Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Comments For The Bergamot Transit Center Village EIR

(Cross posted from Bay City Urbanist. The following are my comments concerning the Bergamot Transit Center Village for the draft environmental impact report (EIR). Before the end of today's business day is the last chance to submit comments for the draft EIR. Messages should be directed to jing.yeo@smgov.net & Council@smgov.net)

Concerning the Bergamot Transit Village, I have some serious  reservations about the project as currently proposed. I'll preface by  saying I am not opposed to development, I am not opposed to increased  density, and I am not opposed to the building height, I in fact welcome  those things. I believe we need more housing for people, and that mixed  use is a better way to build for a number of reasons, such as more  walkable environments. I work near this site, and to be honest I might  even want to live there someday considering it would put me within a  block and a half walking distance of work, and with convenient access to  the train and art galleries.

However what we don't need is so much more housing for cars. As proposed  this project introduces more parking capacity than the Santa Monica  Place mall, an invitation for a prolific increase in vehicle trips in an  area already high in traffic volume. With other major developments in  the area in the works, this problem will be compounded. Is this really  transit oriented development, or simply transit adjacent development? I  don't believe it is necessary to introduce 1,900 car spaces at the site  of what will be a major public transit center and dedicated bike path.

There  is a disturbing trend of development at transit centers along light  rail across the country, where luxury accommodations and high parking  capacity attract a demographic less likely to be regular transit users.  One of the reasons for this, is that high parking capacity is expensive  to produce, especially underground parking. While going with underground  parking reduces the land use of the parking, a good thing,  it also substantially  increases the cost per space to build. If parking is not unbundled from  living costs, these costs significantly drive up the cost of living,  pricing out many who would be the most likely to use transit. Using  figures quoted by Donald Shoup, author of the book The High Cost of Free  Parking, which state that underground parking spaces typically cost at  least $50,000 per parking space, this project proposes to build over $95  million dollars worth of parking. That is just on construction, not  including the monthly costs of maintaining such garages. This should  give a clearer picture of the cost burden of parking.

So if we  are to create truly affordable housing, we must consider scaling back  the parking, and or decoupling the cost of parking from the cost of  units. Residents who wish to live car free should not be subsidizing the  cost burdens of those who wish to drive, especially at a site so ideal  for alternatives. To fit within the goals of the LUCE, of generating no  new car trips at peak times, it is imperative we both scale back  parking, and ensure the cost of what parking is offered, is recovered by  user fees from drivers, and not all tenets. This will create a much  stronger economic incentive for those willing to give up owning a car,  to make their trips instead by foot, by bike, by train and bus. Car  sharing should also be considered, such as that offered by LAX Car Share  in Santa Monica, a company that would certainly want to set up  locations at or near this site as they have done near other major  transit centers in Los Angeles.

As a regular cyclist, I also urge that bike parking be well thought  out, well designed, safe and secure, for both residents and guests. I  also urge that a sufficient quantity of bike parking be provided, not  only for current ridership rates, but in anticipation of the continuing  growth of bike commuting in Santa Monica. With this development  positioned so close to what will become a dedicated bike path along the  Expo Line right of way, and with convenient connections to the rest of  Santa Monica's bike route network, this site demands better facilities  for bicycling.

I think many residents are rightfully concerned  about this project becoming a traffic nightmare, generating thousands of  new daily trips, but it doesn't have to be that way. This can be an  opportunity to show how transit oriented development can grow a city  without growing it's automobile traffic, that is if it is done right.  Santa Monica, a city where sustainability is an issue of near universal  concern among residents, and with a long term plan which calls for  principles of smart growth, is an ideal place to demonstrate sustainable  urban development. However I don't believe this project currently meets  those ideals yet with the sheer volume of parking proposed. Let's build it, but let's build it right.

