Monday, March 29, 2010

How To Change The World, And Santa Monica, With Parking Policy. Part 1, Where We Are Now.

Santa Monica Parking Land Use

Let's start with looking at where Santa Monica is currently with parking. There is often a chorus of sentiment expressed in local papers that we need more parking, and that the Downtown area must have more and cheaper parking to stay competitive with other business districts around L.A.. As you can see in the photo above, which does not mark the thousands of spaces of on-street parking, Santa Monica already uses a substantial quantity of some of the most valuable real estate in the L.A. region for no other purpose than places to stuff and stack automobiles.

Santa Monica Pier, Beachside ParkingStreet Summit Bike Valet
(Car parking at the pier compared with bike valet at LA Street Summit)

Not enough car parking, and too much traffic are probably the most common complaints you'll hear associated with Santa Monica. I think the not enough car parking complaint is quite debatable, as I believe our existing parking is inefficiently utilized, which can make parking appear in shorter supply than it really is. Something Santa Monica is starting to acknowledge. Traffic being bad, terrible at times, is quite real however, and directly related to the parking situation. People tend to only drive someplace if they can put their car there, if you expand parking, and keep prices artificially low through subsidy, traffic is induced. As I'll also explain in more detail in the second part to this discussion of parking, under valuing street parking also induces the cruising for a space phenomenon. In one study conducted by Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, 20% of traffic in Downtown Los Angeles was made up of drivers cruising for a parking space. In many cases off-street parking was available, but drivers opted to drive around in search of a bargain, a symptom of pricing street parking far below it's worth and demand for it's surrounding area.

Urth Cafe Bike Parking
(Bike Parking At Urth Cafe. They have a permit for on-street car valet service though.)

So how does all this pertain to cyclists? Generating business is the justification for such enormous expenses to support automobile use, but as all of us riding bikes, walking or taking transit know, spending money does not have to be associated with driving cars. Most mornings Velo Club LaGrange is out in force riding multi-thousand dollar bikes through Santa Monica, likely purchased in Santa Monica at Helen's, and then finish their ride with buying coffee. Hundreds of cyclists take advantage of the Santa Monica farmer's market bike valet every weekend. There are paths to economic activity and growth, without having to grow the automobile fleet, and the associated asphalt and concrete for the cars to sit on.

We are often told there is not enough resources for cycling improvements, and things as simple as bike racks are in short supply in much of Santa Monica. Cycling improvements are largely neglected, with many afraid to leave the beach path, and those who aren't are often afraid to park their bike for fear of rampant bike theft. Where bike racks are unavailable people will try attaching to all kinds of weird objects, some secure, some not so much. Police and security personnel sometimes threaten cyclists with warnings or confiscation for bikes parked to secure objects that are not officially bike parking, yet adequate bike parking is lacking from most places in the city.

Metro Bike Locker
(MTA bike locker at a red-line subway stop)

Not enough resources is certainly not the case. The remodeling of parking garages in downtown Santa Monica, which will add an additional 712 car spaces, plus postponed plans for completely new garages, has a 180 million dollar budget. Practically bullet proof fully secure bike lockers, such as those found at some Metro stations in L.A., cost about $800-1000 per unit. In other words for 180 million dollars we could buy around 200,000 bike lockers, more than double our entire population in Santa Monica. Not that we need 200,000 bike lockers, but hey maybe a few in scattered about for commuters and people making extended stays might be nice. How about some simple U-Wave racks at all major places of business. Whole Foods may have a green image, but their Santa Monica location has a highly costly subterranean parking garage for cars, and zero bike racks. Doesn't seem so green to me.

The Secret On-Street Bike Parking Corral Of Santa Monica
(Before and after on-street parking by OPCC center. The bike racks were well used when I first saw them during the week. When I came back with camera on weekend they were empty at the time.)

Another interesting twist in this whole parking issue for Santa Monica, is a recent discovery I made walking along a seldom traveled stretch of Olympic west of Lincoln, and just North of the 10 freeway and ramp to 4th St. There is a brand new shiny on-street bike rack, like some magical transplant from Portland, the city that made such parking famous. Besides being shiny you can tell it is at least fairly recent as it is not visible when Google Street View rolled by. At first glance I was really confused why such amazing bike parking was in such a secluded place, when Portland and other cities that did pilot on-street bike parking programs all chose vibrant centers of business and foot traffic, and advertised what they were doing.

