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Long Beach Aims to Become Nation's Most Bike-Friendly City
On Monday, Long Beach attained Silver Bicycle Friendly Community status. In this guest post, Allan Crawford, Bicycle Coordinator for Bike Long Beach, describes his community's recent bicycle improvements — and push to become the nation's most bike-friendly city.
Four years ago, Long Beach put the audacious statement "Long Beach the most bike friendly city in the US" on the wall of our City Hall. We knew that wasn't true at the time — but it gave us a something to strive for. And we knew that we needed milestones to measure our progress along the way.
In 2009, we were given Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League and we immediately set our sights on becoming Silver, then Gold and eventually Platinum. We knew that this recognition would be important to our civic and business leaders. We also knew that the measures and metrics that are set out in the League's application were important measures for us. They helped us identify key things that where important to accomplish. All of this led us to apply for — and achieve — Silver status as soon as we thought we were ready, and will lead us to apply for Gold in the not-too-distant future.
Long Beach's goal is to become the most bike friendly city in the U.S. and all that this title entails. We know that this is very bold goal. We know that other cities in the U.S. are sprinting to get ahead because they see, just as we do, the value in being bike friendly. But by setting this goal we have been able to enlist our civic and business leaders in the cause. We have been able to articulate to them what it takes to be truly bike friendly and, more importantly, what it takes for them to make our city bike friendly.
The city's bike culture has and continues to change quickly. We used to be a city where riding a bike was something a few people did, but it wasn't the norm. It was something that was accepted, but not necessarily encouraged. It was something that collage kids did to get to school and a few Lycra-clad folks did for fitness.
We had a few bike lanes along with beach and river paths that were mainly for recreation. But as a result of our efforts, over the past 24 months, more than 20 new bike-related businesses have opened in Long Beach. We have added over 170 bike friendly businesses to our Bike Saturday program. We have created four bike friendly business districts. And most importantly we are seeing more and more people on their bikes, riding for fun, to get to school, to get to work and to run errands.
On some streets, where we have put in new bike infrastructure, we have doubled the number of kids walking and tripled the number of kids riding bikes to school. We are seeing people move to Long Beach because of our biking and our active living culture. We are seeing conventions, such as Pro Walk Pro Bike, select Long Beach because of what we are doing.
Anytime there is change there are challenges. We have put streets on road diets. We have added separated bike lanes, removed vehicle travel lanes, added sharrows, and put in bike traffic signals. All of these are very noticeable changes that get people's attention. For most people, these have been positive changes. Of course, not everyone has that view. But overall we've found that, if you're willing to experiment and give things a try, people will find that Armageddon — or in the case of Southern California, Carmageddon — has not set in. Listening and adjusting your plans will take you a long way toward meeting your overall goals of becoming bike friendly.
Bicycling is making a big difference in our community. It is making Long Beach feel more friendly and more attractive to residents, businesses, and visitors. It is helping Long Beach become the type of city where the 20- and 30-somethings want to live; where people are eager to raise their families; and where baby boomers like to live car-light. We are not trying to say "Don't use a car." We are saying, "We want you to have options." We want it to be safe and easy for you and your kids to walk and bike. We want it to be easy to go to the grocery store, the restaurant or the local merchants.
We have so many things on the horizon. We have several bike boulevard projects lined up over the next 18 months. These will greatly enhance our Safe Routes to Schools program and encourage more children to bike and walk to school. We have a two-year grant for safety education in the schools. We are launching a new website and doing more on the social media side to reach out to the community. But the most notable will be bike share. We are anticipating launching a city wide bike share program in January of 2013. We think that this will have an enormous impact on the day to day use of bikes in Long Beach.
From an advocacy perspective we are very excited about the Long Beach-based Women On Bikes SoCal program. Working closely with our cadre of Long Beach-based League Cycling Instructors (LCIs) the goal is to double the number of women and girls riding bikes in the next five years. We also see working closely with our Public Health, and Park and Recreation departments. We know that childhood obesity is a major problem in our city and we're confident that by working with these departments and our schools, by providing safe places for kids to ride combined with our education programs, we can make a difference in our children's future.
Click here to learn more about the Bicycle Friendly Community program.