Last week’s 11th bi-annual Pro-Bike, Pro-Walk (PBPW) conference came at a dynamic time for transportation in Long Beach. In the last two years, 24 new bike-related businesses have sprung up following the city’s construction of more than 130 miles of bike lanes in the downtown area.
While the international event lauded Long Beach’s overall bike friendliness in its more affluent and hip neighborhoods, West and Central Long Beach residents who walk and bike to work and school daily still waiting are their turn.
In Long Beach’s poorer neighborhoods, where residents bike or walk not just for health or leisurely reasons, but for lack of a car, biking remains well, not so friendly. It is these residents who won’t be seeing improvements to their bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure until 2014. For example, in Wrigley on the West side, students that attend Cabrillo High School are faced with dangerous street crossings on their way to and from school every day.
Cabrillo PTSA member Lee White said that some students have to go more than two miles out of their way to walk to school.
“While Crossing PCH, especially near the 710, students on bikes and on foot have to interact with fast-moving freeway traffic and 16-wheelers,” White said. “The safer route is to walk around to Willow Ave., but that takes a lot longer on foot. I know many more of our kids would bike or walk to school if they felt comfortable doing so.”
Not only do Cabrillo High juniors Amoi Williams and Isaiah Schooley face the traffic on Pacific Coast Highway at the 710 Freeway bridge, they walk on the wrong side of the street because they say the utility poles on the sidewalk side of the bridge force skateboarders and bikes off the curb for fear of pedestrian crashes.
“Not everyone is crazy like us, most people walk to Willow to cross,” Williams and Schooley said.
Navigating the concrete jungle on the way to school could be seen as just one of many obstacles presented by a lack of reliable transportation. Eliminating those obstacles and providing people access to jobs and education outside of their immediate vicinity, is what council member Suja Lowenthal calls, “the great equalizer.”
“We cannot force someone to seek better opportunities, but it is our duty to assemble civic resources and change the physical environment so that the barriers to higher quality of life don’t exist or are reduced,” said Lowenthal, who believes a reliable and safe transportation system can be an instrument of upward mobility in those poorer communities if those residents motivate themselves.
The city still has almost $15 million in grant funding from the state for bicycle projects, and most of those funds are being directed into projects outside of the downtown area, according to city Bike Coordinator Allan Crawford.
The bike-walk projects entering the community outreach stages in the Westside this month include new bicycle boulevards on 6th and 15th Streets, as well as Daisy Ave. A bicycle boulevard is a low speed street, mostly quiet and residential, that has been optimized for bicycle traffic. Also in the works are pedestrian and bike bridges over the 710 Freeway near PCH– and possibly Wardlow, although their specific locations have not yet been decided.
The measures being taken on the West side and central Long Beach will effectively connect Districts 3, 5, 7 and 8 to the downtown transportation centers in 2014 providing transportation access to an additional 50,000 people along the new corridors. Residents in District 9 in North Long Beach would remain the only area not connected to Long Beach’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
“We have a great number of people in this city who aren’t riding their bikes to work or school because they enjoy it, but because they have to,” Crawford said.
Pedestrian and bike riding improvements are currently in the community outreach stages until 2013, and are set for completion in 2014.