A different, and favorable, view of the Broadway bike lanes

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Allan Crawford, a bike advocate and the Executive Director for BIKEable Communities, a non profit advocacy organization, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

As bike advocates, we welcome comments and criticism on bike infrastructure, particularly when it is constructive. But I found the recent article and accompanying video posted in the Long Beach Post on the Broadway protected lanes particularly unhelpful.

The video highlighted areas that need improvement (and no doubt they can be improved) but as far as I can tell, no one reached out to anyone at the city to discuss the issues or what is being done to address them. And the positive features of the lanes or reasoning behind them certainly weren’t discussed.

Over the past few weeks I have ridden the lanes and driven the street dozens of times and talked to numerous people who are using the lanes, as well as to drivers who regularly use the street. And I, along with a number of people I’ve talked to, have a very different perspective than that expressed in the article; a very positive perspective. When the lanes were initially put in, many of the issues highlighted in the video were indeed prevalent. But in just over a few weeks, as people get used to them, there has been a noticeable improvement.

Here are links to three short interviews that I have done with people using the lanes. I hope you take a few minutes to watch these short videos to give you a perspective on how others view and are using this new infrastructure.

The first video is with a gentleman who lives in Bluff Heights on First street.  He now uses the lanes daily as part of his rehab program for his knee replacement. Before the lanes he never bicycled on Broadway. Now, his comment is, “They are wonderful, love them. I ride them every day.”

The second is with a couple (the man lives near Temple and Broadway) who use the lanes with Scooters.  As they say in the interview, they like the lanes, they feel safe, and without them they would have used their car or Uber/Lyft. This is exactly what the city is encouraging with the lanes, giving people options to get out of the cars.

The third is with a young woman using her bike to go to the Vons on Broadway. She is originally from France, but now lives in Long Beach.  Her comment when asked how she likes the bike lanes “It’s amazing. I feel safe. Access to restaurants. It’s good.”

These are just three examples of people I’ve talked to who are using the lanes. I have other examples. In each case the response by the users has been very positive with the common thread in each and every conversation “I feel safe.”

I’ve also talked to a few people who aren’t necessarily so positive. I asked one young gentleman, who was parking his car in front of the building where he works, what he thought of the lanes. His initial response was “I don’t like them.”  I asked him why. His comment was ”it’s different.”  I asked if they made any difference in his commute; his answer was “no…not really.” We then talked about the benefits to bicyclists and people on scooters, and he says “I can see that.”  I’ve had similar responses from others who say..”it’s different…but it hasn’t made a big difference, but we’ve lost parking.” The few store owners I’ve talked to again have had a similar response. They are nervous about loss of a few parking spaces and what it may do to their business.

A driver’s perspective

I’ve driven the newly configured section between Alamitos and Redondo avenues several times a week over the past few weeks. I’ve routinely timed my trip and tracked my speed in order to get a sense of the impact of lane reconfiguration on transit time and vehicle speed. I have found that my speed has slowed a little (from just under 35 mph to under 30 mph,  which is the speed limit), but my transit time really hasn’t changed. Both before and after the reconfiguration the time it takes to drive between the two streets ranges from just under 4 minutes to about 4:45 with most of the times within a few seconds of 4:15. And the single biggest impact on the transit time is the number of stop lights I encounter. And this hasn’t changed as a result of the lane reconfiguration.

So why is this important

The first reason is safety.  As we know, the most critical factor for both bicyclist and pedestrian safety is traffic speed.  The Federal Highway Administration’s Safety Strategic Plan shows if you are hit by a vehicle going 40 mph your chance of being severely injured or killed is nearly 80%. Dropping that speed to 25 mph the odds fall to near 30% and at 20 mph the chances are about 10%. Speed makes a huge difference, and the new lane configuration has the impact of bringing most traffic down to the speed limit, without significantly impacting transit times.

The second reason is that it increases the number of people riding their bikes, giving them a safe option to get out of their cars (or out of Uber/Lyft). This is good for the environment, good for people’s health and as numerous studies have shown, good for business.

Yes, some bicyclists are comfortable riding the streets without this type of facility. But these are not the typical bicyclist.  Most people who would like to ride are intimidated by vehicles. The only way of giving them options to get out of their vehicles is to provide facilities where they feel safe. And from my perspective this is they do—they make people feel safe.  Can it be improved?  Can we do a better job of educating drivers? Certainly! But unless we try, unless we put paint on the ground, unless we calm traffic, we will never make a substantial difference in the historically car-dominated culture of Southern California.

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