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Pro Walk Pro Bike Long Beach Conference CenterA full bike valet for the Pro Walk/ Pro Bike conference at the Long Beach Convention Center.
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Things are heating up in Long Beach, CA.
The Momentum Mag team landed in Long Beach for a week of sun, sand and an active transportation conference from September 10-13, 2012. The conference, Pro Walk/ Pro Bike 2012: Pro Place, took place in downtown Long Beach and was attended by nearly 1,000 city planners, advocates, politicians and placemakers.
We arrived to what we've been told was record heat for the area. And while the heat may have driven many indoors for the chill of air conditioning, our group chose to explore the town by bike and on foot. We stayed on the beach in the sleepy neighbourhood of Belmont Shore. Our morning and evening commutes to and from the conference consisted of a 3-mile bike ride along a smooth bike path right on the beach. While the midday heat would be enough to keep us indoors, our morning and evening rides provided time to reflect on our days and enjoy the unique view of a splendid beach with heavy industry just off shore.
The temperature wasn't the only thing heating up in Long Beach. Over the past several years politicians and residents have embraced active transportation. The city now has an impressive array of bicycle parking and cycling routes and continues to explore new infrastructure designs. While at first glance the city may not live up to its claim of being the most bike-friendly town in America, the growing number of people on bikes and visible infrastructure changes are a strong indication that the will and desire is present to help achieve this lofty goal.
At the Monday conference launch, Long Beach's mayor, Bob Foster, recieved the first-ever Bicycle Friendly America Leadership Award presented by the League of American Bicyclists. In addition, Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, delivered a rousing speech on the importance of creating streets accessible for all ages and transportation choices.
The following morning, Dr. Suja Lowenthal, council member and a driving force behind bicycle-friendly initiatives in Long Beach, asked the conference attendees, "Who do streets belong to?" The answer, in short, is everyone, though this hasn't always been the case. A short time ago (and in many places still today) the answer would be "cars." In order to spread the message that streets are for everyone we need to reach out to women, said Lowenthal, and get more mothers and sisters on bikes.
As with all conferences, there are more excellent presentations and discussions than are possible to attend. With more than 100 presentations covering six conference themes, choosing what to attend can be overwhelming. Our first session choice looked at Bikenomics and bicycle-friendly business districts. Elly Blue of Taking the Lane Media, crunched the numbers on the real costs of car-centric planning while April Economides shared the many successes of Bicycle-Friendly Business District initiatives in Long Beach and other communities.
We also stopped in on many presentations to learn about inclusive street design, overcoming percieved barriers to cycling and walking as well as bike share partnerships and more. In between sessions, we gathered at the Momentum Mag booth to distribute magazines and meet with advocates and planners both local and from across the country.
On Wednesday morning at the breakfast plenary, we participated in some chair aerobics and then tackled the subject of building bicycle cultures. Mikael Colville-Andersen focused on the importance of good design for creating a bicycle culture. By accommodating people on bikes, and by making travel by bicycle the quickest way around town, he said, cities can encourage more riders and improve overall road behaviours. Women on Bikes SoCal's Melissa Balmer then looked at how positive and even alluring representations of cycling are making their way throughout pop culture and that this interest could be harnessed to encourage more women to ride.
To close the conference, founder of Streetsblog and Streetfilms, Mark Gorton, energized the crowd calling for action against street designs that he referred to as human rights violations. His claim is that by building highways and multi-lane roads that bisect neighbourhoods and make cycling and walking unattractive and dangerous, federal and state road guidelines are working to increase an epidemic of obesity and traffic related fatalities. Marathon sessions at conferences can leave one a little burnt out on the final day, but Gorton's energetic delivery hopefully helped send the delegates off with a new passion for initiatives that will encourage more walking and cycling.
For more from the Pro Walk/ Pro Bike 2012 conference, watch this excellent short film by Streetfilms: Shifting into High Gear at Pro Walk Pro Bike 2012