Manhattan Beach bicyclists may soon pedal off The Strand and onto city streets, changing their weekend pleasure cruise into a regular commute and healthy habit.
The South Bay Bicycle Coalition (SBBC) was awarded a $240,000 grant from the county's Department of Public Health this week to create a Master Bike Plan for the South Bay.
The project involves alternative transportation plans within seven South Bay cities, as well as a larger bike network connecting the cities to each other and to local schools and business.
Statistics show residents need it.
The number one cause of death in the beach cities is heart disease, according to the Beach Cities Health District (BCHD), which lists 157 such deaths from last year alone. The second highest cause is lung cancer, responsible for 51 deaths locally in 2009.
Moderate exercise, such as cycling five times a week—say, riding to work or school—can reduce individuals' risk of cardiovascular disease by 30-40 percent, according to the American Heart Association. Research also shows that riding a bike to work rather than traveling by car reduces by two to three times one's exposure to pollution. Proponents of the Master Bike Plan say it will facilitate such keys for healthy living.
"This is such a huge need in our area," said Todd Dipaola, Manhattan Beach resident and chairman of the SBBC. "Cardiovascular disease is the number one public health concern here." Benefits to the environment in relation to traffic and pollution concerns are significant as well.
Manhattan Beach created a bike plan a few years ago, involving traditional bike lanes running alongside major roads throughout the city. However, budget constraints and other concerns prevented the plan from being implemented in full, and only a mile-long bike route along Valley Drive was established.
The new master plan will incorporate "sharrows" (short for "share the road arrows"), rather than separate bike lanes. One benefit of sharrows is that roadways are not changed. Rather, markings communicate biking rights to both drivers and cyclists. They can be created cheaply and immediately without removing any driving or parking lanes. With sharrows, bikers can venture off Valley Drive and ride safely throughout the city.
"I am excited about the opportunity to expand that throughout the community," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Mitch Ward on Friday.
The grant became available as a result of a federal stimulus grant awarded to the county by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an initiative by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of the CDC program is to "reduce risk factors, prevent/delay chronic disease, promote wellness in children and adults, and provide positive, sustainable health change in communities," according to its Web site.
In addition to the grant from the county, the SBBC was also awarded a $6,000 micro-enrichment grant on Thursday from the BCHD. The grant will serve as seed money to get the project going, specifically in the beach cities of Manhattan, Redondo, and Hermosa.
While the county grant is primarily for research and staffing requirements, the micro-enrichment grant is more flexible. It will assist the SBBC with the day-to-day tasks needed to get the master plan operational, including public outreach and promotional activities.
"Anything to keep our community healthy," said Michael Shaw, communications manager for BCHD.
The SBBC will discuss the grants at a meeting on Monday, March 29, at the Joslyn Community Center in Manhattan Beach. A guest speaker from Alta Planning and Design—a company that specializes in integrating biking, walking, and mass transit plans into cities—will present available options.
Residents expressed relieved enthusiasm upon hearing news of the coming changes.
"I can only think of the good it will bring," said Manhattan Beach resident and bicyclist Whitney Turner. "So get to it, already!"