Then I realized it was to serve the OPCC homeless shelter, and all the bikes and people I saw milling about were there for services. When I see the bike parking situation in most parts of Santa Monica, and then look at this, if it were not for the bike valet program, it might seem Santa Monica were trying to suggest bicycling and safe bike parking are things only homeless people and beach tourists were interested in. I would not deny that homeless people should have someplace to park their bike, but it does seem odd to me that the homeless be given the best bike parking in the city, while bike parking efforts elsewhere are drowned out by the sound of heel dragging.

We must never accept that lack of support for cycling is about lack of funding, it is a lack of political will to truly support cycling as a mode of transportation. The costs for supporting and growing cycling are but a tiny fraction of the costs associated with automobile travel. Some will argue, like a few people I encountered at the 20th and Cloverfield meeting, that our smaller numbers justify us getting the breadcrumbs of city resources. However as we have seen in cities like Boulder, Portland, Davis, New York, real commitments to cycling improvements grow ridership numbers. These investments eventually save the cities money as bicycling mode share increases reduce costs associated with car trips. In spite of the growth in numbers, these cities have experienced reductions in total bicycle involved collisions. There becomes a tipping point where the road culture it self changes with enough people riding bikes, and I think Santa Monica has the potential to get there, but is not quite there yet.

Hope is not lost, as Santa Monica has been shifting it's thinking about parking lately. The bike valet parking program at the farmers market, and many big city events, has been the most significant thing the city has done to support cycling in years. Two brand new parking garages were slated in the $180 million dollar plan, that would have cost $50,000 per new space, have been put on hold due to recommendations from new consultants to the city. The city has been actively pursing bringing car sharing service back to Santa Monica, programs which are associated with reduced car parking demand. Parking rates which have not moved in a decade are finally being discussed.

The pending 20 year LUCE (land use and circulation elements) plan includes some important changes to how land is used, and includes a number of improvements to bike parking. However there are still lingering attachments to the idea that we need more car parking in parts of LUCE and in the public discourse. There are also some easy things that can be done right now, and the waiting for LUCE to get anything done has been going on for years now. Hopefully our upcoming meetings with City Staff will give us the opportunity to get some of these issues addressed. In some cases the city may already be working on solutions, but timeliness may be unclear and priorities out of sync. Hopefully continued communication will lead to a more mutually beneficial relationship between cyclists and City Hall.

Change is controversial, especially things like raising parking meter rates, and it will be important for us to change the hearts and minds of the public, and rethink common myths and notions about parking. City Hall is starting to nudge in the right direction, but with enough support, maybe we could push the nudging along a little faster. The enthusiasm for future discussion with cyclists from Assistant City Jennifer Phillips is hopeful sign.

In Part 2, I'll go into more detail about the parking economics theories of Donald Shoup, who I got to hear in person at the LA Street Summit, and highlight the most important points from his lecture. Understanding parking may not be the sexiest of topics, but I think is a vital component of changing the transportation landscape. Copenhagen didn't transform from a mostly automotive city to be a land of 30%+ trips by bike, even in snowy months, just by making bike lanes and paths. Over the course of their multi-decade plans that began in the 70's, they repriced parking in tandem with increases to cycling infrastructure and transit to change the economic incentives of transportation. Some of the most popular cafes with outdoor seating of Copenhagen today were 20 years ago a parking lot. Parking policy matters, and in many ways dictates the way our cities take shape.

(Bike parking in a suburb of Copenhagen)

Monday, March 22, 2010

L.A. Street Summit, The Time Is Now, Let's Kick Some Ass

Standing Room Only For Keynote Speakers At L.A. Street Summit

The L.A. Street Summit, formally the L.A. Bike Summit, has grown noticeably since last year both in scale and scope. Hundreds of people motivated by a range of interrelated interests, from safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians, to ecological sustainability, and racial and class equity in access to transportation, descended on the campus of Los Angeles Trade Technical College to listen, to exchange ideas, and plan a new path foreword for the Los Angeles region.

Janette Sadik-Khan of the NYCDOT inspired everyone with the highly ambitious and revolutionary transformations she has overseen on streets in New York City. 200 new miles of bike lanes in 3 years time, much of Times Square turned into a pedestrian plaza, pocket parking lots turned into public plazas all over the city, and a 50% reduction in traffic fatalities in many places are results that speak for them self. On the topic of bikes, she said "Biking is not an alternative mode of transportation, it is a fundamental mode of transportation." With political will, change is possible and doable, and it doesn't take much money. As Sadik-Khan pointed out, most of what they have been doing is just using buckets of paint, some brushes and putting in beach chairs and shade umbrellas. Bringing this point home in the closing talk, by urban planning consultant Ryan Snyder, he pointed to the 1 billion dollars we are spending to widen the 405 in L.A. and put in 8 miles of car pool lane. For 1 billion dollars we could create hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles of bike lanes, sharrows, and retrofit sidewalks all over the entire county. Even in this time of a depressed economy, what is lacking is not dollars, what is lacking is the political will.

It is our job to make the case to the public that our ideas are worthy, and in the best interest of our everyone. Livable streets is a human rights issue, it is an environmental issue, and it addresses many of the biggest threats to public safety and health our society faces today. Issues like air pollution, obesity, automobile fatalities, global warming, foreign oil dependence, our quality of life and the bonds of our social connections. It is our role as activists to push until our leaders are either forced to act, or replace them with leaders who will.

I took a lot of notes in the talks and in the 3 workshops I attended. As I sort through the information I'll share my thoughts on what's next, and what we can all be doing, big or small, toward making our ideas realities. For further coverage of the event, I'm sure Damian Newton of L.A. Streets Blog will be hard at work this week compiling the information bomb that was this event.

Friday, March 19, 2010

L.A. Street Summit Tommorow

LA Bike Summit Closing, Joe Linton, Urban And Environmental Policy Institute
(Picture from last years LA Bike Summit)

Tomorrow is the LA Street Summit, formally the LA Bike Summit, which has broadened it's focus to include pedestrian issues, transit issues, and look at street reform more holistically. A great write up on the opening lecture yesterday by Janette Sadik-Kahn can be found at Streetsblog LA, thanks to the always amazing Damien Newton. It was highly and motivating and enlightening to hear so many amazing speakers and motivated attendees last year, and I'm sure it will be even bigger this year.

Here is a clip of the inspirational Sadik-Kahn of the NYCDOT, who has led a charge to transform the city by opening more spaces to pedestrians and adding more miles of bike lanes in a couple years than L.A. has done in decades.

Details From The Website:
L.A. STREET SUMMIT 2010: Biking, Walking and Beyond!
Saturday March 20, 2010
Click for Overall Schedule and Workshop Listings
LA Trade Tech College
10:00am - 5:00pm
Admission is FREE!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Meeting With Santa Monica Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips

Santa Monica City Council Meeting

I was a little disheartened by the at times hostile atmosphere at the public meeting this past Monday, though mainly because of the harsh nay saying of a particular individual in attendance. However at today's meeting between members of the Santa Monica Spoke LACBC chapter, my self included, and Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips, Deputy Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and Transportation Planning Manager Lucy Dyke, there was some cause for renewed optimism.

The meeting got off to a rocky start at times, I think in part because so many of us have such a large backlog of grievances and a sense of urgency to the situation on our streets. Waiting for someday LUCE will be passed and everything will better has not been very reassuring. Once dialog really got moving along though it was clear that the immediate problem has been a lack of communication between cyclists and the city. Some of the particular specific problems I brought up at one point, like design problems at a few points on 11th St., are things Lucy Dyke was already aware of or is in their queue of issues for her department. To some extent they don't know certain things we know about being on the street but to some extent they do but we don't know what they know.

We need information flowing both directions, and if the City knows a problem, but for some reason is held up, or something else has priority, we want to know about it. Most importantly we want to know what is being done about these problems, as of course actions are always what speak loudest. However words precede action, so open discussion is critical. I also found it refreshing that apparently a decent number of the staff for transportation planning in Santa Monica do walk, bike or take the bus. Unlike LA County Metro, where less than 2% of the staff actually ride Metro to work.

