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Biking in Santa Monica Still Needs to be '50,000 Times Safer and Easier,' Commissioner Says
By Niki Cervantes
July 20, 2017 -- A safety “czar” to watch over them. Physical barriers for protection. More police enforcement.
Those are just a few of the strategies the City of Santa Monica is embarking upon to nurture and grow its bicycling community, a population essential to the planned transformation of the city from car-clogged into a mecca for alternative transit.
But bicyclists received a warning just days ago on how far the city must still progress to make the streets safe for them.
It was especially bracing because its author was City Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, who has been deeply involved in the process and who was a victim of a bike crash in April of 2016 that left him concussed.
“One thing for sure, if we are going to get out of cars into other mobility options in this City, riding a bike in Santa Monica just has to get 50,000 times more safe and easy,” McKinnon wrote in the July 14 post on his Facebook page.
“And it's up to any of us with any influence to make it that way......Super soon,” he said.
McKinnon’s post touched a raw nerve in Santa Monica, where officials are well underway on a re-design of the city which prioritizes biking or walking as alternate (i.e. car-free) ways of getting around.
His post made its way to an online site where City Hall critics gather to discuss Santa Monica’s general development plan, which tries to offset more building and the likely resulting congestion by convincing the public to garage cars and use alternatives.
Reaction at residocracy.org to McKinnon’s warning was, primarily, a lot of anger from fed-up residents.
“Biking as a main transit option is a pipe dream,” Laura Wilson wrote on residocracy.org. “It's too dangerous and I ride everyday so I speak from personal experience.”
“The larger issue is that vehicular traffic is the life blood of the Los Angeles area,” another poster wrote. “As traffic grinds to a halt, life here becomes increasingly unbearable despite the pleasant weather.
“ANYTHING, anything at all, that slows down traffic must be absolutely verboten. But improving bicycle safety at the expense of the flow of traffic is the height of insanity and is a crime against the people of L.A. County,” he said.
In all, the City wants to reverse the auto-oriented (and polluting/expensive) planning, and sprawl, that has dominated the nation -- and especially Southern California -- since at least the post-World War II era.
It remains a hard sell, although much of the reconfiguration is either already done, in progress or soon to be approved.
Local bicyclists still feel they risk their lives with every trip through city streets.
And motorists feel slighted, particularly since vehicles are still used by most of the residents and workers in Santa Monica, as well as regional visitors.
Last month, Friends of Sunset Park warned in a letter to the City Council that City officials are embracing bicyclists and pedestrians but are neglecting the motorists who still dominate Santa Monica's streets ("Santa Monica Neighborhood Group Says New Plan for Cars Needed," June 28, 2017).
City officials did not seem swayed by the neighborhood group's argument that there doesn't seem to be a citywide plan for motor vehicles.
“The reason we don’t have a ‘Motor Vehicle Plan’ is that for close to a hundred years, transportation in Southern California has BEEN a ‘Motor Vehicle Plan.’”
A crucial piece of the City’s efforts to re-mold itself is likely to be finalized on July 25, when the City Council is expected to approve development plans for downtown through 2030 ("Plan for Santa Monica’s Downtown Receives Initial Nod from City Council," July 13, 2017).
The Downtown Community Plan (DCP) creates streets City planners say will cater to walkers and cyclists, thus enticing many more of them.
McKinnon’s bicycle-warning, though, also signaled a growing problem with a life of biking.
Aside from the issue of safety, he reported that in the last two years six locked bikes had been stolen from the locked underground garage he uses.
“Apparently, locked storage space is one of the leading places bikes are stolen in Santa Monica,” he said, adding that they remains a top spot “amongst the general epidemic of bike theft occurring everywhere here.”
Police records show there were 576 bicycles reported stolen in Santa Monica in 2016, down slightly from 586 the previous year.
In the first six months of this year, there have been 209 reports of stolen bicycles, compared to 206 for the same period last year ("Theft Top Reported Crime in Santa Monica During First Half of Year," July 3, 2017).
One poster already had a solution. If you’re not using it, keep your bike indoors. Always.
“Some people are too desperate to buy their own bikes,” the writer said.
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