For more than 40 years, Kurt Schwengel has lived on Ocean Front Walk and taken advantage of the bike path that runs along the beach.
He’s not the only one.
Locals take it from Santa Monica down to Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach for weekend outings. Residents of Pacific Palisades and Venice use the path to get to Santa Monica Pier and other destinations in the city. For thousands of Southern Californians and tourists from around the world, it’s an avenue for exercise and enjoyment.
But Schwengel has seen uses of the bike path change since its inception as a project to foster leisure activity along the Pacific Ocean coastline.
Schwengel is a member of Santa Monica’s Recreation and Parks Commission, which advises City Council and city staff on issues related to recreation and the use of public space.
He is calling for an explicit ban on motorized vehicles on the bike path, and he would like the City to consider allowing pedicabs to operate along Santa Monica’s section of the 22-mile path that runs from Pacific Palisades to Torrance.
Municipal code stipulates that only “unicycles, bicycles, bicycles with training wheels, wheelchairs, and single-person tricycles” are allowed on the beach bike path, but Schwengel said he regularly sees people riding Segways, hoverboards, motorized scooters and electric bikes that he believes make the path unsafe.
City code also prohibits pedicab operations on Santa Monica’s portion of the bike path.
“It has evolved into something different,” he said. “As someone with decades of experience observing the bike path, I can tell you the number-one danger is speed. … You have never seen anything more dangerous than a child on a Segway using a selfie stick at 13 miles per hour.”
‘A fuzzy area’
Regulation of Santa Monica’s 8.5-mile portion of the beach bike path is a tangled endeavor because it’s a county entity that the City of Santa Monica has agreed to monitor.
“Everyone has something to do with it, but no one has complete control of it,” Planning Commission member Richard McKinnon said. “There’s no one overlord. It all comes back to this congestion factor. This bike path is so popular, and not just for those who live here. … It’s a key part of Santa Monica. It’s an exciting and wonderful part that everybody loves, not just in an abstract way. This brings a huge pressure on it. It’s hard to resolve. It’s a fuzzy area, and no one has real control. There’s no clear path. There are so many different thoughts about how you should travel along it.”
Officials agree that the potential hazards along the path are numerous. There are people on foot traveling slowly as cyclists, inline skaters and law-skirting Segway riders zip past in both directions at varying speeds. There are also beachgoers who don’t always pay attention to oncoming traffic as they cross.
“A lot of people just don’t know the rules,” McKinnon said. “Who gets to enforce them? Who’s allowed to ride, and under what circumstances? You wonder why the United Nations never does a peacekeeping role. Everyone’s got a finger in the pie.”
Local pedicab riders feel left out of the equation.
A 2013 city ordinance banning pedicabs on the beach path notes that the path “is particularly unsuitable for pedicab operations” because one pedicab could impede oncoming traffic.
John Berry, owner of Awesome Pedicab, said size shouldn’t be a problem. Each of his vehicles is 49.5 inches across at its widest point, he said, and the bike path is always 78-plus inches wide.
The ordinance also notes that pedicab operations could “cause unnecessary consumer confusion regarding fares,” but Berry contends that his company’s rates are clearly posted.
“Just banning us seems draconian,” said Berry, adding that he often picks up passengers where the path intersects with the boardwalk near the Casa Del Mar hotel. “If the rate scales are too confusing, let’s fix that problem. Don’t make it so we can’t make a living.”
Berry said his business relies on opportunity sales and that his inability to ride on the beach path limits his access to potential customers.
“It’s sad that we haven’t been embraced,” he said, noting the eco-friendly nature of his company. “Everyone’s saying, ‘Go green,’ but meanwhile we’re being kept down.”
Schwengel said the City could allow pedicabs while limiting the size of the vehicles and the number of issued permits.
McKinnon said he’d rather focus on improving the connections between the beach bike path and the rest of Santa Monica, which he believes might alleviate congestion on a bike path that garners ample attention.
“It’s a source of contention, but it’s a good source of contention because it shows that a lot of people want to use it,” he said. “It’s a loved-to-death feature of Santa Monica. People come to town with bikes on their cars so they can use the beach bike path. It’s fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to be down there?”