Today, residents in Long Beach, CA—along with their counterparts in hundreds of communities across the United States—will hop on their bikes for their daily commute for National Bike to Work Day.
Long Beach, a city of more than 460,000 people in Southern California, has a goal to become “the most bicycle-friendly city in America.” The city is so committed to this idea that the slogan is even inscribed on the city hall building itself. Bike Long Beach, a program of the city’s Public Works Department, estimates that the number of people who bike or walk to work in Long Beach has tripled since 2012. A local commitment to safe and convenient bike facilities preceded this increase; under the leadership of its former mobility coordinator, Charles Grandy, the city pledged more then $20 million for bike-related projects.
Bike Long Beach also notes a 50 percent increase in cycling citywide, and local businesses are reaping the benefits. “The increase in ridership is in our business areas—it’s Retro Row, it’s Second Street, it’s the corner at Broadway and Pine,” said Alan Crawford, Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Long Beach, in an interview with the Long Beach Gazette. “That’s what we want, because if they come by bike, they are not parking cars and we now free up that parking space for people who live further away.”
These trends also reflect an ongoing effort to build stronger connections between the city’s cycling and business communities. In 2010, Long Beach pioneered the concept of Bike Friendly Business Districts, districts where merchants actively incorporate cycling into events, promotions, services and day-to-day business operations. According to April Economides, President of Green Octopus Consulting, “If we can bike there instead of drive there, we’re healthier, we’re happier, we’re opening up car parking spaces for folks who need it and we’re helping our local businesses. It just gets to the heart of everything that’s most important about creating a healthy community.”
Special events such as Bike Saturdays—where hundreds of businesses offer discounts to cyclists every week—or BikeFest—a yearly art, food and music festival celebrating bike culture—have increased business for local merchants and converted many residents into regular cyclists. Downtown Long Beach, one of the city’s six bike-friendly business districts, benefits from an influx of customers to local shops and restaurants, fewer parking issues, and safer, more economically viable streets.
The benefits, however, would not be possible without increased public investment in safer infrastructure. In 2011, the city completed Southern California’s first separated bike lanes along Broadway and Third Street, two major downtown corridors that feature a one-way, two-mile couplet of bike lanes. Formerly three lanes each, both streets now have two travel lanes, on-street parking, and a bike lane separated from parking by curbs. Improvements also included new left turn signals for auto traffic and separate bicycle signals at selected intersections.
On a tour of this project for The Atlantic Cities, Grandy says, “We had our conversations about killing businesses and killing downtown and all that stuff, but the inverse has happened.” After only one year, the area experienced a boost in residents traveling by bicycle (33 percent) and foot (13 percent). Vehicle crashes decreased by 23 percent, while bike-related collisions decreased by half. On Third Street, automobile speeds fell from 36 miles per hour to 27 miles per hour.
As tens of thousands of commuters take to the streets today on their bicycles for National Bike To Work Day, public officials and local leaders can look to Long Beach as an example for how increased cycling enables places to become more healthy, vibrant and economically productive.