Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 5 Es

I think today was meant to pound into my head the five Es of bicycle friendly communities. According to the League of American Bicyclists they are engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation/planning. I'm lucky enough to live in Long Beach, which is a bona fide bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community according to the League's rating system. So why not get out on the bike and run some errands?

My destination was Target. I don't have any bike lanes at my disposal for that trip, but I do have local streets that run parallel to the arterials that take you there most directly. In this case it's a slight inconvenience. But I'd rather deal with that than claim a narrow lane on a street where cars will make lane changes to pass me at 40MPH (if I'm lucky). I tip my hat to the cyclists who have zero fear of standard arterials, but I'm not in that category. This inconvenience is the result of an engineering decision that prioritizes the fast movement of lots of cars over a comfy multi-modal experience.

I'll give my local Target credit for at least trying a little bit. They have three U-racks outside and I was able to find a spot. It's never even an issue in a car though since there's an ocean of parking out front for that particular mode of transportation. I'm pretty sure Target is where my front headlight was stolen, although I didn't notice until a few hours later. That brings me to enforcement. Typically this means cops making sure to crack down on unsafe road moves that could threaten cyclists, but I think it should also apply to the theft of bike accessories, especially the front headlight, which is required by law (CVC 21201) if you're biking at night.

So anyway, later, when I realized the headlight was gone, I decided to retrace my steps just in case it had come loose and fallen off. No such luck. But on the way, some neat things happened. In a parking lot access road I stopped at a stop sign. A pedestrian was looking at me waiting to cross. When I stopped, he smiled and chuckled aloud to himself, then went across. I don't think he was trying to be rude. I have a hunch it had never occurred to him a bike could act like a vehicle before. That's informal education.

Speaking of education, on the way back I saw a kid riding his bike with earphones in, against traffic, running stop signs, and weaving in and out between the street and the sidewalk (you're supposed to be able to hear things, ride with traffic, obey stops signs and other traffic signals, and stick to the street). I don't know how much I can even blame him. What have we really done as a society to make sure that kid knows the proper way to ride a bicycle?

Getting close to home, I waved at my neighbor as he smiled and drove by. Sometimes the simple act of riding a bike is all you need to do to plant the seed of encouragement in someone's brain. "Look, there's someone I know riding a bike. Looks fun, maybe I could do that".

There's only one E left: evaluation/planning. Long Beach has ambitious plans to improve its bicycling situation. Yet, despite those plans, and the Bronze status, the LBC still has a long way to go. That's why cyclists here, and in general, need to be engaged and giving feedback on how things are (or aren't) working.

At the end of the day, all of these little things add up to an experience, and that experience is what gets people out of their cars or keeps those keys turning ignition switches.

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