No specific on the street issues were solved by this brief meeting, and many things I came into the meeting wanting to talk about I didn't get to, but the critical take away has been that Jennifer Phillips has offered to continue the dialog with more round table discussion. We are to have another meeting in about a month and will continue to have a monthly round table discussion eventually moving toward a quarterly meeting once the most urgent issues have been discussed. The goal is to get everything out in the air so we can establish what cyclists most want and need to happen, and then prioritize how we address those issues. The SM Spoke group will meet again before then to hash out specifics of what we want to discuss.

Phillips has offered to have staff from multiple departments present and that if it comes out of these proposed meetings that our priorities are overwhelmingly different with the bike project priorities of the transportation demand management department, than maybe some priorities will be changed. This is wonderful news, and could be crucial to really building the relationship between the cycling community and the City of Santa Monica in a positive direction. The format of completely public forums like the one to discuss 20th and Cloverfield can become a bit of a shouting match between competing interests at times, though all voices should be heard, and 2 minutes of speaking time at the City Council Meetings can only address the tip of the ice berg of our many issues and ideas. Having some more direct time speaking with staff I think can only be constructive.

I would like to thank Assistant City Manager Phillips, Deputy Police Chief Sanchez, and Lucy Dyke from Transportation Planning for their time, and most especially for the offering to keep the discussion going in the months ahead. There is much to talk about.

Speaking of which, I would like to hear back from my readers what are your biggest concerns as a cyclist in Santa Monica. I'll be having some real speaking time with city staff instead of just projecting my thoughts into cyberspace, and would like to best represent our collective interests. Let's get the dialogue flowing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gary Takes Pictures

Self Portrait

For those who aren't already aware, I just wanted to call attention to my flickr photostream, where most of my photos on this blog come from. I try to get out and about as much as possible to take pictures of what's going on in the city, and for a while there I wasn't really taking pictures. Well I started shooting more pictures again, and I've recently been playing with some new features. I've always saw the potential for geo tagging to map photos, but without a built in GPS on my camera I usually neglected to manually plot photos with flickr's mapping setup because of the time it takes to do that.

Recently however I upgraded to Aperture 3, which includes built in mapping and it can now read GPS track data from any GPS device. I've long used a Garmin GPS cycling computer (Edge 305 model for heart rate monitor) for purposes of physical training and recording routes for mapping, but it just occurred to me recently that I could use it with my camera. So basically what you do is match your digital camera's internal clock to the exact satellite time on your GPS unit. Since every photo is time stamped, with the right software, which now includes Aperture, GPS track data can be used to plot your photos on a map, since all the recorded GPS data is also time stamped.

For example I started a new photo series to start plotting everywhere in Santa Monica where there is an intersection with restrictions on pedestrian crossing, as well any pedestrian access issues I witness along the way. Not surprisingly many of the worst places to be a pedestrian are the worst places to be a cyclist, although so far my focus has been on Lincoln Blvd. near the 10 freeway. On the flickr map view, you can see where each photo corresponds on the city grid.

No Human Crossing
No Human CrossingThe Symbol That Best Describes The Attitude Of CaltransNo Human CrossingSidewalk ClosedNo Human Crossing

Sometimes I snap photos and post them before I get around to writing a corresponding blog post, and some photos will never show up on the blog. So if you want the heads up on what I'm taking pictures of, you can always subscribe to my photostream. Occasionally I'll post things that have nothing to with bikes what so ever, but of my over 6,000 online images, the majority are about cycling and our urban environment. There is also the flickr group Bike L.A., that I started a while back, and which various cycling photographers in the L.A. region have been contributing to. All are welcome to join, I'd love to see more activity in there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts On The Meeting Discussing Plans for 20th St. and Cloverfield Blvd.

Faded Bike Lane Text

Having missed many past opportunities to be present at public meetings due to scheduling, today's meeting was a reminder to me of what we have to work against in the perceptions of the public. I would say in the crowd of about 20-30 people, there was a rather tepid reception to cycling improvements that would shift space from cars. About 3 people were there strongly in favor of cycling including my self, with a few supportive voices and some people who bike occasionally but not so much to be an advocate. There were a few nay-sayers, and one gentleman in particular who was fond of talking over other people and consistently shot at any mention of something that might slow automobile movement by so much as a millisecond. In one of the more heated exchanges later in the public comment period he responded to my concern that automobiles are the number one killer of people under 30 as "that's just the facts of life".

