Do you think San Clemente's City Council just talks the talk? Think again. They also push the pedals!
During last Saturday's bicycle tour of vibrant downtown Long Beach, our decision-makers were able to get that essential, tires-on-the-ground experience by flowing along the living streets and neighborhoods of one of California's largest coastal cities.
Pedaling in the sun were Mayor Jim Evert, Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown, Council member Lori Donchak, GPAC appointees Pete Van Nuys and Richard Boyer, plus City Planner Cliff Jones, City Engineer Tom Frank, and me, PEDal Founder Brenda Miller. We all pedaled, pondered, and probed the possibilities of a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Spanish Village by the Sea.
Led by Charlie Gandy, President of Livable Communities and representing the City of Long Beach, we departed Long Beach City Hall via cycle tracks. Cycle tracks are on-street bikeways that are separated from motor traffic by physical barriers.
Long beach installed cycle tracks on two one-way roads in the heart of downtown, 3rd St. and Broadway, while also preserving on-street parallel parking. Intersections with cycle tracks are regulated by different motor and bicycle signal lights, including turning motions, with straight-through traffic for pedestrians, bikes, and cars getting green light priority. The result is a balanced, harmonious integration of all movements, including pedestrians.
Next we toured the two-story Bikestation Long Beach, the first of its kind in the country. Built as a public-private partnership with the City, Bikestation provides secure, 24-hour/7-day bicycle parking, repair services, bicycle rentals, and showers on-site for bicycle commuters. British Airways stores bicycles at Bikestation for use by its employees staying in town or overnight.
Arriving in the Belmont Shore commercial district, everyone rode the green sharrowed lane on 2nd Street, a 4-lane road that has 35,000 - 40,000 average daily car trips. A "sharrow" is a roadway marking that designates the lane as being shared by both cars and bicycles.
Responding to requests from the local business association concerned about cyclists endangering pedestrians on sidewalks, Long Beach implemented the green lane in April, 2011. Once cyclists were given a safe alternative to the sidewalks, the real changes began, according to Gandy.
- The City advertised a safety poster campaign and encouraged police to issue written warnings to cyclists for the first several months.
- Then in summer, 2011, officers began issuing $170 tickets for sidewalk riders.
- The three E's, Engineering, Education, and law Enforcement have definitely reached all cyclists, particularly the inconsiderate few who were making things bad for everyone.
- Consequently, sidewalks are safer and the number of cyclists has tripled, with almost all of them in the green lane.
Inexpensive to implement, the green sharrowed lane combines runway paint topped with white sharrows centered in the right-hand lane in both directions. The paint is not slippery when wet. Long Beach won an award from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which recognized the City's innovative techniques for integrating bicycles with motorized transportation modes.
Importantly, the green lane doesn't change anyone's right to use the roadway, as both bicycles and cars share the lane equally. It's a powerful communication tool that accomplishes four goals:
- It prominently lets motorists know to expect bicycles in the center of the travel lane,
- Gets bicyclists off the pedestrian sidewalk,
- Positions bicyclists outside the dangerous door-zone of parked cars, and
- Preserves on-street parking.
But how does it feel to ride in the green lane? This was my second bicycle tour of the neighborhood and there were no aggressive behaviors by competitive motorists. Faster-moving vehicles on 2nd St. use the left lane and do so with noticable courtesy. No one guns their engine to get by you. No one slams on their brakes after cutting in front of you. Everyone gets along.
Cyclists feel secure on the roadway because it has become multi-modal, with 40,000 cars safely sharing 2nd Street with 1,000 bicyclists daily, all because of the green lane. You have to ride it to believe it. San Clemente officials rode the lane confidently and in comfort. In fact, Mayor Jim Evert eagerly joined me in one of the Belmont Shore bicycle boxes, which indicate a safe place for bike to safely get ahead of queuing traffic at intersections during red lights. My husband, Barry, rode the tour with me last October and observed, "Wow, I feel like I really belong here."
From Belmont Shore, San Clemente's pedal-pushers rode to dine at Lola's Mexican Cuisine, the site of the first parklet in Southern California. Located on East 4th Street, the restaurant sits in one of four city-designated ‘Bike Friendly Business Districts’ in Long Beach that encourage bicycle mode share through traffic calming, abundant, convenient bicycle parking, and outdoor dining.
The parklet at Lola's is simply a temporary deck positioned in the roadway adjacent the curb and level with the existing sidewalk. When it rains, water easily flows underneath toward the gutter. Lola's parklet has added 20 restaurant seats barricaded with large, brightly colored planters, all on a steel frame that can be moved, if desired. "They're the most valuable seats we have," Lola's owner told us.
With urban open space a scarce commodity, Long Beach uses parklets as a tool of "economic gardening," according to Charlie Gandy. By creating spaces where people want to be, parklets encourage entrepreneurship and promote revitalization as catalysts for economic development. Most importantly, they stimulate local spending that drives the community economy.
Bob Foster, Mayor of Long Beach and also a cyclist, advocates that bicycle transportation makes it easier for people to patronize local businesses and interact with each other. "I see parts of the City on my bike that I would never even notice if I was just driving . . . it's a great way for me personally to get closer to the City," he says on the City's bicycle transportation website.
Long Beach successfully uses non-motorized infrastructure as a tool of economic development. The City aggressively pursues public and private grant opportunities, amassing $20 million for bike-ped and active transportation projects over the last several years. As a result, its businesses thrive: in the last 20 months, 20 businesses have arrived or expanded in its downtown commercial districts, according to Gandy. In any economy, that's a statistic no community can afford to ignore.
Even though Long Beach is almost 8 times the population of San Clemente, bicycling its metropolitan environment feels like riding in a village. Long Beach has figured out how to create places people want to be and how they want to get there by having a balanced, multi-modal transportation network for all. Motor traffic is calmed, locals bask in sidewalk cafes, pedestrians stroll, bicyclists pedal, businesses thrive and everyone has a smile on her face. That's why the San Clemente City Council, GPAC, and staff pushed the pedals Saturday.
Councilmember Lori Donchak said it all with this observation: "Long Beach was a real eye-opener about how cycling can be a valued transportation choice in a community. Whether on foot, on bicycle, or in a car, people moving around the city were respectful of each other, and it worked. An added bonus: abundant public art especially appreciated by those on two wheels. It was good to see the Complete Street concept in action," she said.
What would San Clemente founding father Ole Hanson say? Can we become the Spanish Multi-modal Village by the Sea?
Next up: Roundabouts in San Clemente: red-light-free zones?
Editor's Note: Because of an editing error, the definitions of "sharrow" and "bike box" were misstated in an earlier version of this blog post. Patch apologizes for the mistake.