Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Other Santa Monica Alternative Transportation News, Big Blue Bus Still Not On Google Transit, Continues To Repeatedly Push Back A Potential Launch, And Now A Petition Has Begun To Demand It Get Done

Santa Monica Bus 3

As the title of my blog obviously suggests, I write mostly about bikes. In the big picture though, all modes of transportation are interconnected, and if we want sustainable, and less auto-centric transportation for our cities, better and more user friendly public transit is an absolutely essential component of that. Buying a Prius won't save the world, but riding the bus would certainly help a lot. The Big Blue Bus offers a lot of great local service, as well important connections to key regional destinations like LAX, Downtown LA, and UCLA. I've depended on BBB long before I moved to Santa Monica, when I was going to college at Otis along the number 3 route and living in Westchester. The problem is the ol'BBB is still living in the past when it comes to how potential customers figure out transit service in 2010.

Increasingly in this web 2.0 world and smart phones becoming common place, mobile apps running open source, private or google data have largely replaced traditional time tables and route building for many transit users. MTA's old trip planner and route builder always sucked, for a number of reasons. So of course many rejoiced when they could finally use google transit instead. Burbank, OCTA and Metrolink were all a step ahead of L.A MTA in getting to Google. The old online Metro trip planner has all the other local agencies like Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus service as well, and is still around, but google has become the route builder of choice. The Bus Bench blog just yesterday did a look at some of the terrible route choices made by Metro Trip Planner compared to the new google recommendations.

Yet entire bus fleets have now dropped off the map many people use to figure out public transit now. It's because the data of some local agencies like Santa Monica is locked up in red tape. Though the majority of L.A. and SoCal transit agencies are on board now, save a few hold outs like Santa Monica.

This data gap creates serious repercussions for how people plan trips. To an old user of the Big Blue Bus, they obviously know BBB exists, and probably already know many of the routes, and how to track down the information. To the newer transit user, one unfamiliar with our system, perhaps tourists Santa Monica would like to attract to our little beach town, or drivers who haven't set foot on a bus in years but might want to give it a shot, they may skip over the very existence of our bus fleet as they browse google to find their way around. I know before I touch ground in new places, the first thing I do is look up routes on google and search for any iPhone apps for local transit service.

The #10 BBB is a hidden gem of transit service, running from Santa Monica to Downtown LA and back with no stops at any cities or neighborhoods in-between, running express right on the 10 freeway. For anyone using Google to plan their trip between downtown and Santa Monica, they will be directed to use inferior and slower service options with Metro that use transfers and slog through surface street traffic. The number 3 and 3 rapid are essential links between Santa Monica and the airport, and sadly one many google transit users may not realize exists.

Green LA Girl has covered this topic since she was still blogging for the LA Times. That was back in 2008. She followed up with BBB several times since, but the missing transit data is still lost in the shuffle. Obviously quite some time has passed now, and the list of cities that make their data available to Google has grown to include places you might not think would be ahead of "progressive" Santa Monica. Places like Covington Kentuky are now on Google Transit.

I've been told in an e-mail exchange by a representative from the Big Blue Bus that the Santa Monica hold up has to do with complicated contractual agreements with software venders. I'm sure other agencies had issues with data and software vendors, but have managed to work it out. Google has done all the real hard work of programming route building algorithms and a user friendly graphic interface, they just need the data in their format. Google has a big office right down the street from BBB headquarters. This shouldn't be so difficult.

To me the real sting comes from not only dropping the ball on making the transit data accessible, but constantly pushing back when they would finally get it done, when it seems apparent they have no idea when it's going to happen. July 6th 2009 it was announced that it was expected it to happen within the calender year.

I was getting frustrated with this whole thing my self recently after trying to plan some trips that used Metro and BBB, and I did not want to dig up the old Trip Planner beast. So I started writing in to complain and find out more. On June 16th of this year I was told "..we have reason to believe it might be available as early as the next two weeks". Fast forward to August 18th, and I was told after following up and making further complaints "..we are preparing to go live on Google Transit in the early part of September 2010".

We are on the last day of September now. Will it be early October, will it be Halloween? Christmas? Will our civilization be slipping down the backside of peak oil while Santa Monica is still figuring out how to make their transit data easily accessible for route building over the internet. When is it finally going to happen, for real?

On that note, a group of citizens have started to mobilize on this. Back in 2008 a group organized on Facebook to put pressure on Metro to provide their data to Google, back when that agency was still late to the Google party, and unsure it wanted to give up the information for another website to use. The group is now going after L.A. area local agency hold outs like Santa Monica and has now started a petition to get the Big Blue Bus to get their act together on providing it's transit data. And to be transparent about the process. I encourage everyone to sign it, although I think the petition's date of demanding a publicized plan with a launch date by 10/30/10 is going easy on the agensy considering how long they've already been working on this, and how many empty promises have already passed. Maybe if enough people sign it, they'll wake and realize what a serious priority this is for the transit using public.

