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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Other alternative is Dahon or Brompton folding bike from $200 -> $2000 and then taking it with you inside when you arrive at destination.