CITY HALL — Within a year, Santa Monicans will begin to notice changes on their city streets. Within five, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.
That’s the promise of the Bicycle Master Plan, a 400-page document that got the Planning Commission’s stamp of approval Wednesday night.
The plan proposes a 20-year timeline to transform Santa Monica’s roadways into bicycle-friendly thoroughfares in an attempt to get people out of their cars and cycling to improve health, reduce traffic and cleanse the environment.
Santa Monicans mandated that shift in priorities when they helped to create the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, an overarching policy for the development of every aspect of Santa Monica, said Lucy Dyke, a transportation manager with City Hall.
The Bicycle Action Plan represents one way in which the LUCE is being fulfilled.
“Everything in this plan was suggested or approved by the people in this community,” Dyke told commissioners Wednesday.
The plan is ambitious and far-reaching. It proposes to improve intersections across the city and add expensive new infrastructure and facilities to make bicycling more accessible and safer to all strata of Santa Monican society.
It seeks to create north-south and east-west connectors for bikes that guide people across the city and through major economic areas to ensure bike lanes lead to popular destinations.
It will also link Santa Monica with its neighbors through connections with the Exposition Light Rail line, the beach bike trail and improvements on major roads.
Planners included bicycle education in the plan, both for those riding bikes and motorists who still need to learn to share the road.
“Educating bicyclists alone is not enough,” Dyke said, and discussed plans to deploy bike-friendly messages on public vehicles as well as through curriculum and materials.
For those that don’t have bicycles, the plan has a solution. A bicycle sharing program already has grant funding, and will be online by 2016.
The Bicycle Action Plan lays out the next 20 years of development for Santa Monica’s bicycle infrastructure, but Santa Monicans will see early fruits of the plan in the coming months.
A slate of road improvements have been designed, funded and are ready to roll out when the City Council gives the word, possibly as soon as Nov. 22.
Staff is prepared to move on 17 miles of new bicycle lanes, 14 miles of shared road infrastructure and 2,500 new bike parking spaces.
That almost doubles the current infrastructure, and the increases will continue to pile up with the nation’s first bicycle education campus appearing on the beach and the largest bike center opening its doors next Friday.
“It’s as profound a shift as you can imagine,” Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon said Friday.
It represents a realignment of Santa Monica’s priorities away from the car-centric Los Angeles culture and toward the growing number of residents choosing alternative forms of transportation, like bicycles or the coming light rail.
At present, Santa Monicans accomplish approximately 3 percent of their trips by bicycle, compared to the 14 to 35 percent that city officials are hoping for by 2030.
Even the simple changes like those rolling out over the next two years will help people feel more comfortable about switching their habits, McKinnon said.
“For a number of people, paint on the street has encouraged them to ride a bike,” he said, referring to delineated bike lanes and “sharrows,” or painted signs indicating to motorists that bicyclists also have the run of the road.
Planning commissioners largely applauded the plan, focusing many of their comments on funding for the various pieces of the plan. The plan has $8 million in commitments from Metro, the federal government and the state budget.
Exactly what that money will cover first is the decision of the council, which will hear the plan at their next meeting on Nov. 22.
In the meantime, commissioners urged staff to strengthen lines of communication with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Santa Monica College to improve facilities around the schools and encourage students to bike before they’re old enough to drive.
Biking is already popular, said Commissioner Ted Winterer, noting that when he bikes with his children to school, the racks are full.
“That suggests that we have more work to do with the school district for infrastructure to enable more kids to bike,” Winterer said.
They also directed staff to try to prioritize the bike share plan, which is currently funded to begin in 2016, and explore the possibility of putting a bike track around the Santa Monica Airport campus.
Staff still has policy details to work out on the plan, specifically a bike parking ordinance and a fee attached to new development to help pay for the plan and other transportation improvements.