Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

In Long Beach, an oasis for bikes

Posted by on December 26th, 2007 at 1:11 am

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The Bikestation in downtown Long Beach.
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

In downtown Long Beach, those who ‘go by bike’ don’t exactly get the red-carpet treatment.

The streets are wide, the cars go fast, and there are few bike-friendly routes. The safest place to ride is on the sidewalk, but that’s illegal.

And then, in the middle of it all, lies an oasis known as Bikestation Long Beach. A few days ago I got a tour of the facility from executive director Andrea White.

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Andrea White (R) and shop
manager Dominic Dougherty (L).

The modern glass structure — with its rooftop solar panels and whimsical sign (complete with a spinning “B”) that arches up into the sky — welcomes visitors and offers free valet bike parking, rentals, repairs, and a shop stocked with essentials.

Bikestation Long Beach opened 12 years ago and was the first facility of its kind in the country. Just over two years ago it was completely rebuilt and relocated to its current location; between Metro train stops and bus stops in the middle of the First Street Transit Mall.

As she went over the basics of what Bikestation offers, White beamed about how the concept has finally caught on with city bigwigs. “This is a big jewel for the city and for the Redevelopment Agency,” she says. “They’re fully on board.”

White says she’s also working with the city on plans for a bike-sharing system, similiar to the one being used in Paris and under consideration in Portland. That project is “on the front burner” and Bikestation is poised to launch the system in the next few months. White says it will utilize their existing membership card-access technology and will start with two kiosks of bikes.

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Bikestation hopes to integrate the bike-sharing system into their bike valet and secure parking services. “It’s a pilot project for us, but we see a lot of potential in integrating bike-sharing with our existing services…it will be a full solution.”

White is also busy with plans to move into a new, larger building next door, which will allow members to take showers (and thus avoid dreaded helmet hair).

Sounds great huh? So why doesn’t Portland join Long Beach, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Santa Barbara and Seattle with a Bikestation of our own?

BikeStation Long Beach-7.jpg

According to White, there have been meetings and conversations, but progress on a Portland facility has stalled. White says she has submitted proposals and has even lined up a major local bike shop as an operating partner. Feeling a bit flummoxed by the lack of progress, White added that there’s still a question of where the funding would come from.

It seems Portland would be a perfect fit for a Bikestation. There are already rumors of a “bike hub” facility coming at the First & Main development (at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge) and there’s the possibility of a bike-commuter services facility popping up at the former McCall’s Restaurant site in Waterfront Park.

Regardless of what happens, Bikestation has found a successful formula of services and execution that would ensure its success in Portland.


Before Andrea left, I got her and Bikestation Long Beach manager Dominic Dougherty to pose with their vehicles of choice: a Smart Car for her (she’s got it on loan from the manufacturer), and an Xtracycle for him…

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Who has more cargo capacity?!

For more photos of my visit to Bikestation Long Beach, see the photo gallery.

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  • Scott Mizée December 26, 2007 at 8:43 am

    mmmmmm….. sunshine….

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  • Joe December 26, 2007 at 9:44 am

    socal is getting busy to ride around these days.. kinda reminds me of my Vegas days
    on the street.

    with the price of gas, biking saves and gives back.

    any riding is good riding.

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  • Former 49er.. December 26, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Long Beach is a strange place for biking.. the excessively wide suburban arterials have bike lanes as wide as a car travel lane only because there\’s already plenty of lanes for automobiles, while urban bike lanes are almost nonexistent. The superwide bike lanes are not good, because people drive in them mistaking them for travel lanes (I know I did at least once!..).

    Regardless, the weather is great almost year round and it\’s flat.. pity that biking doesn\’t happen more there than it does.. One contributing factor is that the urban planning for that city is arcane – planners there rigidly require excessive amounts of car parking, resulting in costly infill development at lower densities unable to support the type of dense urban fabric that is developing in Portland. No transportation choices allowed. Automobile travel is assumed for all trips and the costs associated with it are incorporated in base development costs.

    So glad to be away from that mentality…

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  • Cecil December 27, 2007 at 8:12 am

    My brother-in-law used to work for LB\’s redevelopment agency – I asked him if he was involved in this project and he told me that it was already in the works when he started his job – he tells me that it did not cost all that much to start up, and that it generated a lot of publicity, but in the beginning didn\’t get much business – until they started selling coffee 🙂

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  • Bicycledave December 27, 2007 at 10:21 am

    A bikestation would probably help encourage more bike trips to downtown, but it would do nothing for anyone whose destination is not downtown.

