One of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. is Long Beach, a Southern California city of about 500,000 residents that most people do not even know is separate from L.A. Over just about a decade, the city has transformed itself into a haven for cyclists, implementing innovative infrastructure like bike boulevards, safety elements like "bike boxes" at intersections, and economic initiatives like bike-friendly business districts.
At the helm of these changes today is Nate Baird, who was recently named Mobility & Healthy Living Programs Officer for the city. He came from a similar planning role in L.A.'s Department of Transportation, where he spearheaded the implementation of the city's bike plan all over Los Angeles. I asked him a few questions about his new role and what makes Long Beach so special for bikes.
What is your role in the city?
I am a Mobility & Healthy Living Programs Officer, which means I get to connect the dots between how we get around in Long Beach and how that influences our health. We want to make active transportation choices, walking, bicycling, and riding transit, easier choices for people. I'm based out of the Public Works Department's Transportation group and I get to work closely with the City of Long Beach's Health Department, as well.
What's the most interesting or unique bike program or infrastructural element you've got in Long Beach?
We've got so many! From the bicycle-friendly business work that Charlie Gandy and April Economides began with Bike Long Beach, to the green sharrows on 2nd St. in Belmont Shore. I think my current favorite are the pair of separated bikeways on 3rd and Broadway. They really make bicycling on those streets comfortable and easy.
How has Long Beach been able to make so many great changes when it comes to biking and walking in such a short period of time?
There's a lot of great energy in Long Beach, coming from a lot of different places. And you need that push from a variety of places, from the politicians and city staff, from your advocates and from the business community. In Long Beach a variety of diverse stakeholders are really making change possible from community groups to those in the health field.
What's the biggest misconception when it comes to adding bike lanes?
There's only so much space between our curbs. And we have to plan and design for the pinch points in a corridor. This is why so many bike lane projects require taking space that was previously set aside for vehicles. But only very rarely are we actually taking away vehicle access. Usually what we're sacrificing is some degree of vehicle mobility, usually an increase in motorist travel time along a corridor during a short, but important, period of the day. The benefits in safety and new access for bicyclists of a broader range of abilities are 24-hour gains.
What's the one way people should be involved at a local level to make their communities more bikeable?
The great thing is that there is no one way. Wherever you are is a good place to start, whether that means going for a fun ride with friends on occasion, trying a trip by bike or transit that you usually take by car, advocating for bicyclist needs politically or in the sphere of your business or daily life.
Image by Allan Crawford
Nate is joining us today to answer your questions about how to make your community and city more bike-friendly. You can also follow him at @BicyclingNate.