In one of the busiest shopping districts in Long Beach, Calif., bicyclists are kings of the road in an experiment that turns frustrated motorists into serfs.
The seaside city south of Los Angeles is encouraging bikers to get right in front of cars. It painted a five-foot wide green stripe down the middle of one of the two lanes in either direction of the Belmont Shore section of the city. Even though cars were whizzing by at 30 miles an hour yesterday, bikes were free to ride right in their path.
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Some locals are livid about the experiment, which began in June. “It’s stupid. I can’t even believe it,” said John Cameron, who has lived in the area for 50 years. “To put them out in traffic is just stupid.” It’s slowing down traffic and putting bikers in harm’s way, Cameron said, adding that he rides a bike himself, but he says he always stays to the right. Long Beach is leading the pack as bikers assert more “rights” around the country:
Drive On came to Long Beach to check out the bike vs. car feud after we reported last week how more bicyclists are riding directly in the path of cars, instead of on the shoulder or to the right of the road. Bikers say it’s sometimes unsafe to ride at the far right side of the road. But it in Maryland recently, center-of-the-road biking led to a death, a bicyclist killed by the car of a driver on the way to work one morning.
By installing the lane and other bike lanes around the city, Long Beach is trying to become a bike-friendly city. The Press-Telegram, the leading newspaper in the city, reported that the city has won $11 million in federal funds to create bike lanes and other improvements. It has the nation’s first Bike Station downtown, where commuters leave their bikes to take public transportation.
One of the city’s leading bike advocates, John Case, stands behind the experiment. “The green bike lane basically makes a statement to all car drivers in Long Beach that (the) vision embraced by the city council to be the most bike friendliest urban city in the USA means there will be changes in the urban street scheme to accommodate and encourage urban bike commuting,” Case says.
But the green stripe through Belmont Shore rankles many. Barber Mike Schafer, whose shop gives him a front-row seat to the bike action in Second Street outside, says the green lane is causing a lot of trouble. Bikers on beach cruisers are meandering along in the center of the lane, disregarding honking horns of the drivers being held up for blocks behind them, he says. One of them “just gave us ’the bird.’” For the bikers, “there should be signs saying ’Keep up with traffic.’”
Bicycle advocates say bikers in the center of the lane helps slow down traffic. But cars vastly outnumber bikes. Second Street can get 40,000 cars a day, compared to an average of 400 bikes a day when traffic was checked earlier this year, the Press-Telegram reported. About a dozen stoplights are only about 500 feet apart in the area, filled with bars and restaurants that make bikes convenient for getting around. Jeweler Dave Mancia says his customers are divided — bikers like it and motorists hate it. And for him? “It’s good but it can be dangerous,” he says. He says he sticks to riding his bike in the alleys that parallel the thoroughfare.