While Santa Monica may be considered by some to be a bike-friendly city, there is clearly more that can be done to make it safer to ride. Drivers need to be more aware of the law and pay closer attention to the road and the cyclists who share it. The same goes for cyclists, which is why the Daily Press was excited to see Huntington Beach create a traffic school for cyclists who break the law, the first city in the state to do so. Some counties, including Santa Cruz and Marin, offer traffic school for bicyclists, but court permission is required first. In Huntington Beach, violators will not need permission or go to court if they elect to take the city’s offer. We feel Santa Monica, which prides itself on being on the cutting edge, should do the same.
Currently the Santa Monica Police Department does not offer a traffic school for cyclists. The Daily Press would like to see the SMPD offer a school maybe once a month or every other month, depending on demand, and have the class paid for by cyclists attending. In Huntington Beach, violators are charged $50 to cover cost of the class, which also waives any other fees or fines. The class is not offered to those who are caught riding while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which is appropriate. The class would be for those riders who are caught cycling on sidewalks or running stop signs, etc.
We believe this is a good idea because not only would it set Santa Monica apart from most cities, helping us retain our “cutting edge” and “bike friendly” image, it would help educate cyclists about the rules of the road. Many casual riders have no idea that they must follow the same laws as drivers. Traffic school would certainly help. Currently there is no education component. Cyclists are ticketed and forced to pay heavy fines.
Traffic school could also go a long way in healing the strained relationship between some cyclists and cops stemming from increased enforcement during Critical Mass rides in 2007. The SMPD cracked down hard, seemingly with the goal of shutting the popular ride down. And it worked. Critical Mass in Santa Monica, which used to take place every month on a Friday and included scores of cyclists looking to ride together and take back the streets, if for just a few hours, is now nonexistent. Bikers were afraid of being ticketed or arrested. While enforcement was needed, sometimes it seemed overzealous. There was bad blood, and tension still exists. Traffic school would bring cyclists and cops together, allowing them to communicate and interact in a less stressful and confrontational environment and help break down walls. The Citizen Police Academy is a great example of that. It helps residents learn more about what cops deal with every day and, at least for us, see them not just as officers, but as human beings as well.
Come on City Hall, let’s follow Huntington Beach’s lead and start a traffic school for bicyclists.