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Councilmember Suja Lowenthal of Long Beach

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Women on Bikes SoCal Spokeswoman Dr. Suja Lowenthal, Council Member of Long Beach

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Bikes Mean Business

April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting and created the nation’s first Bike-Friendly Business District program for the City of Long Beach and helped launch efforts in San Diego, Oakville, and other cities. She speaks around the U.S. and Canada on “The Business Case for Bicycling” and Bike-Friendly Business Districts. She recently accepted the position of General Manager of Bike Nation’s Long Beach bike share system, set to roll out in 2013. She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management and is a car-free bike commuter. She and her daughter can often be seen riding around Long Beach on their “bike limo” – the fancy name they gave their tandem.

April Economides Has an Exciting New Role - Interview with Melissa Balmer

You're assuming an exciting new role in bike advocacy here in Long Beach. Will you give us an overview of your position as Bike Nation’s Long Beach General Manager, and what your responsibilities will be?

Rolling out a bike share system is a big job, and my role will be to steer that ship within the city. I’ll serve as the point-person to the City of Long Beach, business associations, and the diversity of community organizations with whom we’ll work while also overseeing day-to-day operations and fielding media inquiries. I’m looking forward to assembling a diverse team and also working with our staff in our corporate office on this team effort.

What do you hope your background in community advocacy will help make possible in this role?

I want the bike share program to bring more residents, work commuters, and tourists into our local business districts on bike – thereby increasing customers and sales and decreasing car traffic and parking congestion. This is what I help do through my bicycle-friendly business district work around the U.S. and Canada. I’m passionate about supporting small businesses – the backbone of our economy and what gives each city and business district its unique flavor. I’m happy to say a few big property owners and small business merchants have already asked us for stations in front of their property, because they understand it will help them as well as their neighborhood.

When does Bike Nation expect the system to launch?

We’re rolling out in phases, starting in downtown, where most of the employment and tourist activity is located. We hope to launch the first phase in spring.

How did you personally come to the decision to give up your car? What were the pros and cons that you weighed and overall how do you feel about the decision? What were some unexpected perks?

I had to sell my car at age nineteen for financial reasons but quickly found I enjoyed taking the bus more than driving. It was less stressful and made me feel more happy and relaxed. I remember quite clearly my first day on my bus commute from home to campus in Santa Cruz and the peaceful feeling I had. It was an epiphany for me. My internal monologue switched from “that driver’s so slow!” to “wow – look at that beautiful tree” and “gee, this is a beautiful day.” That day laid the foundation for my new relationship with U.S. transportation. I’ve lived mostly without a car ever since, choosing to live in cities with good public transit and good walking and bicycling infrastructure. This goes hand-in-hand with my environmental ethics, which are part of my spiritual foundation.

Communal responsibility aside, not owning a car has also brought me a plethora of personal benefits. I save about $8,000 a year from not owning a car, which I instead invest into living in a nice neighborhood where I walk my daughter to school and not stressing out if the organic produce I buy costs a few dollars extra a week. While I bike for most errands, I occasionally rent a car to pack in a ton of errands in far away places or take a day trip. When I do drive, it feels like an extravagant treat, not a stressor. Not owning a car also keeps me fit. If I stop bicycling and walking for a week, I gain a few pounds and feel sluggish. But the biggest perk is that bicycling makes me really happy. You can’t beat sunshine, fresh air and fun.

Your daughter, Audrey, age seven, very much enjoys riding her bike around Long Beach with you. What advice do you have for other moms who would like to get their children interested in riding a bike on a regular basis?

I love how Audrey often sings while we ride – a welcome difference from the “are we there yet?” whine from the back of a car. If I give her a choice between a taxi ride, bike ride, or walk, she always chooses active, not lazy, transportation.

To start riding with children, parents must first feel confident on a bike themselves. Some people have an irrational fear of bicycling – irrational because statistically, car driving is much more dangerous. But fear is real, and it must be acknowledged, then overcome. This is usually easily done by asking a friend to take them out for a few fun, no stress rides.

Next, they should purchase a child bike extension, seat, or trailer. The latter two are great for kids under four. For kids four to seven, a tag-along or co-pilot extension is ideal. This is what Audrey and I ride and call our “bike limo.” I like that she’s connected to me and gets to pedal, too. Ours cost only $80 and quickly attaches to the back of my bike. After age seven, most kids will want their own bike to get around.

I’d advise families to start riding on weekends to rediscover the joy of bicycling. Instead of driving to lunch or to run that errand, bike there. Then start bicycling to school. Focus on the short trips. Notice how parking is free and right in front of your destination. Notice your waistline shrinking. And most of all, notice how more joyful your family’s life has become.


Interview with Tiffany Bromfield 

Tiffany Bromfield is the CEO of the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, one of the few non-profit business improvement district (BID) councils in the nation and the only one with paid staff. The BID Council recently invested in a Bike-Friendly Business District plan, which it’s set to implement in seven districts this fall before rolling out into all 17 districts. (Note: Columnist April Economides was the consultant hired to create this plan.) A BFBD is where merchants encourage community members to bike to area shops and restaurants – and where merchants and their employees ride, too. BFBDs integrate bicycling into a district’s operations, events, and promotions. More info is here.

AE: Please explain the BID Council’s role and what you are tasked to do as its CEO.

TB: The BID Council is an association of 16 business-based BIDs and one property-based BID, formed to foster collaboration between them. The BID Council acts as an advocate for the BIDs with the local municipality, state and federal governments. Additionally, the BID Council manages programs that help all BIDs or that have a citywide importance to small business owners. Finally, we’re incubating about 19  ‘micro districts’ in the City of San Diego with funding and staff support.

AE: Some BID leaders would be content to manage all of that – I know you keep very busy! Yet, you decided to invest time and money into creating a Bike-Friendly Business District (BFBD) program. Why do you see this as important for San Diego?

TB: The BID Council invests in BID-wide programs when they can benefit all of our member non-profit associations. The BFBD was a program that we could create and share with the 17 BIDs and 19 micro districts.

AE: A BFBD program seemed an easy sell to your 17 BIDs. What do you attribute to them immediately and enthusiastically adopting this idea?

TB:  We had some early adopters that were already doing bike-friendly programs, and a large concentration of our districts are in urban, bikeable communities. For example, the El Cajon Blvd. BIA already hosted a quarterly community ride called ”Bike the Boulevard” where locals biked to five locations on a Saturday. The Adam’s Avenue Business District’s local businesses already sponsored bike valets at local events, and at one of its restaurants/bars. The BFBD is a way to put some of the puzzle pieces in to fill in around existing promotions and activities to make a full picture.

AE: The plan we created together for San Diego has about twice as many ideas as what we executed during the Long Beach pilot. What elements are you most excited about?

TB: I am most excited about adding bike valet components to all of our special events. We host around 60 different events in all the BIDs over the year, so adding this component will draw new people and encourage alternative modes of transportation to the events.

AE: A year after the program’s launch, what would you love to report that it accomplished?

TB: I would like to say that we were able to encourage all of the special events in San Diego (both BID and non-BID) to have a bike component to get people to the events they host.

AE: Any words of wisdom for other BID leaders considering launching a BFBD program?

TB: A plan is a great way to get you thinking about other ways to incorporate bikes into everything you do. As we talk to the member BIDs about the plan, we’ve come up with new ideas. We left the plan broad enough that each district could put their stamp on it.

At ‘press’ time, the San Diego BID Council was about to announce its BFBD program to the public and media. Please check back here for updates.