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Long Beach Shifts Cycling in to High Gear

Although their proximity to car-dominated Los Angeles can't be denied, southern neighbor Long Beach has put the money and effort behind making cycling an attractive and safe mode, and it's already paying dividends.

Bicycling Magazine's 2010 rankings for bike-friendly cities ranked Long Beach a respectable 23rd, but that doesn't satisfy them.  In fact, their goal is to ultimately make Long Beach "The Most Bicycle Friendly City in America," a bold statement that adorns the art at City Hall (photo by Greg Page/Page One Studio).

With a bike-friendly mayor and big support from the city council, their plans are ambitious. But most importantly they are think big and thinking fast.  A couplet of physically protected cycletracks, sharrows with unique green striping, Southern California's first bicycle boulevard, and hundreds of additional bike racks are just a few of the items already in the ground or coming very shortly.

This video doesn't even touch upon their comprehensive education program in place for students, police, and transit operators.  Ahhhh, well - I guess we'll just have to go back and cover that on another trip (and then go sit on the beach.)

Charlie Gandy: [0:02] I'm Charlie Gandy. I'm the Mobility Coordinator for the City of Long Beach. Long Beach, as you may not know, is just south of Los Angeles in Southern California. It's an incredibly beautiful beach town. [0:12] About three years ago citizens elected a bunch of bicyclists to the City Council. They didn't all run on a bicycle agenda, but they have run on bicycle friendly agendas. And now that the bicyclists have representation on the City Council, they gave direction to the city staff and said, "We want to make this a great bike city." The vision of becoming the most bike friendly city in America has become a catalytic, a bold statement that has caused a number of things to occur.

[0:37] Businesses look at Long Beach differently. Residents and people looking to move here, looking at Long Beach differently. And then, artists, such as Patrick Vogel, who said, "I'm an artist and what I can contribute to this is to help visualize what that beautiful bike friendly could be."

Man 1: [0:53] We have all kinds of infrastructure that's just coming online that people are starting to enjoy. So, we're seeing a really big upsurge in people commuting by bike. We have been in business since 1996. You can come here and park your bike for free during our business hours from seven in the morning until six at night. Rentals are up. Repairs are up.
Woman 1: [1:12] A lot of people right now in this time with the economy the way it is don't have cars. People are biking it instead. Long Beach seems to be making improvements to safe riding. They're putting in a bike lane here. They've put in bike lanes over on First Street.
Charlie: [1:26] In the next three months we'll be installing the protected bike facilities on Third and Broadway through Downtown Long Beach. We fully expect this to be a transformational experience for those that live in Long Beach. We fully expect it to have the same sort of safety record that Eighth and Ninth Street have achieved in New York City. We've reallocated the space in the street to accommodate those that live here, that work here, that buy things here versus privileging those that would just drive through here fast. [1:54] We used to have a sidewalk where the curb went right through here. We extended it all the way out so we still have two through car travel lanes here, but we shortened the distance for pedestrians by about 50 percent.
Man 2: [2:05] I love it, not just for my business but for the neighborhood. It just brings more foot traffic to there. It's a very little investment, and we keep it up. We clean the sidewalk. We put patio furniture and activate it.
Charlie: [2:19] Parking space is going to be the first conversion that we make, a bike corral in Downtown Long Beach because we buy into the notion that we can put somewhere between eight to 12 customers by bike in a stall such as this versus one car customer.
Man 3: [2:35] Having bikes around here is basically what people take down here, and we are a bike shop so they should have some type of parking for them.
Man 4: [2:42] Bike riders are great. I love them. They're just cool people, and they need a place to lock their bikes.
Charlie: [2:49] So, what we've done also is install, embed in the street, bollards so that with a simple key we can pull that up and close off this street. Because on a regular basis we have art shows, festivals, farmers markets, and then we have parties. Last June we painted this green stripe. It's a six foot wide green "share a lane" with the silhouettes. All this is doing is articulating existing law that are about the space in the street where cyclists are safely riding. [3:18] They're not in the door zone, when this door opens they get hit, and they're not on the sidewalk. And at the same time we've told motorists not only do bicyclists exist here but we invite them here because they're customers and because they're residents and because they're carrying on an active, healthy lifestyle.

[3:33] Man 5:We're starting to see a rise in simple odd things that we never sold before, lanyards that hold laptops so people can take them to their place of business, wherever they're working. We never sold those before, many more bicyclists and all the parking spots that Long Beach has done.

Charlie: [3:50] We're riding on what's going to become the Vista Bike Boulevard. In two months we will have installed seven traffic circles along this route, a diverter up here, some decorative street signs celebrating this as a bike boulevard, the first one in Southern California. When we first started this, we engineered five traffic circles along here, but people were so happy to see us dealing with traffic issues that we expanded to seven. [4:16] The activities, the innovations that we're doing in Long Beach are on a broader stage. Our proximity to Los Angeles has us in conversation with them about what's possible in Southern California in this car oriented culture that's looking to do something else.


Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Great video (as usual) and great to see more of the innovation going on in Long Beach. Those green highlighted Sharrows are an absolutely brilliant idea!

    A couple of thoughts and ideas. While you're looking to reallocate some street parking for bikes, why not switch the car parking around to "back-in angled" parking.

    Also, New York has put bike lanes on the left to accommodate high volumes of bus traffic. It is my personal and professional opinion that bike lanes and more importantly, protected bike lanes should be on the right side in most circumstances with only limited exceptions. While left side bike lanes have some advantages they also confuse bicyclists as to what side of the road to expect facilities and where to ride where bicycle specific facilities do not exist. They also very likely encourage scofflaw cyclists into illegal retrograde riding. In many other places, left side bike lanes are indeed intended for retrograde riding. In the situation here, even though the facilities were never intended or engineered for retrograde use, it is naive ignore that such facilities most likely encourage some people to ride in a retrograde direction. Finally, while it may be legal for bicyclists to ride to as far as practicable to the left on one-way streets in California (a good law) placing all bicycle traffic on the left violates the long accepted practice of slower and bicycle traffic staying to the right.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Jessica Jessica

    Super great video and amazing work and leadership in the LBC. Love it. Is this So Cal first barrier protected bike lane?

  • Glenn

    WOW! Maybe we should pick a small town on the East Coast for us to all move to and have them compete for Most Bike Friendly City.

  • Anders

    Is it really fair to imply the City of Los Angeles is car-dominated? Sure, the County and metro in general fits that description pretty well, but L.A. proper is planning one of the most extensive transit systems in the country. It's not there yet, but the comment seems a bit disingenuous (especially since Long Beach is a part of Los Angeles County).

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Stacy Stacy

    I'm a little confused about the green bike lane with sharrows. Are they intended to be shared with cars? Also, these sidewalk cafes seem to extended out to the curb. Doesn't Long Beach have any pedestrians?

  • http://ubrayj02.blogspot.com Umberto Brayj

    I hate you Long Beach. I hate you guys so much. I am burning with jealous rage. Why can't LA get with the program already?!

  • Matthew N.

    I wish Riverside county California would do more, I'm in Temecula about 1 hour south of Long Beach and this city is very dangerous to ride in. The streets are to fast, there are very few bike lanes, and cars here don't seem to understand than bicyclist can be in the street.

  • CBrinkman

    All this and retractable bollards to create car free streets? Now I'm really jealous. Well done Long Beach.

  • Nick

    There's no mention of obstructionism. Coming from San Francisco... doesn't Long Beach have NIMBY types, lack of funding for paint, or phony EIR lawsuits to stall this progress?

    The graphic in frame 1:37 is telling. It looks like they sketched a bike boulevard on a piece of scrap paper, but they have the political will to "make it happen." Not so in SF.

  • ZA

    Nicely done Longbeach! (and watch out Rotterdam)

    Who's global seaport giant will rank best for livable streets? That's a competition everyone should join.

  • A Cyclist

    It is all fine and dandy that Long Beach is becoming more bike friendly but it is not doing enough for those who really ride. Most of what is considered cyclist friendly is coastal however, there are a lot of cyclist in North Long Beach and in South Central Long Beach. Those people are invisible until there is an accident or fatality. Another thing that would make this city cyclist friendly would be ample bike parking places. Along Anaheim and PCH are very few places to lock and go. Someone needs to get with the program. Quickly!

  • Chris Morfas

    Wonderful! This is what happens when supportive political leadership green-lights a talented organizer-implementer to get the job done.

  • http://ycartreel.blogspot.com Yoshiyahu

    A Cyclist -- you sound like a Long Beach resident. As such, you are perfectly capable of making things Talk to the businesses in your neighborhood about bike racks. Talk to Charlie Gandy and give him suggestions of places needing bike racks. Plenty of places you can volunteer and get involved.

  • A Cyclist

    Yoshiyahu- Yes, I am a resident of Long Beach and have been for nearly 40 years. I am involved in a number of programs and speak to others who feel the same way. As I am all for a positive change in Long Beach, very little seems to happen in places where it should. It is a given that racks should be needed on nearly every other corner where there are bus stops and shops on streets like Anaheim, PCH, Long Beach Blvd and Alamitos. There are very few because they are not in desirable areas.
    Charlie, if you are reading this, please help out the areas where people really do need bike lanes and racks and areas to park bikes so they feel safe riding in the streets and not on the sidewalks.

