City Should Be Bike Friendly

A bicycle friendly city is more than a city that just happens to have bike lanes. It is a city that actively encourages and educates its citizens about bicycling.

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Published December 14-20, 2006 by Gazettes Newspaper

An open letter to the city council by a local cyclist in Long Beach, CA.

Dear City Council,

I am happy to hear that six years after the Bicycle Master Plan was written, it is being revisited. I am urging you to please follow through and to involve actual cyclists in the planning and implementation of bicycle improvements in the city.

I am a bicycle commuter. I don’t own a car by choice. I ride anywhere between 25 and 50 miles a day throughout the city as a freelance photographer.

I can tell you for a fact that cyclists are third-class citizens on the road. I have to be constantly vigilant of drivers on cell phones, drivers who would rather save five seconds on their commute than pass me safely, and drivers who think that bikes should only be ridden on sidewalks.

Yet, I still ride because I believe it is a sustainable, environmentally friendly and community friendly means of transportation. I am not polluting the air, degrading the city infrastructure or adding to the impacted parking.

I am sure the current interest in bicycling is fueled by the Amgen Tour of California ending in Long Beach next year. I implore the City Council to take real steps in improving bicycling in Long Beach rather than token gestures to appear bicycle friendly to race organizers and sponsors. Funds have already been secured for festivals and art installations during the Tour of California’s stop here, but I challenge the city to make lasting improvements.

A bicycle friendly city is more than a city that just happens to have bike lanes. It is a city that actively encourages and educates its citizens about bicycling. You can paint white stripes to your heart’s content, but if drivers and cyclists are not educated in how they should interact, then all you have is spilled paint.

When “bicycle education” is mentioned, what is usually meant are handouts given to first and second graders, but I would propose targeting new drivers, people renewing their licenses, and the parents of these first and second graders. If you want to effect immediate change in bicycle safety, educate drivers. Bicycling is a mode of transportation, in which your life is constantly and directly in the hands of someone else. I would prefer that “someone” to be courteous and educated to a white stripe on the road.

Aside from environmental benefits that are often touted, there are also many economic benefits for a city to encourage bicycling. As Long Beach is currently divided, there is downtown and Belmont Shore and for many, a vast nothingness in between. By creating bicycle boulevards (streets, officially recognized as bicycle friendly), people are more likely to stop and visit businesses along the way.

Bicycle boulevards would also benefit events we already have. People would be able to navigate the streets without sitting through traffic or paying $40 to park.

Other simple changes can be made that don’t require rerouting traffic and years of planning and construction. Many traffic lights in the city are not tuned to detect cyclists. So a cyclist must either wait for a car to trigger the light, dismount to press the crosswalk button or run the light.

Further, all the buses in the city have bike racks, except for perhaps the most high profile bus in Long Beach, the Passport. I think that this is an incredible omission that the bus that most people frequent and would serve as an excellent multi-modal vehicle does not have bike racks or allow bikes onboard.

Cities like Portland, which is actively encouraging bicycling, are experiencing a great economic boom and influx of young professionals that are drawn to its green and progressive agenda.

There are many creative solutions to encouraging a bicycle-friendly city. There also are many more benefits to a city than the obvious environmental benefits. A bicycling city is an open city, where the sense of community is fostered by knowing your neighbor rather than just knowing your neighbor’s taillights.

I urge you to follow through with the Bicycle Master Plan and to actively solicit input from the cycling community, rather than impose a solution.

Russ Roca is a bicycling photographer in Long Beach.