Locking my bike to the steel chair on the Third Street Promenade just outside Old Navy (and intent on walking inside for the usual spending spree) I was halted by a city enforcer.
“Sir, the police will clip the lock off and charge you $300,” this “Ambassador of good will” instructed me, continuing, “We’ve been told to make sure bikes are only attached to the provided bike racks.”
Any man in a straw hat, snappy slogan stitched into his blue shirt breast, holding a clipboard, and using a clear wire device for back-to-base communication (at all times) is not to be trifled with.
So we looked around.
There are plenty of trees, seats or railings on the promenade, but only 25 inverted U-shaped bike racks or 50 parking spaces for bikes. They’re dotted down the three-block-long promenade, (i.e. nine racks or 18 spots in the Old Navy block) which is lined by hundreds of shops and to service the shops, surrounded by six major parking structures, some six stories high with signs galore to advertise them. On-street parking is available, too.
Something’s wrong with this picture, for bike rider and retailer alike, isn’t it?
Think of all those energetic cyclists, many young, virile and cashed up, casually booted off the promenade and by implication, told to drive. Think of all the empty nesters on cruisers scanning the streets for room to lock up their bikes. Think of anyone with a bike, at home, dissuaded from Santa Monica’s Downtown because there’s nowhere to park, or park safely. If I was a retailer I’d be ranting at City Hall.
In response, you will be told, there’s 1,600 spots coming in the new Santa Monica Place parking station. Good idea. Good for the mall. Great for the light rail when it comes.
And, yes, there are bike parking racks inside the current parking structures.
But the whole thing about the bike is that it’s flexible, a way of getting around town that shrinks distance and makes mobility an easy option for everyone. Bikes lock up where they need to go, and then move on. And what’s the point of just having bike parking at a distance and then walking? It’s all about having a mix of options.
Learning that the promenade was astonishingly starved of bike racks you might begin to think, and wonder where else Downtown needs bike parking but doesn’t have it? As it turns out, pretty much everywhere.
For example; the Lululemon shop that sells active gear — no racks. REI — no racks, although they sell lots of bikes. And bikes crowd their entry rails. Bike Performance — no racks.
Bay Cities Deli? You know, where they have a security guard directing parkers inside the lot, and a line of waiting traffic that disrupts Lincoln Boulevard, sometimes as far back as Interstate 10. Nothing. (The two trees outside are often surrounded by bikes to capacity.) Swingers? Anisette? Nothing.
In fact, you’re struggling to find bike racks in the downtown area. There’s complete imbalance between the demand, high and growing, and the supply, little or none.
Those Farmers’ Market throngs? Organic, slow food, good living, green type people? Sorry about your cycles.
The library? Two full racks night and day. But here City Hall has plans to take out some of their lightly used car parking to put in a corral of bike racks. (A corral is where a car spot is removed and a rack for 10 to 11 bikes installed). This could be an elegant solution for all over the city.
City Hall has already trialed an on-street corral; it’s outside the homeless shelter on Olympic Boulevard. Clearly the powers that be think the homeless use bikes. They do. It’s just so do the rest of us.
Smart cities around the U.S. now routinely use corrals (Portland, Tucson, Columbia, Missouri … wait, Missouri? Couldn’t we then?).
Another bike parking option is those 6,000 old style parking meters that clock up revenue relentlessly. Why not convert some to bike parking with an easy add of a little metal here and there?
When a recent parking study hit, the City Council agreed revenue from increased parking fees would be set aside (hypothetical) for alternate parking management.
Now while bikes aren’t alternate at all, the idea that an expansive, quick move to hugely more and different bike spots would benefit social and street life, develop the retail base of the city in new ways and allow residents better and more consistent access to Downtown. Still, given the 10,000 existing parking spots for cars, let’s pick a round number for our immediate new bike parking. Let’s say 1,000 spots.
Richard is a Santa Monica resident.