If Santa Monica wants to really make this city sustainable, putting solar panels on the upgraded bus yard and maintenance facility is nice, but making transit service planning easily accessible to drivers is much better. Many drivers may never see the Big Blue Bus website, but already know how to navigate with google maps.  I'm no longer surprised when I talk to people who have lived a car centric and sheltered life in the L.A. area for years, and have no clue that we have train service in some places or that a subway even exists in L.A. So many people have no clue at all what's going on outside their car, and we aren't going to reach those people with timetable charts and archaic route building software from the 90's, buried in a website many people will never go to.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When Drivers Gamble With Human Lives To Save A Few Seconds Of Time, Or Quite Often, No Time At All

Bike Lane Begin On 17th And Michigan

I almost witnessed a head collision between two cars today. It was on my ride to work, going down Michigan Ave., a residential street meant for low traffic volumes, but increasingly used as a cut through alternative to Pico Blvd. during peak times. It's a scenario that I see far too often, and it's because some drivers continue to believe cyclists don't belong in the street, and also that their time is more valuable than human lives. What happened was the driver of the black truck behind me, didn't want to slow down from his maniac speed through a residential street, and actually revved up to go faster as he got closer. He decided to make a very risky move and pass me before waiting for a safe moment to pass. Another car coming the opposite way was approaching. The driver of the black truck, who I cannot imagine did not see the car right in front of us, decided to gun it and honk as he plowed through, coming inches from both slamming into the car ahead, and buzzing me in the process.

Fortunately no one was hit, but it was certainly a tense near miss moment. However as is all too common with these traffic weaving dare devil drivers, I caught up to him at the next light at 14th. All his engine revving and displays of horse power had bought him no time gained. I asked him what the deal was back there, having nearly caused a head on crash, and he replied to the effect that I should get off the road and not be in "his" way. He was one of those.

One of my big fears besides the possibility of being hit myself, is that some driver like this, the ones who get pissed off and like to make vroom vroom noises and drive even faster at the sight of a cyclist on the street, will pass unsafely and cause a head on collision with another car. I'd hate to witness that, and though I would not be at fault, it is the obligation and responsibility of the one passing to pass safely, however I could easily see blame being shifted at me, as though my presence on the road caused the crash.

This whole scenario would not be an issue if people simply waited 2 or 3 seconds to pass when it is clear to do so, but for some drivers, 2 or 3 seconds gained is worth risking their life or more tragically, potentially the lives of others. Or in this case, as is often the case, the traffic signal timing meant the driver made no more progress than I did pedaling along at probably 14-15 mph. Such extreme risk taking that could potentially end or ruin lives for so little benefit is essentially sociopathic madness. Yet it is frighteningly common place on our streets.

From my observation, from time spent driving, and in the past couple years far more time cycling, this risky pass behavior is far more common of drivers passing a cyclist. As a very slow driver compared to most, I know there are often people who wish to pass me, but as a driver, other drivers have more patience with me. However with cars passing bikes I feel there is this competitiveness, like a fear of having their automotive superioirty threatened by the pressence of a cyclist. A belief that a driver must be faster than a bicyclist, and that since the cyclist does not "belong", in their world view not grounded in the rule of law, they must pass. And they must pass aggressively and loudly. Like a gorrlla beating it's chest.

Part of the reason I came to the conclusion that cyclists are treated differently in this regard is that even if a cyclist is going at or above the speed limit, on a narrow single lane each direction road, many drivers will still make risky engine revving near miss passes with head on traffic approaching. I rarely observed this while driving at or under the speed limit on narrow descending roads, but as a cyclist, I encounter it all the time. It's not just a speed issue. There is something inherent to bicycling that enrages some drivers more than other modes. I believe it stems at least in part from an ignorance that we even have rights. With other slow moving vehicles with a right to the roadway, like tractors or construction vehicles, which are far more difficult to pass, much more patience is exercised.

If it was just a matter that cyclists moved slower than most traffic this raging dangerous pass behavior would disappear when a bicyclist was going at or even above the speed limit, or with the flow of other traffic. With some nerve, skill, and a solid road bike, on a steep decent a cyclist can easily be going 30-35 , even 40+ mph. I've topped out at my all time high on a long highway decent during AIDS Life Cycle at 52 mph. At very high speeds, I have to control the lane (ride the center lane position) for my own safety and ability to take turns properly, and since in such cases I am often traveling close to speed limits or the flow of other traffic, my presence on the road shouldn't be an issue, but it is. When you're a road cyclist long enough you can feel the animosity of some drivers, the body language expressed through the car, the tail gating, the sudden engine revs, the swift swerving that nearly cuts you off after a pass.

My wife and I both have observed numerous times while descending canyon roads, drivers who make a sudden and unsafe pass, even if we're traveling the speed limit, or even when I'll admit I've been a little over the limit on occasion. Then once the driver passes in a blazing glory of puffed smoke and engine revs, they often return to their comfortable speed on the decent, which may actually be about the same speed as I was cycling or often slower going into tight turns. A bicyclist can make very tight turns at higher speeds than a car, much like a motorcycle, it's one of the advantages of being on 2 wheels. Then I am stuck soft pedaling behind the driver who was so impatient to pass me that they were willing to make a risky pass, but are then going slower then I'd prefer to go through the turns.

