Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Letter To Venice Neighborhood Council, Concerning Road Diet Proposal With Bike Lanes On Main St. West Of Santa Monica

Dear Venice Neighborhood Council,

I am very much in support of the spirit of continuing the bike route of Main St. in Santa Monica through into Venice. It makes sense since many cyclists already use the entirety of Main St. to ride between destinations in Venice and Santa Monica. However I have some reservations about the proposal. As it appears in the diagrams I have seen, it looks to apply very much the same treatment in Santa Monica onward.

Currently in Santa Monica, the Main St. bike lane is one of the more stressful and collision prone bike routes in this city, and I believe that the primary reason for this is that the bike lane is very narrow, and the turn over of parked cars is very high. This means that cyclists frequently have to avoid opening car doors and cars pulling into and out of the bike lane. Due to the very narrow width of the bike lane, have little room to do so without swerving into oncoming traffic in the standard vehicle lane. This design of narrow bike lanes centered in the path of opening car doors contradicts the best practices for riding as taught by the League of American Bicyclists in their traffic safety classes for cyclists.

Santa Monica planners have acknowledged the problem of “door zone” bike lanes, and are exploring design configurations which may mitigate this issue for their pending bike plan update. I think that this Venice Main St. redesign represents not just an opportunity to extend the bike route, but to perhaps improve upon it or try something different.

I would prefer to see a configuration which widened the bike lane over what exists in Santa Monica, or would create a small buffer between the bike lane and the parked car doors, as some cities have done. This could be accomplished by narrowing the vehicle lanes, and recent studies indicate that on lower speed local roads, there is little difference in safety between 9, 10 and 11 ft. lanes.

Another possibility is using a sharrow treatment while keeping the road 2 lanes in each direction, but making it clear that cyclists may ride in the right lane and outside of the door zone. This along with other traffic calming measures has been successful in Hermosa Beach on Hermosa Ave, one of the first streets in Southern California to have sharrows. I find from my riding experience sharrows work best on 2 lane each way roads because they allow an easy lane for drivers to go around who do not wish to wait behind a cyclist, and that they reduce hostility compared to when sharrows are not present.

As a Santa Monica resident, I welcome the extension of bike routes into neighboring Venice, but I hope that this opportunity is taken to explore design possibilities beyond simply doing what has already been done in Santa Monica. I support the idea of bike lanes, but when their width is narrow and directly adjacent car parking, I find that their safety is compromised. If a bicycle lane as part of a road diet is the desired treatment, I would recommend exploring lane width alternatives that ensure the bike lane is a truly safe place to ride.

Gary Kavanagh
Santa Monica Resident

Monday, January 17, 2011

Motion Passed To Discontinue Santa Monica Bicycle Registration Ordinance

Santa Monica City Council MeetingI am no longer a criminal. I had intentionally not registered my bicycles in Santa Monica, in objection to the way the program was implemented, and it's flawed ordinance language. At the end of the item discussion, Councilman Kevin McKeown passed a motion with the support of his colleagues to discontinue the bicycle registration ordinance in Santa Monica. The motion also indicated that the database should be kept, and that people could still register under a voluntary basis without fees or fines, while staff explores other options and systems in addressing bicycle theft and recovery.

Given how long it has been since the problems of Santa Monica's implementation of bicycle registration were brought to staff attention, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly it was finally undone this evening. With unanimous sentiment among the council, following comments by several members of the public, myself included alongside Michael Cahn, Richard McKinnon and Michael Brodski the ordinance is over. I was also glad to see Police Chief Jackman very much on board with looking at different options and programs. He emphasized that what was important to the police for recovery was getting people to write down their serial numbers more than anything else, and that any program which facilitates recording that data is beneficial.

To date the number of bikes registered is a tiny fraction of the bikes owned in the city. Hundreds of bikes have been registered in the past year from stepped up outreach for the program, but it was only a few years ago that only 7 bikes were being registered a year. McKeown, who has always had his bike registered in Santa Monica, noted he may have accounted for 14% of that past figure by himself.

Jackman also noted that in the past 2 years there has been a substantial spike of 65% in bicycle theft. A statistic highlighting of course the growing problem of bicycle theft, but also the growing popularity of bicycles. Bike theft wouldn't be growing so fast if there weren't more bikes to steal and more demand to buy them. However we really have to reign this problem in if we want bicycling to be viable. I'm sure among those victims to bike theft are some people who may take that as a cue to give it up rather than replace the bike if their stolen one is not recovered.

It was acknowledged by members of the council, city attorney Marsha Moutrie, and chief Jackman, the need for collaboration between advocates and the cycling community, police and other city departments, in pursuit of solutions for the bike theft issue.

