Suja Lowenthal, Transforming a Built-Out City

It’s the difference between being a defeatist about how you see your city and 
being eternally optimistic about what your role can be

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Mark Bixby invited me to lunch, “I’m meeting Suja downtown at Congregation, come along?” We felt like celebrating; Mark and Allan Crawford had just wrapped up a conference call with CalTrans and the Port of Long Beach regarding the Desmond Bridge redesign. Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja LowenthalThis was my first interaction with these once-adversaries to bike lanes, but the phone call seemed to go well; CalTrans yielded right away, “bike lanes will be a mandatory requirement of the design.” Mark acted like he didn’t believe what he was hearing, so he went over it again and again, but there was no hedging; his persistence had won. Lunch would be a celebration.

“How will you help us with our objectives?” I remember her saying as we’re introduced. I’ve replayed this several times since: collaborative, seeing fresh faces as allies, my impressions of this woman would continue to grow over lunch as we discussed transportation, recycling, organizing citizen bicycle advocates and other topics facing the city. Since it was my first time with this crowd my comments were short and simple, but she’d take something I had just said and weave it into her next remark; she was a good listener and I felt like I was a legitimate contributor. As we gathered up and prepared to depart, Suja’s the first one out the door; that leaves me with Allan and Mark who conspiratorially suggests, “she’d be a good interview.” I was thinking the same thing.

Long Beach City HallMeet Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor, City of Long Beach, CA. There’s a lot of innovation going on here relating to making city streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. How did this process begin? How has the City handled citizen concerns, after all, this is Southern California where people love their cars, so what’s the key to her success in terms of initiating change? And what’s next?

Show #16 (29:56) Listen, subscribe via iTunes, or Flash Player.

Finishing up the new separated bike lanes
Finishing up the new bike lanes on Broadway

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