ACT 3:  The final in our Summer site visit series Field Trips: Backstage LA, in which we visit infrastructural sites throughout Los Angeles.

While beyond LA’s city limits, the Port of Long Beach is the city’s gateway to the global transport infrastructure. The port is a monument to material exchange.

TOUR LED BY: Art Wong, Asst. Director of Communications (PoLB)
Larry Cottrill, Master Planning Director (PoLB)
Eric Shen, Transportation Planning Director (PoLB)

  • Event is free for members and $15 each for the general public.
  • RSVP is required one week prior to event.
  • The Port of Long Beach is located at the south end of the Interstate 710 (Long Beach) Freeway.
  • The address for the Port Administration Building is 925 Harbor Plaza, Long Beach, CA 90802.


First, I want to offer our apologies to our extensive waitlist. For the 2010 season we will try to choose sites with fewer restrictions.  Also, a thanks to those who were able to join us, we enjoyed having you all come out for this event.

The tour was conducted by PoLB Assistant Director of Communications, Art Wong, who arranged for us to visit Terminal T on a rather plush shuttle bus–really, the limo of shuttle buses.  Terminal T can not only handle the most containers in the port complex, but is also scaled for vessels of greater size than even today’s largest capacity container vessels (currently up to almost 12,000 containers of equivalent 8′ x 8.5′ x 20′ size).  While it was a humbling experience to drive among the enormous gantry cranes lining the water-side edge of the docks, our sole disappointment of the trip was the general lack of activity.  With the economy in the depths of the economic slowdown, consumer demands were low, with the resulting impact felt most strongly in the container terminals of the port.  Other terminals, still given over to liquid bulk (LPG and other petroleum products), dry bulk (particularly coke bunkers), and break bulk (I believe some of our scrap metals are exported in this manner), were more active, as they represent material exports from the US, largely to China.  The tour of the port brought macro-economic relationships of the US and Asia in to clear focus, as we literally watched the many decades of trade-imbalance slowly rectifying before our eyes.  American products, such as coke, which is less regulated and therefore cheaper to burn in China, are still going overseas, but containerized traffic (how most of the electronics, clothing, and other consumer goods is shipped from China to the US) has slowed to a crawl and left the docks empty of both ships and workers.

Our final stop was a question & answer period back at port headquarters, where we learned more about the ‘green port’ initiative.  In order to meet federal and local mandates for cleaner air quality and reduced energy consumption, PoLB has instituted regulations to bar older-engined diesel vehicles from dreyage activities–the shuttling around of containers, both on the docks and to such off-site facilities as centralized shipping yards.  We also learned more about the feeders being constructed to extend the usefulness of the Alameda corridor–a rail line connecting the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (San Pedro) to railyards around the LA basin.  The port’s complex, along with the geography is a large part of why Los Angeles is located where it is, and why it outpaced other West Coast cities to become as large and financially well-positioned as it has become.  While San Francisco, Seattle, and even San Diego might have better sheltered deep-water ports, Los Angeles has the advantage of railroad links and few mountain ranges eastward.  Materials going in and out of the west coast can transit from Los Angeles to the rest of the US in one direction, and in the other direction, out to the world.  From atop the port headquarters building, the day was capped with an overhead view of the docks below in the late afternoon light.

-Rick Miller

photos by Rick Miller & Siobhán Burke