March 03, 2011

Bicycle-friendly Communities

The City of Los Angeles has just approved a new master bike plan, to make the city known for it's traffic congestion more bike-friendly.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says that the plan features thousands of miles of new bike lanes and a new emphasis on bike safety.

Meanwhile, here in Long Beach, the self-proclaimed "most bicycle-friendly city in the nation," I got a call from my councilmember last month asking me if my church would like a bike rack installed in front on the sidewalk.  I had planned on looking into this, and was surprised that someone called me before I could call them!  I even got to choose the design of the bike rack.  There were three pages of designs to choose from; I choose one that looks like a fish.

I bike to church every day (except Sunday, when I walk there and ride home in the car with the family after worship).  In the evenings, folks coming to church for scouts or karate lessons (kids, mostly) often ride their bikes, and line them up in the hallway.  It makes sense to have a bike rack installed in front of the church, especially if the city is paying for it.  Since most people enter the church from the back (where the parking lot is), it would make sense for us to get a bike rack there as well, although the church would probably need to pay for that one.

Yesterday I rode my bike to visit a member who had been in the hospital, and is now in a nursing home/rehabilitation center that, according to their website, is the "closest skilled nursing facility to the ocean in Long Beach."  Being close to the ocean means that it isn't exactly close to church; round trip ended up being about fifteen miles, although I didn't exactly take the short way home.

The weather forecast included a 10-20% chance of rain.  I left home at 7:00 and headed to Portfolio's Coffee Shop, which I had never been to before.  I often spend Wednesday mornings at a coffee shop near the church, drinking green tea and reading and/or sermon-writing, but decided to try a new place since it was near the nursing facility. 

There are no bike routes that would take me directly to where I wanted to go.  I guess Long Beach still has a ways to go to be bike-friendly.  However, Walnut Avenue is wide and has less traffic than other streets, so I used that for most of the 4.5 miles to the coffee shop.  The sky was mostly clear and the air was not as cold as it had been the previous few mornings, so it was a nice ride.  And drivers were, for the most part, curteous.

When I left Portfolio's, the sky was overcast, but the clouds did not appear too dark.  It was only a few blocks to the nursing facility, although on my way I did pass a gas station and noticed that the price of gas was now almost four dollars per gallon. 

I had a nice visit with a member who was recovering from a broken hip.  After visiting with her, I grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby Taco Bell, then bought some loose-leaf green tea for home from a store a block away. 

Going home, I had two options.  I could go back the way I came, which was more direct but included many stop signs and a climb up and over Signal Hill; or, I could go to the beach, and take the bike route that went along the beach and up the L.A. River, a route almost twice as long, but which had almost no stop signs and, well, was along the beach. 

I chose the beach route.  I rode past the grandstands that are being erected for next month's Grand Prix race, and pedaled my way past the Aquarium of the Pacific.  As I did, I felt two drops of rain, but that was it.  Then I followed the bike path up the L.A. River and back home.

How long was I on my bike?  Maybe 90 minutes total.  If I had driven, I probably would have been in the car 40 minutes total, a good 15 of those minutes just looking for a place to park, given that I made four stops.  But bike riding is healthy.  It's cheap.  It's good for the environment.  It takes you places cars can't go (like along the beach).  And it's fun.

I hope Long Beach and Los Angeles continue to become more bicycle-friendly.  There is still work to be done.  Some motorists have no patience for cyclists, and many cyclists either don't know or ignore laws and safe cycling practices.  Actually, despite what some cycling advocates say, I find that most motorists are actually quite curteous in regards to cyclists (although there is still that minority who are more hostile).  Given how often some cyclists ride on the wrong side of the street or dart back and forth between sidewalks and roadways, I certainly can't complain about the treatment I get from motorists. 

With more bicycles there will be less traffic congestion, less pollution, less reliance on fossil fuels, and healthier communities.  What's not to like?

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