An open letter to the League of American Bicyclists

(note that LAB is an abbreviation for League of American Bicyclists, not LA Brakeless, which is AWSUM!  Oh yeah, and BFC means Bike Friendly Community – you can read more about the BFC program here.)

Directors of the League of American Bicyclists,

The link below connects to a petition regarding the Bronze BFC Award conferred on Santa Monica this spring:

The petition, signed by 70 cyclists, requests that either you withdraw the award, or appoint a committee of local cyclists, including members of the bike writers collective, to reexamine and potentially revoke the award in 2010.  You can also read about the petition here:

I drafted this petition out of frustration with LAB’s decision to applaud a Santa Monica for bike friendliness, when in reality Santa Monica is not bike friendly.  That the city government then reaped the lion’s share of credit for this illusory achievement, when the hard work of Bikerowave was completely overlooked, intensified my frustration.

However, still frustrated, I realize that this is an opportunity for collaboration.  Since learning of this petition I was able to speak with one person who reviewed Santa Monica’s application for the BFC award.  I think that an expansion of this process to a inclusive public process would offer an opportunity for LAB to connect with local communities and local talent, while assisting bike activists’ (national and local) goals for velorution.

Expansion of local oversight might stretch LAB’s resources, and this might be a reason not to do so.  However, can LAB afford to lose credibility in Southern California by granting awards disconnected from the reality on the street?  I value the professionalism and vision of LAB, but LAB  dealt itself a serious blow by giving an honorable mention for BFC to Los Angeles last year.  That award is openly derided by those who are aware of it.

For me, this award exposed a flaw in the requirements for the BFC designations.  While Santa Monica satisfies the requirements of the Bronze designation, there are disqualifiers.  However, the BFC requirements do not register the disqualifiers.

Santa Monica has 19 miles of bike routes, but many of those bike routes are placed on some of the nastiest roads in the West LA Metro area.  Lincoln Blvd is a notorious road, and yet three miles of it count towards Santa Monica’s 19 miles of bike route.  Having ridden the 10 and 405 freeways, I can assure you that they are preferable.  In general, a sign denoting “bike route” in the LA Metro Area is most often a sign you should take another street.

Santa Monica has 16 miles of bike lanes, but nearly all of those miles of bike lane are directly in the door zone of oblivious motorists.  The beach bike path is not in the door zone but, as LA Times transit blogger Steve Lopez wrote the day before the award was issued, for utilitarian cycling the path is rendered useless by throngs of tourists walking, rollerblading, skateboarding, and segways.  The Main St bike lane is probably the world’s foremost producer of right hooks, crammed with streetside parking and motorists turning down side streets.  If you haven’t nearly died on Main St, you probably haven’t ridden it.

The award cites Santa Monica’s efforts to encourage, including a bike valet service and a Bike to Work Day.  However, it fails to note the efforts of the department of discouragement, also known as the Santa Monica Police Department.  Apart for its $3000 monthly outlays to police Critical Mass, which may please the VC community, SMPD has been specifically citing cyclists riding brakeless fixies, despite their compliance with California Vehicle Code.  SMPD is generally loved for their response to emergency calls, but they are nearly universally loathed for their handling of accidents between cyclists and cars, and have recently failed atrociously at dispatching with bike thieves when provided detailed and specific evidence.

Missing a positive, the award announcements, and likely the application, utterly fail to take into account the efforts of Bikerowave.  Bikerowave is West LA’s bike repair collective, and numbers 50 volunteers.  Until July of this year it was located on the eastern edge of Santa Monica, and was the single largest reason people keep biking in Santa Monica.  No mention was made of it in BFC award announcement.  In July we moved to Mar Vista in Los Angeles.  Rent and location were the primary considerations, but underlying that was a sense of frustration with Santa Monica.

The worst oversight: motorist behavior.  Regardless of the laudable efforts of the Planning Department, the SoCal motorist is more bike unfriendly than broken glass.  I grew up in southeast Michigan, and was shocked when I moved to Los Angeles and found that car culture is stronger here than in the Detroit area.  In comparison to other major cities, I’ve found Metro LA motorists to be far less attentive, and when they are paying attention, murderously entitled.

I think that the work that of the SM Planning Department is great.  However, it’s the “Bike Friendly Community” award, and it should be based on bike friendliness.  The SM Planning surely deserves an award for effort but concerning success – the conditions here are worse.  Metro LA is built out, Santa Monica is more congested every minute, and parking is sacred.  Giving an award based more on their efforts than on street conditions has jeopardized our ability to say “more must be done.”  Therefore, from one activist to another, I ask you, give us our teeth back so that our valid criticisms will stick.  Follow the petition recommendations.

