Momentum has been building for the past decade to make Long Beach the most bicycle friendly city in the country, but there’s still work to be done before we get there.
One group helping to transform our streets is Empact Communities and its director Danny Gamboa, who taught a free bike safety workshop last Saturday at Admiral Kidd Park on the west side of town.
Despite the rain, more than 35 people — a mix of young children and adult riders, including myself — were there promptly at 9 a.m. to learn from the experts. Some of the youngest ones among us were there because they wanted tips about riding without training wheels; some adults brought dusty old bikes out of their garages to be safety checked; and most people said they simply wanted to know more about the rules of the road.
I was there personally, not just because I think the free public program is providing a good public service and deserves some promotion. The truth was self-motivated: I wanted to come out of the workshop feeling more confident about riding on busier streets in Long Beach.
The road to me riding my bike at all in this city has been a bumpy one. Within months of moving here from Colorado several years ago, the bicycle I brought with me was stolen right off of my apartment balcony — someone climbed up and took it, lock and all.
A few years later, a co-worker who was passionate about cycling was nice enough to give me one of his old bikes. But after going so long without having one, and being too cheap to replace the seat with one cushier, my outings on it were usually that of necessity (translation: the car was in the shop) rather than leisure.
It wasn’t until this Christmas, when my husband got me a new blue and yellow beach cruiser — with a buggy in the back to carry our dogs — that I really got excited about riding my bike again. Since then, the dogs and I have been going on regular outings along the Los Angeles River or on down to the beach.
Despite frequent rides, traversing the city’s busier streets made me nervous, so I’d check the city’s bike route maps and go out of my way to find the easiest ways to travel. I’d be intimidated by those honking at me in the road; sometimes startled by those who’d yell at me out of their car windows.
Even the ride from my house to the workshop, having to cross the Los Angeles River, was intimidating since there’s not a separate bike lane for crossing over from downtown Long Beach — something badly needed if the city wants to stay true to its bike-friendly moniker.
What I really needed from the workshop was to come away feeling reinforced, feeling confident that how I was riding was the right way.
Gamboa and his crew met that need. Their morning-long class last Saturday was the boost I needed as they reinforced how adult riders should use the roadway almost as if they were in a car, following the same rules of the road.
“Ride with traffic and obey traffic rules — if a driver yells at you or honks at you for that, that’s good because that means they see you; it’s the drivers who don’t see you who you have to worry about,” Gamboa explained.
His workshop was one in an ongoing series based on curriculum from the League of American Bicyclists, sponsored by a grant from the Long Beach Office of Traffic Safety in partnership with the Long Beach Health Department.
Attendees were fitted with complimentary helmets and given clip-on lights. There was even a raffle for a new bike. Many of us got one-on-one help practicing fast stops and avoiding obstructions. We learned about road rules for adults and children, were given tips about various bike locks, were taught how to check tire pressure, and given a list for the suggested equipment needed in a long ride, among other lessons.
“I believe if we teach people about bike safety, it will be less likely for them to be involved in collisions, which is why I do this,” Gamboa said.
For parent Veronica Ortega, who brought her brother and son to the workshop, the free class was an opportunity for her to learn to ride again — something she said she hadn’t done since she was a teenager.
“It’s something I want to do with my son, but I am afraid,” she said at the beginning of the class. Later, more confident, she said she was looking forward to biking with her family as a way for them all to stay active.
Her son, Eric, is 8 years old and hoping to get rid of his training wheels soon. The young man said he had fun at the workshop, noting that he especially enjoyed riding fast and practicing hard stops in an obstacle course of cones.
Another mother-son team, Emily Quest-Rhoads and 15-year-old Cabrillo High School student Roman Rhoads, were there to learn together, too.
Roman brought his dusty red bike that needed a little bit of work, and the Empact Communities group brought it to life with small tweaks and some air in the tires. They were able to remove the old pedal cages that had been catching the teenager up.
“Now that my bike is better, I’m going to start riding again,” Roman said.
Details about upcoming workshops are available at empactcommunities.org.
Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.