As for the substance of the meeting, it was all about plans to redo 20th St. and Cloverfield Blvd. Both of which are full of potholes and cracks, and lack much of the pedestrian feel and tree canopy of other streets in Santa Monica. I'm going to limit my discussion to the matters of transportation, as I am not inclined to voice a strong opinion on which species of trees make the best urban canopy, which was a less controversial but other major component to the discussion. Pedestrian scale lighting is also proposed for both 20th and Cloverfield to compliment the tree canopy and make a safer and more inviting environment walking at night. 20th St. is currently targeted to becoming a bicycle route of some kind in the LUCE (Land Use & Circulation Element, a.k.a. Santa Monica's 30 year urban plan).

Bike lanes are one explored idea, but there is some vocal resistance to the bike lane concept due to it requiring the removal of a lane of automobile travel on the street. As an alternative sharrows are being proposed, which would be a first for Santa Monica, following the application of sharrows in Long Beach, Hermosa Beach, and soon the City of Los Angeles. Due to the potential traffic impacts on 20th requiring an EIR (environmental impact report) and the connection to Caltrans operated I-10, if bike lanes were to be put in the plan it would delay the approval of the plan. Since this plan to revitalize 20th and Cloverfield has apparently gone back and forth for years, there is little enthusiasm for delaying things any further. Which suggests to me the likely outcome is probably going to be sharrow markings on 20th in the more immediate future with possible plans to convert to full bike lane at some unknown future date as part of LUCE.

As for Cloverfield Blvd., it seemed from the meeting that it was practically a done deal to improve the sidewalks, add a few bulb outs (extended curbs to make crosswalks safer and more visible) for pedestrian crossing, and some trees using special and more expensive underground work to allow for big roots on the more narrow sidewalk of Cloverfield, while doing everything possible to not take away either street parking or car lanes.

Personally I would like to see more ambitious plans, but Santa Monica is treading a thin line between progressive policy and some members of the crowd that can be at times highly antagonistic to change. I think moving forward, cyclists are going to have to get more organized and show a greater presence in any public planning input meetings like this if we are going to see the change we really want and need by convincing the public that our ideas are sound policy. The naysayers make it out to the meetings, and we need a strong counter presence. I've been lax in commitments to public meetings in the past, in large part due to work scheduling, but I may try to negotiate shifting hours a little for certain days or even vacation time when necessary to make it to future planning meetings. The application of sharrows in Santa Monica would be a positive step though, and should be considered an added tool in the tool box for changing the road culture of this town.

Judging by the pulse of the crowd at the meeting and the long and bureaucratic process it takes for these sorts of plans to move forward we have a long uphill battle ahead to making Santa Monica a truly bicycle friendly and pedestrian oriented city, but it is vitally important we stay engaged. Live the dream, be the change you want to see in the world.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Important Public Meeting To Discuss 20th St. And Cloverfield Blvd.


This coming Monday, March 15th, there is going to be a public discussion on the plan to redo the streetscaping of 20th St. and Cloverfield Blvd. Currently both of these streets are not especially pleasant places to be a cyclist and have poor pavement condition. They also represent one of the biggest gaps in the Santa Monica bicycle route network, with no North/South routes between 17th and Stewart. Since street options with bridges over the freeway are limited, each street that makes that crossing becomes an important matter. With the revamp of these streets comes a great opportunity to make sure cyclists are in the discussion, and I highly urge all cyclists with an interest in making Santa Monica a better place to ride to attend. It's important our voices are ideas are heard, and equally important to simply shows numbers, a presence that says we are constituency that demands respect and is paying attention.

When this rescaping was first proposed I believe it was really only to put some trees up, and the discussion of providing better conditions for cyclists was an idea that hatched later. If we don't show our support to keep the cycling discussion going, there are some that would prefer this go back to purely a repave and "beautification" discussion. Let's make sure this project is more than just what type of tree is going to be planted.