Santa Monica now joins other communities that have gone though this discussion and determined the best course of action is to to scratch outdated local licensing programs, and figure out new paths forward with a clean slate. I'm glad the city council has come to this conclusion, and relieved that the flawed ordinance is finally done with. Now we can move forward with a broader discussion of how deal with bicycle theft.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Open Letter To Santa Monica City Council Regarding Bicycle Registration Ordinance Changes

Dear Council Members,

I've thought a lot about bike registration and I have a few concerns with keeping the ordinance as suggested in the staff report, as well as some questions about the nature of how the program and database are implemented.

If it is to be kept in some form I think the program should be opt in. Making it mandatory, even if only for residents, still places most local cyclists in a position of violating the law by default, who despite increased efforts to promote bike registry, often do not know it exists or is required. The inability to enforce bike shops to register bikes guarantees more bikes will be circulated without being registered. The idea of mandatory obligation to register is extremely worrisome to me unless there is a serious effort to really register every bike, which would undoubtedly take more resources than is spent currently on the program.

Since it would be residents only and not people passing through, how will the police distinguish between resident and someone passing through?

To date I have not seen any data or reason to believe city bike registry really cuts down on bike theft or has resulted in many bikes returned. The police saying it helps is not real information to me without further elaboration and supporting data. Even if it has had some successes, since this program does not even come close to paying for it self as the staff report indicates, we are all paying to have it in place. Might there be other ways such resources could be more effectively used to reduce bike theft?

There are also outside resources and programs such as which register bikes more efficiently at less cost to the cyclist and without needing subsidy to administer. Santa Monica PD, along with many CA departments are already listed as participating police departments with access to their data base. Why not simply encourage people to register with National Bike Registry since it is cheaper for cyclists and the city, and the SMPD already has access to that database? also offers bike registration and stickers for free. Also what if someone has already spent money to register with the National Bike Registry (their sticker and registration form kits are sold in some bike shops)? In that case in order to meet Santa Monica's requirements, they would essential have to double register even though SMPD has access to the registry they already paid for.

Speaking of database, how is the Santa Monica local bike registration program handled. Where does that data go, and can other departments access the data? If someone were to steal a bike in Santa Monica and go sell it in Venice, does the LAPD have easy access to Santa Monica bike registry data? If the sticker were removed from the bike, would the LAPD know to inquire further and cross reference Santa Monica serial number data.

For people with multiple bikes like myself, registering costs can add up. For my wife Meghan and I to register all of the many bikes we own at $4 each per year would cost $36 dollars a year. That's a lot more than we would pay for getting a permit for parking a car on the street in our residential zone. I don't think it's fair to charge people who own multiple bikes with fines greater than someone taking up valuable street space. If the idea is to encourage people to ride bikes in Santa Monica, I don't see how adding mandatory extra fees and bureaucracy to the process is beneficial.

Based on following the police reports on the SM Daily Press involving cyclists, it seems to me laws like this are more a pretense for busting certain kinds of characters and pursuing drug searches, more than the intent of the law.  I think the burden of proof is on the police department to show having this bike registration program is worthwhile for it's intended purpose. Until such time I have heard any convincing reasons to keep it, even if it would technically comply with state requirements, I cannot support keeping the law.

The state grants cities the ability to have bike registration programs, with some restrictions, but it does not require it, and unlike the misleading suggestions on the Santa Monica website, it is certainly not state law that all bicyclists in the state must be registered. The Santa Monica website quote "The State of California requires a bicycle license for any bicycle used on any street" is entirely false, nothing in the C.V.C. suggests this. This literature with false statements can be found in fliers around town as well. I have brought this to staff attention before on multiple occasions, but it does not appear to have been addressed.

Many cities which created such laws in the 70's and then forgot about them for 30 years are going through this same debate as cycling goes mainstream again. Many of these cities are doing away with the programs all together or are making them optional because they are finding the administration of keeping them is not worth it. Los Angeles has already eliminated their bike registry program. I believe Santa Monica should follow suit.

As it currently exists, as well as under proposed changes in the staff report, I primarily see this program as being an unnecessary use of resources, redundant with more efficient programs offered online by third parties, and a tool to discourage bicycling. I urge that the council vote to eliminate the Santa Monica bicycle registration ordinance. As part of efforts to address bicycle theft, cyclists should still be encouraged to register their bikes, but instead be directed to third party registration services.

-Gary Kavanagh

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Professional Drivers Don't Know The Rules Of The Road

Below the jump I have transcribed my account of verbal harassment by an armored car operator on my way to work today, which was e-mailed to the company Garda. The parent company has since replied by phone and said they will be following up on the incident and disciplinary action may be taken. My wife Meghan was harassed by a UPS driver a few months ago, a driver who actually clipped her pannier bag by passing too close after making other aggressive moves and tailgating. That driver was fired.