    I\’d rather see limited public funds spent on encouraging free showers for bike commuters at all office buildings.

    Zoning laws used to require a certain amount of auto parking built into construction projects. Any remaining auto parking requirements ought to be scrapped in favor of bike parking and shower facilities requirements.

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  • Potestio December 27, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Bikestation is a great idea, and the esplanade would be an ideal location…..it would make sense to locate one under each side of the Hawthorne Bridge…but I must react strongly to the idea that the McCall\’s Restaurant building, formerly the Vistor\’s Center, is the appropriate place for such an activity.

    Now, before everyone starts firing off responses, let me state my case.

    The Visitor\’s Center was designed by John Yeon, built in 1949 and exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art…one of the few buildings in Portland (or anywhere for that matter) to ever receive such honors. It is a remarkable building, in which Yeon pioneered the use of a revolutionary new material(for \’49), called plywood, as both structural panel and finish material. Yeon\’s design carefully engaged the river, and mitigated its oddly unwelcoming context of a highway and the monolithic concrete public market.

    The building, when built, was a remarkable work of architecture that was known world wide as a preeminent example of modern international design, translated with a sensibility and materiality that expressed is unique regional context. It has often been compared to the Barcelona Pavilion, and in many ways is a very clever commentary on that iconic building.

    It\’s composition of four pavilions, connected by a filigree of wood and glass, is proportioned with the refinement of a Louis XV interior. The building enclosed an elegant terrace, with plantings and a reflecting pool. The composition was completed with a pergola that framed views to the river and mountains.

    Sadly, the building has undergone many alterations, and is in serious disrepair. Its original beauty and integrity are recoverable, but at an expense that exceeds what anyone has thus far been willing to pay.

    I think that the proper use would be as it was originally intended…lets make it a…visitor center! Lets have the pavilions restored, serving as exhibition spaces for exhibits on our great city and its many facets, features, and attributes. Lets have an information booth where people can buy tickets for boat rides, get maps, be directed to the Bikestation(s) nearby, and so on. Lets have a place where visitors can be recieved and dignitaries be honored.

    Much as I love bikes, biking, and all that supports the ride and riding, I feel that bike racks, bike storage, bike repair, and bike rental…is not the highest and best use of this most significant/modest building. I can\’t see the grime, grit, racks, bins of tires, etc as a really valid use for such a great building.

    I think we can do better for both Bikestation and the Yeon Visitor Center


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  • Dabby December 27, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    I think, for many, many good reasons, (including but not limited to the one\’s I shall state below) that this is not the venture we should be getting into in Portland, and certainly something that not one cent of public funds should go towards.(at this point) I also feel this way about the resurgence in the bike share/rental idea going around. (again….)

    The percentage of the cycling population that would use, or be able to justify paying for, such a service is so very small.

    The reality of cycling in Portland is that the majority of cyclists, especially those that commute to work live at or below poverty levels. (I use the term poverty loosely here, as in the amount needed to survive as compared to the amount earned)

    These are the constituents that we should be attempting to make cycling easier and more accessible to. Those that need the assistance. And those that are already riding.

    This is just another fine example of a Portland pipe dream. (Trams, trolley\’s and bikestations, Oh Crap!)

    The City of Portland as a whole is not capable of protecting, or dealing with the levels and repercussions of the cyclists we have on the road already. This has become painfully, and plainly evident in the last four months alone.

    It could be considered an irresponsible act at this point to attempt to increase ridership with well meant, but frivolous window dressings, before fixing the real problems.

    You do not cure a cancer with a pretty band-aid.

    Platinum Schmatinum.

    Maybe we should just aim for the Pumice Status instead?

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  • BikeR December 28, 2007 at 12:17 am

    I disagree with Potestio\’s opinion on the use of the McCall\’s building. Portland has a visitor center operated by POVA in Pioneer Square. Perhaps POVA could have a place at the McCall\’s site, but a dedicated facility for information is not an efficient use of this site. I see the site as a hub for people, not just visitors. A hub in Portland should support active lifestyles and non-motorized transportation. Turn recreation into transportation, and get off the treadmills.

