On the whole I think it was a good and productive meeting, raising a number of issues seldom discussed in the depth they deserve, and advocates presented a number of potential solutions. I passed around a document I prepared on my thoughts about sidewalk riding as a symptom of dangerous streets and approaches to reducing sidewalk riding. This was partly in response to complaints from seniors about sidewalk riders and the subsequent ticketing of riders by SMPD with overly punitive misdemeanor charges. I was glad at the very least the police acknowledged a misdemeanor was far too harsh and were lobbying to have the ordinance changed to the level of infraction, as most traffic violations are.
I also pitched the idea of programs in Austin and Portland were ticketed cyclists can opt to instead of pay the fine, pay for a certified street cycling course that teaches safe practices and local laws on cycling. I think that's far more productive then sending people to the LAX court house. There were high and low points, like one of the officers suggesting that accidents and bad driving were "inevitable". We really have a long ways to go in fostering a culture of safe streets in Santa Monica.
I can't entirely pin this all on the SMPD though. They are overwhelmed by an entire system that is failing, in engineering, education, other components of the legal system, and the failings of the state level. Improving traffic safety is complex, cross-departmental, influenced by culture, by media and every level of government. There is also the interplay of connected municipalities such as Santa Monica receiving much of it's traffic from the City of Los Angeles.
A complex problem requires multifaceted solutions, but if Santa Monica really makes it a priority to improve traffic safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and as a consequence it would improve safety for everyone, even drivers, I believe a lot can be accomplished fairly quickly. We need to come together and tackle what is the biggest threat to life in this community.
I have become a firm believer in setting as the goal post, vision zero, an ethical standard that no death should be tolerated on our streets and that we reduce the body count to zero. If you think about our current system and culture, it is based on the premise that the high rate of people dieing in traffic is an unfortunate but accepted collateral damage for moving cars quickly, with the notion that we must all have cars and must move cars fast, to create economic prosperity. This collateral damage costs more American lives than our military engagements, and unlike other health risks, victims often have little or no control over their demise, such as when reckless drivers unpredictably strike or lose control of their vehicle. We are in need of a culture shock.
For a more complete synopsis of the bike committee meeting this week, check out the Santa Monica Mirror, which had a reporter at the meeting and covered the evening's discussion.