Unintended Consequences: Culver City Bike Plan Meetings Lead to Formation of Culver City Bicycle Coalition

The Culver City Bike Coalition rides the Ballona Creek Trail as part of the July 2011 Family Ride. Photo: ccbike.orgCulver City Bike Coalition

(This is the second of a three-part series on Culver City’s Policies for Livable Active Communities and Environment grant. “First Steps” ran yesterday, and a review of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Initiative will run on Friday.)

As part of their PLACE Grant, Culver City had to hold a series of public workshops to bring the public in to their transportation planning.  The goal was to produce a popular Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative, but in Culver City the process also produced a new group of bicycle activists.

In June of 2010, the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Culver City Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative met for the fifth and final time.  After a year and a quarter of public meetings, the committee was at the end of a long journey which saw the committee shrink from twenty people at the April 2009 hearing that kicked off the hearing process to just 10 at the last couple of meetings.

But some members of the committee weren’t willing to pack it in.  Rather than getting run down by the long process to create a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan for the city, this group was just getting started.

“One of the things we were talking about during the meetings was ‘what are we going to do when the meetings are over.  How can we make sure this plan actually happens,’” remembers Meghan Sahli-Wells, a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) Member and Vice-Chair.

Wells is a long-time bike commuter who is passing the love on to her children. Photo: MeghanSahliWells.com

As the process moved forward, a secondary conversation was occuring between some members of the committee and other interested cyclists discussing how to move the ball forward.

“Many of us were hanging out after one of the meetings and we wondered why Culver City didn’t have a group like the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition,” comments Jim Shanman, a founding member of the Culver City Bicycle Coaltion, but not a member of the CAC.

Fortunately, help was close at hand.  Dorothy Le, then the Planning and Program Coordinator for the LACBC, regularly attended bike plan meetings around the County, including those in Culver City.  ”They approached me, and I just said ‘go for it.’”

By the time the June 2010 meeting had rolled around, a core group of four people, Shanman, Sahli-Wells, Darren Kessner and Howard Cohen, were ready to bring the Coalition into being.  They met for the first time less than a year ago, in September of 2010, and haven’t looked back.

What the primary goal of the Coalition is varies depends who you talk to.  Dino Parks, another of the founding members, comments that it is to “Advocate for the implementation of the Bike Plan.”  Shanman isn’t as concerned about the Master Plan as much as he is “seeing consistent progress on behalf of cyclists.”

An important aspect of the CCBC’s efforts is direct lobbying.  Whether it be with Council Members, staff, the city manager or city staff, they’ve reached out both to support the plan and other progressive transportation projects such as the city’s Safe Routes to School’s initiative.

And then there’s the bike rides.  Every month the CCBC programs a Sunday morning family ride highlighting a bike route, official or otherwise, somewhere in the city.  Their most recent ride rode on the Ballona Creek Bike Path and on local streets past a middle school before ending at an outdoor theater for a children’s play.  The routes are designed to both provide safe, fun, family rides and provide visibility to bring more people in to the rides.
Last, the group programs a series of bike valets, basically providing free and safe bike parking at major events.  In May they valeted the Car Show, but have also valeted the June Culver City Art Walk and the Ear Real Festival during Carmageddon Weekend.  Up next, Festa La Ballona on the weekend of August 27th.

But it’s still the advocacy for a better Culver City that drives the group.

“More and more people are riding their bikes,” starts Shanman.  ”The city is finally starting to make progress in creating facilities for them, and we want to make sure that we don’t have gaps in that progress.  We want things to keep progressing.”

The Culver City Bike Coalition is the third “local affiliate” of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, which previously formed chapters in Santa Monica and South Bay.  For more information on the CCBC, including information on their next family ride or meeting, visit their website by clicking here.

Damien Newton wrote this story while participating in The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.