Friday, June 22, 2012

Long Beach bike tour

Since I'm apparently the last person to get the memo about how Long Beach is a pretty cool place, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I (got up really freaking early and) took the train down to meet a cycle tour through the city, led by Charlie Gandy. I was pleasantly surprised. I formerly thought that one had to at least venture to northern California to find the kind of pleasant urbanism that Long Beach has cultivated.

I don't think there's anything to be found in the city that would be a surprise to most participants in the livable streets blogosphere. Bike boulevards, bike lanes, sharrows, separated cycle tracks, and the famous green lane along 2nd Street are all things that I've seen, in various incarnations, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, New York, even Riverside and Corona. What is astounding, however, is the consistency and sensitivity with which these treatments were applied. Bike boulevards were placed where elementary school children were likely to ride, bike lanes along quiet streets, sharrows when absolutely necessary. The ocean-front bike path has a separate space for pedestrians, and (according to Mr. Gandy) will soon see a gravel jogging path set off from the bikeway.

What is also astounding is the way that the City's bike team has managed to raise political will and rally local business and community leaders around cycling and livable streets. I won't steal his thunder, but if you go on the tour, Mr. Gandy will rattle off statistics-- numbers of jobs created, businesses opened, sales increased-- and anecdotes of meetings between the City and business owners. The magic argument in Long Beach seems to be that bikes are good business-- and it helps that that argument is demonstrably true.

The thing that really struck me, though, was how cycling and pedestrian facilities could wipe away a lot of the damage done by cars and car culture in a city, especially one with relatively strong fundamentals-- a complete street grid, neighborhood businesses, a relatively concentrated downtown. These characteristics are ones that Long Beach shares with Riverside, and so seeing the improvements that Long Beach managed in just a few short years gives me hope for our own fair city. I think the battle will be harder here-- for one thing, our city is settled at about half Long Beach's density, and we lack the same sort of transit infrastructure-- but with a little luck, and a little experience, I think we can win.

Mr. Gandy will be leading another tour for Riverside officials and activists, on the 14th of July. The tour begins at 10am at Long Beach City Hall-- you'll just make it if you take the 6:20a Metrolink to Los Angeles, followed by the Red and Blue Line Metro trains. Bring some money for a delicious Mexican lunch at Lola's, and please RSVP to Brandi Becker (brandi [dot] becker [at] riversideca [dot] gov) if you'd like to attend. Bikes recommended, but one can be provided on request.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Next Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting

Hey folks, the Bicycle Advisory Committee will be meeting at 5:30pm on 28 June, on the 7th floor of City Hall. Hope to see you all there!

Agenda will be posted here when there is one.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Choice Riders

Oops! It's been a while since I've posted. Sorry, folks, I'll process refunds right away.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the rhetoric of transit agencies reaching out to "choice riders." You often hear about efforts to entice "choice riders" on to transit systems, by providing special bus service or special amenities that will lure these elusive creatures out of their steel boxes. Quite frankly, I think that this type of thinking is insulting, confusing, and dangerous.

First, it is insulting to the agency's normal rider base. When you separate your ridership in to "choice" riders and everyone else, you're saying that everyone else doesn't have a choice. You're saying that it doesn't really matter what kind of service you provide to those riders, because they'll put up with whatever you give them. This is not only insulting, it isn't true. Even the car-free by circumstance* have choices-- they can choose to walk, to ride a bicycle, to call a friend or family member for a ride, to hitchhike, to call a taxi/Craigslist rideshare person, or (probably most commonly) simply not make that trip at all. And that's the real shame-- transit cuts that impact "no-choice" riders really hurt everyone, because they mean that that person is blocked from participating fully in their community, blocked from perhaps getting or keeping a job, from attending community meetings, from giving their children opportunities for after-school activities and enrichment.

But finally, these "no-choice" riders do have one other choice: they can spend way too much of their meager incomes on an old, unreliable rattle-trap of a car, because your transit service was so bad that it's the only choice they have left to make. That's bad for them, that's bad for the environment, that's bad for society.

Second, it's confusing, because "choice riders" are an ill-defined group. When are these people making their choice? I suppose what I'm really getting at is, am I a choice rider? I'm not wealthy by any means, but I really could afford to own and operate a car. I choose not to, but because of that choice I rely heavily on the local transit system (and Chloe). When you divide the world in to "choice riders" and everyone else, you make the unstated assumption that everyone in your service district either owns a car, or can't afford to own a car. Really, transit agencies should make it a priority to enable the creation and expansion of the middle category: the car-free by choice.

Last, it's dangerous, because it creates two tiers of transit service. Public transit should serve community needs, but it shouldn't do so at the expense of having an integrated network. The idea that there are "choice riders" and everyone else leads to Metrolink Syndrome, where there is a peak-hour peak-direction express transit network (connected to plentiful parking), and a local all-day transit network, and never the twain shall meet. This kind of network planning assumes that, while people might want to ride transit in the city during the work week, they'll always be drivers when they're at home in the suburbs. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be encouraging. I'm all for having park-and-rides as a short-term solution, because the truth is that our transit network isn't yet at the point where it serves everyone's needs effectively (especially in places like Banning and Murrieta, where RTA provides lots of service to park-and-ride lots), but by running express service exclusively to those park-and-ride lots, you send the message that your local transit network and your express network are completely unrelated. Nobody is supposed to take the express bus back from LA and then get on a local bus to go home-- indeed, nobody can.

So let's stop talking about "choice riders" and everybody else, and instead simply focus on providing transit that works for everybody. Good-quality transit will serve the needs of the car-free-by-circumstance, and (if it's good enough) will also entice habitual drivers out of their cars.

*You know who I'm talking about-- the poor, the aged, the disabled, and the young. I refuse to use the word "car-less" on this blog, because I really do think that not having a car is freedom.