A Rising Tide for Walking and Biking in California and Its Cities

Long Beach may not have a ciclovia style open street event, but Vice-Mayor Robert Garcia is front and center when the Long Beach Grand Prix allows cyclists to use its closed course the day before the race. Image: ##http://lbpost.com/news/2000003501-the-return-of-the-grand-prix-ciclovia-of-long-beach#.U2Qmr61dUs0##Long Beach Post##
We’re #3! Long Beach may not have a ciclovia style open street event, but Vice-Mayor Robert Garcia is front and center when the Long Beach Grand Prix allows cyclists to use its closed course the day before the race. Image: ##http://lbpost.com/news/2000003501-the-return-of-the-grand-prix-ciclovia-of-long-beach#.U2Qmr61dUs0##Long Beach Post##

This week, the League for American Bicyclists released its nationwide “benchmarking” report on the state of active transportation throughout the country. The report contained good news for those working to make California a more safe and attractive place to bicycle. California rose ten spots to #9 in the state to state comparisons, scoring nearly 54 points out of a possible 100.

“We are excited and encouraged to see real progress in states like California, Minnesota and Utah,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “Overall, we still see a lot of opportunity to realize the huge potential of bicycling to promote health, economic development, and quality of life.”

The news was even better for some of California’s major cities.  An earlier report listed the most “bicycle friendly cities” in America. Two of the top three cities, and six of the top twenty cities for bicycling are in California: San Francisco (#1), Long Beach (#3), Sacramento (#11), Fresno (#12), San Jose (#16) and San Diego (#20).

Parking-protected bike lanes, such as the one on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, is one reason San Francisco moved to the top of the list. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanfranciscoize/7129919209/##Mark Dreger/Flickr##

“Finally. San Francisco beat Portland at biking,” half-joked SF Weekly in its San FranCycle section. The article notes that San Francisco is a relatively safe place to bicycle compared to other American cities, that the city is a leader in bike paths and can correlate how the relationship between bicycle investment and business growth.

Long Beach, which declares itself “the most bicycle friendly city in America” on a sculpture on its City Hall, was particularly excited by its ranking.

“We’re obviously very proud of our efforts to be the most bicycle friendly city in the nation,” writes Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster. “Our investments have resulted in a healthier, more active population and a boost to our economy.”

The Bicycle Friendly States ranking is based on a number of key indicators, including infrastructure and funding that provide on-the-ground bicycle facilities; education and encouragement programs that promote bicycling; and passage and enforcement of bicycle-friendly laws that make it safe and comfortable for people of all ages to ride.

The League uses similar metrics for its Bike Friendly Cities list, but only ranks cities with populations over 100,000. That excludes two of California’s most bicycle friendly enclaves: Davis, CA which has a world class bicycle network but only 65,000 residents and Santa Monica which was featured by the League for being a Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Business, but has roughly 90,000 residents.

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    just spent a week in Pasadena, flying from St. Louis. We were car less and it worked out great.

  • james

    By weighing recreational trails so heavily in their assessment one might get the idea that the League considers cycling to be a recreational activity. How else could a city as hostile to utilitarian urban cyclists and pedestrians as Long Beach score so highly? All those “bicycle facilities” in Long Beach’s golf course inspired parks and the beach and river trails that surround the peninsular city inflate its score and distract from the conditions cyclists and pedestrians face when they use Long Beach’s brutal de-urbanized streets. It is a city that has turned its former street car era commercial streets into automobile oriented highways and its residential streets into high speed arterials. Marked and light protected crosswalks are often spaced as far apart as they are in Orange County’s post-war grid. Compared to a similar street in Portland or Oakland a Long Beach commercial street like Broadway, Anaheim or 7th, traffic moves 10-15 mph faster and under no circumstances will motorists yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Riding a bicycle means fighting for your right to take a fraction of the lane surrounded by drivers who are of the same mindset as those in Orange County. Where bike lanes do exist they are on dangerous, wide, high speed urban highways far from the older neighborhoods that need them most. These bike lanes resemble those found in Huntington Beach or Irvine with traffic in excess of 50mph and bike lanes that disapear at intersections. I can’t remember the last time a saw a cyclist on PCH’s highway gutter lanes. In older, streetcar sprawl neighborhoods that might resemble bicycle friendly areas in other cities (e.g. SE Portland) traffic moves at a higher rate of speed than is ideal and motorists are blind to the presence of cyclists or pedestrians or they simply don’t believe you have the right to be there. It is like riding in Huntington Beach without the bike lanes. The same sort of drivers and similar speeds but you have to share the road with them. Who wants to live that way? Bicycle boulevards? Those are little more than green lines on a map. Long Beach recently repaved Walnut, a designated bicycle boulevard, without doing a single thing to benefit cyclists or calm traffic. Unless you live in the far southwest corner of the city you won’t see any sign of improvements. Where improvements are made they seem to be more oriented towards landscaping than traffic calming. Blog-friendly, photogenic fluff seems to be the Long Beach’s specialty. It is city beautification masquerading as complete streets.

    Talk a walk on 4th street and you may find that most cyclists are on the sidewalk, where they treat pedestrians that same way that Long Beach’s motorists treat cyclists and pedestrians. How many cyclists are going to try to share the road with traffic that fast and aggressive? I’ve seen similar streets in other cities that work quite well but Long Beach is far too dedicated to maintaining excessive vehicle speed to give sharrowed streets even a basic level of traffic calming.

    As much as riding a bicycle in Long Beach sucks, walking is even worse. I can’t remember the last time I saw a motorist yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. On a daily basis I see pedestrians stranded in the middle of two lane streets (such as 3rd or Linden) being passes by cars on both sides. I was just in Oakland and it seemed like a bicycle and pedestrian paradise by comparison. I was able to cross major 5 lane commercial streets in unmarked crosswalks and most motorists yielded to me. In marked cross walks I found near complete compliance with the law. In Long Beach I don’t even have the right of way in a crosswalk in a residential neighborhood on a 1.5 lane residential street. Every other time I cross the street I come close to being hit by a car turning left and on a regular basis I am verbally abused for forcing a motorist to yield when making a right hand turn even though I have a white light and they are turning on red.

    The worst part of all this is having to suffer Long Beach’s campaign to promote its identity as a bicycle friendly city. Long Beach suffered more than half a century of efforts to make it more compatible with Orange County and the end result is an ex-city with an urban themed shopping mall where downtown used to be. Their solution seems to be little more than re-branding and self-promotion. A few shiny, highly promoted projects, totally disconnected from anything else, that seem very attractive to fashion bloggers and fluff magazines like momentum. There is very little substance to support their claim to be bicycle friendly. Oakland, Pittsburgh, Baltamore, Tacoma etc. have done more without daring to assuming the same offensive self-congratulatory tone. They gave an inch, called it a mile and told the world they invented a new system of measurement.

    I would also point out that Long Beach is the city that still uses diesel buses even as they pat themselves on the back for ordering a few electric buses. This is consistent with their approach to traffic engineering and urban planning.

  • CitricAcid

    Ha, I attended high school and attend college in the LBC and just recently had to move to redondo beach…not even close! Long Beach is so much more pedestrian and bike-friendly I am shocked at how wonderful Long Beach is. Won’t argue the diesel point, but Long Beach streets, yes fourth included, are very easy to walk around and bike. As I can’t drive, I would know.

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