Wilmington’s New Bike Lane Network, and What It Does and Doesn’t Do

Bike lanes on Broad Street in Wilmington
Bike lane on Broad Avenue at Avalon Boulevard, in the southern end of Wilmington. Visible in the distance (middle left horizon) is the Vincent Thomas suspension bridge over one of the main channels of L.A.’s harbor. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Where is California’s most concentrated bike lane network? Long Beach? Davis? San Francisco? Santa Barbara? San Luis Obispo?

How about Wilmington?

Some readers may be wondering: just where is Wilmington?

Wilmington is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles.  It is directly inland from the Port of Los Angeles. San Pedro is west of the port, Long Beach is east, and Wilmington is to the north, just inland. Long Beach and San Pedro have waterfronts. Wilmington has more of an industrial truck-front, with no connection to the water.

According to the L.A. Times convenient neighborhood mapping tool, Wilmington takes up 9.1 square miles and, in 2008, had a population of 55,000. Within Wilmington’s borders there are port-related industrial areas more-or-less surrounding a central residential district which includes a few commercial corridors. 87 percent of Wilmington residents are Latino; over 60 percent are renters.

Wilmington has some of the worst air quality in Southern California. Ashley Hernandez, Wilmington Youth Organizer for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE,) tells how heavily polluted air becomes harder to breathe on hot summer days; families stay indoors and keep their windows closed. Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for a Safe Environment calls it the “Diesel Death Zone.”

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest port complex in the U.S., move goods using diesel-powered ships, trains, and trucks. If the ports themselves were not enough, Wilmington is surrounded by four freeways. Then there is a great deal of oil industry in and around the area, including eight refineries and numerous active oil well sites.

And Wilmington also has a dense network of bike lanes.

Wilmington's existing bike lane network. Red lines are existing bike lanes. Purple and blue lines are bike routes. Screen shot from LADOT Bike Program website map
Wilmington’s existing bike lane network. Red lines are existing bike lanes; blue and purple lines are bike routes. Screen shot from LADOT Bike Program website map

Just look at the map above.

I don’t know about you, but I have never seen that kind of concentration of bike lanes anywhere in Southern California. It is a difficult thing to confirm, but I asked around, and it appears that this is the most extensive bike lane network in the state.

From LADOT mileage reports, I calculate that Wilmington now has 21.6 miles of bike lanes on about 20 different streets. Nearly all of this is concentrated in that 2-miles-by-2-miles central area. There are 30 fully bike-laned 4-way intersections (places were two bike lane streets intersect.) There have been at least seven road dietsAvalon Boulevard, Broad Avenue, E Street, Figueroa StreetNeptune Avenue, Opp Street, and Wilmington Boulevard. Particularly noteworthy is Avalon, the north-south main drag for the community.

The majority of the bike lane mileage was striped in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Six additional are miles are planned, including bike lanes on Anaheim Street being studied in the Department of Transportation’s (LADOT) “year two” bike lane package.

LADOT District Engineer Crystal Killian (responsible for street configurations in council districts 15 and 8, represented by Councilmembers Joe Buscaino and Bernard Parks, respectively) relates a number of reasons for how these bike lanes came about. According to Killian, Wilmington has “a lot of low-volume, wide streets.” Killian continues that many residents “walk and ride a lot” and both the community and Councilmember Buscaino were supportive of “linkages to schools, parks, and employers.”

Killian, working with her colleague, LADOT engineer Chris Rider, was able to dovetail bike lanes into other projects already underway. Many wider streets were scheduled for resurfacing, presenting opportunities for re-striping. LADOT had planned to add left-turn lanes as “safety improvements” for Broad Avenue and Neptune Avenue; so they did road diet bike lanes, as listed above. When Caltrans pressed for a second left-turn lane for drivers turning from Figueroa Street onto the northbound 110 Freeway, Killian was able to also remove an excess southbound lane and add bike lanes.

I suspect that a few other factors also contributed to the proliferation of bike lanes.