So while traveling a more easy going pace on the streets while going to work, and some drivers make the unsafe pass or honk, it may seem they dislike that we're not going as fast they are, but really some drivers simply hate bicyclists being on the road period. No matter how fast we're going relative to other traffic, there is always a handful of drivers who treat us differently. It doesn't matter if you're a bike racer flying down the side of mountain at the limits of safe speed, someone always feels they have to go faster still, because they have an engine, and they can. Even if immediately making after making that pass they return to a speed no different than you were going. It's entirely irrational, and I'm not sure what drives the psychology behind it, but it's something I've noticed in my countless miles of travels.

I hope that I never have to witness this scenario result in a head on collision, even if I don't get tangled into it, but after commutes like this morning, I reminded how little life matters to some drivers racing the clock, and with a grudge against pedal power. So much more has to be done to improve respect for bicycling, respect for safety, and just basic civility and decency to our roads.

I'd start with raising the educational bar for driving, by requiring mandatory classes (which of course would include bicyclists rights and how to safely interact), and tougher tests. In hindsight it boggles my mind that I got a drivers license in the first place learning from my girlfriend at the time in a mall parking lot with no formal classes. That's certainly not good enough, but it's passable in California, and we aren't even the most lackadaisical state when it comes to driving requirements.

That same girlfriend I learned how to drive from, got her license in Texas where she didn't even have to drive a real car, only a simulator, to pass. Technically if you live in California for a little while you have to get a CA license, but she went through all of college here with a Texas license, and when ever it came up with an officer (she got a lot of traffic tickets), they always let the license issue slide, but would say get it updated next time. They would always say next time, next time.

As a society we are utterly detached from the consequences and responsibility that come with driving, and it's been killing us quite literally. If we set the bar low for driving education, hand out licenses like lollipops, and then whither from taking them away because an offending driver would, gasp, have to take the bus to get to work, than of course we will have chaos in the streets. I think Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic said it best (yes I know I reference Vanderbilt a lot, but it's good stuff). Comparing the U.S. to other first world nations he remarked, “It’s too easy to get a license in this country, too hard to lose one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

LA Bicycle Plan West Side Public Hearing This Wednesday

Bike Lane Icon

The ongoing saga of the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Plan continues this week with another round of public hearings/open house. For those of us to the West, the closest meeting is this Wednesday at the Felicia Mahood Senior Center [map] from 5-8pm. I encourage anyone who can make it out to come, check out what's being presented, and voice your thoughts.What you support, don't like, or want to see more of in the plan. I think it is important that we demand as much as we possibly can out of this thing, and set the bar high.When's the last time you saw a government plan exceed expectations when it came to results, especially for bicycling? So if we ask for a little, than we will get even less.

In addition to the public meetings, there is also a webinar public internet hearing, also on Wednesday. Oddly scheduled during what seems like a long lunch break, from 11:30 am to 1:30pm.

A flier with all the details can be found here. The official website, which also includes the full draft document of the plan can be found here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sustainable City Report Card is out for Santa Monica. City gets a C+ in transportation, but I give it an F for bike safety.

Ocean Ave Cluster F*#k Bike Lane
(With poor education, and bike infrastructure that looks like this half the time, why am I not surprised collisions between cars and bikes are rising faster than bike ridership growth in Santa Monica)

According to the recently published city sustainability report card, conducted by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment with outside review, bike ridership is up (bike commutes to work are 11% higher than last year), but collisions between motorists and cyclists is up even higher, 78%! higher since 2007. Anecdotal accounts are useful in telling the human story, but in data this pronounced, we can see the big picture of how poorly the city has done in meeting the needs of a paradigm shift happening in local transportation. To an extent that almost seems criminally negligent in my opinion. When some bicycle activists booed at Santa Monica being given a bicycle friendly community distinction, it was because some of us saw through the B.S., and knew the city still doesn't get it yet.

What's interesting about this to me is that many cities have seen recent spikes in bike ridership growth accompanied by an increase in relative safety. Cities like New York and Portland went through bike ridership growth with a mostly flat or declining rate in total bike collisions and injuries, in spite of more riders and more miles traveled.

However I think in a lot of these cities with notable ridership increases, it has been driven by comprehensive plans, innovative infrastructure changes, and educational programs to improve bicycling safety. All carried out by staff that get it, and with a mandate to act from leadership. I think ridership in Santa Monica has largely grown in spite of very little being done by the city to improve safety for bicycling.

Santa Monica Door Lane / Bike Lane

Most recent Santa Monica bike lane projects were just finishing a few holes in the 1995 plan, which is full of dated and compromised design standards. The recent sharrows were a welcome addition, but cover only a short distance and still don't meet the bar set by Hermosa Beach's excellent implementation. Education is seriously lacking among bicyclists and drivers. Wrong way riding and sidewalk riding (both of which are illegal in Santa Monica) are very common, and are known to contribute to higher collision rates. Even Broadway Ave. with a bike lane gets frequent sidewalk riding, to me a sure sign of both a failed nothing but door zone bike lane design and lack of public education.

