Thursday, August 14, 2008

Santa Monica, Successes & Failures In Bicycle Policy & Infrastructure Pt. 1

Santa Monica City Council Meeting
(Did you know the city seal features a hot mermaid?)

Santa Monica, the place where I currently live, work, and play, is one of the best cities within Los Angeles to ride a bike. This land of perpetual sunshine and moderate temperatures has a dark side too however. This post shall begin my series on the successes and failures to make Santa Monica a truly great city for cycling.

Bike Lane Begin On 17th And Michigan

On the sunny side of things, Santa Monica has a fairly comprehensive grid of bike lanes compared to other L.A. cities, and gasp, they actually connect to each other to form cohesive routes in some cases. Most bike lanes in Los Angeles are fairly arbitrarily placed and rarely connect to other bike lanes or paths. Neighboring Venice Beach has a bike lane that lasts for one very short block between North and South Venice Blvd. on Pacific Ave and only on the Northbound side. I can get from one end of the bike lane to the other in one solid pedal stroke. What the hell good is that for. Santa Monica's bike lane system is far from perfect, and I will detail why in future posts, but compared to L.A. as a whole, it's pretty spectacular.

I ride every day to and from work, and as more people have swapped driving for bike commuting in light of fuel prices, I am seeing more bikes on the road. The first place these cyclists go is straight for roads with bike lanes, with Broadway being the popular East/West corridor through the city. I regularly see cyclists I know on Broadway and we will wave and nod at each other as we go by, creating a friendly and sociable atmosphere at times, something that can be said about few streets in L.A.

Santa Monica Critical Mass December

Turning now to the dark side. One issue of considerable recent controversy in the West Side cycling community is the Santa Monica Police Department's heavy handed efforts to suppress the local Critical Mass ride. They often have multiple officers tailing the group during the entire ride and writing tickets whether they are legitimate or not. I reported on this back in December, and after a period of calming, apparently the Police are out in force again.

Cyclists have made efforts to negotiate with the police and the City Council but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears despite riders making a strong effort to self police, following traffic laws (many Critical Mass rides in other cities do not) and even handing out lights required for riding at night to those who don't have them. I'll admit I'm beginning to feel Critical Mass as a movement may no longer be as necessary to promote cycling in L.A., in light of other growing opportunities to socially ride. However they have a right to ride on the streets and not be given erroneous and sometimes completely bogus traffic violations. These tickets discourage newbies and embolden the hardcore to stand up for their rights, creating unnecessary escalation.

If the police are going to meet some quota for ticketing cyclists, a more productive effort would be ticketing those blatantly breaking the law everyday. Santa Monica Critical Mass makes a concerted effort to keep it legal with only the occasional rider who does something stupid, and they are promptly called out by peers. The event happens for a few hours once a month, but everyday I see lone cyclists riding the wrong way against traffic, blowing lights, riding at speed on the sidewalk through pedestrians. Where are the warnings and tickets for these people? These are the riders who really bother motorists and pedestrians, because they are out there breaking rules dangerously all the time.

Santa Monica has begun to actively acknowledge the importance of creative capitol to the local economy, and the recent Glow Festival was a manifestation of a long term plan to encourage existing creatives to stay, and to draw in talent from abroad. A police force that is increasingly being perceived as draconian in it's pursuit of a group of bicyclists is both harmful to Santa Monica's creative and environmental goals. Not to mention wasting police resources while serial robberies of little old ladies living on the West Side is out of control.

When I first came into the night cycling scene in L.A. I was delighted, in fact ecstatic, to meet so many creative artists, designers, photographers, architects, musicians, programmers, writers and others in a single gathering. If the goal of Santa Monica is to drive away young eco-conscious creative talent to the East Side or neighboring Venice and Culver City, then the SMPD is doing a job well done. Keep up the good work guys.

Stay tuned for future updates on the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly about riding a bike in Santa Monica.

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