In June, 2011, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a directive committing LADOT to implement forty miles of new bikeways each year. Under this mandate, LADOT stepped up bike lane mileage greatly, including striping many streets approved in the bike plan.

DOT also searched the city to find other non-planned low-hanging fruit — places where bike lanes could be added without impacting car traffic. It is not clear why there are so many of these streets in Wilmington. It is perhaps an artifact of when the streets were initially laid out, their proximity to the harbor, and maybe over-optimistic engineering projections of just how bustling Wilmington would become.

As a relatively low-income community, there are people getting around without a car: many on foot, but also on bike and on transit.

But even with all these new bike lanes, plenty of Wilmington’s cyclists ride on the sidewalk, even when a bike lane is available just a few feet away. Similar to the sidewalk cycling in South L.A. and Downtown L.A., these cyclists perceive streets, even those with bike lanes, as more dangerous than sidewalks.

Sidewalk riding occurs along new bike lanes.

sidewalk
Sidewalk cyclist riding next to new road diet bike lanes on Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington.

It also happens along the few older bike lanes, too.

Sidewalk cyclist
Sidewalk cyclist on the northern part of Wilmington’s Avalon Boulevard. This stretch of the Avalon bike lanes, from L Street to 246th Street, has been around a while, as evidenced by the old “bike lane” text markings. The newer LADOT standard (for about 10 years) is to just include the bicyclist symbol, with no text. The bike symbol has been added on top of the old text markings.

Cyclists also take the sidewalk where there is no bike lane.

Sidewalk cyclist on Wilmington Boulevard.
Sidewalk cyclist on Wilmington Boulevard.

Certainly cyclists are using the new bike lanes, but they’re somewhat few and far between, at least on the days I observed.

Cyclist riding the G Street bike lanes in Wilmington
Cyclist riding the G Street bike lanes in Wilmington

Many of Wilmington’s bike lanes were empty, especially on quieter residential streets, which also had little to no car traffic.

New bike lanes on Lakme Avenue in Wilmington.
New bike lanes on Lakme Avenue in Wilmington.

Wilmington residents suggest a number of reasons why cycling has not caught on more widely.

I spoke with cyclist and life-long Wilmington resident Sylvia Arredondo, who is a founder of the Mujeres Unidas collective. Among Mujeres’ activities are monthly family-paced group bike rides to promote health and community. Arredondo likes the bike lanes, calling them “super cool,” but she also laments that they “go nowhere.”

To some extent this is true.

Though the bike lanes are connected within Wilmington, they don’t yet make many connections to nearby destinations, including the nearby cities of Long Beach, Carson, and Palos Verdes. Wilmington is surrounded by physical barriers, including freeways, waterfront, waterways, and railroad tracks, so there are only a handful of primary arteries that cross these barriers.  While the community’s main north-south commercial street (Avalon Boulevard) has bike lanes, its primary east-west commercial streets (Pacific Coast Highway and Anaheim Street) do not. PCH and Anaheim have a lot of car traffic, and feel unwelcoming and unsafe for bicycling or walking. (Anaheim is being studied for future bike lanes, which should help a lot.)

Arredondo also points to Wilmington’s history of community violence as contributing to the lack of bicycling and walking, noting parents don’t want their kids to be out after dark. Anthony Echeverria, project coordinator for Families in Good Health (FIGH,) echoes this sentiment, saying that “gang activity divides this community” and contributes to a lack of physical activity because it has led to the perception that biking and walking are not safe. This situation is similar to the South L.A. issues my colleague Sahra Sulaiman has described herehere, and here.

In addition to fear of being victimized by gang violence, Wilmington cyclists also fear police.

Arredondo tells stories about the LAPD stopping her on her own street to tell her she shouldn’t be biking at night. Again, this is similar to what Sulaiman has written about law enforcement in South L.A., including here.

Nonetheless, both Echeverria and Arredondo say that they, at least anecdotally, have seen some recent increases in bicycling.

