Advancing bicycling in Downey

DOWNEY - For the past four weeks this column has been driving home the interdependence between healthy living and active transportation, namely, bicycling and walking.This connection was brought to the attention of the community at the Sept. 25 Downey City Council meeting when City Council unanimously agreed to pursue the HEAL Cities Campaign for Downey and some four score riders from the Kiwanis Green Team, Downey High School Kiwins, Cruz Cycling Club and others bicycled en masse to the Council meeting to demonstrate their support for advancing bicycling in the City of Downey. We have detailed here that nearly a quarter of the adult population in Los Angeles County is obese and that 40% of Downey children are overweight. Similar rates are on the increase both locally and nationally. Clearly the American public, as well as the Downey community along with it, needs to re-educate itself with respect not only to how it eats, but also to how it lives and what modes of transportation embody the healthiest choices for the future. These choices will impact not only physical health but the health of the environment. We've also noted in this space that Downey currently has virtually no bicycle infrastructure. Consequently, as part of these necessary changes, we in Downey must figure out how to integrate bicycling into the transportation infrastructure we already have, as well as find ways to encourage bicycling by building both support and new infrastructure for bicycling within our city. Such a transition is neither as difficult nor as expensive as one might imagine. The first step is education: to teach both drivers and bicyclists of all ages to share the road courteously and safely. This involves making the streets more bicycle-friendly through informational and instructional signs on the roadways, not to speak of establishing opportunities for bicycle safety instruction in the community. The second step is by creating a system of bicycle routes which cross-hatch the city on streets other than the major arterials. Fortunately this need has already been partly satisfied by the presence of L.A. County bike paths on the two riverbeds which already span the city from end to end on both sides. In the same manner as the City of Downey Truck Route Map which can be found at the City Hall Traffic desk, a few streets then need to be identified and suitably marked which offer cyclists direct routes across the city from side to side. The cost of the nearly complete street improvements on Lakewood Boulevard as well as the cost of the upcoming improvements on Firestone Boulevard will have far exceeded a million dollars each, with the Firestone Boulevard improvements expected to be $3.6 million. By contrast, the creation of an initial bicycle plan for the City of Downey can be achieved for less than a quarter of a million. And as the Lakewood and Firestone street improvements were accomplished through the resourceful efforts of City staff who found grant funding for these traffic projects, so too grant money is available for bicycle improvements. Beyond the inertia of a century of dependence on motor vehicle transportation, these changes are within our grasp. In fact, we've been through this kind of change before. At the turn of the twentieth century another form of transportation was causing severe pollution of a different kind in urban areas--specifically, travel by horse. According to a fascinating 2007 essay by UCLA transportation scholar, Eric Morris, horses were dropping an estimated 3 to 4 million pounds of manure per day on greater New York streets. The solution to that problem turned out to be the automobile, which as we now know, has brought its own globally challenging pollution issues. But we can solve those problems too, in part with the help of the humble--and healthy--bicycle.

********** Published: October 25, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 28