Santa Monica Transportation Workshop: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
I dragged myself out of bed Saturday morning to attend the Transportation Workshop in Santa Monica. The workshop is part of a series gathering community input on Santa Monica’s plans to update their Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE). Bicycles are a part of that element, so I’ve attended to see where the element is headed. So far Santa Monica planners, unlike their counterparts in LA, appear to have their heart in the right place. Still, it’s not all sunshine, so let’s review:
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
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The car is way way over used in Metro LA, as any cyclist knows. Santa Monica planners are getting that, and their consultant’s at Nelson\Nygaard definitely get it. Their goal for Santa Monica is “no net new auto trips”. It’s a good goal, and they recognize the importance that biking plays in achieving that goal. One of their criteria for success is “percentage of people who choose to walk, car pool, ride transit and bicycle increases.” Right on!
At each workshop suggested bike improvements were outlined for cyclists’ inspection. At this workshop cyclists found a list of suggested improvements for cyclists, which I’m going to call commitments, because I plan to make sure these things happen. Here are the best commitments:
- Provide complete bicycle network of lanes, paths, and bicycle boulevards: AWZUM! Bike boulevards! I’m ecstatic. What else? Notice the absence of that evil term “bike route”? Great. Bike routes are such poison evil death. I’m glad someone gets that, even if they haven’t quite figured it out at LA DOT yet.
- Use Safe Routes to School programs to engage youth: “Get em young” as they say in my brainwashing classes. Getting kids on bikes now means they’re less likely to drive later.
- Provide Valet Service at Events: Hundreds of cyclists had their bikes valet parked at the Twilight Dance concerts on the SM Pier last summer. If there wasn’t valet bike parking there would have been no place to lock up for miles, and a lot more drunk driving. This is a easy way to facilitate people cycling more.
What else is good about the workshops? PROCESS. Multiple workshops, widely spaced over more than a year provide citizens a real chance to provide input. Focus groups and open ended questions help as well.
In SoCal the arch nemesis of cyclists is parking. Whether because a card door corner cracks your chest open, or because an oblivious motorist hits you when pulling into a parking space, or because parking wastes valuable roadspace, parking is bad news for cyclists. Consider all the space which could be used for bike lanes which instead goes to the obligatory street parking. A whole board Saturday was devoted to bikes, but parking had a whole board too. Here’s two horrible suggestions:
- Increase on street parking by converting parallel parking to angled parking: The last thing we need is more street parking. If Santa Monica’s goal is “no net new auto trips” then why create more parking? FAIL. Furthermore, as bad as parallel parking is, angled parking is worse. Go ride Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills for an example. Try not to die. Angled parking destroys sight lines so that you can’t see motorists, and motorists can’t see you, so they pull out and hit you.
- Parking fees are used to pay for constructing more parking: There’s a solar power concept called the breeder factory. A breeder factory uses the power of solar cells to manufacture more solar cells, as if the cells are breeding. Do we really want parking to breed? As an abuse of public space we should be asking that parking fees pay for positive improvements.
Directly related to cycling, there were many good suggestions for cycling improvements. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear delineation of priorities for these improvements. How often has a city balked at stated plans for bike lanes, and weakly supplied a few forlorn bike racks instead? Disappointingly, the term “bike route” did work it’s way into a suggestion to “provide signage and markings along Bike Routes. “Cyclists have the right to be actively engaged as a constituent group“, so the city needs to consult with cyclists to fix hard priorities for suggested cycling improvements. This will ensure the city doesn’t shy away from politically difficult improvements.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know “The Ugly” character isn’t innately evil, he just suffers from misaligned priorities and inattention. My hunch is the workshop series website suffers the same malaise, and as a result it’s ugly. More importantly, it’s dysfunctional.
The purpose of the workshops is to engage the community in the planning process, and the workshops are executed brilliantly to achieve that goal. However, between workshops how is the public engaged? They’re not engaged, and it is then that the process falls flat. A creative website design could sustain engagement with a forum for public input and criticism.
However, their site doesn’t even reliably post the dates for the workshops. It doesn’t provide the materials from the latest workshops, or the draft materials for upcoming workshops. Planning document, staff reports, and monthly newsletter sections haven’t been updated in months. Consequently, it’s difficult to critique the recommendations, which is why I had to photograph all the posters. Embarrassing for us all, because my photos suck!
Is it any wonder that their website averaged only 18 hits per day in February? I’m a punk blogger with no resources and I had three times as much traffic. One can cheaply implement a WordPress based website that is more presentable than the current site, more interactive, and allows city staff to update it without the assistance of a webmaster.
Santa Monica Planners: Clearly you recognize the benefit of an open and engaging process. Have the courage of your convictions and engage the public between events with a better website which reliably provides documentation. A more engaged public will be more critical, true. They’re also more likely to lend political support to ambitious projects, and they’re more likely to appreciate your expertise.
A functional website is a key element of your outreach. Fix it up!
Photos from the workshop: