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Bike Action Plan Rolls Through First City Review  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

August 12, 2011 – “The LUCE for bikes” – that's what long-time city traffic consultant Jeffrey Tumlin called the five-year Bike Action Plan at Wednesday's Planning Commission meeting.

The meeting was the first in a series of reviews of the far-reaching blueprint for the transformation of the city's roadways and infrastructure to support cyclists and, hopefully, reduce motor vehicle traffic in Santa Monica.

The massive document maps “a continuous bike network that serves the city and all of its key destinations,” said Tumlin.

“All we need to do is make it more convenient, more safe, more comfortable and more fun for the people who are already biking to bike a little more often, and to get a few more people to buy a bike,” he said.

But the change will require a major investment in streetscape, education and cooperation if the plan is to work, according to Tumlin and city staff.

The existing network of bike “facilities,” as the right-of-ways are called, is discontinuous, said Tumlin. The gaps need to be closed, and riders who are less experienced need to feel safe navigating the city.

The nearly 300-page plan includes a map of a “backbone network,” said Senior Transportation Manager Michelle Glickert, connecting schools, commercial districts, the coming Expo line stations and other destinations throughout the city.

Broadway and 17th streets are the core of the network, Glickert said.

But it's not a simple matter of laying out a bike path running through the city. Even on one street, some stretches allow for a wide green bike lane buffered from parked cars and their dangerous, unpredictably opening doors, while narrower stretches might require one-way climbing paths.

“In some cases, the best bike facility may be just an existing residential street that has low motor vehicle volumes and slow cars,” said Tumlin.

“Part of the unique challenge of Santa that we couldn't just draw a facility line all the way across the city,” he said.

Education is a key component of the plan, said Deputy Director for Special Plans Lucy Dyke, including courses to “teach [people] how to ride so they feel safe, are safe and keep the roads safe for other people.”

Instead of seeing law enforcement as punitive, she suggested it be viewed as “enhanced education.” The plan calls for the creation of “Police Bicycle Ambassadors.”

Recreation and Parks Commissioner Richard McKinnon urged the commissioners to see the plan as an opportunity to think big.

He called the plan “a conservative document...a very useful foundation for us to build on, but nothing that's terribly radical.”

Will Santa Monica become like Portland, a city in which a high percentage of the population bikes, or like Irvine, which has “hundreds of miles of bike path but no one's using them?” he asked.

When the city put in a sharrow, people were confused by it, said McKinnon. The plan calls for “wholesale, multimillion dollar improvements...[and] our community is not yet ready for that, we need to make them ready,” he said.

Once the planning commissioners started in, they seemed focused on parking.

Why not adapt the city's parking meters to allow for bike parking, wondered Commissioner Hank Koning.

Inspired by McKinnon's call to big ideas, Commissioner Gerda Newbold wondered why not remove street parking in some neighborhoods to make more room for bike lanes.

Tumlin stepped in to remind the commission that the streets were supposed to accommodate everyone, and Santa Monica's neighborhood organizations might have a thing to say about removing their parking.

He suggested that the “bolder” elements of the plan might be best presented as pilots, and that they need to build a constituency that supports the plan.

The city should build the pilot projects “to demonstrate to make the decision-making less rancorous.”

Commission Chair Jim Reis urged the city to present the plan at a school board meeting to make sure the schools are on board.

Parents fear that letting their children walk or ride to school is unsafe, McKinnon pointed out, and work needs to be done to reassure them that their kids have a safe ride to school.

Getting employees out of their cars and onto bikes is key to achieving the LUCE goal of no new net peak p.m trips, and the plan includes a draft ordinance to encourage employee ridership that drew the attention the commissioners.

It would require amenities like showers and bike parking at new developments in Santa Monica. In the meantime, Koning pointed out they had added a similar requirement in the recent Lionsgate Project Development Agreement (DA), and the can do so in future DA's.

The commission passed the plan on for review to the Recreation and Parks Commission, which will look at it on August 18.

It's scheduled to go before the City Council on August 23, and then return to the Planning Commission on September 7 for adoption.

To see the entire plan, maps and all, click on the Draft Bike Action Plan below Item 6a on the commission's agenda website.


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