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Study Finds Santa Monica Residents Still Sticking to Cars  

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By Niki Cervantes

Staff Writer

March 7, 2017 -- Years into a City push to get drivers in Santa Monica to switch to alternate transportation, use of cars or other vehicles is still the first choice for almost two of every three trips, a new study has found.

Conducted for the City by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and NuStats LLC, the survey tracked 872 residents over 24 hour periods and found 72 percent hopped in a vehicle to do everything from going to and from work to eating out, shopping and doing home-related tasks.

The study -- which was included on the City Planning Commission’s agenda for its March 1 meeting -- “captured a snapshot of residents travel patterns prior to the opening of the Expo Light Rail line, which marked a significant improvement to the transportation network in Santa Monica.”

The 872 respondents reported a total of 2,972 trips -- 2,138 of which were in vehicles, the study said. Half of the trips started and ended in Santa Monica. But even with short trips (up to three miles), “the predominant mode of travel” involved using a vehicle, the 75-page report said.

Trailing far behind were the alternative methods of travel the City is trying hard -- and at great expense -- to convince residents to use as a way of easing congestion and pollution.

Slightly less than 18 percent of the participants in the survey decided to walk, taking a total of 523 trips (mostly under a mile).

Another 4.7 percent hopped on a bicycle or some type of non-motorized cycle, or used wheelchairs. The City’s “Breeze” bikes were used nine times, the study said, although use of other bicycles totaled 139 trips.

And three percent of the study's participants used public transit, the study said. Of that total, light rail or subway was only used for 11 trips. However, the study was conducted throughout April, before the formal opening of the Expo Light Rail Line to Santa Monica on May 20.

The Big Blue Bus was taken 74 times and the Metro Bus two times, the report said.

The study is part of the City’s years-long campaign to wean residents from reliance on vehicles, both in an effort to ease gridlock and to operate in a green manner.

The City has launched a costly public relations campaign to that end. Santa Monica's $10-million “Breeze” bike-share program is also part of that effort ("Santa Monica Poised to Spend Nearly Half a Million on Expo Party," March 21, 2016 and ("Santa Monica 'Breeze' Bike Share Celebrates First Birthday," November 14, 2016).

Although few question the merits of becoming less dependent on cars, City critics -- including some officials -- are skeptical that the City can achieve a particularly ambitious goal: Becoming so “multi-modal" that the more development can be allowed without worsening gridlock.

"Multi-modal" is a term that means making significant use of transportation other than cars.

Signs of success, so far, are mixed. Expo’s Downtown L.A.-to-Santa Monica light rail line posted 54,000 weekday boardings in December -- up almost 14 percent from the prior month.

But the City's Big Blue Bus is hurting, with ridership dropping by 12 percent, or to about 14.98 million annually, according to recent figures. Ridership has declined every year since 2010, when it peaked at 22.35 million.

Despite the new survey’s poor numbers regarding alternate transportation, the report finds reasons for optimism.

“With nearly 61% of all trips conducted under three miles there is great potential for many of these trips to shift to other modes of transportation which will help Santa Monica achieve community goals for health, mobility and sustainability, which are all part of a new model for mobility,” it said.

Future surveys are needed on a regular basis to “capture the changing dynamic of travel behavior,” the report said.

Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft accounted for slightly less than one percent. The use of motorcycles, mopeds or scooter accounted for 0.6 percent of the total, or 16 trips. Taxis and limousines also accounted for 16 trips of all taken in the 24-hour period.

The survey’s participants were all adult residents of Santa Monica. They were asked to keep a detailed travel diary of “their most recent day of travel for a full 24-hour period," according to the study.

The diary included "where the respondents went, how they went there, how long it took them to get there, their activity at that place, how long they stayed there, and what time they left that place,” the report said.

They were also asked for demographic information and a series of demographic questions regarding where they learned information about transportation options in the city. Most used smart phones to do so, the report aid.

Email invitations were sent to a total of 21,310 people. In total, the survey included 872 respondents with overall response rate of 4.7 percent.

Respondents were given a chance to win a gift card if they finished their survey tasks, the report said.

Those included were invited by email to participate and culled from voter registration files, subscribers of Activenet (a software program used by the City) and the contact list from the City’s Wellbeing Project.

The survey found roughly a third of trips were made in the afternoon peak (3 p.m. to 7:59 p.m.), with another 30 percent made in the midday period (10 a.m. to 2:59 p.m.).

“Home activities” accounted for 915 trips, or almost 31 percent of the total, with shopping or dining adding another 631 trips, or 21 percent of all. Job-related activities accounted for 519 trips, or 17.5 percent.

Child care and other child-related activities, socializing, health-care activities and exercising/sports rounded out of the other bigger reasons residents needed to get out of the house, the report said.

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