Getting our legal system to care about cyclists being harassed may be difficult at times, but private companies, that's another ball game. They care about their reputation, and see their vehicles as moving branding for their company. I would like to encourage cyclists to report harassment by professional drivers. I want professional drivers to take note, if you harass cyclists, you are putting your job in jeopardy.

Jan 11th around 10am, in front of the Water Gardens office complex in Santa Monica, an employee began harassing me. I did not get his name as he took off walking without wanting to talk face to face, and I did not want to peruse further and create a confrontation. I was riding my bicycle to work as I do everyday, I am a daily bike commuter in Santa Monica. I was surprised because usually road rage drivers only lash out when they are driving, but the armored car he was departing was already sitting in park in the center turn lane.  I pulled off the road to say I had a right to the road, per CA Vehicle Code 21200. He responded by continuing to shout get off the road, get out of the way, and walked very quickly before I could get very close and refused to make eye contact.

I took a photo of the vehicle it was license plate 8H70519. It appeared a driver was still in the car, so the belligerent employee, who was an overweight white male with balding hair, must have been the drivers partner. I was extremely dismayed someone in a professional position, one charged with protecting cash shipments, would intentionally shout at and provoke random individuals on the street. Additionally such ignorance of the laws governing the road from someone I presume to be in a professional driving position is alarming to me.

I hope such behavior is not indicative of your staff, such behavior and rage could turn tragic in an actual driving situation, and could expose your company to liability. I hope this matter will be taken seriously. I will be writing about this incident on my popular local cycling blog Gary Rides Bikes, with photos of the truck and it's license plate, I unfortunately did not get my camera out in time to capture the employee who began yelling at me.

New Post On SM Patch, Lessons From Charlie Gandy's Presentation

Sharrows in Long Beach!

I have up on Santa Monica Patch my take on Charlie Gandy's presentation to the Santa Monica Planning Commission. I hope you go check it out, and if you want to support continued coverage of livable streets issues on Patch, you can "recommend" the post, for those of you who are facebook inclined.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Santa Monica Bike Plan Up For Discussion At Planning Commission Again Tomorrow Night, This Time With Guest Speaker Charlie Gandy, Mobility Coordinator Of Long Beach

Keynote Speaker, Charles Gandy
(Charlie Gandy giving one of the key note talks at last years L.A. Street Summit)

At the last planning commission meeting I attended, commissioner Jim Ries floated the idea of having Charlie Gandy come to speak before the commission, and give some insight on what's been going on in Long Beach. It was recently announced that this is in fact coming to fruition, and Gandy will be talking during tomorrow night's Santa Monica Planning Commission meeting at City Hall, which starts at 7pm.

Gandy, a long time advocate for cycling and pedestrian issues, both in and out of government, is now the mobility coordinator for Long Beach, and has been charged with the goal of making Long Beach top the list of bicycling friendly cities in America. A goal which has moved forward with sharrows on a prominent street, new bike lanes, new bikes racks and a bike corral, and a true bicycle boulevard, a first for Southern California. Though the path to bicycle friendliness in Long Beach has not been without hicups, like the draconian misconduct of the Long Beach Police Department.

Gandy is an inspirational speaker, and passionate about what he does.  I look forward to hearing him speak again, and hope it leaves a lasting impression on city leaders in Santa Monica. I encourage folks to come out to support a strong bike plan, and hear what Gandy has to offer. Aspects of the implementation of LUCE, another important topic on livable streets issues, will also be an agenda item tomorrow.

A Round Up Of All The Posts On SM Bike Plan Workshop & A Few Of My Thoughts (A little late, yes)

Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan Meeting, Dec 13 2010
I intended to write a full and detailed account of the Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan workshop right after it happened. However I ended up putting it off when I was slammed with work deadlines and some late nights. This followed by some vacation time away from all the computers and human civilization back packing and camping in Joshua Tree. In the days that followed the meeting, several voices already wrote out accounts of the evening from various perspectives, and so it became less necessary for another big report on the same night. So in summary I will direct readers to everything already written about the workshop, and conclude briefly (or as briefly as I get) with a few of my own thoughts.

Eric Weinstein, a local rider who has been actively engaged at city meetings and who has volunteered help with Santa Monica Spoke on a number of occasions, wrote a guest post on BikingInLA. He gives a pretty good summery of what was discussed, and how it relates to the city's LUCE planning document. Activist Alex Thompson, writing for Bikeside, focused more critically on the way the discussion was being framed during transportation consultant Jeff Tumlin's portion of the presentation. He felt expectations were being lowered, and that the framing of bike improvements as an us versus them issue, them being motorists, is a poisonous discourse. Cynthia Rose of Santa Monica Spoke wrote out an account for the Spoke blog, and also references some of the other posts written. Some folks from the Natural Resource Defense Council, some heavy hitting environmental activists with an office in Santa Monica, were also in attendance. An account of some of their suggestions, and a few constructive criticisms, can be found at their blog Switchboard. From the local media, we have the Santa Monica Mirror's report as well.

