LONG BEACH — After more than five years of delay, the City Council has approved a three-mile beachfront bike path that is a missing link in the regional network of bikeways along the Southern California coast.
After a two-hour public hearing, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to give its blessing to the pathway, which will run along a serene strip of city beach between Alamitos Avenue and 54th Place.
With the vote, the council ordered its staff to begin drawing up construction plans and agreed to apply for more than $283,000 in state funds to help defray the project's $1-million price tag.
In addition, the council gave city officials permission to begin searching for other state and local funds to pay for the concrete bike path. The council will appoint a task force of staff members and citizens to participate in designing the project.
Although the council gave the bike path its unanimous support, several members voiced caution about its design.
Warns of Conflicts
Councilman Marc Wilder said the design advisory group will have to work hard to devise a final route that will "mitigate conflicts" between bicyclists using the pathway and beach goers.
Wilder also raised concerns about the potential for cost increases as designers grapple with the need to wind the path over sewage outfalls and other beachfront barriers.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton, meanwhile, warned that police will have to patrol the path, even if they must do so on bicycles. Edgerton said many residents in his beachfront district have expressed concern that the bike path might attract the wrong element to the area.
City planning and public works officials have not established a time schedule for the project. Because more money needs to be raised, the bike path probably will not be built for at least a year, a planning official said.
Although the path was approved as part of the city's coastal plan in November, 1979, it was shelved two months later when the council failed to muster the votes to support financing the project.
Despite that setback, the bikeway remained part of the city's approved plan for its network of existing and proposed bicycle lanes and paths. In June, bicycling enthusiasts began pushing again for approval of the bike path.
Supporters of the path gathered more than 3,000 signatures in support of the project and jammed the council chambers for the hearing Tuesday.
Matt Sloan, a leader of the loose-knit band of bike path backers, called council approval of the idea "long overdue" and maintained that most of the city's residents are in favor of the project.
Sloan and other supporters said the pathway would improve access to the beach while tying together two regional bicycle trails that run along the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. A bike path already runs from the Los Angeles River to Alamitos Avenue, where the new beachfront path would begin. It would end at 54th Place and a bike lane on the street would link with the San Gabriel River bike trail.
The beach route would provide a safer alternative to busy Ocean Boulevard, Sloan said. In 1984, there were 10 accidents involving bicycles along Ocean Boulevard, but Sloan said that total probably represents "just the tip of the iceberg" because many bike accidents aren't reported to police.
Opponents, most of them residents of the shoreline neighborhoods next to the beachfront route, maintained the path would ruin the quiet ambiance of the beach and pose a hazard for people trying to reach the water.
"I don't like the idea of turning my beach, our beach, over to the bicyclists," said Hubert Pryor, an Ocean Boulevard resident and opponent of the path. "The idea of a beach is that it's a refuge."
Several opponents stressed that they were not opposed to bike paths but did not want to see one on the quiet stretch of sand in Long Beach.
"I'm not against a bikeway, but I shudder to see it put on the beach," said Elbert Segelhorst, a shoreline resident.
Segelhorst told the council a bike lane could be created along Ocean Boulevard by eliminating parking on the shoreline roadway's seaward edge.