SM Planning Commission Hears Arguments for and Against Agensys Bike Path

Screen_shot_2010_08_31_at_10.14.01_PM.pngMap by Barbara Fillet showing proposed Agensys route in blue and alternatives in other colors.

A heated debate has broken out in Santa Monica casting cyclists and the City Council against a proposed research complex by Agensys, a biomedical engineering company.  According to Santa Monica's much ballyhooed Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) to their Master Plan the site should have a bike path running through the development.  According to Agensys, the proposed path is a safety hazard.  The two sides will face off at a Planning Commission meeting tonight at 7:00 P.M. in Santa Monica City Council Chambers, SM Civic Center on Main Street.

Cyclists, led by Santa Monica Spokes and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition leaders, are pointing to the opportunity to provide easy connectivity to a future bike route on Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College.  They argue the route would cost little, especially with a pedestrian path already planned, and would help the site fulfill the city's commitment to better cycling outlined in the LUCE. Those really interested in getting into the details of the site and proposals should read Barbara Fillet's detailed analysis at SM Spokes.

Cyclists have some powerful allies, including Council Member Kevin McKeon who basically takes the cyclists side in the debate in the Santa Monica Mirror:

“We are negotiating the first development agreement since the Council's unanimous adoption of a new Land Use and Circulation Element, which promised our residents increased bicycle access,” McKeown said in an email. “Sacrificing our encouragement of healthy active transportation so quickly would be an immediate mistake and a disappointing precedent.”

For it's part, Agensys is doing more for the community than just providing a good job base.  The company seems concerned about pedestrian access and has promised wider sidewalks, a cafe, and a walking path through the site.  In addition, they vowed to find ways to encourage employees to find ways to work besides the car, despite the two-story garage attached to the site.  With the Bergamont Station for the future Expo Line a stone's throw away, that shouldn't be too hard.

But their excuse for not adding a bike path to the pedestrian path already planned lies in concerns about safety and liability if they built a sub-par bicycle path.  Gary Kavanagh, one of the founders of SM Spokes and the writer of Gary Rides Bikes, is skeptical reporting a second-hand story that the city volunteered to accept the liability and Agensys still declined.  Kavanagh and I must be speaking to the same little birdies, because I've heard the same story.

While the cyclists have the support of several City Councilmen, Agensys has the support of angry columnist Bill Bauer at the Santa Monica Daily Press who slanders the cyclists, especially Fillet, for trying to tell Agensys what it can and can't do on private land.  That governments regularly tell people and businesses what they can do on land they lease from the city, completely ignoring how common it is for landlords to control the improvements made by their tenants.

One thing's for sure, nobody wants to see Agensys move, as Bauer claims they might but Agensys has not, so something has to be worked out.  Will Agensys really take on the City Council over a bike path?  Will the City Council hold a major employers feet to the fire over a bike path?  The answer to that question may not come tonight, but wait a couple of weeks until the full City Council debates the issue at their September 14th meeting.