Friday, June 24, 2011

Long Beach Week: Exclusively LB - DTLB's New Exclusive Bike Lanes

After The Militant rode his bike from the old Pacific Electric bridge, biked a short-but-sweet path in northern Long Beach and discovered a bit of LB history in Willmore City, he continued a bit south to Downtown Long Beach to check out this city's brand new exclusive bicycle lanes, which opened in April.

Not far from Willmore City, he joined the lanes at 3rd and Pacific to see what they were all about.

For those of you unfamiliar with LB's new bikegasmic thoroughfare, it's a bike lane, but not just any ordinary bike lane! Picture a bike lane where you are physically protected by moving vehicles. Picture a bike lane where you don't have to worry about motorists opening their doors in your way (The Militant almost had a couple of those encounters). Picture a bike lane where you have your own traffic signals. No need to picture it, you can actually bike it!

Here's a map:

View Long Beach Exclusive Bike Lanes! in a larger map

There is no formal start or end, just jump in! It's basically a circular two-mile route on two one-way streets - 3rd (westbound) and Broadway (eastbound), between Magnolia on the west and Alamitos on the east. The lane is at the leftmost side of the street, protected by a short curb or raised barrier on the street. Cars can par on the street, but they are well to the right of the bicycle lane, with ample room between cyclists and the length of an open car door, eliminating that dreaded "door zone." As the street is one way, so is the bike lane, no need to watch out for cyclists going in the other direction!

The first thing he noticed besides the seemingly Montana-wide space for cyclists, were the green areas. In areas where the bile lane crosses vehicle traffic in any way, the bike lane is painted green, to aid in visibility. This is most pronounced on all driveways (pictured right). The Militant only encountered about a couple of cars in the green zone, and we all had no problem recognizing each other.

The westbound lane came to an end around here, so The Militant navigated around some road construction one block to the south, to Broadway, where he was about to head eastbound this time.

The next thing The Militant noticed were the concrete planters placed in the area between the car lanes and the bike lane. Not just for aesthetics, but also to give a protective buffer to protect cyclists and parked automobiles alike.

Then came the badass traffic signals. For bikes only (pictured left). At one intersection, The Militant had stopped his bike at a red light. But after the cross traffic cleared, the Bike Signal went green even before the standard signals for cars, to give cyclists a few seconds to either re-mount or begin pedaling. OMG this is so freaking badass!

The Militant will admit there were moments where he nearly missed the signal. It is relatively small and easy to miss if you're not accustomed to them. But not every crossing has these. In intersections with large thoroughfares, such as Pacific Avenue and Long Beach Bolevard - both wide streets with light rail track in the middle - there is no exclusive Bike Signal. Cyclists must use the standard traffic lights.

Likewise, in those instances, there is a left turn lane for autos. The bike lane sort of zig-zags with this left turn lane (pictured right), and another green zone comes up, letting cars about to turn left know they're crossing the bike lane. Again, The Militant had no problems with cars here (though most people have already gotten off of work, so traffic was already tapering down).

He continued east until just across from LB's Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, the exclusive bike lane was no more. No sign that it was ending...just the harsh reality that after the next intersection your utopian cycling wet dream was all of a sudden over. So The Militant hung a brief north on Olive Avenue to head west again.

As he noticed the parked cars to the right of him, he also noticed that the parking meters were still in their usual places (pictured left). But this time, they were numbered. The corresponding parking pace number is painted on the street, so motorists who park there would have to walk across the bike path to reach the appropriate meter. Very practical, since parking meters do not have to be moved. Also, when in the vicinity of the Long Beach US Post Office, there were mailboxes conveniently placed in between the bike lane and the car lanes. Extra convenient (though they should have had at least one mailbox face the bike lane...).

Just as soon as The Militant was about to break a sweat, the bike lane ended (pictured right). (Awwww...) But no fear, there's more to come! It looks like this is just the first phase of a larger exclusive bike lane system (Yaaaaayyy!)

So is this the future? Will we see this in Los Angeles too (Shhheeah, maybe in The Year 3000...)? As cool as this is, you really need a wide one-way thoroughfare to make this happen, and not every place has the luxury of this kind of space. And even for cyclists, it's a weird new paradigm: As The Militant left, he caught a young family on bikes (one of them with a small child in a bikeseat) riding west along 3rd St...on the sidewalk! So even for the LB locals, this thing needs not only some getting used to but a public outreach awareness program - for motorists and cyclists alike.

Long Beach has been a very bike-friendly city for decades now. From the Bikestation built in the 1990s to today's exclusive lanes, who knows what the future will bring? Well, as long as it's not those silly bike licenses they had...
Ride Militant, Long Beach!

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