Residents were given one last chance to provide feedback on the designs of a bike route being proposed along Pacific Avenue and San Antonio Drive in Bixby Knolls and Los Cerritos neighborhoods during a community meeting last week.
Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin has touted the bike route, which would connect downtown to north Long Beach and add traffic-calming elements to residential streets, as a “responsible and forward-thinking” project that would keep residents on the roads safe.
Still, the project, so far, has received mixed reviews from the community.
Some residents say that landscaped, circular medians, known as “roundabouts,” and other street changes at intersections are unnecessary and would only worsen traffic congestion while eliminating parking in front of homes.
Other residents, however, have welcomed the $1-million Pacific Avenue Bike Corridor Project, stating that the roundabouts would help slowdown traffic and create a safer passage for bicyclists and drivers alike.
After making adjustments and gathering input from residents in the past year, Long Beach city officials shared maps and final designs during a “Bike Route Open House” at the Expo Arts Center on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls on Thursday, Oct. 23.
About 40 to 50 people attended the event, which gave residents a final chance to comment on the project’s designs before they are sent to the State for approval, city officials said, adding that the project has been in the works for several years.
“The designs are pretty much complete,” said Nate Baird, mobility and healthy-living programs officer for the City’s public works department. “We’ve really been trying to pay attention to what the community’s needs are.”
Long Beach Traffic Engineer Dave Roseman said that, once the City considers residents’ feedback, the final designs would be submitted to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in coming weeks. He said the project is expected to go out for bid, which requires City Council approval, sometime early next year.
According to city officials, the City gathered a total of 30 comment cards during the event, with eight generally positive comments and the same number of negative comments.
Four comments related to roundabouts were negative while two comments questioned the need for stop signs at roundabouts, city officials said.
Both negative and positive comments were related to a new traffic signal being installed at Pacific Avenue and Wardlow Road. In addition, the City received one positive comment related to the City’s proposal for permit parking on San Antonio Drive, and five comments on traffic were “unrelated to the project,” city officials said.
Betty Bluml, who lives near a three-way intersection at Pacific Avenue, Country Club Drive and 36th Street, where the City plans to install a roundabout, said residents don’t have a problem with the City adding bike lanes, but a roundabout at the intersection where she lives would only create more traffic issues.
“We like the bike lanes, but we don’t like the roundabouts,” she said. “The people who live here don’t like it. This really reconfigures the traffic substantially. You have to go way up and come back to turn left now. So that’s really the problem on that intersection. It’s this big, convoluted intersection to begin with, and a roundabout is going to just make it worse.”
Bluml said primarily “bicycle people” have been pushing the project while residents who actually live in the neighborhood “haven’t had a voice” in the matter.
John Deats, a longtime resident at Pacific Avenue, 36th Street and Country Club Drive, noted that he and his neighbor will have to give up some parking in front of their homes in order for the roundabout to be installed, adding that parking will also be squeezed by cars from people using the Blue Line light-rail system nearby.
Deats said, under a previous design, his neighbor would have only lost 50 percent of the parking, but now, under the current proposal, his neighbor will lose all of it. Deats said few bicyclists use Pacific Avenue for riding, adding that he only sees about eight bicyclists using the street on any given day.
“You’re going to upend the whole neighborhood for eight bicycle trips over the course of a day?” he asked. “That’s pretty pennywise and pound foolish.”
Other residents, however, said they welcome the proposed roundabouts.
Lee Lorenzana, who has lived on Pine Avenue just north of San Antonio Drive for 16 years, said there might be a few seconds of delay for drivers but roundabouts will benefit the community overall by making it safer and more aesthetically pleasing.
“From my perspective, I think that [roundabouts are] going to add to the neighborhood, not only from an aesthetic point of view, if they’re landscaped, but also to calm things down and make it feel more like a neighborhood,” he said. “Pacific [Avenue] is a pretty wide street, and sometimes people who come down [it] think that it’s a commercial street, and it’s not. I really like the idea of anything that slows it down so you can take a look at the beautiful houses! I think the inconvenience that some people state is so insignificant that it’s not really an issue.”
Roseman noted that the results of roundabouts being installed along Vista Street in Belmont Heights have been “positive” in calming traffic and making the street safer for bicyclists. He said accidents at two intersections that were previously known as the most accident-prone in the area have dropped to nothing since the roundabouts were installed.
“I think some drivers are a little tentative with the roundabouts, but that tentativeness is what’s helped create that safety because people are paying a little more attention and are being more aware as they go through those intersections,” Roseman said.
He said, in the past, residents were concerned about the roundabouts but changed their minds after they were installed.
“I understand a lot of neighbors are kind of apprehensive about what will happen, but our experience has shown that once they’re in, people tend to like them,” said Roseman, who added that he lives near Vista Street. “Being a traffic engineer, I was a little skeptical myself at first, but I drive it every day. I think it’s well worth the investment.”
Still, roundabouts haven’t always been a good fit for every community.
Steve Mickaelian, who lives on Country Club Drive and opposes the roundabouts, points out that a community in Newport Beach, where his sister and brother-in-law live, was successful in having the City remove a roundabout because of concerns from residents.
“The residents were so upset by it that they went to City Council, and they had to scrape up the roundabout and go back to the way it was,” Mickaelian said.
Still, Roseman said roundabouts on wide streets such as Pacific Avenue often reduce vehicle speeds and improve safety for the community as a whole.
He noted that the City is considering other places in the city to install roundabouts, including on 6th Street (from downtown to California State University, Long Beach), 15th Street, Daisy Avenue in the Wrigley district and Delta Avenue in west Long Beach.
“We’re looking at other places to install roundabouts, intelligently,” Roseman said. “We’re not just putting them anywhere, but we’re putting them where they would do the most good.”