Streetsblog Los Angeles Examines Bike-Friendly Long Beach


Bicyclists in downtown Long Beach take their first official spin in the city's new protected bike paths on April 23, 2011, the day they were officially opened to the public. Photo by Richard Risemberg.

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Perhaps you've seen evidence of Long Beach making moves to live up to its City Hall boast that this is "the most bicycle friendly city in America."

But you've never seen it examined like this.

Last week was Long Beach week on Streetsblog Los Angeles, which calls itself a "daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities," has just completed a four-part series on how the city has used the $310,000 PLACE1 Grant it received in 2008 from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

"This was the first time that anyone in L.A. County has tried to make the connection between public health and healthy lifestyle and transportation policy," says Streetsblog L.A.'s Damien Newton of the PLACE Grant Program.

Long Beach was one of five communities receiving the three-year grants, and Newton received a fellowship from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism to review the progress made by each.

"We wanted to see whether ultimately what they did with [the PLACE Grants] makes sense," says Newton, "if [life in those communities] is actually going to be healthier as a result."

So how did Long Beach do? You really should check out Streetsblog L.A.'s in-depth coverage and eloquent presentation. But the short answer is like the old Virginia Slims slogan: "You've come a long way, baby."

Newton credits Charlie Gandy, who received much of the PLACE Grant money to serve as Long Beach's "mobility coordinator," for a lot of the progress. "He brought over a lot of state, federal, and county money on top of the $310,000 to do a lot of these pilot projects," says Newton. "And Long Beach really has developed an infrastructure that's unique in Southern California."

The four parts of Newton's Long Beach series include an opening overview, a piece surveying the impact Long Beach's new focus on "Livable Streets" has had on business; a piece examining “Active Living and Complete Streets” planning documents that make up part of the PLACE Grant; and a piece looking at the existing and funded infrastructure put in place over the last three years, as well as a discussion of Long Beach’s recent past and future.

What is the biggest negative Newton sees in Long Beach's progress? "When you look at the really innovative things that are going on, you see them in areas that are more business-oriented," he says. "And some people question whether bicycle infrastructure in Long Beach is really about supporting those who 'need it least.' …  At least right now there's that perception in some quarters."

But that may be slated to change. "If you look at the projects that are funded over the next couple of years, you see them spread out much more throughout the city," he says.

However, does Newton agree with City Hall's claim that Long Beach is already #1 for bikes in the USA? "Personally, I don't feel that Long Beach is there yet," he says. "I think if we look at the cities that are traditionally at the top of the list, Portland and Minneapolis, they're certainly ahead of where Long Beach is. At the same time, Long Beach is closing the gap. … The strides that Long Beach has made in three years … Long Beach is definitely on the map."

Go to Streetsblog Los Angeles (see above links) to get a good sense of why.

1 Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments

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