We have law enforcement that generally ignores cyclists and their plight on the road unless they dare ride in mass for change, in which case they can be welcomed with nit picking tickets, sometimes in cases where I witnessed with my own eyes that no violation really occurred. Many such tickets were thrown out in court for riders who took the time to defend. Tailing critical mass handing out tickets, sometimes for legitimate laws that were broken, sometimes because they felt like it, or rather that someone looked like a "leader",  was the only occasion I can really recall witnessing a SMPD bike officer actually riding their bike. I'm used to seeing them stand next to their bike at the promenade. Police that don't know what it's like from both the perspective of road cycling and driving, are not in a position to fairly assess bike & car collisions. Authors like Bob Mionske of Bicycling and the Law, have documented numerous cases of windshield bias influencing how police file reports.

Any cyclist with much experience knows that many drivers are certainty not well educated on bicyclists rights. I still encounter occasional drivers in Santa Monica pulling up to me in their car to lecture me about their false ideas of what the law is. No matter how assertively or defensively I ride, I am still buzzed by drivers far more times than I'm comfortable with, who don't understand what safe passing is.

The famous 2003 paper that largely gave rise to the safety in numbers concept, conducted much of it's sampling from cities across California. However it appears Santa Monica throws a wrench into this whole safety in numbers idea by growing bike commuting ridership faster than it's initial sustainability goals, but growing collisions with cars and bikes at a much faster rate than ridership growth. Obviously something is going seriously wrong here.

Some of the world cities with the highest bike ridership also have very low bicycle collision, injury and death rates. However I think there is a bit of bias toward looking at first world bike centric cities like Copenhagen, while many third world countries have very high bike ridership too out of necessity, but chaos on the streets results in high rates of collisions and fatalities for cyclists. I think in many regards, what we have in the Los Angeles region, more resembles the traffic environment of the third world, only the cars are much more expensive here. Since Santa Monica has made it self L.A.'s parking lot by the sea, and is the terminus of the 10 freeway, we also get to enjoy the traffic problems of the L.A. region compressed into a couple mile radius every time the weather is nice.

Until I know more specifics about this data ( I inquired with the Office Of Sustainability for more details), I can only speculate why Santa Monica is doing so poorly compared to so many other cities experiencing bike ridership growth. However I think I have a few ideas why this is going on, mostly topics I've ranted about on this blog for a couple years now. I am disheartened to read such a troubling statistic. I think it does add validation to my usually highly critical points of view though, as I unknowingly began my writing about this stuff during a period of substantial growth in traffic collisions involving bikes and cars in Santa Monica.

I have lots more to say on this, and what I think are some potential solutions, but I don't have enough time to write it all this evening. Statistics like this become firepower. It punches a hole straight through any flimsy notion that Santa Monica is doing a good job or even a remotely acceptable job for bicyclists. It seems Santa Monica wants to encourage you to ride a bike to commute through TDM goals, to cut some of the auto traffic, but wants to skirt it's responsibility and commitment to the safety of those new riders. We are not widgets in some computer traffic demand management model, we are human beings made of flesh and bone. Significant increases in collisions that exceed the growth in ridership is flat out unacceptable, and unsustainable.

The clock is ticking, how many years of growing collision rates are going to pass before Santa Monica shows more than a lip service commitment to improving road safety for bicyclists.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Glow Returns This Saturday

Below The Pier
Glow is back this Saturday from 7pm to 3am, the once every other year event that had it's first run 2 years ago. It's a late night festival at and around the Santa Monica Pier showcasing some elaborate site specific art and performances. Like a little slice of Burning Man that's a little tamer, and stuff is not on fire. With a number of street closures listed on the site, it may also demonstrate some of the potential energy of a Ciclovia event as well.

One of my favorites was Machine Project setting up a band spread out around the pier Ferris wheel and as the the wheel spun which instruments came to the foreground would rise and fade. Music on the Ferris wheel will be returning with new sets, along with a number of new interactive art installations by cutting edge artists. Expect some art to be big flashy, and well glowing, but there may be subtle touches as well. Last time around there was a video art installation I think many overlooked that was inside the cannon at the top of the pier bridge.

To get the most out of the experience I think it's a good idea to read up a little on it, and where art installations will be. I think some visitors last time came without a good idea what to expect or where to go, and didn't get the full experience out of it.

Trip planning is also important to have a fun time. For cyclists, bike valet will be available in a few places, and street closures for cars near the pier makes cycling an ideal way to get there. The first year of Glow the area was swarmed like I had never seen, and while bike valet was there, it was packed with long lines. I think they are ramping it up this time to handle huge demand, but I fully expect it to be packed this year as well. I also  expect that everything bolted to the ground within a mile radius of the pier will have bikes attached to it, and what few bike racks exist at the pier will be fully taken before the event even starts.

