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.

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