In the past, Arredondo states, most Wilmington cyclists were Banning High School students. Now she observes more families — sometimes with bike trailers, but also including “dads with kids on handlebars.”

CBE’s Ashley Hernandez expresses a bit more skepticism about the new bike lanes. Though she likes bike lanes and she does “love seeing families” using the lanes, she expressed frustration that they appeared “abruptly.”  

“One day we woke up and they were there,” she says, and they were “not the solution we were looking for.” 

Hernandez stated that there are major community needs with regard to walkability, green space, recreational spaces, and better bus service on overcrowded local lines.

But, she emphasized, the “real health issues” in Wilmington are cancer, bronchitis, and asthma caused by cumulative pollution impacts from the port, refineries, freeways, and industrial activity mentioned above. 

CBE is pressing for Los Angeles to finish implementing its Clean Up Green Up zones which would prevent the development of new sources of pollution and reducing existing ones. Clean Up Green Up is slated for roll-out in Wilmington, Pacoima, and Boyle Heights. See earlier SBLA Boyle Heights Clean Up Green Up coverage here and here.

Echeverria’s FIGH programs focus on healthy food and encouraging physical activity, but the physical activity is largely through exercise programs at day care centers. He hopes that Wilmington’s new bike lanes “could spark a bike culture,” giving Wilmington residents an outlet for daily physical activity. But he also spoke of the pervasive car culture in the community and he observed that if people are walking, it is often only “because their doctor said to” in order to combat an existing health problem.

Newly striped bike lanes on Figueroa Street at Anaheim Street. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Newly striped bike lanes on South Figueroa Street at Anaheim Street.

Bike lanes haven’t been a livability, health, or mobility panacea for Wilmington. Clearly there are a few things to be critical of in evaluating Wilmington’s bike lanes:

  • Large numbers of bike lanes, by themselves, do not necessarily completely solve livability, health and mobility issues. Nor do they generate large numbers of bicyclists, especially in the short run.
  • At least some locals are critical of LADOT’s process: all changes to roadways should include effective advance notice to the affected community.
  • LADOT’s product, also has its detractors. L.A.’s most extensive bike network is justifiably described as going nowhere. Many of the lanes are arguably from a well-intentioned overall push to add opportunistic bikeway mileage citywide, as opposed to solving neighborhood-specific problems. As low-hanging fruit bikeway implementation nears completion in neighborhoods, hopefully LADOT can shift to addressing greater connectivity, walkability, complete streets, etc.

SBLA readers know that I am personally very inclined to favor bike lanes, pretty much anywhere. Bike lanes may not be what most of Wilmington asked for, but, at least in my opinion, they are a step in a worthwhile direction. Here are a number of reasons:

  • Road diets and bike lanes make Wilmington streets safer. Road diets, especially, have been studied extensively and shown to increase safety for everyone: pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.
  • As streets become safer traffic-wise, residents are likely to walk and bike more. This physical activity leads to better health. More “eyes on the street” contribute to reducing crime. Biking and walking won’t solve Wilmington’s health and crime problems, but I think they can help nudge them in the right direction.
  • Some of Wilmington’s very serious air pollution burden stems from car culture. Oil wells, refineries, and freeways exist largely to service car traffic. If Wilmington (and Los Angeles, the U.S., and the world) can become less car-centric, then we will not need to concentrate so many refineries and freeways in Wilmington and communities like it. This culture change may be a slow-moving long-term cycle, and not likely to be comforting to Wilmington residents who are experiencing harmful pollution today.

Wilmington’s bike lanes are new. Car-centric patterns of development have held sway there for decades. Oil and port pollution burdens have persisted for the better part of a century.

Community leaders, including Arredondo, Hernandez, Echeverria, and Marquez, are seeing some fruits in their struggles for the health and the quality of life for Wilmington families. There is a long way to go, but I hope community victories will continue, and that residents can enjoy their successes, potentially while walking and bicycling on Wilmington streets.