Bike Lane Icon

Of the two streets I would most like to see a strong consideration for making 20th St. a class II bike route (bike lanes), as it has close proximity to two schools, including SMC, and connects all the way to Montana to the North and Ocean Park to the south. Which would add connectivity with several East/West bike routes, including Broadway, Pearl, Ocean Park and come just shy of the bike lanes of Montana Ave which begin slightly further West. Cloverfield should be made more cycling friendly than it is presently, but I think will be the more difficult of the two to make into a good place to ride, as it encounters a lot heavier traffic with it's Eastward connection to the 10 freeway. However I don't think that means we should abandon hope to reform Cloverfield. With it's connection to some of the biggest job centers in Santa Monica, if we want to encourage cycling to work, the business district is going to need to be better served by safe cycling routes.

I'm also interested in proposing if there lacks the political will for bike lanes, to make this an opportunity for Santa Monica to get with the program and try sharrow markings like Long Beach, Hermosa Beach and coming soon, The City of Los Angeles. Sharrows would not take away an inch of lane space for automobiles, but would commicate clearly bikes have a right to the road, and can take the center of the lane when necessary to avoid the door zone. In the numerous cities now that have implemented sharrows, they have been shown to influence safer behavior and passing by motorists, and reduced the number of cyclists riding the wrong away in traffic or taking the sidewalk.

I hope you can make it out. The meeting is taking place at Virgina Park, right in the heart of the communities this will impact, on Monday the 15th from 7-9pm. See you there.

Official Event Flier

Friday, March 5, 2010

Seeing The Light - The Clear Need For Bicycle Detection By Traffic Signals


A pet peeve of mine I've mentioned at least once before on the blog is that traffic light sensitivity is not standardized, with some intersections picking up bikes, but most will not. It's always a surprise until you memorize the signalization of a particular route. The real kicker to me is there are many intersections at streets with bike lanes that were obviously not calibrated with bicycles in mind, even though there is a sign right there with a bike on it. The CVC 21450 seems to suggest that all streets which are repaved, and thus have their magnetic traffic signal detectors ripped out, should have the sensors reinstalled to detect motorcycles and bicycles. Legislation like seems more like a mumbled suggestion than a mandate, because I can recall repaving of several streets along bike routes in Santa Monica where bike detection remained an issue or got worse after repaving.

Signal detection is not something talked about as often as things like painting more bike lanes, but I think it is essential to legitimizing cycling for transportation and more importantly for safety. Lack of signal detection is most frustrating late at night, when the absence of automobile traffic means some intersections no longer change between red and green regularly, but may hold one color indefinitely until triggered. Since most cyclist fatalities are at night, and located at intersections, we should be paying close attention to this issue. The unchanging traffic light creates a situation where the infrastructure it self is telling a cyclist you do not belong, made especially confusing when sitting in a bike lane that says you belong, but will not detect you at the intersection.

At such an intersection a cyclist is presented with essentially 4 options which are all problematic and either frustrating, dangerous and or illegal by the letter of the law.

If the signal loops just won't budge for your bike, you can roll around and hop over to the pedestrian crossing button, assuming one is available. If you are positioned to go straight through the intersection or even worse already positioned to make a left turn, than you will likely need to roll through the perpendicular cross walk to get to the pedestrian signal, and hop off and futz the bike around and hop back on. Imagine how people would feel about driving if coming home late from the office meant having to stop the car at every other intersection, get out of the car, push a button, hop back in, and proceed to repeat this dance over and over.


Wait for a car to show up going the direction you need to travel in. If it's late at night on a low traffic road, the kind that are most ideal for cycling on, good luck waiting, it'll be a long night.


Go through the red light. This is for obvious reasons the riskiest of the 3 options, and technically illegal (However I would define such a light as defective, and there is some ambiguity to the legality of this). I will admit quite plainly that I run red lights, and over the past couple months when I was working overtime nearly every day, I ran a red light at least once on my way home nearly every day. This is the sort of thing that gets anonymous motorist internet commentators and radio shot hosts all riled up, to fathom such wanton and regular disregard for the law (despite their few qualms about chatting on the phone, California stops, and habitual speeding on their commute). The fact of the matter is, if I am working overtime and riding home tired, I am not going to sit and wait forever in the degrading process of hoping for a motorist to come escort me across at each intersection with a bicycle traffic detection problem. I'm also not going to get off my bike and go over and push a button. So I go against the red, looking both ways first of course.