So I recommend for anyone local enough to consider walking to the event, I think that is the best and most stress free way to get there. If you are going to bike, check out the bike valet, and maybe have some good locks just incase it's packed and you don't feel like waiting in line. For those driving, good luck with that. Maybe put a glow stick on your dashboard so you can pretend like you're there. Parking lots will fill up fast, and traffic will likely be a disaster.

Below The Pier
Unfortunately as I looked over the transport planning for the event, it appears that while this is a special once every 2 years event, and one that goes later than any other event in Santa Monica, Big Blue Bus will not be running later to accommodate the late night demand. If you bus, some Metro buses run late or all night, but if you need a BBB, you will have to bail out hours before the event finishes, which is 3am. While I'm glad the city is putting a lot of effort into accommodating biking to the event, I think it's a real missed opportunity they didn't plan to do more with buses. They could also utilize lower demand car parking further from Downtown and set up shuttle service as a way to relieve traffic impact in the core. Instead, all of Downtown Santa Monica not closed off to cars for the event will likely be turned into a parking lot of idling motors.

If you're looking for a fun group to roll in with, the Midnight Ridazz Glow ride, which regularly rides around with lit up bikes and neon colors, will appropriately be riding to the Glow festival. It appears the crazy energy lo-fi band known as Funderstorm, who frequently appear at bike rides and underground shows is going to be involved. Where there is Funderstorm, there is fun. Nuff said. 

The Midnight Ridazz posting lists the meeting point as CRANK Mob park at 8 with a 9 roll out. For those not familiar with the cult of CRANK Mob, the actual name for the park is Media Park, in downtown Culver City.

The official Glow website is here, and my photos from the last one are here. Be Excited!

Fish Parade

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons (By Stealing Your Bike), Try Rollerblading?

Friday Night Skate - Downtown
(Image from Friday Night Skate, on their occasional Downtown L.A. skate, usually they skate Santa Monica)

One sure way to make sure you don't get a bike stolen in Santa Monica is to ditch the bike and get around by skating instead. At least that's what one woman in Santa Monica is doing now.

Since Meghan began working at REI, she has been on the front lines of encountering the newbie cyclists of Santa Monica. The people who just wonder into the store and are curious about bikes. As much as possible she tries to impart useful knowledge and tips beyond just describing the products they sell. She also hears a lot of stories of the bad stuff that is happening out there, stuff that I don't encounter my self because experience, savvy, and a little paranoia has kept me and my bikes relatively safe.

A little background on REI, it gets bikes stolen in front of it's store regularly, and cyclists often attach to the hand railing for the handicap ramp, as that is the closest object bolted to the floor. REI has requested bike parking for the front of their store a number of times without success. Instead new bike racks pop up all over downtown everywhere except in front of REI, one of the major hot spots both for bike parking demand (due to both the REI and 2 major bus stops) and is a hot spot for bike thieves looking for improperly locked bikes. I still have very little understanding what the criteria is for Santa Monica bike parking placement, why some dead zones get it, and why some places practically screaming for bike racks are passed up entirely.

Yorkshire And Pico
(Attaching to street signs is common)

Anyways, an REI story Meghan told me this week jumped out at me. A woman came into the store on inline-skates, and started talking to Meghan. Eventually the topic moved to bikes. It turns out this woman bought two bikes while in Santa Monica, and both of them had been stolen on different occasions (exact locations of theft weren't mentioned). After the first bike was stolen, she got a heavy duty u-lock, which are much more effective than other ways to lock up like coils that can be easily snapped with bolt cutters. Yet even with the u-lock she got a bike stolen a second time.

Problem was she had attached to a street sign, likely the only thing around where she was, a probable scenario in much of bike parking poor Santa Monica. Street signs are not as secure as a bike rack, made from weaker metal and are hollow, and so the thieves sawed off the top of the sign and slid the bike over, and off they went. Tired of dealing with bike theft, this woman decided she would try inline-skates to get around instead. Which she was still wearing in the store while telling Meghan the story.

Now I am an avid skater my self, and I think it can make a great way to get around as well. As a kid I went everywhere on my skates, and people are often surprised to know considering my current passion for bikes, that I didn't even learn how to ride a bike until half way through high school. People thought I was crazy because I would skate distances in suburbia that most thought surely required parents to drive you there. However someone should not feel compelled to get around on inline-skates, which is not quite as fast or efficient as bicycling, simply because bike thefts are an epidemic in Santa Monica.

Lock Collection
(Click for link to my post a while back on locking up)
 There are things a cyclist can do with locks, and locking techniques to reduce the risk of theft, but the city is doing little to educate the public about it. A police barbecue highlighting bike theft issues is a nice gesture but hardly counts as comprehensive education. While new secure racks, which are always better than street signs, have been getting installed in various places, most of the city is still without any. While Santa Monica tends to be ahead of the curve compared to Los Angeles and other cities in L.A. county when it comes to sustainability issues, I think it is slipping behind on a few fronts concerning bikes. Santa Monica may be fairly innovative with it's bike valet program for special events and the Main St. Sunday Farmer's Market. However for a daily bike commuter, parking a bike is a daily concern and not a special event. Not to mention all those other farmers markets in Santa Monica lack bike parking, which creates conflicts with private property owners who hate bikes being attached to their fences.

