In a bold set of appointments to the Long Beach Transit (LBT) Board of Directors, Mayor Robert Garcia brought forth four strong, progressive women to serve on the board, each with their own form of radical thinking that is precisely what the LBT Board needs: April Economides, Sumire “Sumi” Gant, Nancy Pfeffer, and Mary Zendejas. Garcia has three more appointments he can make for the Board.
The quad, female-led punch hits LBT in the core areas it fails to live up to its full potential in: bicycle accessibility, grants/fundraising, planning/infrastructure, and disability accessibility—which are precisely these four women’s strengths as well as how they will contribute toward expanding transit use and power. Not to mention that these are ideals that Garcia has long exuded these new urbanist ideals.
“My appointees to the transit board reflect the need for us to build a world-class, sustainable, transit agency,” Garcia said. “They have decades of experience in transportation and advocacy. We have a great board already and these appointments will strengthen the great work already happening.”
As Garcia notes, this isn’t to necessarily say that LBT doesn’t cater to these things at all or is a transit authority which lacks; quite the contrary given LBT is accessible (as it was the first transit authority to have their entire bus fleet 100% wheelchair accessible), easy-to-use, and dependable. But public transit authorities are altering the way they cater to constituents—particularly SoCal transit systems, which need to look beyond buses in order to keep urbanism alive and well.
“Transit agencies see more customers when the ‘first mile-last mile’ routes are safe and welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists. They thrive where there are comprehensive bike share and car share programs, because both decrease car ownership and car trips overall and increase transit use.”
And Garcia gets this.
When I had asked Garcia during #CityLab2014 (an online forum where mayors from round the world took to Facebook to directly answer questions) how he had planned on getting people away from car dependency, he intriguingly responded with altering the role of LBT.
“I plan to work on this issue in a big way in 2015,” Garcia wrote, “[that will emphasize] working with LBT to move from a bus company to a people moving organization, we need car share, more bike lanes, and a more pedestrian friendly city.”
Even Economides echoes this sentiment: “The rewards for a sophisticated multimodal Long Beach will be huge. It will improve our communal and personal health, increase public safety for all road users, bring new tourists and conferences to the city, attract new corporations and small businesses, and better serve existing residents and businesses. Long Beach will thrive with an interconnected transportation network.”
“People moving” is the key concept here—and for LBT, it needs to move beyond the bus and look toward becoming more integrated with infrastructure that pertains to its offerings. For example, the aforementioned fact that its entire fleet is wheelchair accessible is both commendable and admirable; however, if the streets do not adhere to ADA guidelines, making it dangerous or impossible for someone to access the buses, such a benefit loses its power. There’s a reason five wheelchair-bound Long Beach residents are suing the City (and it isn’t to gain money).
This is where Zendejas, former Ms. Wheelchair California, comes in: as the Director and Founder of the DisABLED Professionals Association as well as the current chair of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Disabled (a position she will unfortunately abdicate in light of her board position), Zendejas gets the disabled side of disability-friendly design and infrastructure. This isn’t to mention her role as Director of Community Relations for Accessible Connections Exchange.
“I am thrilled to be selected to be appointed as a Long Beach Transit Board of Directors,” said Zendejas. “LBT has a special place in my heart… I am proud to be part of an innovating company which is working hard towards elevating their company towards being a world-class organization.”
Then we can move onto bicycles. With a so-called bike-friendly city that still lacks safe connections to the north, a city-wide bike share program (*crickets* Bike Nation, y’there? *crickets*), and safe transitions to our larger biking infrastructure projects (gotta love crossing Alamitos at 3rd), LBT can step in to engage itself on a much larger scale beyond the four-wheeled bus.
“Long Beach Transit needs to move from a bus company to a people moving organization, we need car share, more bike lanes, and a more pedestrian friendly city.”
Enter April Economides, one of the city’s most adamant bicycling advocates and a Long Beach native, has long lived car-free (with her daughter for the dissenters who claim it is just simply impossible to live with a family without a car) in six cities, including Long Beach. And why do they walk, bike, and bus? Because they “live a multi-modal lifestyle mostly for environmental reasons, but also because it’s a very happy way to live.” In other words, she understands that moving in different ways creates a more well-rounded sense of being.
“I’ve experienced the difference between cities with great transit systems and those with poor ones,” Economides said. “Long Beach has made important strides in multi-modal transportation over the years but, like all Southern California cities, knows it has a way to go. Transit agencies see more customers when the ‘first mile-last mile’ routes are safe and welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists. They thrive where there are comprehensive bike share and car share programs, because both decrease car ownership and car trips overall and increase transit use. I’d love to see Long Beach achieve these actions and fairly quickly.”
Pair all this with Gant, the former transportation planner for the City of Long Beach and the woman who single-handedly scored millions of dollars in grants because she had the foresight to see the importance of biking and pedestrian infrastructure, and Pfeffer, the public policy guru and City Fabrick board member, and, well… You have a powerhouse of a board that moves beyond the constrictions previously in place.
One but has to look at the enthusiasm alone of these four women.
“I’m also psyched to be involved with the Aquabus,” Economides said. “I mean, think about it: our transit agency includes boats. One of my favorite things to do when friends visit is to give them a bike tour and then hop on the Aquabus with our bikes and head to the Queen Mary or Fuego. How cool is our city that we can do that? Très cool.”
Très cool, indeed. Good move, Mr. Mayor.