely why the bike ride happens then — to cruise around the ports free of all the hazards you delineate.

    But even WITH the hazards you delineate, all the more reason for the bridge to have a proper ped crossing and bike path, and for bike lanes and other accomodations in the Port area! Again, the Port is saying they are Green, so they should be making it easier for folks to choose to bike and walk around the Ports.


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