-Gary Kavanagh

Thanks To Those Who Came Out For Santa Monica Bike Action Plan Update

Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan Meeting, Dec 13 2010
(The room was packed, and 3 rows of seats were added behind me after it became apparent they under estimated the head count)
I've been really busy lately, so I haven't been able to finish my complete review as quickly as I would like. However while I put together my more complete thoughts on how the meeting transpired, I wanted to say thanks to all who turned out. It was a great showing, and a lot of input given. I saw some of the regular folks that show up to these things, but also a lot of unfamiliar faces, and at least one person who approached me as a reader of this blog I had not met before. I also won a copy of Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne, as part of a raffle all cyclists who parked in the bike valet were entered into. Actually Kent Strumpell, a well known figure in cycling advocacy, won it first, but declined since he owned a copy already.

To all who came, thanks again, and I hope you can make it to the next opportunity for input on the plan as well. I'll keep you posted as dates come up.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reminder: Tonight Is A Public Workshop Meeting For Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan

From city release:

Bicycle Action Plan Community Meeting

Please join us for an open house meeting to discuss bicycling in Santa Monica and shape priorities for bicycling improvements. Your input, along with a public survey, will inform the Bicycle Action Plan coming out next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010
6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
East Wing, 1855 Main Street

The Civic Center is accessible by Big Blue Bus lines 1,2,3,4,7, Rapid 7 and 8. There will be additional bike parking for the event.  Please contact
Michelle Glickert for special arrangements or questions at 310.458.2204.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New Santa Monica News Site, Santa Monica Patch Launches. I'm A Contributor.

Update: The site was up briefly this morning when I posted, and this post was a tad early, official launch is tomorrow morning. Sleep deprivation made me forget what day of the week it was..

Patch is a fairly new service hosted by AOL focusing on hyper local news in smaller communities, cities and neighborhoods, with local contributors. A few areas in the Los Angeles region already had Patch sites, such as Venice. The Santa Monica Patch just launched with local resident Kurt Orzeck as the editor. He heard me speak at the City Council meeting a few weeks ago that discussed changing the ordinance concerning sidewalk riding to make it citable as an infraction rather than a mandatory misdemeanor. Inquiring further he found my blog, thought it was interesting, and asked me to put together something exclusive for the launch of the site.

I tried to capture some of where the state of cycling is at in Santa Monica, and plug the coming bike plan process to get more people interested in it. Unlike this blog where I know most people are regular followers and clued into cycling generally, I tried to make the article for Patch a little more approachable for a general audience. You can check out the article here.

This would mark my first time being paid to write. I started blogging just to get ideas and thoughts out into the world, and never pursued advertising. It's nothing to quit my day job over just yet, but it's nice. Kurt seems interested in me possibly continuing to contribute to the site, so we'll see where it goes.

A Particular Odd Interaction With A Driver. Sometimes The Illogical Behavior On Our Road Hurts My Brain.

Downtown StreetsI'm quite used to drivers honking at me even though I am doing nothing wrong, simply moving slower than they are sometimes. Usually they eventually just pass and go around just fine. I make a point of traveling on streets with 2 lanes of traffic each way when I can so drivers have a convenient passing lane. I'd like to preface the following story by saying the majority of drivers get along just fine, it's a minority of drivers, but a minority large enough to be encountered far too often, that won't play nice.

Sometimes a driver feels they must take things further, and use their car as a threatening weapon, presumably to "teach me a lesson". Tuesday on Colorado Ave., an SUV driver with a Jack Skeleton Nightmare Before Christmas icon attached to his trailer hitch, honked, honked, honked again, then buzzed me, passing with less than a foot clearance at high speed, even though there was a completely open lane he could have used to pass safely and easily. I compare this behavior to being like a big bully walking around with a metal baseball bat, swinging it around, generally with no real intent to actually hit anyone, but to threaten others he perceives to be in his way. Behavior we would never tolerate in society except when an automobile is the weapon.