Bike lanes do not solve all of Wilmington's problems, but they can be one step in a healthier direction. Cyclist crossing Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington.
Bike lanes do not solve all of Wilmington’s problems, but they are one step in a healthier direction. Cyclist crossing Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington.

If you’re interested in exploring Wilmington and its bike lanes, you might enjoy an upcoming all-ages community group bike ride hosted by Mujeres Unidas, C.I.C.L.E., and others. The Harbor Halloween-themed ride is slated to take place on Saturday, October 25th. Details are still being finalized, but more information is available here

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Great reporting Joe!

    I wouldn’t expect an immediate large increase in the bicycling rate in a community from the installation of bike lanes.

    According to the last two Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition counts there is on average a doubling in the number of people riding on a street that received bike lanes. I suspect most of those people had already been riding on another street before the bike lane installations.

    When there is a fine grained network of bike lanes installed all at once, then there would not as much of a compelling reason for bicyclists to switch over to riding on another street since the street they have already been riding on may have also received bike lanes.

    The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2008-2012 average results for the zip code of Wilmington has a 1.2% commuting mode share for bicycling. The city of LA had a 1% bicycle commuting mode share for that time period, so Wilmington may be a little bit above the city average.

    ACS 2008-2012 results have a 77.3% mode share for using a car, van or truck as the primary means of commuting to work in the city of Los Angeles. Wilmington is 10% higher than that at 85.2%

    Transit as the primary means of transportation to work is 7.8% for Wilmington and 11.1% for the city of LA overall.

    Walking as the primary means of transportation to work for these ACS results have Wilmington at 3.0% and 3.7% for the city of LA overall.

    If you wanted to pick an area of Los Angeles to do an experiment of the effects of installing a fine-grained network of bike lanes, then Wilmington looks like a pretty good choice for that.

    One study of 17 large cities showed on average a 1% bicycle commuting mode share for every mile of bike lane in a one square mile area. If this average holds true for Wilmington, then the bicycle commuting average should almost double to 2% with the miles of bike lanes that have already been installed.

    According to Jennifer Dill, research does not indicate how long it takes for people to start changing their travel mode:

    http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/three-things-protected-bike-lanes-cant-do

    Having created a fine-grained network of bike lanes in a very short amount of time in Wilmington could be helpful in indicating how long it takes for people to switch over to using a bicycle.

    This video from a Volkswagen ad campaign called the Fun Theory shows how making walking up a flight of stairs more enjoyable immediately increased the amount of people taking the stairs rather than the escalator:

    Riding on bike lanes is not this much fun for most people, but it does show that it is possible to quickly persuade people to change their first choice for mode of transportation.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Joe, did you check out the bicycling in Wilmington during peak commute times?

    I suspect that most of the bicycling in that area would be to get from point A to B and not recreational.

    The two highest rates of commuting by bicycle in the city of Los Angeles according to a five year average from 2008-2012 of ACS zip code results are 7.6% for zip code 90007, which is just above USC and 5.1% for zip code 90291 in the community of Venice.

    Those two areas are considered to be by far the highest bicycling rates in the city of Los Angeles.

    But as was said in a Star Wars movie, “There is another.”

    Coming in at third place with a 4.1% five-year average is zip code 91303. This is in the community of…Canoga Park! Right smack dab at the far west end of the San Fernando Valley, which is considered car driving suburbia for Los Angeles, there is a zip code where there are approximately 538 people who use a bicycle as their primary means of traveling to work

    If the Census Bureau results are broken down into a smaller proportion of Census tract, then just above USC has the highest result in the entire county of 19.7% bicycle commuting rate.

    By far the second highest bicycle commuting Census tract result for the entire county is in Canoga Park at 17.7%. This encompasses Canoga Ave on the west to Variel Ave on the east and from Sherman Way to Saticoy St.

    http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer-commuting.html

    Much like Wilmington, this Census tract is a mostly Latino population of renters who use a bicycle primarily just to get from point A to point B.

