CITY HALL — With $21 million in grant funding for bicycle improvements in the past three years and a number of substantial infrastructure improvements to show for it, Long Beach is making strides toward its goal of becoming the most bike friendly city in the nation.
On Wednesday, the man who has received a good deal of credit for making the progress happen, Charles Gandy, the city’s mobility coordinator, addressed Santa Monica’s Planning Commission, emphasizing the importance of political will in making improvements, outlining the strategies that Long Beach has found effective and noting the benefits of the city’s efforts.
“This design that we have to create a great bike city is serving as a catalyst for us to receive not only grant funding but also investments from businesses from outside,” like bike shops and bike manufacturers, he said.
The recent focus on bicycling has also caused residents to take “a fresh look at Long Beach as a different kind of place to live,” he said, and fostered “a sense of pride in Long Beach that many tell me has been absent … for a long time.”
In just the last year, he said the number of bicyclists in Long Beach has doubled, without an attendant spike in accidents.
From simple things like “bike corrals” — basically larger than usual bike parking spaces in front of retail districts — to larger-scale projects like protected bicycle lanes on major boulevards, the range of bike improvements implemented in a short amount of time was clearly impressive to most commissioners and many others in attendance.
Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer said Gandy’s presentation underscored the importance of completing the city’s master plan for bicycle improvements — a process that began in December and is scheduled to be completed by April.
The document, he said, could help Santa Monica win grants like the ones that Long Beach has used to fund improvements.
“It was inspiring to see how much grant money Long Beach has been able to raise in a very short period of time and how much they’ve been able to utilize that to make it easier to cycle around their city,” Winterer said.
He said he also took note of Gandy’s assertion that in Long Beach the business community has largely become a partner in the push for a more bike-friendly city.
In his presentation, Gandy said Long Beach business districts have recognized that a community of bicyclists means local residents are more likely to rely on local shops and become regular customers.
One impressed spectator in the room on Wednesday was Richard McKinnon, a Parks and Recreation commissioner who has urged City Hall to make bike enhancements a priority.
The recent history of Long Beach, “indicates what’s possible with energy and application,” he said. “The key thing is that they changed their culture and they decided that having streets that became vast freeways wasn’t acceptable.”
But he noted that in some respects, it was easier to make quick progress in Long Beach than in Santa Monica because the former had what Gandy referred to as an “overcapacity for cars” that made it relatively easier to set aside road space for bikes. Santa Monica’s traffic-clogged, relatively narrow streets present a tougher problem, McKinnon said.
But McKinnon said he believes a concerted push by Santa Monica’s leaders similar to the one in Long Beach could result in big improvements for local bicyclists.
Some of the most successful improvements in Long Beach, like a strip on the side of a well-traveled road painted green and marked as a “shared space” for bicycles and cars, are relatively inexpensive and have boosted bicycle use, McKinnon noted.
He said the main take-away from Wednesday’s presentation was the reassurance that dedicated bicycle activists can translate their efforts into substantial improvements.
“There’s a real groundswell of people that are wanting this change. We haven’t seen it on the ground yet [in Santa Monica], but you do sense that something is happening at the City Hall level. I’m hopeful a lot’s going to happen,” McKinnon said.