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Santa Monica picks up speed toward cycling sustainability

Lizzeth Henao

Posted December 14, 2010

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This past summer, the city of Santa Monica adopted the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), a blueprint for the city’s development for the next 20 years. A complete bicycle network that encourages people of all ages and experience levels to bicycle instead of drive is a key component of the LUCE. As stated in the LUCE, “a significant increase in bicycling is necessary for the City of Santa Monica to be a leading bicycle-friendly City and reach its goals of reducing auto trips, meeting its GHG emission reduction commitments and promoting active living.”  Developing an improved bicycle network is one step towards approaching the level of cycling experienced in the most bicycle friendly cities like Davis, California (14% of work trips) and Copenhagen, Denmark (over 35% bike mode share).

On Monday night, NRDC Transportation & Air Quality Science Fellow Greg Gould, Water Program Assistant Jessica Wall, and I attended the community workshop for the Bicycle Action Plan, the implementation tool for the goals set out in the LUCE and a requirement for the city to be eligible for grant money. Participants were able to provide input on specific network improvements through a myriad of topics ranging from Expo Line bike path integration, school access, public education, beach access, and bike parking, among others.  

Because NRDC supports bicycling as a means to tackle the public health and environmental challenges facing our cities, the majority of our suggestions at the meeting were aimed at making sure that—at a bare minimum—all roads actually work for cyclists. Currently they do not. 

  1. While cyclists by law must travel on the streets, and not on sidewalks, in Santa Monica, most traffic signals will not change for a cyclist. We advocate for the installation of detectors that sense bikes and markings that tell cyclists where to place their bike for detection. This would help communicate to cyclists that the roads are indeed being designed with them in mind.
  2. Car parking spaces are ubiquitous along Santa Monica’s streets, but bike parking is scarce. We advocate for more bike parking, especially along busy business corridors. More bike parking indicates that cyclists are welcome along our streets and that their patronage is desired.
  3. Although Santa Monica has developed some nice bicycle facilities, many of these are not on the main thoroughfares. For example, there is a nice bike lane on Arizona, but most destinations are along Wilshire or Santa Monica. We advocate for signage and way finding for cyclists to promote these facilities and guide users from these facilities to final destinations. Ideally signage should provide way finding along with useful information for cyclists such as the distance from or presence of steep hills.
  4. Currently, bike lanes only go a few miles before disappearing. We advocate for existing bike lanes to be completed to fill in the remaining gaps, particularly at busy intersections.
  5. We suggest that these basic deficiencies should be addressed prior to the construction of more bike lanes, boulevards and paths.
  6. Bicycle education should be an ongoing effort. The city should work with schools, colleges and major employers to promote cycling and how to do it safely.

One of the disappointing aspects of the meeting was the lack of diversity. The mostly white, male, cyclist crowd placed a strong emphasis on improvements to the north-west part of the city, indicating that other parts of the city were not equally represented by the participants. Businesses and non-cyclists did not seem to be represented either. Engaging the entire community is desperately needed to achieve Santa Monica’s goal of “no new net trips” and encourage cycling among all its residents. While we applaud Santa Monica’s commitment to creating a bike-friendly city, we hope that outreach efforts are improved so that more community members may participate in developing and implementing the bicycle plan and ensuring that the benefits are equitably distributed.

The city is currently accepting input to the Bicycle Action Plan via a community survey found here. The next steps include finalizing the plan by February, followed by committee hearings and a full City Council vote in the spring. We will continue our involvement and look forward to helping Santa Monica in its goal of competing with Long Beach and other cities for the title of “the most bicycle friendly city in America” because in this competition, everybody wins.

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