Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bike Path Proposal Hot Potato At Site Of Proposed Agensys Development

For those not yet aware, the cancer research and bio-tech company Agensys, which is already based in Santa Monica, is seeking to expand and build a new facility. A property near the Bergamot Station art complex and future expo stop, owned by the City of Santa Monica is being negotiated for a 50 year lease. The plan calls for a pedestrian only path through what would become the new facility, but bike advocates have also been calling for a bike path at the Southern property edge, which create a more direct and safer route to connect with Michigan Ave. Michigan is already a pleasant residential street to ride, and one proposed to be a potential bike route or bike boulevard in LUCE. One of the goals of LUCE, and part of the reason this issue is debated, is to break up "super block" developments and create new path ways and encourage active transportation.

Barbara Filet and Kent Strumpell, who have been passionate advocates for promoting Michigan as a bike route, and bridging the gap to reaching it from Stewart St. and communities further East in Santa Monica, wrote a primer document on this Agensys issue for the SM Spoke blog, and what they envision an eventual Michigan bike route to look like. I highly recommend checking out their document for more comprehensive details and maps concerning the issue. Also in their proposal is a short bike path on Caltrans property to connect where Michigan dead ends at the freeway to get to the 20th St. bridge. Plans to make 20th St. a bike route with sharrows, and new tree and sidewalk treatments are already under way as well.

Bike Path IconThere has been a lot of no, we can't and liability talk from Agensys lawyers on this issue, and the City has been divided on how important a bike route connection here is. My take on this is, the sliver of southern property edge Barbara has proposed for a bike path is easily doable. Since the buildings are being demolished and rebuilt anyways, there is a lot of flexibility and it is in accordance with the principles of LUCE. Liability is often the go to bull shit response to saying no to bikes, as if accommodating cars didn't also create liability. Pedestrians sometimes get hurt in parking lots, should we stop developing parking lots, or mandate drivers be air lifted to the sidewalk from their car so they can't get hurt?

This is City owned property that would be leased with a 50 year term. If we can't even get a developer to agree to a bike route on a property owned by the city, that sets the precedent that future developers can simply scoff at bike route proposals for any future developments. There is a fear if the city forces the issue, that Agensys may up and leave for elsewhere. No one wants that, nor do the cyclists, but really I think the city has the upper hand here.

This property will be sitting right at ground zero for expo-line train commuting from across the region in a few years time. Thus a deserible location for business growth for obvious reasons. Agensys is also a company already positioned in Santa Monica, and would not take relocating, and making life more difficult for employees who may be living where they are to be close to work, very lightly. The recent trends of skilled workers coming out of college and universities has been toward moving to urban communities where walking, cycling and transit are more prevalent. Sure as some nay sayer comments on the LAist post pointed out, there is cheaper real estate for Agensys elsewhere, and probably fewer development agreements for them to deal with. However it is the human capital that drives business, and hubs like major rail stations are going to become increasingly desirable as time goes on.

Councilmen McKeown has been vocally on the side of including a bike route through the property, as have the Parks and Recs commission, but not everyone on the city council is convinced. The SM Daily Press article on the topic mentions that councilmen Bloom pointed out Michigan isn't even a bike route yet. This is a rather dubious comment to me because, A, Michigan though not officially a bike route, is already used like one because it is a great street to ride due to wide width, low traffic volume, and shaded trees. It is also the best direct connection to the high school, where efforts are underway to improve bicycle ridership. And B, Michigan is prominently listed as a future bike route in the LUCE planning document.

This is a 50 year lease, and an easy way  to dramatically improve connecting Michigan to Exposition and the Stewart St. bike route. Alternative routes around the cluster of properties all involve high traffic intersections and more left turns, which are prohibitive to less experienced or less confident cyclists. Does councilman Bloom envision that Michigan will not become a bike route in the next 50 years? That does not bode well for a commitment to a planning document numerous citizens spent countless meetings providing input to, crafting it's goals, principles and route plans, and finally passed by the council years over due.

The last point I'll make, having read about the development of bike route improvements in a number of different cities featured in the book Pedaling Revolution, is that Davis California, the first LAB Platinum Bicycle Friendly City, built a lot of it's bike route network through developer agreements.  Because Davis made a commitment to requiring developers to accommodate bicyclists early on, as the city built out, it built out with bike paths. Those developer built bike paths, combined with on street facilities, and a city wide cross departmental commitment to supporting cycling, resulted in dramatically higher bicycle ridership and commuting than anywhere else in the country.

The cycling movement has been building momentum, and I saw hundreds of Santa Monica residents, young, old, men woman, boys, and girls, riding for the SMMOA Tour Da Arts. If development lawyers want a fight with cycling advocates, I say let's bring it on. The time for cyclists to shy away and scrounge for some space in the gutter and door zone is over, we need to pick fights, and demand a seat at the transportation table. We need safe routes to school for our kids, and this rather short and simple bike path proposal is a great way to start knocking down barriers that divide our community.

Some are calling this issue the first test of the recently passed LUCE document. Is Santa Monica committed to progressive planning principles supported by it's citizenry, or is Santa Monica committed to winning prestigious awards for it's planning, rather than it's actions?

Related News Stories (Most of these are based on SM Daily Press story, which does not include full details of proposal):
SM Daily Press
Curbed LA

Primer Document For Proposal By Barbara Fillet and Kent Strumpell:
SM Spoke


EricW said...

Gary - Nice article on this - I plan to reference it.

Barbara and Kent have done a very large amount of research and leg work providing explanations of the utility of this bike path. We all need to help them make the case to the city officials involved.

Cyclists should be able get this path during the upcoming election season!

Evan said...

The lack of information and misinformation being reported about this is really dismaying.

I'm hopeful that the bike path will go ahead, but I fear that people will spin this as not being accomodating to a major employer and will be fearful of trying to make even a minimal request of the company in fear of losing the project.

Anonymous said...

You make excellent points on all fronts. I hope enough constituents and political will can be gathered to make the bike lane happen.