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