My class’s second urban trip was to downtown Long Beach to see how bike friendly it is (or isn’t).
I heard about Long Beach’s bike friendliness when I started attending Cal State Long Beach, but until the bike trip I never really saw what made it bike friendly. It seems the majority of Long Beach is not particularly bike friendly. I had never really noticed “sharrows” or other types of bike lanes. So this trip really exposed me to what makes Long Beach, or at least the downtown part of it, bike friendly.
I was really looking forward to this trip because I used to live in Japan and its public transportation is far more dominant than cars. I biked everywhere, almost every day for about seven years. So when I moved back to America, it was a difficult adjustment to take a car everywhere. But after almost five years of car culture, I found it weird and a bit dangerous to be on a bike again. There is a belief that biking in America is dangerous and discouraged because of our love of and dependence on cars. The system and rules for biking in America are very different from Japan. Over there bikers ride on sidewalks or the side of the road. There are no such things as bike lanes, let alone a sharrow. The Japanese would consider that ridiculous because bikes are already so ingrained into the transportation lifestyle that sharrows are unnecessary.
Our trip consisted of riding in neighborhoods, along shopping routes, on the beach path and in bike friendly business districts (BFBD). We started from the Bikestation, which is the first of its kind to be built in America. This facility is a bike enthusiast’s best friend. My fellow students and I rented bikes, helmets and locks from here, but it provides much more. You can leave your bike there for free during business hours, leave it overnight for a fee, get repairs, air and there are even lockers and showers for after a long day’s ride. There is a membership requirement for most uses though.
From there we went down to City Hall and the library where there are creatively designed bike racks and the city’s claim of being (or becoming) the most bicycle friendly city in America. Afterwards we traveled through the neighborhoods and shopping routes where we found both designated bike lanes as well as sharrows. There were even separate traffic signals for bicyclists. The beach path (Shoreline Pedestrian Bikepath) was my favorite though. There’s nothing quite like cruising along the shore on a beautiful day with the wind in your hair. The only downside was that it seemed to end too soon and I couldn’t stop to take photos. It’s such a gorgeous route that it deserves to be ridden slowly to enjoy it as long as possible.
Part of the trip was to show the benefits of riding a bike versus driving a car and I do agree with most of them. It’s more fun bike riding with friends, it’s environmentally safer, financially better, good for your health and less hassle. On the other hand, riding around Long Beach also pointed out the downsides to biking.
Being on a bike means you can visit lots of small shops easily because they are usually all clustered together (again Japan is a perfect example of this). The example for this trip would be 2nd Street where we stopped at a bakery for lunch. I love being able to do that. The one problem with that though is, just as with cars, parking. We had to have someone watch our bikes because there was no place to park and lock them. This brings up the bigger issue (especially for me) about there not being decent, or any, places to park bikes. This is the biggest reason why I do not bike anywhere. If there is no place for me to leave my bike then why would I ride it and risk it being stolen? I think this type of infrastructure, besides good bike lanes, needs to be seriously addressed. That being said, at least you do not have to pay for bike parking when it is available. That is certainly another incentive to bike rather than drive.
That being said, there are bike racks in downtown Long Beach, I just didn’t see many of them.
In terms of where I live (Orange County), I didn’t recall seeing the amount of the bike friendly infrastructure that I saw in Long Beach. There are almost no bike lanes and certainly no sharrows or places to park/lock a bike anywhere. I do not feel as comfortable bicycling in my hometown because there is no strong community support. If there was proper infrastructure and community support, then I would love to bike around the city for everything. That being said, in a LA Times article, it stated that Orange County has the Commuter Bikeways Strategic Plan to improve and expand bike paths by adding another 700 miles to their already existing 1,000 miles. I would like to know where all these paths are, or maybe I just have not been paying proper attention. Either way, I think the next step for Orange County would be to spread the word about their bike paths better. If we do not know about it, then how will we ever use it?
What with the push for bike friendliness in downtown Long Beach, I feel that area is safer than most because the people there are more concerned and aware of the bicycling community. In a LA Times article though, it mentioned how some people complained, “Why … do these bike riders get everything they want…” Obviously there is still contention within the community, but as seen when riding around Long Beach, there is also progress.
With the beautiful weather Southern California has, it is a wonder to me that bicycling is not loved and done more. Try riding your bike in a typhoon or during rainy season in Japan through crowded streets with one hand holding an umbrella. Southern Californians have it good here. I advise that they take advantage of it.
Note: The majority of this post comes from a paper I wrote for the class dated March 18, 2014.