  • roadblock

    I'm ready to make the switch. Long Beach!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Steve BicyclesOnly

    I love how they are trying to emulate the cycle tracks on "8th and 9th Streets" in NYC! They have become the stuff of legend nationwide!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Hey all, thanks for the wonderful feedback. To those who don't think Long Beach is doing enough or in the right places - excellent - keep pushing that, keep volunteering, keep speaking up. I have been watching the revolution happen in many cities the last ten years, and the rapidity of change that is happening just keeps getting faster.

    Here in NYC the pace has been incredible and just keeps continuing. Most of the first visible and remarkable changes happened in central Manhattan - some even argued that 8th & 9th Avenues for separated cycle tracks were not the right spaces. But what happens is you try out the projects where you think they will be successful - now here in NYC people WANT these things in their neighborhoods too and folks in those neighborhoods in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn are asking for them and they are coming.

    You need the groundswell to come from the community since your city officials can't do all the work. So I would say once these projects get in the ground - and they will prove successful - they get your neighbors up in arms, sign petitions, stage protests and say WE WANT THESE TOO! And the city will have to listen.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Aaron_B Aaron Bialick

    Wow, Long Beach - what a surprise! Now I'll think of that green striped lane every time I'm riding over sharrows. That really is amazing.

    Anders - I like your humor.

  • http://longbeachfixednation/onFACEBOOK Chula Samyuth

    Had a chance to meet Charles and friends in the Cambodian Parade 2010, and I gotta say this man is a awesome advocate of bikes, and bikers in the city of Long Beach. Just wanted to let you know from the guys of LBF'N, we support you 110 percent. Hit me up Charles...
    Chula

  • Allyson

    Good Job Gandy -Thanks for making the city look so great. Change is good and it is coming to our city.

    The Renaissance is here.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/lecola RC

    wow great job, long beach has come a long way! I'm looking very forward to biking there. :-)

  • Maureen

    At least 3 times a year I am in Los Angeles. Attention Long Beach businesses: My family and I will be coming to your town as bicycle tourists!

  • http://www.PeoplePoweredMovement.org Jeffrey Miller

    I spent 24 hrs in Long Beach a week before this video went on the website and spent the whole time with Charlie seeing all the great things happening. My first ride on the Green Sharrow Lanes was instant love. Good folks at the Pedal Movement (see http://www.PedalMovement.org), Bike Station, downtown businesses, city hall, etc. The chorus is growing and soon they will be dancing in the streets. Great job StreetFilms (as usual) and to all the good folks in Long Beach, keep up the GREAT WORK!

  • chrism

    AndyB from Jersey,

    On one way streets I prefer to ride on the left and I want the bike lane on the left.

    This is because parked cars are the number one problem for me when I ride. They open doors without looking, and they also pull out then look. Buses can be an issue as well. On the left side, I am in the passenger door zone, on the right I am in the drivers door zone, and since most cars are just one driver, i think the left is safer. 

    If by retrograde you mean it encourages bike salmon, I've never thought of that, interesting,  however I see salmon on two way streets as well. I think it may just be coincidental, since most bike lanes I ride in are on one way streets. I think a lot of people think a bike lane is a safe place for them to ride and they just do so without regard to the direction of traffic.

  • http://girlsandbicycles.blogspot.com miss sarah

    With the good weather there's really no reason being more bicycle friendly should be a problem! At least nobody needs to get convinced that it's fun to ride on ice and snow:)

    S*

  • http://lacreekfreak.wordpress.com JoeLinton

    @Glenn "Maybe we should pick a small town on the East Coast for us to all move to and have them compete for Most Bike Friendly City." This seems to imply that Long Beach might be called a "small town" - clearly it's not as big as L.A. where I live... but it's plenty big - it's a half-million residents - the 36th largest city in the US.

    They're doing a great job for bikes. It's a great place to ride, and getting better all the time.

  • Tyler (LA)

    What a hippie-fest.
      Bikes don't make you happy.  Its a subculture.  Biking will never be cool.  Biking is over rated especially by "Greenies".
      While Long Beach has many improvements and love them, riding a bike won't make urban ills go away.  

    I live in Long Beach and love to ride a bike.

  • http://louiskreusel.com Louis Kreusel

    Fantastic video Clarence! What I'm really encouraged about is that things like this add up. Make the streets more bike-friendly and they instantly get more pedestrian-friendly as well. Then, businesses start to care about how their storefronts look and make them more inviting to people walking or biking and not just sideways glances from drivers and the whole place is transformed.

  • http://www.sersion.com Matt Sersion

    This is so exciting!  Thank you for your vision and hard work trying to make Long Beach bike friendly.  This could be what Long Beach has been looking for to progress.  Let me know if I can help in any way.