Bicycle riders in Santa Monica face the wrath of petulant, self-righteous automobile drivers everyday. I’ve received obscene gestures, been cut off, honked at, screamed at, and lectured to by passing drivers — all because they feel that I somehow intrude into their space. Bicyclists, to their minds, are a public nuisance.
If you think I exaggerate, get on a bike and ride up Wilshire Boulevard some weekday morning.
A few weeks ago, Olympic medalist Kristin Armstrong testified before the state of Idaho’s Senate Transportation Committee promoting “measures that would penalize drivers who harass bikers and require motorists leave at least 3 feet when driving past bicyclists.”
The legislation is opposed by several groups; including the logging industry. Apparently the regulations requiring vehicles to maintain the 3-foot distance is too onerous a regulatory burden for their massive trucks loaded with freshly cut trees to adhere too.
Interestingly, Idaho has a policy that states:
“Bicycling and walking are two forms of sustainable transportation. These two forms of transportation also help accumulate the minimum daily physical activity requirements recommended for adults and children. If used daily on the commute to work or school, they can help meet your daily physical activity needs.”
The Idaho Transportation Department recognizes the value of bicycling and walking and offers opportunities for funding support. The majority of bicycle/pedestrian projects on the state highway system are implemented in conjunction with designated highway improvement projects. Bicyclists and pedestrians are legitimate users of the state’s transportation system and all transportation jurisdictions should consider and accommodate their needs.
Idaho has a population of 1,545,000 people. Its population density is 15.64 per square mile.
Nine million live in the greater Los Angeles area, approximately 90,000 in Santa Monica. The population density here in Santa Monica is 5,794-per-square-mile. Yet tiny and sparsely populated Idaho has developed The Idaho Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. It establishes a statewide vision, goals and strategies for bicycle use in that state.
The California Department of Transportation’s policy is:
“The Bicycle Facilities Unit is responsible for the Caltrans bike program. Acting as the department’s bicycle advocate, the unit’s objective is to improve safety and convenience for bicyclists. The unit provides policy, funding, planning and technical expertise in bicycle transportation in consultation with federal, state, and local transportation agencies, Caltrans headquarters and district staff, legislative staff, and the public.”
It seems the tiny state to the north has a more considered policy toward cyclists than the trend-setting Golden State.
The city of Santa Monica isn’t much better. While the City Council developed and implemented the Sustainable City Plan some years ago, the plan, while beautifully touted on its Web site, is long on lists and recommendations and short on actual programs or policy.
For example, there is a “Greenest Vehicles of 2010” list on the Office of Sustainability and the Environment’s home page; but, beside the fact that the city government is tacitly promoting privately owned automobile companies, the list of green vehicles consist solely of automobiles. It leaves out the greenest of vehicles — bicycles.
Here’s the extent of what the Office of Sustainability and the Environment has to say about bicycles:
“Many of our environmental challenges are related to transportation. The transportation related decisions that we make as individuals have local and global environmental implications. Alternatives like riding public transportation, an electric skateboard, or bicycles to work or school reduces traffic, improves air and water quality and can save you money.”
The information on the Web site consists of a few bicycle route maps, the places to bring bicycles to be recycled, and a list of bicycle shops in Santa Monica.
There’s no program that protects and encourages bicyclists, no attempt to create public awareness, no attempt to curb the aggressive behavior of drivers, and no effort to try and develop a bike-friendly environment in this “sustainable” city.
Bicycle riding, while certainly not a panacea, accomplishes many of the goals “green” living advocates purport to hold dear, and in a compact city such as Santa Monica, it is a viable alternative to driving automobiles. It creates no pollutants, no noise, and little congestion. It increases the fitness and overall health of the rider, and by extension will lower healthcare costs in the long run. But most importantly, to my mind at least, bicycle riding is an attempt by the rider to actively contribute to a cleaner environment by choosing a low-impact mode of transportation and/or exercise. However small and unglamorous its affect on the overall eco-system, bicycle riding is an individual’s attempt to contribute to the solution of a global problem.
Such efforts, no matter how small, should be lauded.
Bicyclists do not deserve disdain, fits of road rage, and verbal assaults from motorists. Nor do they deserve to be ignored by the political class and the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
While the overall impact of bicyclists in the city may be a drop in the bucket, it is a drop in the right direction, and should be nurtured and encouraged.
A single drop in a placid lake causes ripples throughout the entire body of water. The ripples from improved policies and attitudes toward bicyclists in Santa Monica could be far-reaching and beneficial for the entire city, and be a positive drop in the global pond.
A.F. Cronin is a writer and an actor. He lives and rides his bike in Santa Monica.