Why, oh, Why Doesn’t Long Beach Have a Ciclovía?

April Economides (left), manager of the upcoming Bike Nation Bike Share program in Long Beach, and 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal (right) at CicLAvia this past weekend. Photo: Pete Marchica

Following the success of this past weekend’s CicLAvia, with some 100,000 bikers, skaters, and walkers invading the streets of Los Angeles, the only question down south became: why, oh, why doesn’t Long Beach have a ciclovía?

The answer was astoundingly succinct – and not much surprising: it wasn’t a matter of discussion, which has been going on for years, but one of money.

“Together with a local organizing committee, we have been in talks with the producers of CicLAvia, regarding a similar event in Long Beach,” said bike advocate and 2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal before attending CicLAvia. “It’s an expensive endeavor, one whose bill the city cannot foot on just it’s own.”

When the city wrote and received its grant for its Shared Streets Campaign in 2008, it was contemplated that some of those monies could be used for a ciclovía-type event.

In fact, organizers from CicLAvia came down to Long Beach, looking at possible routes that could fit the length and came up with a possible 3-mile stretch – about a third of this past weekend’s CicLAvia – running from downtown up towards Martin Luther King Park.

After meetings with the Office of Special Events and Filming (the bureau of the City Manager Department which oversees every major event in the city from the Grand Prix to the Marathon) and the LBPD, taking on the costs of such an event became glaringly clear according to Allan Crawford, the Bicycle Coordinator for the city.

In a nutshell, there seemed to be a question of ethics: to sacrifice some of the city’s initiatives which focused on permanent biking and pedestrian safety/accessibility – take, for example, the partnering of Bike Long Beach with transit authorities to create better ways to share streets – in exchange for an annual event seemed antithetical to creating a bike friendly city.

“We kicked around the idea of a chain-of-pearls type event which significantly reduces costs,” Crawford said, where instead of closing off entire segments of streets, one closes individual segments. “But that kinda defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to do. And it’s street closure, it’s the police workforce – that’s the money. It is just simply hard to guarantee safety, make sure it makes sense for the biking community, and do it all without a large chunk of change.”

Given the monetary constraints, the city has opted to make the progression of the proposed project more collaborative by pairing with Bikeable Communities, one of Long Beach’s local nonprofit advocacy groups. Together, they hope to not only gain the capital needed to take on such an endeavor, but the proper planning policies to make sure the event is safe and accessible.

“A number of our business associations, including the Downtown Long Beach Association, are supportive. Our councilmembers are supportive. Our police are supportive,” Crawford continued. “But since it comes down to the money, we have talked about doing something in conjunction with Bike Fest” – the city’s largest biking event with multiple rides, tours, informational gatherings, events, and, of course, craft beer – “on the Sunday following the festival.”

It seems that, under this vein, they are similarly following L.A.’s model: have the city initially foot the bill for the ciclovía and eventually gain sponsorship (Bike Fest is sponsored by Wells Fargo).

Let’s hope they can make it happen.

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