In its quest to achieve the coveted designation of “Most Bicycle-Friendly City in America,” Long Beach has kept the forward momentum of improvement and innovation cruising into 2011 — but not without a derailleur or two getting caught in the spokes along the path.

    Hot-topic issues, such as the city’s mandatory bicycle registration laws and the construction of certain bicycle infrastructure improvements at street level, propelled further thought, discussion and ultimately change through City Council’s votes. This time around, the cycling community spoke, and city officials listened.

Removing Roadblocks

    Following the Long Beach Police Department’s impound of 21 bikes and issuance of approximately 70 citations during the ill-fated Critical Mass bicycle ride Oct. 29, First District Councilman Robert Garcia authored the initial motion in mid-December that requested staff to investigate eliminating the bicycle registration requirement in lieu of a voluntary registration program. That motion also included a “friendly amendment” made by Vice Mayor and Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal that online bicycle registration options would be examined.

    Garcia said the city, which has had a mandatory bicycle registration program in place for decades, is one of very few cities in the state requiring registration. He added that the mandatory system was “antiquated and inefficient.”

    “If Long Beach is going to be America’s most bike-friendly city, we’re going to first have to take a close look at our bicycle laws,” Garcia said.

    “Nobody in the cycling community is supportive of (mandatory bicycle registration), and it causes issues with tourists or non-residents who ride bikes here because their city doesn’t require registration. We’re not eliminating bicycle registration ... we want the registration process to change from being overly burdensome to easy and accessible, with an emphasis on an education component.”

    Mandatory bicycle registration finally became a thing of the past after City Council’s unanimous vote Feb. 8 to amend the city’s municipal code and cease current bicycle licensing/registration laws and enforcement. Part of the motion included a recommendation that city staff encourage residents to register their bicycles with the National Bike Registry or another online registry service. Charlie Gandy, the city’s mobility coordinator, said www.BikeRegistry.com offers free online bicycle registry.

Master Plan Up To Speed

    Another significant cycling-related missive requiring an update this year was the city’s Bicycle Master Plan (BMP). In 2001, when Long Beach adopted the most recent BMP, the document mentioned the importance of developing a network of roads and paths for cyclists that would be a key element in preserving the city as a place where people would want to live, work and visit.

    Sumi Gant, transportation programs officer in the city’s Department of Traffic and Transportation, was hired in 2001 after working for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in Los Angeles. Gant said the cyclists, the ones who would ride their bikes for hundreds of miles each week for recreation or as daily transportation, pushed for the BMP, and she started applying for grants hoping to chip away at the list of 13 “short-term projects.”

    What began as a campaign of a few turned into a cause for many as Gant and Gandy began planning BMP update community meetings. With the initial meeting on Jan. 22 of this year, seven out of nine community workshops to date have provided residents the opportunity to take a neighborhood bike ride and then provide feedback about the BMP’s envisioned infrastructure improvements.

    The final two meetings will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Bixby Park, 130 Cherry Ave. (bike ride is from 10 to 11:30 a.m.); and from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library, 1401 E. Anaheim St.

Cycle Of Cash

    During a time of major budget cutbacks at nearly every level of government, Long Beach residents may wonder where the millions of dollars are coming from to pay for the city’s extensive bicycle infrastructure projects — from the $700,000 roundabouts on Vista Street through Belmont Heights (finished in November 2010), to the $700,000 Protected Bicycle Lane project on Broadway and Third Streets downtown (a completion celebration is scheduled for April 2).

    “The federal (Department of Transportation) is promoting ‘complete streets’ and ‘live-able communities’ that have shifted the federal government’s focus from the movement of cars to the movement of people,” said Gant, who is responsible for finding and applying for grants enabling multiple bicycle improvements in Long Beach. “When federal transportation funding (is disbursed) for street improvements, the (money) needs to be used to the greatest extent possible to include pedestrian and bicycle improvements. There’s been a significant investment at the federal level for using alternative, green transportation… We’ve been capitalizing on that trend.”

    And the Department of Transportation isn’t putting the brakes on in terms of funding for alternative transportation projects any time soon, according to Gant.

    “Grant funding is very specific,” Gant said. “The key is to plan. (The city’s Department of Traffic and Transportation) works on planning a lot and this will help us to get grants when the funding becomes available. You have to have a project ready to go and (a plan) already in place.”

Just Like Riding A Bike

    With the overarching goal to ensure that every neighborhood in Long Beach’s 50 square miles has access to alternative transportation, Gant said residents aren’t the only targets of the BMP. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are an important part of completing the loop.

    The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health has provided the city money for a pilot program, Bicycle-Friendly Retail Districts. Gant said Fourth Street’s Retro Row, Cambodia Town, Bixby Knolls and the East Village will be receiving cargo bikes during the course of the 2-year program.

    Gant said Long Beach’s focus for the grant is marketing and promotion of bicycling as a viable, efficient alternative to driving a car to go shopping. Because the city’s municipal code states that riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is illegal in business districts, Gant added that stencils on the sidewalks reminding people to walk their bikes will be painted in the near future.

Path To Success

    Other bicycle improvements on the horizon in 2011 include the expansion of the city’s BikeShare program, with target

areas identified as downtown and California State University, Long Beach. A bicycle boulevard on 15th Street near Poly High School (parallel to Pacific Coast Highway) will be constructed with funding from a CalTrans Safe Routes to School grant.

    In September 2010, a separate Safe Routes to School grant assisted in educating elementary and middle school children in every school in the Long Beach Unified School District about “rules of the road” and “bicycle safety.” Outreach for adults, both motorists and cyclists, is in the works for this spring, Gant said.

    The American League of Bicyclists awarded Long Beach a Bronze-Level Bicycle-Friendly Community Award in May 2009 (the city ranked No. 23 in the nation). The organization reviews municipalities’ progress every two years.

    Since the 2009 accolade only fueled city officials’ desire to manifest the self-fulfilling prophecy emblazoned in steel at City Hall — “Long Beach, The Most Bicycle Friendly City In America” — the ride to No. 1 remains in full gear. For details, visit www.bikelongbeach.org.

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