Of course as is often the case when these impatient drivers want to speed around, he had to stop at the end of the block for the red light. Some drivers don't seem to understand traffic signal timing dictates their progress  in the city far more than anything like having to pass a slower moving vehicle, and I often pull right up to the same light pedaling along at 15 mph. So I pulled up behind the driver, my heart rate elevated from his nearly swiping me with his mirror. I did not want to deal with a verbal altercation with this person, so I did not filter up, and remained behind the vehicle.

I did want to make my displeasure known in some manner however. So I did want I generally do to rude or careless drivers when I'm a pedestrian, I give the cold deep stare, to remind them they are facing a real human being. I rolled very close to the back of their vehicle and just stared into their rear view mirror. I could tell this made him a little uncomfortable, but that was the point, snap him out of his soulless automaton mode of driver, and remind him human beings are on our streets.

This is where it got really odd. I have observed numerous incarnations of road raging behavior, illogical driver behavior, careless behavior, but that day I saw something new. Presumably to "teach me a lesson", he proceeded to drive at incredibly slow speed when the light went green, and by slow I mean, really really slow. 4-5 mph slow, a few times almost a dead stop, the kind of slow that is hard to even accomplish on a bicycle unless you have good balance. I did not want to pass, because the much faster moving traffic in the next lane would have made it hard to merge safely, and I did not want to put my self in a position where this driver really could cause physical harm to me, so I just stayed behind and rolled slow, calling his bluff.

I don't know what he thought he was going to accomplish, I obviously had more patience and was in a less of a hurry to get where I was going, mainly since I had not very far to go. Within a few moments, he started to lose interest in his little stunt and drove off going full speed again. Presumably he was in a hurry to get where he was going, since he felt it necessary to honk at me for being slower, and swerved around screeching up the road earlier. However by deliberately driving so pitifully slow "to teach me a lesson" when the light turned green at the next block, he actually slowed his own progress far more than my presence had. This act placed him numerous car positions back before the road was to merge to one lane. Can anyone explain to me the logic of such behavior, because it sure as hell makes no sense to me?

Another point this odd interaction revealed, a notion I've already known, but which this story reinforces, is that when the driver held up traffic by driving even slower than a bicyclist, no one honked in retaliation at him. Drivers are far more tolerant and forgiving of being held up by other drivers than they are of cyclists. One of many signs of a clear mode bias.  When a driver is going slow, traffic is backed up, or a large construction vehicle is going slow, sometimes impatient drivers act out, but nearly always with more patience than for a cyclist. It's become clear to me that no matter our legal rights, to be a cyclist is to become a second class road user in practice.

Cultural acceptance of cyclists as legitimate road users is I think the biggest hurdle keeping many people from trying riding. In theory things like bike lanes wouldn't even be necessary if drivers simply behaved with some basic level of civility toward cyclists. This is an issue that goes beyond infrastructure, and while changing the road striping may reduce conflict in some areas, not every street will get a bike lane, and we need everyone to know cyclists have a right to ride on any street. I think there is tendency in our planning to think of some streets as streets where we might have people riding a bike, and other streets prioritize for driving. In reality even some of the streets that are terrible environments to ride a bike, still have many cyclists, such as Lincoln Blvd, due to it's direct routing and even grade, and connection to local business.

While we may want to prioritize some streets for bike routes, we have to start with the assumption that since cyclists have a right to every street, and every street is a street cyclists will ride. Some drivers operate on the understanding that cyclists only have a right to ride where there are bike lanes. I've been shouted at to get in the bike lane on streets that don't even have a bike lane. Having bike lanes on some streets does nothing to clarify the legal right for cyclists to use all streets. There is an education gap, that starts with parents, continues through school, perpetuated by inadequate DMV requirements and materials, and onward. It is a significant challenge now with so many people already on the road who do not understand the rules of the road, but something has to be done.

