Remarks to Long Beach City Council, Bridge Appeal Hearing, September 28, 2010

(Draft remarks prepared for City Council. Actual remarks were different based on the remarks of previous speakers and council members and time limitations)

My name is Mark Bixby, I live at XXX in Long Beach.

I speak to the council on behalf of a group called Off the Front, who has been working with the City on implementation of the Bicycle master plan, as a representative of a local cycling team, and as a cyclist in the city of Long Beach for 39 of my 44 years.

I’d like to begin by saying I support the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement. It is important for trade, it is important for regional jobs and for the Long Beach Port and economy. I commend the Port of Long Beach on their support of bicycle friendly paths proposed for the Port near the Queen Mary and for their support of the bicycle festival this year. I met with Bob Kantor and the Port planning staff to better understand the plans for this bridge replacement. Unfortunately, their plans do not go far enough.

The Port will tell you that there is an additional cost of approximately $47 million to add bicycle facilities to the $950 million dollar bridge. They continue to seek funding to reach the $950 million to construct the bridge. Their current design includes the “infrastructure” to add bicycle lanes in the future – an intelligent design choice, and practical, if you consider bicycle paths an extra. But the design is highly problematic from a cyclist’s standpoint, as in, it is unlikely that Bicyclists by themselves will raise $47 million to add a bicycle paths at a later date.

25% of the bridge traffic is currently truck traffic and 75% is automotive. So while the Port needs this bridge enhancement to ease the traffic flow and to allow larger ships under the bridge, much of the traffic is commuter and tourist traffic.  The people that drive those cars pay Federal and State taxes and are entitled to have their tax funds support bicycle facilities.

The Department of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood took a progressive stand in May of this year. I quote: “People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

The vast majority of the dollars for this bridge will come from Federal funding sources. There are hundreds of people working on terminal island. They should be able to commute from Long Beach directly via the new bridge. A truly “Green Port” will provide for viable and safe bicycle and pedestrian access to and through the Port of Long Beach.

And if Long Beach doesn’t build a new bridge with bicycle improvements, then LA can simply point our way and say “we can’t build a new bridge with bicycle improvements because it won’t connect anywhere.”

In Kevin Costner’s movie “Field of Dreams”, the famous line is “If you build it, they will come.” This has proven true for bicycling routes in Portland, Seattle, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Bogota and dozens and dozens of other cities around the world. Connecting communities with bicycle routes and bridges builds a better cities. Long Beach has already started to be the catalyst for change in southern California. Last week Bob Foster and our City bicycle planning staff held a meeting with the mayors of four coastal Cities. This group of mayors from Long Beach to Dana Point reached consensus that they want to form a coalition to promote bicycling efforts along the Pacific Coast Highway and other connecting routes. Los Angeles sent a representative – they are reaching out to us. Los Angeles Mayor Villagarosa is following our lead and pushing to make the City of Los Angeles bicycle friendly.

Every road block to smart bicycle planning that a Port, City, county, state or federal official can dream up has already been overcome somewhere in the United States – be it funding, structure, business opposition, parking issues, easement rights or other. Bicycling just makes too much sense.  It is inexpensive, it is healthy, it is “green,” and it is fun. People smile when they ride their bikes. They feel a connection with their community. They exercise. They feel liberated. Susan B. Anthony said, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. A woman on a bicycle is the picture of free and untrammeled womanhood.”

All the people that I ride with own and use automobiles, and pay Federal and State taxes. The cost to construct and maintain bicycle and pedestrian facilities is a tiny fraction of the cost to build and maintain roads and bridges for automobiles. I love my car, but I’d much rather ride my bike everywhere, on facilities that are safe.  And while I personally am comfortable riding around trucks and traffic, I’d rather not have to. Most people are NOT comfortable riding around trucks and traffic. And I don’t want my three teenage children riding around trucks and traffic. They shouldn’t have to. The previous generation did a terrible job of planning. They only thought of the automobile and its needs. Our generation has the obligation to plan for the next generation. We’re just waking up to the incredible health and environmental costs of being nearly totally dependent on automobiles in Southern California. I know that with the right planning and investment, my children’s generation can and will feel safe and riding their bicycles. And that investment will pay dividends in healthier and more integrated community.

Don’t build a bridge to nowhere. This is the first step in connecting Long Beach to Terminal Island, and eventually Terminal Island to San Pedro. This step benefits the commuters, the exercisers, the racers, the tourists, the kids.

I respectfully request that the city council of Long Beach make a statement to the Port of Long Beach that the Port incorporate separated bicycle facilities into the new Gerald Desmond Bridge design. Thank you.

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