Option 4:

Ride onto the sidewalk so as to approach every intersection within convenient reach of the pedestrian cross signal. A lot of people do this, even on streets with bike lanes, in large part
because our bike lanes don't feel especially safe. The problem with this is that cyclists riding on the sidewalk exposure them self to lots of potential blind side collisions from drivers pulling out of driveways and making turns at intersections, and thus make up a majority of total bicycle crashes. Not to mention if someone were to actually be walking on what is most likely a a space barely adequate for walking, let alone vehicle traffic, we have an obvious conflict between pedestrians and cyclists. Top this all off with the fact that in the City of Santa Monica it is illegal to ride on a bike on sidewalks.

One last option that only exists at a few intersections in Venice where it is installed, but there are such things as crossing buttons facing the street especially for cyclists to press without having to get off the bike or get onto the sidewalk. This is considerably easier than a cyclist having to use a conventional pedestrian button, but would be unnecessary if the signal detection was setup correctly. Lastly this option ignores the dilemma of a left turning cyclist, who would position them self much too far away to hit such a button, and so I see it as an inadequate solution to the problem.

Simply redoing every intersection to fix this problem right away is impractical and costly, but eventually every intersection gets redone for maintenance reasons anyways, which is why the C.V.C. specifies tuning for bicycles should be done "Upon the first placement of a traffic-actuated signal or replacement of the loop detector of a traffic-actuated signal". Detecting bikes is not some magical voodoo work of engineering, it's done successfully in many places, but sadly not most places. There needs to be a clear and consistent practice to tuning intersections for bicycle travel, and the lack of one currently is purely a matter of ignorance and indifference to our concerns, even in a City like Santa Monica that likes to pride it self as a cycling friendly place. Things like bike valet at the local farmers market are a nice gesture and a great idea to promote cycling while reducing demand for car parking, but does nothing for the safety and concerns of the everyday bicycle commuter.

There are several remedies for the situation. One is to as outlined in the CVC, setup the magnetic inductors to detect bikes with each new repaving, something Santa Monica has thus far failed to do consistently. The other thing that can be done is move toward camera pixel analysis signalization, which already exists at a few places in Santa Monica. These systems are more accurate, and easier to reprogram, however are significantly more expensive per intersection to install. However, in the long term they can pay for their extra expense by reducing future labor and maintenance issues. No longer would workers have to come out with diamond saws every time signal detection had to be redone. Replacing the need for cutting into the asphalt also exposes the intersection to less water erosion that slips through the cracks. This would reduce potholes and extend the life of the road.

As BikingInLA mentioned in the comments on my last post about traffic lights, perhaps Santa Monica's failure to comply with State law could set the stage for lawsuits or even a class action lawsuit against the city. If a cyclist rides against red at an intersection that will not detect them, and is hit by cross traffic, perhaps the city is partially liable, considering that they obviously failed to comply with the following conditions during routine road maintenance:
"Upon the first placement of a traffic-actuated signal or replacement of the loop detector of a traffic-actuated signal, the traffic-actuated signal shall, to the extent feasible and in conformance with professional traffic engineering practice, be installed and maintained so as to detect lawful bicycle or motorcycle traffic on the roadway."
It is quite feasible to place and tune actuators to detect bicycles, as there are plenty of places where it is actually done right. A standout example on the West Side is the North bound exit of the Marina bike path at Washington, where inductors are setup with bikes in mind and are painted to imply where the best placement for the bicycle wheels are for detection. Even some roads not ideally setup for detecting cyclists will in fact detect them. Where it is done completely wrong, as in will not detect a bicycle under any circumstance or placement, seems to be simply ignorance at work or lack of concern. I think the case to sue the City is especially strong where bicycle routes are clearly marked, as obviously cyclists are not only expected, but encouraged to ride there. Neglecting to maintain intersections for bicycle use along official bicycle routes would seem to me to be clear negligence on the part of the City.