When it comes to permanent bike parking, I think the City of Los Angeles has actually been pretty aggressive in going from almost non-existent bike racks in the majority of areas to bike racks springing up all over. Cruise up Lincoln Blvd these days you will find some shops have bike racks, that is on the L.A. side. Once you hit the Santa Monica border, bike parking on shops along Lincoln are all but non-existent apart from a few exceptions like the poorly installed racks at Albertsons, and the low security cheapo wheel bender racks at Vons. Major popular destinations like Swingers (where SM Spoke recently set up bike valet for a day) and Bay Cities Deli, which both have limited car parking, have zero bike racks. I thought in well to do Santa Monica good things were supposed to drop off leaving the Santa Monica border, not the other way around. The new Trader Joes in West L.A., has prominent bike racks by the entrance. Santa Monica Trader Joes, nope sorry, try attaching to the shopping cart parking.

99 Cent Store
(Bikes attached to shopping cart at Santa Monica 99 Cent Store on Pico Blvd.)

A bike parking survey I did of the Pico neighborhood found that none of the businesses open to the public on Pico Blvd. had adequate bike parking accommodation, the vast majority with nothing at all. The few places with a bike rack, it was a crappy wheel bender variety and usually where someone is unlikely to find it. Virgina Park had too little bike parking for it's scale and use, and one of the racks it did have was installed incorrectly in front of the police substation too close to the wall to fit full size bicycle wheels through. Even small businesses right next to the community college, prime places for bike trips, zilch, zero, when it comes to bike racks. I don't have exact figures on hand, but observation tells me Santa Monica has higher bike ridership than most areas of Los Angeles, so the problem of lack of bike parking is further exacerbated by a higher demand for it.

There is no surer way to discourage bike riding than for someone to come back to where they parked their bike and find it's gone or has the wheels striped off. Santa Monica may on paper be trying to encourage bike mode share but the reality is a little more of a mixed bag. As long as the vast majority of the city (and by city I mean not just a 4 block radius around downtown) has almost no bike parking, education remains lacking, and enforcement seems asleep on the job, than bike thieves will feast on easy money in Santa Monica at the expense of residents and guests who want to get around by bike.

If you do give up bicycling for skating, I suggest you check out Friday Night Skate, a fun group that rolls around Santa Monica accompanied by tunes courtesy a boom box backpack. So far at least, I have not heard any accounts of skates being stolen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Wife Meghan Is Teaching Women's Bike Commuting Clinic @ SM REI Today At 7pm

 Getting Ready For The Last Stretch

My wife Meghan is currently working at REI in Santa Monica, and she is hosting her first clinic there tonight. She recently became an LCI (League Certified Instructor) by the League of American Bicyclists, and she'll talking about safe and confident road cycling, and tips for bike commuting for women. Currently there is a significant gender gap in bike commuting in America and one of Meghan's goals when she signed up to become an LCI was to try and get more women into cycling.

I can certainly vouch that she knows her stuff, and we have ridden literally thousands of miles together, all over Los Angeles, and all over the State of California. So if you or someone you know is a lady looking for more confidence and safety on the road, be sure to check it out, this clinic is free. It's a bit of a short notice, but I'll try to give more of a heads up the next time she puts together a class.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

First Images From Santa Monica Spoke's Park[ing] Day

A more detailed write up of how our Park[ing] Day went will follow, but I wanted to get the pictures out right away for people to enjoy, and if any press were interested. The complete set of the photos I took is on flickr here, and you can view it as a full screen slide show by clicking here. It was an awesome event and I want to thank everyone from Spoke that helped make it happen, especially Cynthia Rose who took the lead on coordinating this thing. We got a little help from LACBC too which was much appreciated. Thanks also goes out to REI and Cynergy Cycles who hooked us up with some free swag to hand out. Cynergy also presented us with rolls of quarters and a few sign stands to put up our posters. Thanks also to everyone who came out to visit, and it was nice to meet some readers I had never met before in person. Also nice to see principle transportation engineer Sam Morrissey and councilman Terry O'Day stop by for lunch. Good times.

Set On Flickr
Full Screen Slideshow

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Park[ing] Day this Friday, Santa Monica Spoke To Host Bike Valet And Pop Up Park At Swingers Diner

Park[ing] Day is coming this Friday. That means parking spaces all across Los Angeles will be taken over and converted to alternative uses. It can take on very different flavors, but most spots become conversions to green space, to call attention to how much more parking space we provide compared to park space.

A substantial amount of land use and city resources are devoted to parking spaces, and because we have so many cars in America (more cars than we have drivers), finding places to put them becomes a hot button issue. However the implications of how our cities take shape around our parking policies, and the underlying economics, is something often not examined closely enough.