On the whole, I thought it was a productive meeting. Some of the design solutions shown and comments made, illustrated to me that the planners understand what most of the problems are, and ways to address them. Concerns like the door zone were acknowledged, and ways bike lanes could be designed to alleviate that problem were shown. The large turn out, 3 rows of seats had to be added from what they expected, was a good sign, and those numbers are important in showing support for cycling.

I have to say I had a lot of similar impressions as Alex concerning the direction of the discussion once Jeff Tumlin took over speaking from Transportation Planning Manager Lucy Dyke. I felt there was a missed opportunity to inspire a crowd of mostly cyclists. I've heard some defend the comments Tumlin made as he was just preparing cyclists for the push back we might encounter against some changes. However an honest discussion of political hurdles, and how we might overcome them, was not what we heard that night. I left for the input tables feeling like the consultants job during the presentation portion of the meeting was to contain the enthusiasm and frame the discussion toward contentedness with mediocrity.

Also burned into my mind was when Jeff Tumlin said the city had "done all the easy projects already". I personally don't like being lied to, and it's gutsy claim to make in a room with some people who know every inch of roadway in this city quite intimately. I'm not entirely sure what he meant by easy, but to me an easy project is one which is A) low cost B) low man power (necessary to be low cost) and C) does not impact car parking or vehicle level of service ratings. Unless Tumlin defines easy as projects which complete themselves with no effort at all by magic fairies, the claim is entirely false.

I could think of dozens of little things the city could do to make things a little nicer for cyclists. Many blocks with bike lanes have no bike symbol on them, or very rarely, making it poorly distinguished that it is in fact a bike lane. There are places where bike lanes are too narrow, but other vehicle lanes are excessively wide. Like the 17th St. bridge over the 10 freeway, with claustrophobic door zone bike lanes next to vehicle lanes that are wide enough to drive an Abrams tank through. Apparently there are bike racks sitting around just waiting to be installed, and I've documented some private and public bike racks which are installed incorrectly. Sharrows are by their nature very easy projects since they require only paint and do not require reconfiguring roadway space, they simply reinforce existing rights of cyclists on the road.

I could go on and on. Easy improvements are far from finished. Give me a bucket of reflective thermo plastic paint and a stencil, and I'll round up some volunteers, and we could knock out a few "easy" projects over an upcoming weekend. I lot can also be accomplished with simple education efforts. I was happy to see the recent Seascape Newsletter (pg 2) had a piece on cycling, and many more such efforts through various channels that reach local audiences can be done fairly cheaply. I think it's important to see the government taking up eduction efforts, both for the broader audience it can reach and because of the legitimacy it stamps.

Moving forward, I think the biggest hurdles for the plan, and it's implementation, will be political will, as it always has been. It's not about money, bike projects are cheap comparatively to other transportation projects. Cyclists gave a lot of valuable input at the meeting, and I'm confident that city staff can come up with some good plans. However what I think what we are missing in Santa Monica that is driving progress so quickly elsewhere, is a fire and determination from leadership. 

In New York Bloomberg has given NY DOT head Jannee Sadik Khan license to transform the city, and transform she has. Closer to home in Long Beach, the city council made it goal to make Long Beach the most bicycling friendly city in America, and they brought in Charlie Gandy as mobility coordinator to help make it happen. I heard both Gandy and Sadik Khan speak at the L.A. Street Summit, and they transcend being bureaucrats, they speak as activists for the ideas they are both implementing and championing. They can carry out their work because of the support from the top down, and they build support from the bottom up as well, and Sadik Khan especially is quick with facts to combat push back from those who challenge the changes she implemented.

What it takes to change the political landscape, that is less clear than a discussion of lane widths or bike racks and where they should go. I hope that city leadership takes the opportunity presented by the bike plan to rally behind improving bicycling in Santa Monica, both from elected and appointed officials, as well as staff. Just as importantly we need to broaden support from the community and public at large for these ideas. The Natural Resource Defense Council pointed out in their post the audience while fairly large for a public meeting, was a fairly exclusive set, and that more needs to be done to involve a broader spectrum of the community in the planning to ensure both support for the plan, and that is equitably represents the interests of all parts of the city.

As advocates I think in Santa Monica we have spent a lot of time debating this or that bike project or our personal gripes in the local infrastructure, but we must devote more time to community outreach, and in turn building the larger political capital it takes to get ambitious things done. We also need to maintain persistence in showing up to public meetings and city hall discussions, so that our voices are heard often. Our gripes need to spend more time jumping from the blogs and twitter and into the public comment, where the decision makers have no choice but to listen to our concerns.