Long Beach ready to shine in national bike and pedestrian spotlight

The Pro Walk/Pro Bike and Bikestation crew in front of the Long Beach Bikestation. All names are at the bottom of the post.

As The Source’s Kim Upton reported two weeks ago, the Long Beach Bikestation recently reopened with a striking new look. I decided last week to check out the new digs for myself. The trip from the Westside was surprisingly straightforward: one Big Blue Bus ride to 7th/Metro Center, a transfer to the Blue Line, and a trip south to the Long Beach Transit Mall Blue Line station. The bike station is literally across the street.

First, a bit of fawning editorial commentary: The Bikestation is awesome. If I had a magic wand, I’d put one at every busy Metro rail and bus station in L.A. County. To me it represents a model for how to make that bike-to-transit connection even easier. Bike mechanics are on hand to provide commuters with repair help and there’s 24-hour secure bike parking for members.

Complementing the new facility are a slew of bike lanes that Long Beach has rolled out in recent years, including Southern California’s first Dutch-style protected bike lanes.

But checking out Bikestation was just the preview to the main event. That afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down with four national leaders in the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy movement:

  • Mark Plotz, Director of the biennial Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference
  • Gary Toth, Senior Director of Transportation Initiatives for Project for Public Spaces
  • Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists
  • Charlie Gandy, Mobility Advisor for the City of Long Beach

The four convened as members of the host committee charged with planning the September 2012 Pro Walk/Pro Bike Summit, a biennial conference organized by the National Center for Bicycling & Walking (NCBW) and the Project for Public Spaces (PPS).

Our half-hour conversation covered a lot of territory, so here’s a distilled summary of the key topics.

What did NCBW see in Long Beach that made it want to hold Pro Walk/Pro Bike here?

Andy Clark said that when he visited Long Beach for the first time last year, he saw change happening right in front of him. “It’s going to be a great place to host the conference,” Clark noted, precisely because “it’s not Portland, it’s not Minneapolis, it’s not Davis. It’s Long Beach,” a city that’s not really on the map when it comes to cycling.

So when conference attendees see what Long Beach has done, they’ll be “blown away and surprised and it will inspire them to go back to their community” with the attitude that Long Beach is doing it and there’s no reason we can’t do it too.

Mark Plotz added that “in Long Beach it feels like we’re in the first few seconds after the Big Bang and all these things…are creating the context in which a bicycle culture can grow and thrive.”

Is there anything that Long Beach has done to encourage bicycling that other cities can emulate?

Charlie Gandy answered that with a two step recommendation. One: People should “come to Long Beach and do the bike tour. Because that has proven to be a transformational experience for several other peer cities.” When Gandy takes guests from neighboring cities to see, for instance, Long Beach’s green bike lanes, the discussion quickly turns to where these types of innovative treatments could work in those peer cities.

“Step two,” Gandy said, “is a realization that [Metro] and other agencies want to fund these things” — i.e. innovative bike infrastructure — so cities have to seize those opportunities for grants and not “leave money on the table.” Long Beach has been at the forefront of using Metro’s Call for Projects to fund bike projects.

Above all, the four agreed that there has to be an authentic grassroots movement providing the leadership to make any city a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly place.

How the bike-transit connection be improved cost-effectively?

Gary Toth discussed his work with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to develop “street and network guidance for transit agencies. And the premise is that too many transit agencies divorce themselves from making it easy for people to get to their stations by bike or by walking.” So APTA is working to fix that by establishing best practices for designing bike and pedestrian networks that link neighborhoods to stations. In other words, just getting bike infrastructure on the streets will help dramatically.

Andy Clarke added that you’re starting to see a “total change” in transit agencies attitudes, from viewing biking as a form of competition to viewing it as an important complement. For instance in Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Transit Authority has come to view bike sharing system as something of a pressure relief valve for trains during rush hour, Clarke noted, by getting commuters onto bikes and thus freeing up seats on buses and trains for those who need them most.

Perhaps the most cost-effective aspect of improving bike and walking connections is that it can reduce the need to provide car parking at stations. Car parking has both a high construction cost — typically thousands of dollars per space — and high opportunity cost, i.e. other valuable land uses that one has to forgo to provide parking.

Final Note:

We’ll keep an eye out for details on next year’s Pro Bike/Pro Walk conference and pass them along to The Source readers.

Photo, left to right: Filmmaker Michael Bauch – PBPW Host Committee, Bikestation founder John Case – PBPW Host Committee, Bikestation & Mobis Transportation Alternatives CEO & President Andrea White-Kjoss – PWPB Host Committee, Bike Long Beach Bicyle Friendly Business District Project Coordinator April Economides – PWPB Host Committee, Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference Director Mark Plotz, President of the League of American Bicyclists Andy Clarke, Project for Public Spaces Senior Director for Transportation Initiatives Gary Toth, Calibiketours Principal Elizabeth Williams – PWPB Host Committee, Bikeable Communities Board Member Luciano Gonzales – PWPB Host Committee, Livable Communities Communications & Media Melissa Balmer – Facilitator PWPB Host Committee, Livable Communities President & LB City Mobility Adviser Charlie Gandy – Host Chair for PWPB Host Committee.