Commerce & Climate: Exploring the Harbor Area of Los Angeles
The harbor area of Los Angeles is connected to the city proper by a 16 mile strip of land. This odd geopolitical boundary is influenced by urban design & laws from a colonial era. The harbor area is responsible for Los Angeles being the economic powerhouse it is today.
The Spanish government’s Ley de las Indias might have been the reason why Los Angeles was settled some 25 miles from the harbor. The grand expanse of the Spanish Crown’s territory created lots of shoreline real estate susceptible during an age of piracy.
The decision to connect the port area to the city boundaries came in 1906, along with the decision to build an artificial harbor in San Pedro Bay.
In 1922, longshoremen and maritime workers organized strikes and walkouts to protest low wages and poor working conditions, including anti-union practices. Writer Upton Sinclair was a part of this movement, which faced numerous instances of harassment by the LAPD.
Whether it’s workers on land or in the sea, this area of Los Angeles fuels so much of our day-to-day lives thanks to the boots on the ground of generations of laborers.
While the port is considered a hub for business, employment and economic growth, the port operations’ impact on the environment can’t be ignored. In April of this year, a new case study by the EPA examined San Pedro Bay Port’s Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). Originally adopted in 2006, the CAAP seeks to address air quality impacts resulting from port operations.
As you embark on this ride, remember that by being on a bike, you are exploring the city on a mode of transit that is good for you and good for the planet.
This ride’s sponsor, New Belgium, has helped get others on bikes by supporting cycling advocacy, helping cities become Bicycle Friendly Communities, and has donated resources to create safe cycling infrastructure.
This 15 mile ride starts at Wilmington Waterfront Park and heads south. The first part of this terrain requires a lot of caution - the bike lane comes and goes and there are two railroad crossings. When crossing railroad tracks, always do so with your bicycle tires at a perpendicular angle to the tracks.
This ride starts off with a couple of smaller inclines before taking you on a few sharp ups and downs as you gradually climb 230 feet, then come back down for a relatively flat ride until the last mile. There are six potential stops on this ride, with all but Harbor View Memorial Park having public restrooms.
Wilmington Waterfront Park
The community of Wilmington is to the north of the San Pedro Bay and is the site of the third largest oil field in the United States.
These days, the park is built on a 30-acre brownfield site. Before setting off on this 15 mile round trip, take a moment to tip your helmet to the project managers, landscape architects, engineers, landscapers, construction workers who created what you see today, and the maintenance workers who steward the space for all.
From the east restrooms, use the paved pathways and bridge to head west to the corner of Harry Bridges Blvd and Gibson Blvd. Once there, you’ll essentially make a left to head south along Gibson. The conditions on these first couple of miles require a lot of caution. The bike lane starts and stops in certain places, and the street crosses bumpy railroad tracks twice.
As you ride, on the left you’ll have a view of the shipping containers that make their way in from the Pacific Ocean past the Main Channel.
The next stop is in 4.7 miles at 22nd St Park.
22nd St Park
Here at 22nd St Park you’ll have a chance to take a bathroom break and practice some light off roading skills along the dirt paths up to Crescent Avenue.
Many of the goods we enjoy in our day to day lives make their way through this port from all over the world.
The port of Los Angeles has been the site of labor strikes over the years, with the most recent one being in April of this year when truck drivers went on strike against Universal Logistics Holdings. The workers’ demands included rehiring fired drivers and providing them with back pay, respecting drivers’ right to form a union, bargaining in good faith for a collective-bargaining agreement and to stop classifying drivers as independent contractors.
As you make your way to the corner of Miner and Crescent you’ll have a view of Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles to your right. This is the location of a weekend market featuring handmade goods. Once at the top, make a left along the paved bike path paralleling Crescent Ave. Ride the path all the way to the end and then make a right onto 22nd St.
Make a left on Grand and in two blocks you’ll be at Harbor View Memorial Park, where you can stop by for a quick visit if you happen to be there when it’s open from 7am to 2pm Monday through Sunday.
Harbor View Memorial Park
Settler Colonialism took root in this area starting in 1769, with Spanish settlers establishing commercial ventures that largely only dealt with Spain. In 1822, the Mexican government lifted trading restrictions and commercial ventures in San Pedro were well established by the mid-1800s. Since the burial records at this cemetery date back to 1879 and go to the early 1900s, it might be safe to assume that a lot of the people buried here were part of this commercial transformation of this area.
In the early 1900s, Japanese fishermen established an abalone cooperative on Rattlesnake Island, renamed Terminal Island a couple of decades earlier.
Over time, a Japanese fishing village took shape on the island. In 1915, commercial fishing had grown so much that construction began on Fish Harbor, built to help separate shipping and fishing operations in the harbor. Japanese fishermen were recruited by the big canneries (like Van Camp Seafood and the American Tuna Company) because of their intricate fishing technique. This technique included “using a stout bamboo pole, strong line, and barbless hook...live bait was dumped into the water, luring schools of tuna to the boat...the Japanese fisherman used the barbless hooks on the short bamboo poles to catch the tuna.”