    Just by coincidence , there was a mixed use path installed along Canoga Ave in 2012 that abuts this second highest bicycle commuting rate in the county Census tract. If you were picking where to put a bike path in the San Fernando Valley by the bicycle commuting rate, then Canoga Ave would be towards the top of the list.

    The installation of the Orange Line bike path along Canoga Ave that connects to the Orange Line path which takes you east of there could increase the rate of commuting by cycling in the Canoga Park 91303 zip code closer to that of zip code 90291 in Venice.

    Who would have thought that Canoga Park has one of the highest rates of commuting by bike in LA county? I certainly didn’t, and I live in the SFV. I used to commute through that area in off-peak hours and would see quite a few cyclists, but I never would have guessed that it has the third highest rate of bicycle commuting in the city of LA.

  • Joseph E

    Wow! Someone should update Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/IW5KE
    Open Street Map is missing this too: http://www.openstreetmap.org/node/150959930#map=15/33.7800/-118.2625&layers=C

  • rich

    I do wish that now that we have appropriated all this on-street “real estate” that parking-protected bike lanes can start to appear. We should be demanding 10 miles of “conversion” lane mileage a year as a starting point. And that should include replacing the asphalt in the lanes as well!

  • MaxUtil

    The area is pretty school dense as well. It looks like a good opportunity for some Safe Routes to School work or outreach by the local schools themselves to encourage riding. I assume safety and theft issues are considered to be big here.

    The Avalon Blvd lane extension will help the existing lanes work better as a wider area interconnection. But sadly, this does look like DOT identified it as an area to lay down a lot of paint and claim a lot of mileage for bike lanes regardless of the impact they would have. But as you say, we’ll take them where we can get them, even if I wouldn’t have picked all these roads as first targets.

  • Silke

    It is interesting how this area has seen huge growth in bicycle facilities with little fanfare all the while Long Beach is still busy patting itself on the back for a couple of half assed and isolated projects completed years ago. How long do we have to wait for Long Beach to come up with a single decent route across the LA river and into North Long Beach and Wilmington?

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Yeah, I hadn’t know about this either, until a few weeks ago, we took a bus tour and as we started east to west I started noticing the bike lanes and it was basically every single street for almost ten straight blocks! But yeah, hardly anyone riding. Give it time . . .

  • rdm24

    Isn’t this also where they are planning to remove a large piece of the highway? I’m not sure how that project relates to bike infrastructure, but it seems relevant.

  • rdm24

    Half-assed, but aren’t they highly used? It seems that, in contrast to Wilmington, Long Beach has placed bike paths along routes people actually want to take.

  • rdm24

    Also, none of these show up on the county’s website: http://dpw.lacounty.gov/pdd/bike/map.cfm

  • rdm24

    That said, I would love to see those routes expanded like you describe! Especially to North Long Beach

  • 94110

    “The (sic) are 30 fully bike-laned 4-way intersections”.

    This is an interesting metric. I just did a rough count for San Francisco and got 16. Yes, a grand total of 16. That doubles to 32 if you count fully bike-laned 3-way intersections, but Wilmington has three of those so it would still come out ahead.

    I’m of two minds about this metric. I certainly don’t see Wilmington’s setup as optimal (stripe Anaheim and then we’ll talk), and San Francisco has a large number of well thought out sharrowed routes which do connect which one might argue should sometimes be counted. On the other hand, this nicely emphasizes the gaps I notice which make biking here feel less safe to me. For instances see my recent comment: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/09/11/protected-lanes-are-a-great-start-next-goal-is-low-stress-bike-networks/#comment-1585014818

    It feels like any metric’s usefulness is highest when first introduced, and this one could be used to identify some low hanging fruit on San Francisco’s bike network.

    16, with a land area more than five times Wilmington. We have some catching up to do.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The closely spaced bike lanes in Wilmington are doing three things. Traffic calming, creating a separated moving lane for bicycles away from moving motor vehicles and making it more convenient to reach a bikeway compared to having them more spaced out only on main roadways. This will likely make it more comfortable and inviting for people to bicycle compared to just having bike lanes on busy streets.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    You don’t seem to grasp what a game changer the fine grained bike lane network in Wilmington might turn out to be.

