Last Sunday, the Los Angeles Marathon came to Santa Monica. Sunday was the day the cars came as well, and ate Downtown dead. Santa Monica was jammed solid (Saturday, too).
And the weekend before? Jammed as well, and really, pretty much every weekend you can name.
On any given day, you’ll find it hard to cram another car onto the Downtown roads. Main Street often inches slowly nowhere. Everyone who lives here or visits for a minute knows it.
Eventually, the light rail may help. It might drag some visitors to public transport but that’s not any time in the next four years. It’ll hold back the growth of cars and bring more visitors on foot. And it’s a big shift in thinking about how to get people to and from Santa Monica.
We need more of that.
But really, we need bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. An explosion of bikes, and bike thinking.
Bikes imply a different way of living in our city.
Bikes imply a rather more untroubled, accessible at all times, street life. They bring a city together. They make retail accessible again. The mobility of a bike extends the distance shoppers will travel. You couldn’t introduce a bike culture into just anywhere in Southern California tomorrow. But you can in Santa Monica. We are ready. We just need the will.
Santa Monica is geographically perfect because it’s basically flat, the weather’s perfect all but a few days a year, and the city’s compact.
The issue is what comes first? The infrastructure? Or the people riding? Current consensus political thinking is we should point to the riders. Then, sir, we can move on to the infrastructure.
Well, there are plenty of riders already.
Count bike valet numbers at the Sunday Main Street Farmers’ Market; 400, 600, or more.
Count bike numbers on streets like Broadway any time of the day or night. Riders just appear. Ones and twos, on every known version of ordinary commuter bike, going about their business because bikes are convenient.
Broadway has become a strikingly useful bike boulevard bringing residents and visitors to Downtown from the “far extremes” (what, four miles or so?) of Santa Monica and West L.A. efficiently and easily. It dramatizes what we miss everywhere else.
At the Santa Monica Pier’s centennial celebration, bike numbers were off the charts. Bikes were tied up everywhere, to everything. Just like most days on Main Street. Near Urth Café, bikes are locked to a chain fence, to electrical wires, wherever. Any special day in Santa Monica now has bikes as the go-to option for many residents. Every day your see the Lycra exercisers, the hard core, the commuters, the tourists, the kids moving quietly around town, everyone.
Most people around town will own up to possessing a bike.
They’re just worried about using it often.
Biking should be easy and safe. At the moment in Santa Monica, it’s not really either.
It’s not easy, because there really isn’t enough bike parking; it’s generally not close to where riders need to go; there’s not enough bikes lanes; the lanes often disappear and certainly don’t join up; the beach isn’t connected to any other lane or Downtown; bike lanes aren’t quite wide enough. Signs don’t tell road users enough about bike users sharing roads.
Oh, the list goes on and on, most things fairly easy to address and at relatively small cost.
Safety is related to easy. Ride down Fifth Street any morning and it’s better than a seven-coffee-heart-starter as car doors open without warning in the door zone; cars barge into the street; cars block Santa Monica Boulevard at the intersection; people step into the road without looking, drivers careen around wildly.
Safety is a function of accepting that bikes have a clear place on our roads and in our city and should be protected and encouraged. Again, relatively small steps will bring big results.
Because, just riding a bike is not unsafe.
And bike riders are out there, even if hidden in plain sight. They are simply awaiting permission to rise up and start a new wave of street and city usership.
New York created hundreds of miles of bike lanes in the last 24 months. Bike numbers soared. Closer to home, Long Beach has signed contracts to build miles of bike lanes within eight weeks, as well as the first bike boulevard in Southern California. Long Beach!
Shouldn’t it be Santa Monica that’s first in the nation on street and urban issues?
There are 6,000 parking meters in Santa Monica and 10,000 parking spots in garages the city owns around Downtown. That’s a lot of conventional wisdom, investment and vested interest in the way it’s been done.
But, it’s time, time to make Santa Monica safe and easy for bikes, time to get a new urbanism going that stresses people and streets rather than cars and structures. It’s time to get Santa Monica businesses whole new markets, consumers and economic development. It’s time to chart new ideas into the city and quickly. Time indeed.
It’s bike time.
Richard McKinnon is the chair of Bike It Day and an executive member of Santa Monica Spoke.