A few years ago, I was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention when I witnessed a revolution taking place. Not the political revolution that the rest of America heard about; no, this was a bicycle revolution. All around me, professional, working citizens of Denver and visitors who had come for the convention were taking part in Denver’s recently launched bike share program.
Dressed in suits and business attire, these people were choosing to hop on a rented bike instead of a car in order to get to their meetings or to lunch, and then dropping the bike off once they reached their location. The program was easy to use and easy to understand, and succeeded in getting people out of their cars and into the community.
With our perfect weather, flat terrain, and thriving tourism industry, the time has come for Santa Monica to join the revolution and launch a bike share program.
Like the well-known Zipcar program, a bike share provides short-term bike rental through an automated system, such as a computerized kiosk. Bike sharing systems contain a large fleet distributed at high and medium density areas, yet unlike car sharing it allows one-way trips. Many require users to first become members, which allows participants to more easily check out a bike from a docking station.
Bike share programs make bicycles available for people who do not own a bicycle or may only want to use one for a short part of their day. It’s ideal for urban settings, where commuters, tourists and shoppers can make short trips without sitting in traffic, contributing to climate change or having to find a parking space.
Bike sharing isn’t new; in fact it’s been a popular mode of transportation for years in Europe. Many international tourists who come to visit the city will already be familiar with how the program works, and would have little hesitation about touring the city on bike rather than in a car.
But let’s break it down for our city: what exactly could a bike share program do for Santa Monica? Santa Monica has a population of 86,294. If just 10 percent of Santa Monica residents rode a bike instead of a car for just 30 minutes, it would reduce traffic by 8,629 cars. It would prevent 124 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and would save 12,814 gallons of gas. If 10 percent of residents used a bike for 30 minutes, they would save $189,881 that could be used on other things. Imagine the possibilities then if these same people rode a bike not just once for 30 minutes, but for 30 minutes once a week, or for 30 minutes five days a week. It could fundamentally change the city and the way people interact within the city. And these numbers don’t account for the thousands of tourists who come to Santa Monica on the weekends or those who work in the city but live elsewhere.
Despite Southern California’s generally progressive environmental goals, we are not known as leaders when it comes to alternative forms of transportation. We are, after all, home to Los Angeles, the city that has glamorized the car culture; we are as well known for our traffic as we are for our landmark environmental victories. But slowly, things are starting to change. Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa made headlines when he approved a plan to create over 1,600 miles of bikeways throughout the city, and the two most recent CicLAvia’s have had overwhelming success. If the city of Los Angeles can make these changes, the city of Santa Monica should be able to as well.
My DNC realization took place three years ago, and since then, California communities ranging from Fresno to Irvine to San Diego to Davis have adopted bike share programs (most often through their city or local university). These cities are still behind places such as Des Moines, Iowa, New York, Hawaii, and Minneapolis, which are launching full city-wide programs. Santa Monica, which usually sets the bar for innovative, environmental action, is now behind in terms of bicycling.
On May 16, Santa Monica will be revealing the first draft of its bicycle action plan, a comprehensive vision for how the city should prioritize and plan for bicycle transportation over the next few years. Early versions of the plan indicate that it will include necessary goals such as more bike lanes, interconnected bike lanes and increased safety for bicycle lanes. The plan will also recommend a bike share program. It’s a great start, but until the Santa Monica community starts taking an interest, the bike share component will probably remain on the back burner.
Local businesses, students, and residents should let the city know that we’re ready to make biking a serious priority, and that a bike share program is a visible, fun component of that broader vision. Until then, we will continue to lag behind cities like Fresno. Santa Monica, we can do better.
Mary Luevano is the policy and legislative director for Global Green USA, which is based in Santa Monica. Learn more at www.globalgreen.org.