Thank you,

Alex Thompson, PhD
Co-founder, Treasurer, Bikerowave
Co-author, Cyclist’s Bill of Rights

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

14 thoughts on “An open letter to the League of American Bicyclists

  1. “Bikerowave is West LA’s bike repair collective, and numbers 50 volunteers. Until July of this year it was located on the eastern edge of Santa Monica, and was the single largest reason people keep biking in Santa Monica.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Bikerowave, but that last statement just boggles the mind.

  2. Evan,

    Name a larger reason then. FACT: in Q2 of 2009 Bikerowave did 234 hours of stand time each month, or 7.8 hours each DAY. The alternative for people using this service is to wait one week for their bike to get fixed at the shop charging $40 an hour of labor – $9360 worth of labor saved in Q2 alone, not to mention the educational value. Is there another entity doing that much work exclusively for bikes on a daily basis? Is there another entity doing direct outreach on such a scale in West LA/Santa Monica? Only the Bike Kitchen does a greater quantity of direct outreach.

    Bikerowave pitches a 50 volunteer wide shadow of bike evangelism in the West LA area. Add to the volunteers the customers and former volunteers, and you have the largest network of bike activists in West LA/Santa Monica.

  3. alex,

    please read this with all respect intended:

    what do you hope to achieve by revoking the bronze award… which means little in terms of the impact on daily bicyclists like you and me? bronze or no bronze, conditions are still the same.

    is it to serve as a wakeup call to the city of santa monica? cause if so, I get that. is your point, that SM can rest on its laurels with a bronze notch on their belt?

    i just want to make the connection.

    you’ve obviously done an incredible amount of work for bicycling in los angeles and I get that – I just wonder how this improves “the cause.”

  4. Pulsipher!

    This specific intent is to restore our ability to make criticisms of Santa Monica’s degree of bike friendliness and insist that the BFC awards have meaning. My original post on the topic (which I failed to link to – my bad), explains that motivation:

    Followup post:

    When the award was given the city trumpeted it like it was confirmation that they’d made the city a bike paradise. Local criticism is now rendered ineffective by the presence of the award.

  5. The secondary intent is to warn LAB off from giving Los Angeles an award. The last thing we need right now in LA is a bronze award so that LADOT has more reasons to do nothing.

  6. yeah dr. T – i got you on my google reader, i’m always watchin’!

    ok ok ok… so your take is:

    THEM = SM = BRONZE = Shut up you pesky bicyclists we have a bronze we are friendly get over it = end of public discussion

    You = SM = Proven record of bicycle unfriendly policy = revoke status = impetus for real dialog

    Local criticism is now rendered ineffective by the presence of the award.

    i think your argument would have real teeth if you could cite examples where your voice as an advocate was muted by bronze trumpets.

  7. Ha ha – it very well might have more teeth in that case. But, I’m totally uninterested in waiting to find out that our criticisms are unheard, before attacking.

    Here’s another way to look at it – territory. LAB is used to being the only game in town. Ten years ago they were rockin it at the federal level just as they are now. But back here, there was very little in the way of a local movement – what we have now dwarfs what existed then. LAB could fairly participate in Santa Monica bike advocacy and not feel that they were stepping on toes.

    Now the situation is reversed. We have an active and engaged local movement. We, the locals, know what’s going on politically far better than LAB, and we, as always, know best what the conditions are like. The only place where LAB exceeds us is in understanding how we might compare to other regions. But since they clearly got the wrong idea about bike friendliness in SM, we can’t really be certain of that.

    So, now it LAB’s obligation to coordinate, and at some level, defer, to the local movement. After all, it is our asses out there on the street, on the line. I realize that LAB may not have registered the fact that the local movement is active and engaged now, but regardless, this is our project now.

    I’m told by LAB insiders that there’s a history of LAB giving these awards in other places and receiving similar criticism, so the SM Bronze award is part of a pattern. So is the backlash. I’d like for them to work with us, rather than “for” us, so we can take steps toward coordinating local and national efforts . . . but who knows.

  8. amen, brudda. that the LAB dont already have a community based advisory committe is LUNACY! Always at the top they be discreditin anyone who dont take babylon’s paycheck. Magnificent thought to be immediately collaboratin constructively wit da LAB and great use of da word velolucion!

  9. “Name a larger reason then…Is there another entity doing that much work exclusively for bikes on a daily basis? Is there another entity doing direct outreach on such a scale in West LA/Santa Monica?”

    I don’t think those impressive accomplishments are “the single largest reason people keep biking in Santa Monica”. I can’t name a larger reason because I think it’s somewhat impossible to break down the reasons that people ride a bike. The statement just seemed self-serving and implausible when, as you point out, there are plenty of accomplishments that can be identified without making sweeping claims.

    I fully agree with you for the need for local input whenever these citations are awarded.

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