I was glad to see Santa Monica included some info on bicycling in the recent Seascape (page 2) newsletter sent to residents. Concerning driving behavior however, I don't really think it's the resident drivers that are biggest problem, but rather everyone driving into Santa Monica. That will be a tougher nut to crack.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Santa Monica City Council To Disscuss Approving Contract For Bike Station Facilities Downtown

(Cross posted at Bay City Urbanist)

LB Bike Station Repair Shop InteriorOn tonight's meeting agenda the council is being asked by staff to approve a contract for the construction of two Bike Station style facilities to be part of parking garages 7 and 8. This project is grant funded, and does not come out of the City's general operating budget. For those unfamiliar with these types of facilities, they provide indoor secure bike parking with an attendant for free or a nominal fee.

The Bike Station in Long Beach provides free bike parking during business hours, and paying members can secure their bikes overnight. Usually basic bike maintenance and other services are available. They're most ideal for those looking for safe long term parking, say making a whole day of shopping, or going to the movies, since the longer you leave a bike unattended at an outdoor rack the greater your chance of attracting a thief. The Long Beach facility functions synergisticly with the light rail line, and gives people looking to take a bike for the first leg of their journey a secure place to leave their bike so that their wheels and components arent' striped when they return. I imagine these facilities will get a lot of use in Santa Monica given just how many people are biking here already, and I imagine once the expo line comes to Santa Monica, they will be even more popular.

While I am excited these facilities are coming to Santa Monica, they do not replace the need for convenient bike racks spread around the city for short term parking trips, directly near places of business. New bike racks have been going in around town, and apparently more are sitting waiting to be installed, so hopefully we will see some real progress soon in permanent bike parking offerings. The Santa Monica bike valet program at special events is great, but for the day to day bike commuter, we also need secure bike parking everyday, and everywhere in the city.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Quick Update On Planning Commission Meeting

Santa Monica City Council Meeting
At last nights planning commission meeting, city staff presented an update on the status and process for the pending Santa Monica bike action plan. I wish I had time to go in greater detail on specific comments, but I have to say the Santa Monica planning commission is definitely an ally of bicyclists and I was very encouraged by their support and the questions and concerns they raised.

The bulk of the bike plan discussion was a presentation by staff on the process for the bike plan, and some progress that has already been happening in the city, such as the success of the bike valet program. Followed by the commission discussing it's role in this process.

Richard McKinnon, Michael Cahn, Eric Weinstein my wife Meghan, and my self were members of the public, associated with the Santa Monica Spoke advocacy group, who spoke during public comment. When I was done with my comments during the bike plan item, I was asked to stay at the mic and was then asked a number of questions by several commissioners on bike route treatments and what I might consider ideal designs and a location for such an ideal bike route.

The big takeaways to me were, the planning commission seemed fully behind us, a number of them bike around town them self, and commission chair Jim Ries called for having a presentation in Santa Monica by visionary bike planner Charlie Gandy, currently with the title of mobility director in Long Beach. To see the lessons learned in the progress happening there, and Ries alluded to precedents from similar presentations made by guest speakers during past major planning processes. Ted Winterer expressed frustration about Long Beach having more ambitious plans and more real progress being made than Santa Monica, and that even Fresno is ambitiously moving forward with it's new bike plan. There was a also motion to explore creating a sub-committee of the planning commission, as well as some talk of looking at creating an officially sanctioned public task force on cycling issues, as West Hollywood has done.

I think it's also worth noting the previous item on the renovation of parking structure 6, which would include some bike parking and which cyclists also commented on, became a topic of discussion amongst the commissioners on how we successfully integrate bike parking into our parking plans. Many commissioners expressed concern that the sheer scale and number of cars spaces in the plan was out of character with Santa Monica and it's new priorities under LUCE.

