Monday, March 15, 2010
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.