CITYWIDE — This past May, Santa Monica received an award for being bike-friendly, and some cyclists aren’t pleased.
Co-founder of BikeRoWave, a local not-for-profit bike repair shop, and writer of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, Alex Thompson has created a petition demanding a revision of the bronze award given to Santa Monica by the League of American Bicyclists, an organization centered in Washington, D.C. with a goal of promoting safe bicycle riding.
“I don’t think it’s deserved,” Thompson said of the award. “I feel the requirements for the bronze award are insanely weak.”
Thompson’s argument is that Santa Monica is actually a rather hostile place to ride bikes, especially concerning motorists. He feels the police and lawmakers are not concerned enough with cyclists’ safety and don’t take the bikers seriously enough.
“They claim to have discussed this, or that they communicate with local cyclists about the conditions, and they certainly didn’t communicate with anyone I know,” Thompson said of the league.
He has two goals in mind for the petition. One is to re-evaluate the award with local cyclists. The other is to withdraw the award completely.
Representatives from the league could not be reached for comment.
Thompson hopes the league will agree to the first option and feels it is a good option for everyone. That way, Santa Monica may keep the award, but will be brought up to higher standards of bike safety and accessibility.
“I’ve thought about it for quite a while because I’m on both sides of the story here,” said Mihai Peteu, a Santa Monica cyclist and employee at UCLA in favor of the petition. “I would like the cyclists to decide if Santa Monica deserves the award.”
Peteu added that putting the award under pending review would be the best solution — it would not be completely taken away from Santa Monica, but the city would have to change in some ways before it was granted in full.
While Thompson’s main complaint is unpleasant and unyielding motorists, Pepeu is more concerned about the difficulty getting anywhere due to fairly disconnected bike lanes.
“I think a more active group of bike advocates show that they’re not kidding around … would actually get some political pull,” Pepeu said. “We don’t want to keep getting pushed back to the bottom of the list. The residents want to get somewhere by car — I’m tired of hearing that.”
Peteu also laments a seeming lack of concern from the City Council, and said that if politicians there want to be forward thinking, they might have to sacrifice a few votes the next time around.
Not all serious cyclists feel the same way, however.
“I feel the city is doing whatever it possibly can do,” said Luis Morris, transportation management specialist for City Hall and creator of the city’s immensely popular bike valet system, which safely parks over 21,000 bikes a year for events such as the Twilight Dance Series in the summer and Sunday Farmers’ Market.
Morris thinks the bronze award is very much deserved. Though he recognizes that Santa Monica is not as bike-friendly as cities such as Denver and Portland, Santa Monica’s award must be taken in context.
“You’ve got to realize the congestion of the city in comparison to other cities,” Morris said.
Morris explains that as opposed to big cities with far more space, Santa Monica’s passing population, which can exceed one million on some days, is crammed in a far tighter place — just 8 square miles. As a result, traffic congestion is highly increased, causing issues for cyclists as well as vehicles.
Additionally, Morris feels City Hall is doing all it can with the current economic situation. He says there is more City Hall would like to do, but cannot as a result of cost constraints. While Morris understands the frustration many cyclists feel concerning the bike situation in Santa Monica, he disagrees with the way some handle it.
“They wanted to build an awareness of cycling, but what they did was went out there and broke the law,” he said of bike events such as Critical Mass — a large gathering of cyclists in an effort to fill the streets with bikes to draw attention to traffic congestion and less-than-perfect bike laws.
“That’s like taking a stick and hitting a beehive,” he said.
Morris says events like Critical Mass only anger motorists and the police, and suggests that creating an outreach program to communicate with SMPD and City Hall would be more productive. The monthly rides drew media attention after dozens of cyclists were cited by officers. Cyclists said they were being harassed while officers said they were trying to keep the peace on the streets and protect cyclists and motorists.
Jennifer Klausner, executive director of the L.A. Bike Coalition, feels divided on the award given to Santa Monica.
“For our own safety, we have to be hyper vigilant,” Klausner said. “Santa Monica is a different city on two wheels.”
Klausner is very much aware of Santa Monica’s shortcomings in the way of bike-friendliness, but she’s not sure the award should be revoked, or that it was even undeserved.
“Santa Monica is a bikeable city,” she said.
She acknowledges that many of the major boulevards in the city are hazardous, but maintains that if cyclists are knowledgeable about the city and their destination, biking along side streets is easier, more enjoyable and much safer.
Santa Monica’s bike-friendliness depends very heavily on the way it is looked at, and changes, as Klausner says, depending on whether one is “looking at it in a vacuum or looking at Santa Monica relative to other cities in the U.S.” In the end, she realizes it’s only the decision of the league, and she highly doubts they will rescind the honor after their in-depth evaluation process.
“The bronze will be a stimulus, a catalyst to get more people on board,” Morris said. “I think they’ve got a good start. We’re always thinking of new ideas all the time to improve cycling.”
Thompson is planning to submit the petition to the League of American Bicyclists within the next two weeks after getting about 100 signatures. As of Monday he had collected roughly 50.