While these commercial ventures brought an economic boom to the area and greater Los Angeles, they were not without their downsides. White abalone, of which there were once millions, is currently under threat of extinction due to overfishing, warming oceans and predators. Linguists have traced the name of these sea snails to the word the Rumsen people of Monterey Bay had for these creatures used for food, tools, and adornment - aulun - which the Spanish settlers turned into abulon.
From here, make a right after exiting the cemetery and then another right onto the first street, S Denison Ave. From here, you’ll make a few turns heading south and west until you end up at Point Fermin Park.
Point Fermin Park
This is a great spot to take a break, watch the water, and use the restroom. Point Fermin Park is named after Father Fermin Francisco De Lasuen. British explorer George Vancouver wanted to thank the Father for being able to stay at the mission in Carmel.
The first documented description of the harbor was by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. After setting eye on the area on October 8, 1542, he named it Bahia de Los Fumas - “Bay of Smokes.” This was due to the smoke coming from the many villages that existed in this area. The Tongva-Gabrieleno-Kizh people have lived here for thousands of years. To this day, San Pedro is a place where indigenous people gather and hold ceremony.
From here, continue east along Shepard St then northeast along Bluff Place. Enter the parking lot for the Cabrillo Aquarium.
The Cabrillo Aquarium is a great place to learn more about the area’s marine life and the efforts people are making to conserve a variety of species and help them thrive.
Part of this conservation effort includes the Aquatic Nursery, a working laboratory where visitors can see how scientists-in-training are raising animals for species survival. Abalone, mentioned above, is one of these species. At this nursery you can see the abalone grow in a habitat that simulates their natural environment.
Indigenous people lived alongside the abalone for thousands of years, and used it for many things. Some records indicate that one abalone shell was worth enough in New Mexico to trade in for a horse. Abalone shells have been found as far east as the Missippi River and as far north as Canada.
Due to abalone’s endangered status, California currently controls indigenous harvesting practices. For some, the importance of abalone in indigenous culture is worth the risk of fines and jail time to be able to do they’ve done for thousands of years.
As a keystone species, abalone is crucial to coastal ecosystems. Without, the entire ecosystem would drastically change with longterm far-reaching impacts.
By 1879, Chinese fishermen had annual abalone catches of more than 4 million pounds per year. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had a devastating impact on Chinese fishers and led to a decline in the abalone trade.
In the 1900s, Japanese fishermen got around regulations that had been put in place by free diving for abalone and dominated the commercial abalone fishing field until 1929.
From here continue riding north along the water, then exit the parking lot and make a right. You’ll see a sign on your right hand side leading to a paved path that meanders through a landscaped area and takes you down to Via Cabrillo Marina. Then make a left to continue north then make a right onto 22nd St. In a few blocks make a left on Signal Street and you’ll arrive at the next stop in less than a mile.
Ports O’Call Village & San Pedro Public Market
Here’s a good place to chill out, take a break and maybe even grab a bite. There’s lots to choose from at Ports O’Call Village and San Pedro Public Market.
From here you’ll head north along Sampson Way as it turns into Harbor Blvd. At W 5th St, make a left. There’s no left turn lane here, so a box turn left is a nice alternative to make your way west. As you start making your way uphill, you’ll pass by Liberty Hill Plaza on your right hand side.
In 1923, striking longshoremen were protesting low wages and unsafe working conditions as well as how the California Criminal Syndicalism Act of 1919 led to the arrests of many union activists. On May 15, many were gathered here at Liberty Hill as Upton Sinclair began reading the Constitution. The LAPD, which had banned the workers from holding public meetings, arrested Sinclair and took him to jail.
Make your way back to Harbor Blvd by cutting through the plaza and heading north on Beacon St, then a right onto 1st St and a left back onto Harbor Blvd.
Stay along this main road for about 2.5 miles and you’ll be back at Wilmington Waterfront Park. Be wary of railroad track crossings along this section of road. As at the beginning of this trip, the bike lane comes and goes. There will be sections when you should scan and take the lane.
As you make your way back to Wilmington Waterfront Park, think about how climate change might affect the route we just went on.
According to a study by the USC Sea Grant, Los Angeles can expect a sea level rise as high as five and a half feet by 2100 due to climate change.
It is imperative that our commercial operations work to reduce emissions and utilize renewable energy. With sea levels rising, many of the current ways we do business at the port may be in peril.
Not only that - but sea level rise also means taking a closer look at wastewater management, storm water management and potable water systems and their vulnerability to sea level rise.
We are proud to partner with New Belgium to bring you these rides and explore topics like climate change. New Belgium’s practices to reduce emissions include producing electricity from wastewater, reusing heat in the brewing process, and creating America’s first certified carbon neutral beer. New Belgium aims to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Celebrate the people who’ve made the port of San Pedro part of LA’s fabric with a Fat Tire - a beer made partially with sunlight, biogas, and electricity from wastewater.