Infrastructure Investment Promotes Impressive Growth in Participation and Ridership

“The provision of bicycle parking is an important step to encourage and support bicycle usage citywide.” Steve Tweed MS, MC & RP, Transportation Planner Public Works, Long Beach, CA

With an average year-round temperature of 74 degrees and about 12” annual rainfall, Long Beach, CA, has close to perfect weather. For the residents who make Long Beach home, it is not just the weather, but the investment in infrastructure that make the city the perfect environment for bicyclists. Long Beach has embraced the bike as a mode of transportation, and has proclaimed itself to be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation. From the debut of the city’s landmark Shoreline Pedestrian Bike Path in 1988 and the first bicycle transit center in the U.S. in 1996, Long Beach has long been a pioneer in creating a bike-friendly city.

Over 120 miles of bike paths exist in Long Beach, including 30 miles of roads shared between bikes and cars, almost 50 miles of lanes marked exclusively for bike travel on roadways, and 40 miles of bike paths dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic. The bike boulevards are generally low-volume streets optimized for bicyclists and pedestrians, and typically provide connectivity among schools, parks and neighborhoods. The 1.5-mile Vista Street Bike Boulevard, for example, was the first bike boulevard in Long Beach, and also serves as a Safe Route to School for students from four area schools. In the first year the boulevard was open, the number of children walking to school doubled and those biking to school tripled.

To help promote bike usage, the city also schedules a number of fun, bike/pedestrian centered activities throughout the year. As the home of the Long Beach Indy Car Grand Prix, the community is invited to walk, bike, skate, or jog the race course the week before the drivers take over the track. Called the “Grand Prix View,” the event has been held multiple years in a row, and is an Open Streets event. There are street fairs held throughout the year that encourage attendance, and May is “Bike Month” with a variety of community rides, events, workshops, and meet-ups designed to promote cycling as a fun activity and a great way to get from place to place.

City leaders and advocates have made great strides in securing state and federal grant funding to build bicycle infrastructure and support safe and convenient facilities for all types of riders. As an example, the city applied for and received a Federal Transportation Enhancement grant from CalTrans, as well as funding from the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help purchase nearly 2,000 bike racks for city use. Steve Tweed, Transportation Planner with the Public Works Department noted in a presentation to the LA County Bike Summit, “the provision of bicycle parking is an important step to encourage and support bicycle usage citywide.” If businesses that are open to the general public (and located on public sidewalks) would like to see a complimentary bike rack installed in front of their business, they can request one at bikelongbeach.org, and choose from a variety of artistic shapes. With such an easy system, bike racks throughout the city have flourished, as has ridership.

According to Steve Tweed, “The bike racks are almost like art, which fits well and reflects the taste of downtown Long Beach.” The clever racks are not only functional, they often replicate the theme of the businesses they support, with comedy & tragedy masks outside the theater, a rack in the shape of a steaming cup outside the coffee house, and a large carrot near a vegetarian restaurant.

The city’s infrastructure plans continue to expand, and current strategies include constructing additional bikeways as a result of the Bicycle Master Plan, adopted by the City Council in February 2017. Routes selected for improvement were determined by community input received during plan development, which included over 450 survey responses and feedback from over 25 in- person events. As a part of the process, Spring Street was selected to be part of the city’s “Backbone Network,” a connectivity plan which will join dozens of miles of existing bike lanes. Spring Street runs continuously across the city, forming a fundamental east-west route for the network, which will provide critical connections to other bikeways and key destinations like river trails, transit lines, shopping centers, restaurants, and schools. To help get feedback on the Bicycle Master Plan, the city utilized strategic marketing tactics to engage stakeholders and residents, like temporary bike lanes set up in significant locations throughout the city, where participants could use a free valet service to park their bikes, learn more about the Master Plan, provide their thoughts, and enjoy shops and restaurants in the area.

Long Beach has three new Bike Boulevards underway, the 6th Street Bike Boulevard in construction, with a projected completion by the end of 2017; the Daisy Avenue Corridor Bike Boulevard is expected to open by the end of summer, 2018; and the 15th Street Bike Boulevard is in design and is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.

In addition, the City was awarded $6.75 million in funding through CalTrans’ Active Transportation Program (ATP) in 2015 for the Citywide 8-80 Connections project, which includes two bicycle boulevards on 20th Street. and Loma Avenue and a one-mile road diet on Palo Verde Avenue with buffered bike lanes. The project will also include bridge ADA upgrades, intersection improvements, and a city-wide campaign designed to encourage and educate people about the benefits of walking and biking.

During Public Works’ routine analysis of collision spots across the city, a significant number of left-turn and broadside collisions were apparent on Anaheim Street. To address the issue, an application was submitted to CalTrans for their Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to construct controlled-access medians and pedestrian refuges on the street. The application was successful and the City was awarded $3 million in funding. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

The City also submitted an HSIP application for the installation of high visibility crosswalks, including bold pavement markings, pedestrian signage, and solar powered warning flashers at 18 locations. That application received $250,000 in funding and construction is expected to begin in 2019.

Additionally, the City received ATP funds in 2015 for the Delta Bike Boulevard project ($1.1 million). The new bike boulevard will connect west side neighborhoods to two schools and a park. Construction is expected to begin in 2019. The city hopes to see the same improvements in walking/biking to those two schools as the Vista Bike Boulevard has supported for the four schools it connects.

New protected intersections bene ting bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists are also planned as part of the city bikeway improvements. City staff plans on applying for grant funding from the state’s Active Transportation Program (ATP) in spring 2018. If funded, the projected completion date for the new protected intersections will be 2022.

Lastly, the City was recently awarded $3 million by CalTrans for the Atherton Bridge & Campus Connections project ($3 million). The project would construct a bridge spanning the San Gabriel River connecting the regional bike trail with several meaningful destinations.

Critical to Long Beach’s funding are their annual “Bike Counts.” Since 2008, Long Beach has annually recorded bicycle and pedestrian volumes at significant locations throughout the city. The program is staffed by volunteers, and the city has seen amazing support and participation for the program. The Count is held in October, for two- three hour periods at each count site. Since the inception of the Bike Count program, Long Beach has been able to con rm steady and impressive increases in bicycle ridership. With consistent data from year to year, the counts provide important metrics to the City regarding safety, capacity, ridership trends, and the value of their investments, which in turn allows them to provide this data in their grant and funding applications.

Since 2012, efforts to promote safe bicycling have resulted in tripling of the number of people who bike and walk to work. At the same time, Long Beach has enjoyed a 50% increase in overall bike ridership. With such positive attention from urban planners, legislators, public health and the media, Long Beach is a progressive model for other communities. For its efforts, Long Beach has also received the Silver designation as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.