Charlie Gandy’s Recipe for a Bike Friendly City

Charlie Gandy at Santa Monica Planning Commission Meeting
Charlie Gandy at Santa Monica Planning Commission Meeting

A very spirited Charlie Gandy stepped up to the microphone on the evening of January 5th to speak about the process that Long Beach is undergoing on its way to becoming the most bike-friendly city in America.  A few writeups of this already exist, so I figured I’d focus on the attitude necessary to push such changes through.  Plus I needed to balance out all the negative posts I publish.

Mr. Gandy started his presentation by underlining that what happens in Southern California tends to catch on across the country.

Gandy mentioned the importance of having a local developer such as Mark Bixby on board, the ear of “traffic engineering genius” Rock Miller, as well as external guidance from Andréa White-Kjoss, creator of the BikeStation program.

Mark Bixby is also a the founding director of the Long Beach Bike Festival which includes the 30-mile Tour of Long Beach, a fixed gear bike contest, and a fashion show.  A large majority (if not all) of the Long Beach city council members identify as cyclists.  This is the kind of momentum that Long Beach is working with.

To see Gandy’s entire presentation and the follow-up Q&A session, jump to about an hour into the archival footage of the Planning Commission meeting.

Cycling Infrastructure Projects

In Belmont Shore, the daily flow of 35-40,000 cars already move along at only 6mph, which is close to parking lot speed.  This is where Long Beach placed their “green carpet” sharrows.  The result: a 200% increase in cyclists, and a 20% drop in those riding on the sidewalk.  Belmont Shore businesses now seem willing to support bike corrals.

A protected bike lane (median separates cyclists and cars) in downtown Long Beach on Broadway is to be completed in late February.  On this street, cars will be guided to take a right turn while the bikes continue straight through.   Third Street will get the same protected lane treatment.  This is by far the best example of a bikeway designated for those between ages “8 and 80” that I have seen so far in Southern California.

Long Beach has two bike boxes so far, one at 2nd and Marina, the other at 2nd and Bayshore.

Last but not least, Long Beach has pizza slice bike racks!

Dealing with Opposition

In regards to the friction created when designing for bikes, Gandy quoted Saul Alinsky: “If you don’t have heat you are not moving”.  For more memorable quotes, see the last paragraph of this post.  Being aware of dissenters, Gandy’s believes his most powerful tool is finding a way to accommodate the ones who oppose your project while continuing to move  towards that specific goal.

Residents may be skeptical at first to Bike Boulevards such as the one on Vista St.  But Gandy mentioned that residents in that neighborhood now now enjoy the calmer traffic.  It’s a safer environment for everyone; crossing the street is no longer a “death-defying feat”.

When asked about the best way to reduce motor vehicle parking, Gandy used Copenhagen as an example.  Over a longer period of time, parking was incrementally reduced, and people had a chance to adapt.

Commissioner Jim Ries asked about the expected push back from businesses when installing a bike corral.  Gandy admitted that businesses were opposed to losing car parking at first, but they eventually come around and realize that fitting a dozen vehicles in one car space means more business.  He used Belmont Shore as an example – the business community there now understands that a bike boom equals more income.   Residents have also taken notice that when vehicle speeds are lowered, property value goes up.

The term Bicycle Friendly District was used to brand areas of the city that promote local shopping.  This is an excellent idea, and I could easily see it catching in Santa Monica.  More details on this in Cynthia Rose’s Santa Monica Spoke post.  To enhance newbie cyclists’ shopping experience, the city of Long Beach offers free cargo bikes rentals so they can experience a new way to run errands.  Mr Gandy hopes that this eventually becomes a passion or an alternative mode if transportation for those that “drink the Kool-Aid”.

The Right Attitude

Here are some memorable Gandy Quotes from that night to clarify what the “get it done” attitude sounds like.

“Some people just drink the cool aid and make this their lifestyle.”

“We are taking an iron stance, akin to European cities that want to protect their lively urban core.  There is nothing more sterile than Dallas or Atlanta where there is no street life.”

“We hope to move from fear-based anxiety about change to a more experience-based attitude about change.”

When asked where he stands on Bike Sharing programs by City Councilmember Gwynne Pugh, his response was “I stand with four million dollars in my pocket on it”.

“An active living agenda is the next bike plan.”

“Green lane Sharrows cost 20-30 cents per foot.  That’s decimal dust.”

A more in-depth recap of the meeting is on the Santa Monica Spoke blog, with some details on where Long Beach gets their (hefty) funding for bike projects.  Gary also did a write up for the Santa Monica Patch.

Mihai Peteu

Software Developer, Bike Safety Instructor, Amateur triathlete

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