Santa Monica is bike friendly? How the League of American Bicyclists undermines local cyclists

By Alex Thompson

Santa is ticketed on December 2007 Santa Monica Critical Mass

(Santa Claus is ticketed on Santa Monica Critical Mass by Santa Monica Police Department.  The ticket was later dismissed.  Photo by Gary Se7en.)

Last week the League of American Bicyclists, the oldest bicycle advocacy organization in the United States, gave Santa Monica a Bronze award for being a bicycle friendly community.  Despite the fact that Santa Monica doesn’t have a single satisfactory north/south route.  Despite the fact that Santa Monica spent tens of thousands of dollars last year to police Critical Mass, issuing tickets that have mostly been defeated when challenged in courts.  Despite the fact that most bike lanes in Santa Monica border on useless because it is located adjacent to parking, in the door zone.  Santa Monica doesn’t deserve this award, as Gary Kavanagh, Stephen Box, and Ted Rogers have already argued.

From a smattering of press releases disguised as articles from mainstream media (good night LA Times, you are dead to me), we learn that among the reasons for the award are the city’s bike valet program, the beach bike path, and the Land Use and Circulation Element master plan process.  The beach bike path is useless for anything other than recreation, and dangerous for even that, as Steve Lopez wrote on the day the award was given.  The bike valet program is great but it serves only a few hundred residents on a few days, in a city with a daytime population of 300,000.  And the Land Use and Circulation Element is a PLAN.  A plan which is not even through the environmental review process, and certainly does not have a funding commitment from the SM City Council.

In 1912 Martin Klein and Alfred Asikainen wrestled for 11 hours and  40 minutes in the 1st of 3 matches to determine the winners of the gold, silver and bronze medals in that Olympics.  Ultimately these two titans earned the silver and the bronze.  How can you issue a bronze award – which brings to mind these Olympian efforts – on the basis of dangerous infrastructure, a quality but small valet program (which compensates for a derth of bike parking), and a PLAN?  The answer is two fold.

Firstly, the League of American Bicyclists does NOT consult with local cycling activists in considering the award.  In essence, city staff will fill out an application for the award, stating the reasons their employer (the city) should be considered for an award.  Then the League does some basic fact checking, and decide whether to issue the city an award, and what award.  However, since they don’t reach out to their allies in bike activism, they fail to discover things like the beach bike path is dangerous and chaotic, zig zags around uselessly (for commuting purposes), and is covered with sand.  These are things that Google Maps knows, but not the League.  I have not yet met a cyclist in Santa Monica who the League approached before giving the award, and the League apparently completely overlooked the existence of Bikerowave, making no effort to contact them.

Secondly, the standards for a bronze award are weak.  This is not the kind of award an Olympian wins after 11 hours of sweaty, naked wrestling.  This is the bronze medal that everyone got in kindergarten for their finger painting of the cat with a blue hat.  LAB documents state that bronze communities:

. . . exhibit a strong commitment to cycling that is still in its beginning stages.  There is certainly “room to grow” but notable steps are being made in the right direction.

For example, in the “education” department, if a community hosts a Bike-To-Work day, this earns significant points toward a bronze award. Further, since points are cumulative, bicycle unfriendly acts such as issuing hundreds of tickets to cyclist in Critical Mass on dubious grounds, or blanket ticketing of fixed gear riders on Main Street for not having a hand brake, do not detract from the application.  Cities can only earn points toward an award, not have points deducted.

The problem is, the mainstream media giants will trumpet such awards as if they are an Olympic accomplishment.  They’re unlikely to look deeper, and city officials are happy to indulge their ignorance.  The LA Times, in a brief blurb, wrote that Santa Monica “boasts nearly 16 miles of bike lanes, 19 miles of bike routes and a 3-mile-long beach bike path, according to a release from the city”, uncritically pulling material directly from a press release.  Only Kevin Herrara of the Santa Monica Daily Press, did the extra footwork to actually go beyond the press release.

The ultimate result is a city inoculated against criticism.  Next time cyclists complain stridently of the trials of riding bikes in Santa Monica, officials and staff will point to the award and remark that our own people disagree with us.  Nevermind that the League’s offices are located 3000 miles away in DC, their award will be used to resist outside pressure for change.  Effectively, the League has just drastically increased the difficulty of getting the city to respond to cyclists.  In essence, it has undermined the work of locals to force the city to change.

What the League of American Bicyclists needs to ask itself is “is this program, as it is now, of long term strategic benefit to us?”  By giving this award to Santa Monica they expand the scope of their program, and create another relationship they can use to drive change.  But they have also angered a generation of cyclists in Los Angeles County that know better.  Notable among them are Stephen Box, Gary Kavanagh, and Ted Rogers.  That’s three angry, active, and vocal activists with long memories.  I’ll make it four.

I’ll leave you with this, a quote from the city’s press release about the award:

The application process to become a Bicycle Friendly Community is rigorous; currently only 108 of the 274 applicants have a BFC four-year designation.  All applications are carefully evaluated by a team of local cyclists, national experts, and League of American Bicyclists staff.  Santa Monica’s achievement in receiving this difficult to earn designation was made possible by a broad base of bicycle support and advocacy within the community.  Many dozens of community leaders, current and former city government officials, school groups, families, and businesses give their tireless support to community bicycle initiatives. It is this pervasive support of cycling, and Santa Monica’s desire to continuously improve conditions, that encourages our community to seek new ways of working together for future achievements in bicycle friendliness.

