Bicyclist on Ocean Avenue Thursday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — There’s an undeniable new focus at City Hall on making Santa Monica more bike friendly. Now, cycling activists want to see some results.

As leaders prepare to host the first of several public meetings to come up with a “Bike Action Plan” on Dec. 13, officials point to a series of recent moves that show a commitment to working with cyclists.

First, the Parks and Recreation Commission set up a subcommittee on bikes to gather ideas and lobby for infrastructure improvements. On Wednesday night, the Planning Commission followed suit by moving to establish a cycling subcommittee of its own. Later this month, an interdepartmental working group of city staff members that aims to address bike improvements is set to begin meeting.

And, as of Wednesday, City Hall for the first time has a staff member who will serve as the point person for the city’s bicycle planning efforts in Transportation Planning Manager Lucy Dyke.

“We are putting a very focused emphasis on bicycles,” said Ellen Gelbard, assistant director of planning and community development. “It’s clear that there’s very intense interest on moving to a new level for our bike network and facilities in Santa Monica.”

Even activists who have been critical of City Hall’s commitment to cycling have acknowledged the shift.

“What you’re seeing is at leadership level, across the board, people starting to buy into the bike action plan,” said Richard McKinnon, a member of the Parks and Recreation bicycle subcommittee. “We’ve sort of turned a corner in that sense.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s no skepticism.

“I think the great unknown is how to fund this,” McKinnon said. “Unless more money goes into it, this push is not going to work properly.”

It’s Gelbard’s hope that the new action plan, scheduled to be completed and adopted by the City Council before summer, will open up new funding possibilities.

Having an updated plan for cycling improvements, she said, will make Santa Monica eligible for Caltrans grants it currently can’t access. There’s also, she said, a bigger pool of money available through the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for bicycle infrastructure projects that could provide a boost.

As the planning effort gets underway, Planning Commission Chair Jim Ries said he’s mindful that past efforts to draw up plans for bike improvements have come up short in the results column. A bicycle master plan completed in 1995, he said, brought no tangible improvements.

But this time around, he said, there’s evidence bicycle activists are more highly organized and there’s more widespread interest in the cause.

In a move aimed at getting the best ideas into Santa Monica’s bike plan, Ries said he expects Charlie Gandy, Long Beach’s mobility planner who is credited with helping that city become a model for cycling improvements, to address the Planning Commission in January.

“It’s really taking the current thinking about what we need here and making it into an action plan,” Gelbard said of the planning effort.


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