    I agree with Potestio\’s historical facts on the building and designer. John Yeon was a conservationalist, a naturalist, an architect, and an Oregonian. I too would love to see the building as it was in 1949; hemlock ceilings, cork floor, and a lot of wood on the interior. Very costly to reconstruct. Perhaps Parks will support a project that followed John Yeon\’s conservation ethos, if not entirely his designs.

    I like BikeStation and the work of Andrea White and BS supporters, e.g., Todd Boulanger. It is a difficult business model that requires subsidies or public support.

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  • wsbob December 28, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    The Bikestation the article discusses seems to be an alright concept. Bike parking seems to be the main service it offers, free in some cities, membership required in others. The membership fees seem affordable for a lot of people, but I don\’t really like the $20 annual service fee idea on top of the membership. One year membership is only $96, $16 for a month, $1 for a day. A lot of people could afford that and would probably be happy to pay it for secure bike parking.

    I agree though, that to encourage greater use of bikes for transportation, people that ride bikes should be burdened with the least amount of overhead possible.

    The site of the Visitor\’s Center(aka McCall\’s building) might be a great location for a bike station, but the idea of using that building for such a purpose, sucks. Though the design is important and beautiful, now way is it built for the kind of abuse a bike station building needs to be able to handle.

    The Visitor\’s Center isn\’t that big. Yeon himself is quoted as saying something to the effect that the building has fulfilled it\’s purpose for that location. Perhaps it\’s time to move it to a new location where it can serve a new and better purpose. That building needs TLC and also to be surrounded by a decent garden, away from the lousy corporate \’village fun center\’ festival siege that overwhelms it in spring/summer.

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  • Kevin December 29, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    I often spend Christmas with my sisters in Mahattan Beach. I always look forward to riding the \”strand\”, a multi-use trail from Palos Verde to Venice Beach all along the shore. This year I noticed a significant increase in bike traffic. Maybe there is hope for SoCal. If ever there was a place where bike should thrive…

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  • BikeR December 29, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    John Yeon pronounced the building should be torn down in 1985. I have seen pictures of the building in 1988, and at that time, I would agree with Mr. Yeon. It had not been well maintained by the city and was in very bad shape. Since that time the city has spent over $1Million to renovate and remodel the building.

    Today the building should not be demolished or moved. Just given an appropriate purpose.

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  • wsbob December 30, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Appropriate purpose, yes, but as a parking garage for bikes? Would the modernist Yeon Visitors Center be able to resume a role of uniquely offering regional aesthetic architectural inspiration to people and store their bikes at the same time? To me, the two purposes don\’t seem very compatible for that building\’s design.

    It\’s interesting that the picture of the Long Beach Bikestation shows a building that appears not unrelated to the Yeon Visitors Center, except that it\’s clearly generations ahead of the Yeon building in terms of functionality for the purpose it\’s serving.

    I\’m very excited to see new infrastructure developed that will lead cycling downtown to be even more compelling for people than it is already.

    Something I could perhaps see that would incorporate the Yeon building into a bike serving purpose, would be to plot out an area encompassing the Yeon building including land area south of it and the space under the Hawthorne Bridge for a bike station complex. The Yeon building could be a lounge, visitor\’s center, study facility in something related to it\’s original capacity. The land in between it and under-bridge bike parking would be a complementary companion to it composed as a park-garden offering space for reflection, repose and meditation for cyclists in between rides.

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  • Potestio January 4, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I agree with wsbob
    I am far more excited about the potential for a bike sharing system in Portland, as I observed in Barcelona this past summer. (see earlier blog)
    Bikestation is a good idea as well and my comments are not directed at it per se.

    But it is not suited for the Yeon Visitor Center. The visitor center function should be returned to the building. The building can work as an \”interpretive center\” for the city…providing information on all aspects of the city…but focusing on our built and natural environment, and our earth-friendly strategies for growth and lifestyle. Exhibits would feature not only bikes, but trails, waterways, parks, new development, architecture and urban form, etc.

    Using Yeon\’s comments to justify any proposed use, moving the structure, or tearing it down is cynical at best. Yeon was a perfectionist…and I am sure he was bitter at the disregard the building received. No doubt he was angered and motivated to banish the building from his sight, its empty, misused shell an insult to his efforts. But he was also a preservationist…saving some of the greatest buildings in Portland, and some of the most definitive landscapes in Oregon. A tribute to his legacy would be to find a truly appropriate use, and the funds to restore the building.

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