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Bike locked to a tree on the Third Street Promenade Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Cynthia Rose is the type of shopper city officials are trying to attract here. She’s local and she doesn’t drive. Instead of adding to traffic congestion, Rose likes to run errands on her bicycle, making more parking available for others.

But that’s the problem. While drivers may have a secure place to park their cars, Rose doesn’t believe there are enough safe locations to properly lock up her bike, so she either avoids Downtown or takes her car.

It is illegal to lock a bike up to a tree and bikers have recently complained about Bayside District ambassadors telling them not to use public benches or chairs either or risk getting their locks clipped and bikes confiscated by police.

“Santa Monica is doing some innovative and groovy things [for bike riders], but they are falling short in several areas, one of them being the lack of bike parking Downtown,” Rose, a Santa Monica resident and member of the bike advocacy group Santa Monica Spoke, said. “For some reason bike racks are few and far between and most of the time they are full.”

City Hall plans to change that. In the coming months, city transportation officials will be installing over 400 bike racks throughout the city, with more than 170 in Downtown, thanks to a $200,000 grant, said Annette Colfax, City Hall’s transportation demand program manager. The cash comes from Proposition C, a half-cent sales tax measure approved by Los Angeles County voters in 1990 to fund critical transportation projects and programs.

In this fiscal year, approximately 172 bike racks are planned for Downtown, including 50 racks on the Third Street Promenade. Officials with the Bayside District Corp., a public-private management company that overseas Downtown, will be working with city planners to find proper locations to install the racks and are taking input from bike riders, including members of Santa Monica Spoke. There’s also the question of which racks to purchase.

A large number will be located in the parking structures adjacent to the mall, Colfax said. The racks will be secured by some type of enclosure and those who park there will purchase for a nominal fee an access card to retrieve their bikes. Showers would also be installed for those commuting to work, she said.

Approximately another 250 racks are planned for other areas in the city: Montana Avenue (25), Ocean Park (25), Main Street (35), the Santa Monica Pier (35) and other locations (80).

Last week, 18 more racks were installed at the Main Library, replacing two parking spaces on the surface lot, Colfax said.

The key is to locate the racks in places that are convenient and where riders will feel comfortable, said Bryan Beretta, a member of Santa Monica Spoke who uses his cargo bike to get groceries. Riders want to leave their bikes in areas where there are a lot of eyes to watch over them. Riders almost prefer locking their bikes where they can see them and others, too. Lighting is also important at night as is proximity to businesses.

“You can’t have bike racks in alleys or in dark parking garages with low visibility,” Beretta said.

Some might think riders like Rose and Beretta are just paranoid, but the statistics prove they have reason to worry about the safety of their bicycles, some of which can cost thousands of dollars.

In April, there were 39 reported bicycle thefts compared to 30 the year before. Over the first for months of 2010, there have been 136 bicycles reported stolen, a 13 percent increase compared to the same period in 2009, said Santa Monica Police Department’s Sgt. Jay Trisler.

The police department recommends bike riders purchase a durable “U-Lock” that can be secured around a tire, the bicycle frame and a rack. Small chains and more expensive “cable” locks have been easily cut, officers said.

State law also requires owners to license their bikes. Licenses can be purchased for $3 at City Hall or via the city’s website (www01.smgov.net/finance/licenses/bikelic.htm). The license is good for three years. The license number and information about the bike will be shared with the SMPD so that officers can identify and return the bike if it is found or someone is found riding it.

Representatives from Bayside said they would like to see more racks Downtown and asked City Hall to better alert riders to racks that are underutilized.

“I think that bicyclist are good at finding bike racks if they’re not hidden,” said Bayside CEO Kathleen Rawson. “I think the ones in our structures are hidden so that’s why nobody goes there.

“Cleary, we are underracked at the moment.”

Pedal for the environment <p>

Residents and those who work in Santa Monica are being encouraged to ditch their cars for a day and participate in the 16th annual Bike to Work Day on May 20. There will be three Bike to Work Pit Stops in Santa Monica, open between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. where there will be refreshments on hand and prizes.

Pit Stops will be located at City Hall (1685 Main St.), REI (402 Santa Monica Blvd.), and Helen’s Cycles (2501 Broadway).

Pledge to ride a bike and you can also win prizes from L.A. Metro, including a fold-up bike, Disneyland resort package and gift cards. For information, visit www.metro.net/biketowork.

kevinh@smdp.com

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