Lagging Behind

Intersection in Los Angeles. Go ahead, cross it—I dare you!

While in Los Angeles, blood stains the asphalt as raging motorists take their cue from overbuilt streets, driving faster and faster, indifferent to the fates of any who might get in their way, the cities surrounding our retrograde Wild-Westward-Ho kind of town are changing their boulevards into spaces for a living community. Where once traffic groaned in ceaseless streams of overheated metal, and angry faces grimaced through the glass, now you can find happy people walking or cycling from shop to bar to eatery, meeting each other face to face, and even—odd though it may seem when you’re cowering on most of the streets of LA—enjoying a beautiful day right there on the sidewalk!

A particular case in point is Long Beach, once a grim industrial town and still, thanks to its port and an active manufacturing sector, a powerhouse of the US economy. In fact, the Port of Long Beach was just named “#1 in North America” by Asia Cargo News, which recently polled 15,000 shipping industry pros for their opinions. It’s not some sleepy little tourist town, but a muscular, hard-working business center.

And it has ambitions to be even more: the city’s new motto is “The Most Bicycle-Friendly City in America,” and though it hasn’t quite reached that goal, it’s well on its way.

Protected bikeway in downtown Long Beach.

To the point that Citylab, an offshoot of the Atlantic Monthly dedicated to news of urban culture and development, featured it in a January 2012 article by Nate Berg. Besides exploring the bicycle boulevards, thousands of new bike racks, and protected bikeways in the heart of downtown, Berg’s article quotes mobility coordinator Charlie Gandy as saying:

“We had our conversations about killing businesses and killing downtown and all that crap, but the inverse has happened.”

Yes, while LA politicos cave in to reality-averse business owners who fear bankruptcy will result from making a little room for anything other than cars, Long Beach discovered that business has been booming and real estate sales—and selling prices—are up, despite the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Of course, Los Angeles has long been averse to learning from the examples of other cities—I myself have heard city officials baldly state exactly that in planning meetings—but the rest of the county is not so egotistical. Or should we be fair and just say…not so stupid.

While LA residents die, and the city’s businesses founder, all in the name of the illusion of getting somewhere vaguely faster, the rest of the world is moving on towards a healthier and more prosperous future. Let’s hope that the county’s biggest city can wake up and get moving before the competition is so far ahead they’re out of sight.

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