Santa Monica Parking Land Use

Above is the map I created documenting via google satellite data, the off-street land use that is exclusively parking in Santa Monica around the pier and downtown area. For a little more background on the significance of parking policy, here is one of my past posts digging into the topic.


Santa Monica Spoke will be hosting a combo of bike valet (with tools and air pump) and a pop up park on Broadway Ave. directly in front of Swingers. The general manager of Swingers was enthusiastic about the idea, and had requested bike parking from the city before with no success. So this Friday, starting early in the morning, and going into the early evening you can dine at Swingers with free bike valet (assuming we aren't shut down).

Exactly how late we operate may vary depending on how many volunteers we have, what the crowd is like, and if we get broken up by the authorities. So no more trying to wrap around a tree, no more bending over to attach to the bottom of a parking meter pole, no more bumping into guests on the patio trying to attach to the railing. Anyone will be welcome, including customers of Bay Cities a little further down the block, another highly popular business with no bike parking. Spoke has also secured a few goodies for a raffle, coupons for tune ups at REI and Cynergy, along with a few freebies. The local bike shop Cynergy Cycles, which also hosted the recent Bikeside Speaks & Disposable Film Festival event, is also sponsoring us with a roll of quarters to feed the parking meters. Woot!

I'll be out there passing out literature promoting the theories of famous parking economist and UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup, author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking.

For more information and a complete map of all the Park[ing] Day L.A. spaces, check out the Los Angeles Park[ing] Day website. There will be a number of other spaces scattered about, as well as some special events and after parties. Some group bike rides will also be cruising around to scope out some of the spots as well. Should be a fun day, and I know most people will be at work most of the day, but I hope some of you can make it out to the space, and I encourage people to frequent Swingers. One of our goals is to demonstrate that accommodating bicycling can drive local economic growth in a more sustainable way and with less land use and traffic impacts than car trips. We'll probably be able to fit at least 8-10 bikes in the space of a single car.  I'm also a regular of Swingers my self for many years now, and have always been frustrated by the lack of bike parking in that part of town. It will be great to see that problem solved if only for a day.

Agensys Development Agreement Passes Council Vote, No Bike Path, But Amendment Added to DA For 20K To Bicycling Improvements In Bergamot District

Santa Monica City Council MeetingLast night was the big council decision on Agensys development. I was at the City Council meeting, accompanied by some fellow steering committee members of Spoke and a few other cyclists in attendance who exercised their public speaking time to advocate for cycling. Kevin McKeown introduced a motion to add an additional $20,000 dollars to the development agreement, to be spent for cycling improvements in the district. This amount is not enough on it's own to do a whole lot, but since there is currently no budget at all for planning bike projects in the area, it means this money can seed the process that can secure additional grants for implementation once necessary studies are conducted. A Caltrans owned strip of land that could bridge Michigan East of the 10 to 20th St. and a conversion of 26th St. to allow for a bike route are possibilities being considered, but were previously without budgets.

It seemed fairly apparent that the decision was a forgone conclusion, that the agreement would pass, before anything was said. However Bobby Shriver made for a few fireworks by criticizing city staff process and expressing frustration that the city had not fully worked out just how valuable the land is they are dealing with. Agensys knows, because they are offering some kind of likely large but undisclosed amount to current lease holder Lionstone to take over the lease. However they are not obligated to inform the public what that offer is. Shriver pointed out theoretically that without the lease extension to Agensys, when Lionstone's lease runs out, the city could do what ever it wanted with the land, since the city is the land owner. This could be a park, it could even be a bicycle stadium as he pointed out jokingly, referring to the presence of cycling activists present.

That potential use is worth something, and he felt staff had not properly explored just how much that worth is or had properly prepped the council with enough information going into the negotiations. In regards to public benefits, I don't think bicycling was really a priority for Shriver, but he seemed most frustrated that there were not more job specific programs for locals in the package.

In the end it was all yay votes for passing the agreement and McKeown's motion to add funds for cycling, with Bobby Shriver as the one nay vote for the whole thing, for the reasons and frustration he had expressed. There is still one more vote on this issue at the end of the month, the final one, but my understanding is that it is mostly ceremonial, and that tonight's vote really sealed the deal.

This whole Agensys ordeal was very much a learning process for Santa Monica cycling activists, and while I had spoken at a few meeting before, this was really my first time getting seriously involved in a big political issue. While we did not get the desired bike path Barbara had proposed, we did make a lot of noise, and drew attention to cycling in the center stage, including coverage in the local press. It's quite likely had activists not gotten involved in the process, there would have been zero consideration and funds for bike route improvements out of this deal. Hence the importance of getting involved. I hate public speaking, but you don't get the change you want to see in the world by staying quiet.