I found the comments of commisiner Pugh particularly entertaining as he referred to the cities parking placement priorities as "ass backward", at one point in his comments. He expressed his desire to see priority for quantity of car parking closer to the freeway, such as our currently under utilized Civic Center garage, and use higher parking rates at lots in the downtown core to fund a shuttle service for the parking further away to encourage better parking distribution and make it easier for those willing to park further away to get into the downtown core without a car. This would reduce automotive circulation in the downtown, where the pedestrian experience should be the priority, and keep congestion closer to the freeway instead of our street grid.


I'll try to keep up with news of future meetings, and encourage people to attend if they can, constant presence at these public input opportunities is an important component of changing the gears of city government and while there is not much paint on the street to show for it yet, I feel we are having an impact that is already changing the political culture in the city. Now almost every development project and plan in the city has some talk about how it effects cyclists or how improvements for cyclists can be incorporated, and that was not really the case a year ago, or really even 6 months ago.


There are some specific aspects of the bike plan process that has been presented that I also want to comment on and will write a separate post on that in the next few days. Also be sure to come out for the public open house for the bike plan on Dec 13th, it will be a great opportunity to give direct feed-back on what you want to see out of our new bike plan and show support for cycling in Santa Monica.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bike Plan Update & Other Issues To Be Discussed At Tonight's Santa Monica Planning Commision Meeting

(Cross posted from my new blog Bay City Urbanist. For the moment, until readership builds up on the other blog, I will continue to cross post some material over here, but in time will transition more content to being exclusively on the other blog.)

Pier Parking Lot And Bike PathIf you haven't noticed the trend, bikes are a discussion topic in Santa Monica right now. At City Hall Wednesday night at 7pm, the planning commission will be discussing 3 topics relevant to bicycling, most notably the discussion of the pending bicycle plan update, item 9-B. If your interested in attending or commenting on the bike plan portion, you may not want to show up early, I've heard word the meeting may go late, and 9-B is last item. Regarding the bike plan, the commission will be discussing "Status, implementation plan, key milestones, priority, funding status, challenges, and planning commission role."

Just before it, 9-A, will be a discussion of the demolition and rebuilding of parking garage 6, which includes plans for additional bike parking capacity in addition to significantly more car parking spaces. The idea of adding a lot more car parking while the claimed goal is no new net car trips in LUCE, is entirely contradictory to me, but that is a whole other can of worms.

About the parking garage and concerning bikes, I am most concerned with how bike parking is designed or integrated into the building. Currently most parking garage bicycle parking is underutilized because no one knows it exists and parking garages are never inviting spaces for someone on a bike, both in inhuman aesthetic design and the hazard of drivers pulling in and out and searching for spots. Bike theft is also a significant concern in this city, and bike parking must be designed with visibility and security in mind. In regards to pedestrian issues, I am most concerned with sight lines and lead up space at entrance and exits for cars, since existing parking garages downtown are often difficult to cross on the sidewalk without someone nearly bumping into you in their car, and drivers frequently block the entire sidewalk while waiting to merge with backed up traffic.

Early in the evening is 8-A, a recommendation to the planning commission to remove the formally proposed roundabout from the plans for Main St. at the future Civic Center Drive that would connect between 4th and Main just south of the Court House. Being a fan of roundabouts, both for the significant public safety benefits in reduced severe intersection traffic crashes, reduced speeding, and the aesthetic qualities, I'm somewhat disappointing that this is the recommendation. Although apparently prior meetings showed a lack of support for the idea. I do think there are intersections that might be better served by one, such as one block North once Olympic Drive connects across to Ocean Ave, and I hope that removing the circle here doesn't indicate an unwillingness to try them again in other places.

Something I find missing in the staff report concerning the roundabout is while there is much talk of the aesthetic qualities of the proposed circle,  apart from the ambiguous description of traffic calming, almost no mention is made of the significant public safety benefits of roundabouts compared to other intersection treatments like stop signs. For a primer on the oft misunderstood roundabout, I recommend Tom Vanderbilt's, author of "Traffic", article in Slate, "Don't Be So Square, Why American drivers should learn to love the roundabout."