Allan Crawford: Departing as Long Beach Mobility Coordinator • Long Beach Post

Allan Crawford had expected to be Long Beach’s (interim) mobility coordinator for three months—and that three months turned into three years.


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Crawford was approached to take on the job as a bridge until a new coordinator could be found following the departures of “Transportation Rainmaker” Sumi Gant and Charlie Gandy. Gant truly understood that biking infrastructure was a crucial component of a future city and raised over $20 million to make that happen. Gandy was hired by Gant as mobility coordinator in 2008 and brought national connections and a jovial face to the changing road design of “The Most Bike Friendly City in America.”

So how does Crawford feel about his three month stint turning into a three year job?

“It’s been beyond rewarding,” Crawford said.

The reward, under Crawford’s tenure, has included a multitude of program and infrastructure upgrades that have altered Long Beach’s attempt to become the “most bike friendly city in the nation.”

Take, for example, what Crawford himself considers one of the jewels of his work for Long Beach: its Bike Friendly Business District (BFBD) Program inaugurated in 2011 shortly after Gandy left the post and headed by local bike guru (and one of Bicycle Magazine’s most innovative advocates in the world) April Economides. The idea? Simple: what is good for bikes is good for business. With a $72K investment from the County’s Public Health Department, five neighborhoods—Belmont Shore in the east, Bixby Knolls to the north, East Village Arts District in Downtown, Cambodia Town in the central LBC, and Retro Row along 4th—became the first in the nation to launch a BFBD program. (For more on the Bike Friendly Business District Program, visit this Streetsblog article from August, 2011.)

Crawford seemingly represents the tail-end of an era that began with Charlie Gandy and Sumi Gant—and the game is different for Long Beach’s new mobility coordinator.

These shifts in what biking has become—social and economical as well as physical—are keys for Crawford’s perception of where biking should go.

“What we’ve seen is not a change in things like the existing bike paths: the beach path or the path along the LA River,” Crawford said. “The true changes we’ve seen are in things like the [City’s safety initiative] Share Our Streets programs, 4th Street, bike boulevards. The change is in things we’ve wanted to address—and that is urban bicycling.”

Urban bicycling, at least for Crawford, supersedes providing the seasoned biking veteran the ability to get comfortably and safety form Point A to Point B. It also involves convincing citizens to use bikes over cars when the latter isn’t necessary.

Crawford uses the massively successful bike share program in New York City as an example. For him, there is a difference between shared lanes—which have proved not just controversial in SoCal but often unsafe because of the lack of mutual respect between rider and driver—and separated lanes—like the ones in Downtown Long Beach. The latter encourage greater use. Even more, NYC has a density of stations that makes accessing them easier than ever; with a station at every 3 blocks, one will never walk more than 1.5 blocks to get access to a bike.

 

All this done with the loss of parking in the nation’s most dense city.

“If New York can do it, Long Beach can do it,” Crawford said. “I understand that there are many downtown who are disappointed by our separated lanes—and for this, I have to say that not everyone will be satisfied. People are always going to complain because the world cannot be molded around individuals. This is why I’ll never be a politician. But the reality is that—since we’ve put in those lanes—we’ve seen a 50% reduction in vehicle accidents and a 30% reduction in bicycle accidents and we’ve dropped the average speed of vehicles. All of the things we were supposed to do with the separated lanes, we’ve done.”

Though Crawford has not looked at the sales data—that is, to see if business has actually increased the business of those surrounding biking amenities—he holds a very firm philosophy about taking gambles like the separated lanes: one must have a willingness to experiment.

In his work with traffic engineer Dave Roseman, Crawford noted that many seem to forget that it is not entirely about eradicating car use but a the hopeful possibility of making driving and biking coexist, “the best of both worlds,” as Crawford puts it. But that willingness to experiment—which could very well include taking out a few parking spaces—and see if it works.

“In the business world, it’s called ‘chief failures,’” Crawford said. “For the ones which are successful, great: you can build upon them. For the ones that are truly failures, you learn from the failure, and you move on.”

Urban bicycling, at least for Crawford, supersedes providing the seasoned biking veteran the ability to get comfortably and safety form Point A to Point B. It also involves convincing citizens to use bikes over cars when the latter isn’t necessary.

Moving on indeed, the new mobility coordinator expected to take his or her place come February isn’t just facing the positivity of Crawford’s outlook on biking, but rather faces massive hurdles as well as lingering questions.

One of the largest elephants in the room is the aforementioned bike sharing program, where Long Beach was offered what seemed to be an all-too-good massive bike share program a la Bike Nation (BN). The $12M program—$2.4M of which is from a grant from the MTA and the other is supposed to be funded by BN itself—was to have its first of 250 bike kiosks installed Downtown in February of last year but instead has been plagued by funding, installation, and PR issues.

Though Crawford said the City is working “diligently and persistently” with BN and they they remain “optimistic,” the new mobility coordinator still faces a massive battle: one speculator, asking to hold anonymity, feared that the delay with Long Beach’s BN program was a conundrum within the model itself. BN depends on advertising dollars; unlike CitiBike, NYC’s bike share program which was entirely funded by a CitiGroup, BN asks outside advertisers to pay for the ads at their kiosks and on bikes.

When it was discovered that the LA BN program fell through because CBS Outdoors has an exclusive right to advertise at public transportation outlets, BN saw its advertisers flee: they wanted to LA crowd and were worried their advertising efforts would not be worth it were they exclusively in LB.

Of course, this is all speculation—but it presents one of the many hurdles which the new mobility coordinator must face. And as Crawford seemingly represents the tail-end of an era that began with Gandy and Gant, the game is different for Long Beach’s new mobility coordinator.

“The way the job proposal was written, it is really exciting because it is new,” Crawford said. “The new position crosses the boundaries within the City departments. If there is one thing I have been disappointed in—and this is just me, not anyone else in particular—it is the lack of outreach and coordination with the Parks & Rec and the Health Department. This isn’t to say they don’t work with us when asked; they’re amazing and have made a better place for all of us. But I think we’re going to a lot more collaboration with the new hire in this sense.”

Crawford during this interview wanted to specifically extend thanks and gratitude towards Steve Tweed, Charlie Gandy, Sumi Gant, Nancy Young, Dave Roseman, and the “countless others who have made this a great city to bike in.”

Even more, don’t expect Crawford to be going anywhere.

“What I realized working within the City was the power of they call the ‘inside/outside game’”, Crawford said. “There are certain things you can do within a city bureaucracy… We execute directives from the City Council; that’s our job. It’s important, however, to have an organization on the outside that can recommend towards, lobby and advocate to our City Council. I’m looking forward this advocacy side.”

As for that new hire?

“Everyone is thrilled to have the new mobility coordinator on board.”

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