I think perhaps the most important take away from this, more than the funding, is that we sent a clear message. The message that cyclists are not happy with the status quo, we demand change, and we are tired or waiting for it. That we we are becoming  more organized, and we intend to hold the City's feet to the fire over the principles of the LUCE planning document. Frank Gruber, who frequently writes on local politics and urban planning issues in Santa Monica, and author of the book Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, weighed in on the Agensys issue with his assessment that cyclists have really won something in the process, though we may have lost the dedicated bike path we had advocated for.

There is still much work to be done and future projects to tackle, but I want to personally thank everyone who got involved in this issue. Those who came and spoke, wrote letters, and helped out behind the scenes, and especially Barbara Fillet, who has been a champion for a vision of a complete Michigan Ave. bike route for many years.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Enjoy The Bicycle Film Festival Tonight And This Weekend!

Bicycle Film Festival, Los Angeles

One of my favorite annual events on the calender is back in town, The Bicycle Film Festival. It will be nice to take a break from the activism stuff for a few days and just watch creative expression on bikes and general awesomeness. I'm getting the full festival pass this time.

Follow Up To Agensys Planning Commision Meeting, Part 1

Santa Monica City Council Meeting
First of all I want to thank everyone who turned out to voice support for cycling at the meeting. The strong presence, which included the majority of the SM Spoke steering committee, and the numerous comments supporting bike connectivity in the area, made quite an impression. I didn't get something up sooner because the meeting went until midnight and my brain was pretty fried after the process.

I still haven't had time to give the complete analysis the night and the issue deserves, but I'll go into a few things for those who were wondering outcomes.

First the bad. It does not seem likely at this point that a full path will be included in the design unfortunately, which was our original goal. Agensys offered up a number of reasons why they believe it couldn't be successfully worked into project, especially under their deadline set by current lease holder Lionstone. I'll go into more specifics on all of that discussion in next post on the topic.

This has been a learning experience, and I think we would have had a much better shot if we got involved so strongly in a much earlier stage in the process. This project also sat in the gray zone of having had most of it's design work and input happening before LUCE was passed. Though I believe the calls in the then pending LUCE, for supporting active transportation and connectivity in major developments, should have made it clear bicycling issues should be considered at the outset. Especially since this is being done on city land. At one point a list of numerous public benefits was listed the project offers, and how few Lionstone currently offers. However in the long list of Agensys offerings, a bike pathway was the one check box not checked. We are often the after thought, and we want to flip that around.

Moving forward we are going to start looking through pending projects to make sure we get our foot in the door right away next time. The redevelopment of the pier bridge, recently declared structurally deficient, and will soon be in need of a rebuild, will likely be our next major project to get involved with.

Cyclists didn't come home with nothing gained for their efforts however. The final motion the commission made for city council consideration was that the discretionary funding already negotiated in the developer agreement go to immediate bike improvements improving connectivity to the Bergamot villiage district. Commissioner Ted Winterer also supported exploring additional fund allocation to bike connectivity and was the most adamant on the commission in calling for the Agenesy agreement to do more for cycling.

My understanding is that the $75,000 already in the agreement was originally intended for general station improvements in the imediate site of the future expo line stop at Bergamot. Commissioner Perry called that the funding should instead go to immediate bike projects in the area rather than waiting for the expo, and that pending DA agreements between now and expo can be used for station site improvements. He made passing reference to my public speech, in which I at one point referred to bike improvements in Santa Monica as moving at a snails pace.

Councilmen McKeown, who was present as liaison from the council, suggested the commission motion not be overly specific in earmarking funds, so that the council could explore flexibility in defining what bike improvements would be beneficial. So that for example, projects like Barbara's proposed short bike connection on Caltrans property could be considered. That idea, part of her vision for a complete Michigan bike route, would connect the Bergamot side of Michigan Ave and Crossroads School across to 20th st. where Michigan picks up again, without the difficult and heavy traffic Olympic detour. It's not in the immediate vicinity of Bergamot, but would significantly improve bike friendly connectivity to the area.

It was a long night with many twists and turns. There was a few revealing and especially flustered moments by Agensys representatives who clearly didn't understand the whole bike thing when pressed by the commission on questions like secure bike parking for employees. I believe the final motion also included a call for more bike parking consideration, for fully secure employee parking separate from racks near on-site cafe.

It also seems clear to me there is a disconnect between Traffic Demand Management goals set by city staff, of which there are requirements in Santa Monica developments, and the fact that bicycling can and should be a central part of reaching those goals. Safer bike connectivity being a clear way to boost ridership, and bike facilities on site should be a consideration beyond just sticking a few racks out front. Not everyone is going to take the trains and buses to work, especially if they already live in Santa Monica or immediately adjacent areas. I know at my work site, just North of this project, where we also have a parking cash-out program in effect, the majority of those cashing out are not on the bus, they are on bikes.

Ultimately the outcome rests with the council, which meets next on September 14th to discuss the project. The planning commission recommendations factor heavily in council deliberation however, which is why we wanted to really make our case on Wednesday.

I have a lot more I want to write about the proceedings, but alas it is another well past midnight staring me in the face, and sleep is beckoning.