Our Director of Media Relations Melissa Balmer interviewed Brian Addison, the recipient of the 2015 Bicycle Dreamer Award:
MB: What is your favorite childhood bicycle memory?
BA: To be honest, it’s a rather bittersweet one from when I was 11 years old. Every other week, I would take my mountain bike—my pride, my joy—over to my favorite teacher’s home. I had naïvely dropped it behind their SUV in the driveway while chatting and a craaaackle sounds off. I go outside to stand on the porch and there is her husband, holding up my mangled bike frame with its equally distorted front wheel. I was devastated, because that was how I explored; my escape-mania was only cured by my bike, which provided me these often wondrous adventures where the forest became an entirely different world. When that man was holding up my mutilated bike, it was like my world of imagination has shrunk a little to let the ever creeping dark side of reality set in.
During your time as both the Associate and then Executive Editor of the Long Beach Post, and then as the Editor of Longbeachize, you've been a passionate voice for the rights and opportunities for bicycling. When did this interest and passion start?
Bittersweetness seems to be the theme of my answers… While getting my MFA, I decided to sell my car. The alteration in my life was beyond significant: I began walking, and the experience of the human scale forever altered for me what it meant to get around. My bike—the same Specialized I ride to this day—came after that. These two things, walking and biking, made me love my city more than I already did. It made me pause, it made me examine things differently.
I once said that there is a mutual understanding that urban, dense environments are going to provide discomforts—parking constraints, occasional noise interruptions to your quiet living room, traffic—but that the vibrancy of the urban ballet, as long as it is safe and ripe with human activity, far outweighs those concerns. Part of that ballet is just being human—and I mean that in its physical sense: using your two feet and walking or biking.
Brian Addison will be awarded the Bicycle Dream Award on November 2nd at MADE in Long Beach (image via Pedal Love)
MB: In 2012 you and Sarah Bennett at the Long Beach Post chose the Long Beach Cyclist as person of the year. Since then the city has stalled a little in it's bike-friendly momentum, but the bike culture from the community (as you've noted yourself) keeps going strong and is one of the most vibrant in Southern California. If you had a magic wand for creating better conditions for bicycling in Long Beach what would be your top three changes?
1. Connect North Long Beach. I cannot scream or state this enough. For far too long, this community has been marginalized. This is the area where many don’t use bikes because it makes them fashionable or seem progressive but because they need them for day-to-day survival.
2. More ciclovías, past the scale and frequency of LA’s own CicLAvia. I believe in the power of sight: seeing people on bikes, seeing people walk, is more powerful than building a bike lane or creating a scramble walk. If drivers, stuck in the limited-view cabins of their vehicles, don’t see people biking or walking, they follow the illogical logic that no one bikes or walks and then anger arises at infrastructural investment aimed toward such activities. A ciclovía is a dramatic testament to the fact that people want these types of investments in their streets.
3. Stop the bragging-rights driven motivation that brings a lot of infrastructure to Long Beach. The reality is that many cities have caught up with (and even surpassed) us—and it is time to stop trying to be the first in doing something and look at what works well in places similar to us so that we are continually moving forward. Focus on making the world more bike-friendly, not building the bullet points on your resume.
Right now you're an extremely busy man playing both the role of Communications Director for the Downtown Long Beach Business Associates (the local Business Improvement District for all of downtown Long Beach) and Editor of Longbeachize.com.
Why is it important to bring the business world into the biking, walking, and public transit conversation? B) What do you wish the business community better understood about the opportunities of biking, walking and public transit and C) What do you wish those in biking/walking/transit advocacy understood better about engaging business?
We’re lucky to have an organization that gets it like the DLBA—and I am not saying that because I work here. Long before I started working here, they created a Placemaking Manager position, an entire position dedicated to the public realm. They created bike maps, bike banners, bike initiatives. They created Bike Fest. They brought Wolfpack Hustle here. With these endeavors, the DLBA has proven that accessibility is as intimately tied to business success as is economics.
That being said, we have many more climbs to take. A lack of education amongst some riders fuels anti-bike sentiment with some business owners as they see their pedestrian-focused sidewalk dangerously invaded by bicycling on the sidewalk. Some business owners are frightened at losing precious parking, particularly here in SoCal, as they might lose patrons that way.
These mostly anecdotal things—and they are mostly anecdotal because they can easily be fixed and are due to misconceptions and ignorance more than anything—fall by the wayside because of one particular fact: a better connected community is a more economically viable community. You want people walking because less crime occurs and with a safer neighborhood comes more sound investment. You want people biking because it increases physical activity and health—and the last thing we want is a stagnant community.
Earlier this year you won a coveted L.A. Press Club award for "Online Journalist of the Year" against very stiff competition. What does this mean for a young gay man from Big Bear writing from L.A.'s second largest (and often overlooked) city, on subjects that many find threatening to their status quo?
Firstly, far beyond me, it showcases the dynamism of Long Beach. I once said in an interview, “Long Beach is home to one of Southern California’s most vibrant biking and pedestrian-oriented communities. Tack onto this the fact that it harbors one of the nation’s largest ports, an increasingly active urban design culture, and a triad educational structure that is inherently connected to the employment and creative sphere, it becomes clear that the discussion of the implications of these structures in a city as large as Long Beach becomes essential.” I stand by that; Long Beach can no longer be relegated to the the place where Orange Countians “ghetto it up” (per the words of an OC resident; not my own) or the stepbrother of LA. We are distinctly our own.
The other testament to Long Beach is its investment in and support of my work. Shaun Lumachi—the local luminary who hired me at the Long Beach Post shortly before he passed—hired me not because of journalistic integrity or even a background in journalism. (I did not have one.) It was because of my sardonic, dig-in-the-rib musings about Long Beach and life. He sought someone who not only had a distinct voice but someone who deeply loved this place. And that’s the great thing about this city: it’s not about agreeability; it’s about the dialogue and extending your ear to those whose voices are difficult to turn away from.
Even more, I’ve always told others who have a distinct voice that may not be popular that while it is quite sad to have no friends, it’s just tragic to have no enemies.