Bullshit.

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7 Responses to “Santa Monica is bike friendly? How the League of American Bicyclists undermines local cyclists”

  1. First, just some corrections: “And the Land Use and Circulation Element is a PLAN. A plan which is not even through the environmental review process” might be better served with a hyphen “a PLAN – a plan which is….” ‘from the city”, uncritically’ should be ‘from the city,” uncritically.’ And “quote” is a verb, not a noun (quotation), though its widespread misuse has perverted the language (A little tongue in cheek here).

    Secondly, the beach bike path is a nightmare. And when you do attempt to educate the pedestrians standing idly in the traffic right on the NO PEDESTRIANS sign, they tell you to “Fuck off.” Cute. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the city’s inane “infrastructure.”

    Thirdly, Santa Monica should not be content with their undeserved bronze! Why not strive for gold-plated brass!

  2. Too often in Santa Monica the bike lane becomes the valet parking lane, the catering for film shoot parking lane, the parking police vehicle parking lane, the limo temp stop lane, the “put-the-orange-cone-here” lane, the construction vehicle lane, the keep-your-Range-Rover-door-open-while-you-search-for-crap-on-the-floor-of-your-car lane.

    Also, the issue of bike theft is becoming flagrant. Is SMPD too soft when it comes to bike thieves, are westsiders not educated in properly locking up their bikes, or a bit of both? Either way, if my vehicle is not secure, that affects my productivity as a citizen, and I honestly do not feel comfortable leaving my bike locked outdoors in my own neighborhood. Wtf?

  3. I totally disagree , Santa Monica unlike many other certified bike friendly cities is in LA , the nations second biggest city , with a crazy car culture. Change is happening, voters approved measure R, light rails are going up , bike ways are being built (just called in to LA congresswomen on this and it passed at the city council meeting last week) Santa Monica provides free bike maps at the Public Libraries. A bike station is being built near downtown coming soon. The Government is very open to progress, i have been to city hall numerous times and spoken to city planners/transportation. I wrote the Library a letter saying the bike maps should be on public display( they used to be up stairs behind the reference desk way out of site) they responded with positive feedback and next week the maps were out front. I do like love your web site here, i just want to point out my experience in Santa Monica , being that i grew up here , went to Highschool here and have cycled in the City for years. The Cops do need to tone it down big time , i have been ticketed way to many times while cycling , that is a big problem , and needs addressing. The beach path is usually crazy bc of the sheer amount of people living/visiting LA , I would Love to see it Lit up with Solar Lights for night time transportation and safety. Hope is A Verb. I am on totally with you on cycling and promoting the cause bro , i just feel we need to appreciate the effort made and keep pushing for change. We elect our officials , if we have idea’s , voice them. But let’s keep them on our side , let’s work together with them. Keep up the good work brothers and sisters!

  4. check out these websites , they are pretty informative.
    sustainlane.com search 2008 sustainability rankings
    http://www.walkscore.com type in your address
    http://www.bicyclefriendlycommunities.org

  5. i personally sent them some hatemail over this. for anyone else interested the League of “American” Cyclists is: bikeleague@bikeleague.org

    Feel free to quote me:
    Dear supposed “League of American Cicyclists”:

    I read on the Los Angeles METblogs that you gave the city of santa monica the “Bike Friendly Award”. I never write letters like this but i was so upset i had to send you something.

    I have personally seen HUNDREDS of cyclists get ticketed in santa monica. The police have NOTHING to do there. They harass everyone in the city. If you are part of a group they will follow you around for HOURS. Check out the santa monica critical mass and see the thousands of complaints against santa monica. i have personally ridden through there hundreds of times by myself and had to be very cautious. They require you to come to a complete stop at stop signs and traffic lights and put your foot down before you can take off. Maybe the supposed “League of American Cyclists” has never ridden clipless and doesn’t understand this. The neighboring culver city is 1000x more friendly to cyclists. Anywhere with regular LAPD is VERY NICE. SMPD (Santa Monica PD) is the bane of my existence.

    Shame on you and your sham of an organization. I hope i never come across a member of your organization in the street, because i would push him off his bike at how ashamed i am that he is even riding.

    Also note this comment that i thought was very fitting over at WestSideBikeSide:
    “The ultimate result is a city inoculated against criticism. Next time cyclists complain stridently of the trials of riding bikes in Santa Monica, officials and staff will point to the award and remark that our own people disagree with us. Nevermind that the League’s offices are located 3000 miles away in DC, their award will be used to resist outside pressure for change. Effectively, the League has just drastically increased the difficulty of getting the city to respond to cyclists. In essence, it has undermined the work of locals to force the city to change.”

    I suppose you could take back the award, but somehow i doubt you will.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Santa Monica Wins Bike Friendly Award. Local Cyclists Call Bullshit. | Los Angeles Metblogs - June 4th, 2009

    […] and knew that the award was bullshit? Unfortunately, that’s what just happened. Alex over at WestSideBikeSide has more details: The ultimate result is a city inoculated against criticism. Next time cyclists complain stridently […]

  2. Local LA Blogger Cyclists in Uproar Over Award « Mikey Wally - June 4th, 2009

    […] takes more than just infrastructure and good intentions to truly be bicycle friendly.”  Westside BikeSIDE sez, “Next time cyclists complain stridently of the trials of riding bikes in Santa Monica, […]

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