There seems to be an awful shortage of concern for the safety of anyone not in a 4 wheel box by those who plan our roads. I'm not a legal expert, but I strongly feel that as a movement, cycling needs to explore how best to bring lawsuits against city and state governments. Civil rights activists have fought long and hard for years for handicap access, things like curb ramps for wheel chairs on sidewalks, and they didn't just ask nicely, they sued when necessary to get the job done. Our very own Caltrans just recently settled a lawsuit to the tune of 1.1 billion dollars to be used to repair their years of negligence in maintaining sidewalks and providing curb ramps. Asking nicely for that which should be your right only goes so far, sometimes you need to wield a stick. Perhaps until we see a critical mass of lawsuits, politicians will be content to mostly ignore us, or half ass try to appease us. Money talks, liability lawsuits cost money.


In the meantime, there are some tricks to improve your chances of detection while we wait for the state and local governments to put 2 and 2 together. Cyclist View has a great breakdown of the topic of signal detection, the basic science of how inductor strips work, and the ideal placement for a cyclist to trigger a light with different inductor patterns. The best tip I have read is that the key is to make 2 contact points with the loop for best detection. Ideally get your wheels lined up so the center of each wheel is lined right over the lines of a loop. Depending on the intersection this may be easy or difficult, and while perfect placement helps, some intersections will not detect you, no matter what you do, which is of course a huge flaw in our system, and a failure of our public works. Even motorcycles, much bigger hunks of metal than we have, have been known to be unable to trigger some lights. Sometimes dancing around a bit with your bike and rolling it back and forth over the loop will get it to work, kind of like blowing on old video games cartridges.

Extra Links & Sources:
Cyclist View
Bicycle Detection and Signalizatio, By Alyssa Sherman - Tech Transfer Program
Detection of Bicycles by Quadrupole Loops at Demand-Actuated Traffic Signals, Steven G. Goodridge, Ph.D.
Bicycle Detection Program, Santa Cruz, California
Traffic Signal Actuators: Am I Paranoid?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Late Night Rant, Smashing On The Keyboard My Gut Feelings About Traffic Safety In America.

40,000 Americans die bloody deaths every year on the road, more than double the causalities of the worst year of the Vietnam War and nearly triple the annual number killed in what we classify as murder. Some of these deaths are the lone incident of a driver veering off the road, but sometimes others are brought to the grave with them. The biggest killer of our children and all Americans under the age of 30 is the automobile crash. The modern transportation network, one of big metal boxes operated by people who did a few basic tests, is a system entirely of our own construct. So as a civilization we are solely responsible for the consequences of this system.

There is no act of God to blame this problem on. This is not the weather, this is not a hurricane, a tornado, or an earthquake, this is a disaster we have crafted entirely of our own, and rationalize through theories of economics, politics, and media presentation. This not far away news in a third world nation, this is in the world’s wealthiest nation. This is not the act of isolated insanity and malicious intent as in the serial killer or murderer with a knife or gun, this is the status quo of a system that accepts frequent deaths of innocent people as collateral damage for getting to work, buying groceries and shopping at the mall. The problem is far beyond the influence of alcohol, 80% of fatal crashes involve sober drivers. Children have died in clearly visible and marked crosswalks on the way to school because of a parent rushing another child to school in their urban sport utility vehicle.

This does not have to be the case. There are other places with a high quality of life and successful economies without nearly as much needless bloodshed simply moving goods, people and services. We must end the worship and singular focus on the self-piloted speeding automobile. Societies with more diversified transportation options, better public transit, better pedestrian access, more bicycle networks, higher standards for driver testing, and slower automobile speeds in city centers, have significantly lower per capita deaths in their daily goings of business, and live healthier and more active lives. These economies are also at less risk for the shocks of world fuel supply, and more capable of moving masses of people during spikes in travel demand thanks to the higher capacity and efficiency of non-automobile systems.

We must not be disheartened by statistics or distracted by the media circus. The biggest threat to our national security is not the outside terrorist, but is from within, our biggest enemy is us, and we can all do something about it. If it is our goal to improve the safety of ourselves, and our future generations, than the eyes of our society should not be on the shoes of passengers at airports, they should be on the streets, giving witness to our daily massacre.