    There were 4 bike lanes in Wilmington at the beginning of 2012 and none of them connected to another bike lane.

    Now there are bike lanes on 20 streets and 18 of them connect to another bike lane. Plus, there are 4 more bike lanes that will soon be installed and all of these will connect to another bike lane. That’s six times more than there were at the beginning of 2012 and its a network–which it wasn’t at the beginning of 2012.

    According to the 2008-2012 Census Bureau American Community 5-year average survey results, the largest bicycle commuting mode share in Long Beach is 1.9% in zip code 90802. The 2008-2012 ACS average bicycle commuting result for the city was 1.1%.

    The zip code 90744 is for all of Wilmington. Its five year 2008-2012 ACS bicycle commuting results are 1.2%. That’s with only 5 disconnected bike lanes in 2012. Which is a fourth more than there was in 2010. Where were 5 disconnected bike lanes taking anyone to and even with that non-existent network, Wilmington was able to match the bicycle commuting mode share of Long Beach.

    Two research studies found that about a one mile of bike lane in a one square area has a 1% bicycle commuting mode share. If this average holds true for Wilmington, then the bicycle commuting mode share should increase to at least 2% from what is now installed and to 3% if all of the 6 additional miles that are in the planning stage are installed. Long Beach is unlikely to come anywhere close to that amount of bicycle commuting mode share in the next five years.

  • Joe Linton

    oops – fixed “the” to “there” – thanks. I don’t think it’s a precise metric that I would apply all over… just something I noticed looking at the map.

  • Joe Linton

    Yes – there is a study of a highway removal project along the east edge of Wilmington – at the border of Long Beach and Los Angeles. http://www.longbeachize.com/rfp-goes-out-for-terminal-island-freeway-removal-project-marks-socals-first-freeway-removal-project I am not intimately familiar with that project, but it seems more connected to Long Beach neighborhoods (the freeway-adjacent area of L.A. is more industrial.) Nonetheless, I think this freeway removal will be a good thing for both Wilmington and LB

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Trees and bike lanes are two easy and fast ways to improve the health of Wilmington residents.

    Plant thousands of trees in Wilmington to help clean up the air. This is faster and easier to do than trying to greatly reduce the amount of pollutants emitted in the area. Trees not only produce oxygen, but also reduce the amount of pollutants.

    http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2014/07/28/Trees-remove-enough-air-pollution-to-save-850-people-a-year/8741406558705/

    Bike lanes give a healthier way to travel short distances compared to an automobile and it does not create pollutants.

    Traffic calming effects from both trees and bike lanes should help to reduce the severity of injuries and the amount of fatalities from traffic collisions.

    Planting trees could also provide jobs in the area.

    http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/india-plant-2-billion-trees-along-its-highways.html

  • Joe Linton

    I think it’s also really important to reduce or eliminate the sources of pollution – as mentioned above.

  • carol

    glad someone spoke about the condition of the asphalt – one of the reasons why i often ride on the side-walk. if the holes or bumps on the sidewalk upset my bike, i’m more likely to upset someone’s shopping cart or to get thrown in front of a stroller & less likely to get thrown. in front of a bus

  • Wilmero

    This is stupid. Joe have you been to Wilmington? If you have, you know you don’t want to ride a bike through it. And cars aren’t the pollution problem, there’s cars everywhere. What a waste of money that could have actually helped the community.

  • Sirinya Matute

    This was really interesting. Thanks for drilling into the data like that. Canoga Park, way to go.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

This Week In Livable Streets

|
Here it is – the first regular calendar from your new editor Joe, so be nice! There are Metro meetings, weekend bike tours, a Saturday walk on South L.A.’s historic Central Avenue, and more! Tuesday – 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. – Learn how $5.6 billion worth of freeway tunnels will reportedly “reduce congestion” and “improve air quality.” Metro’s […]