New public parking rates went into effect this past week in Santa Monica, and despite hemming, hawing, and many letters to the editor leading up to this moment, the world did not end. Parking rates went up at most parking garages and street meters in the downtown core. However, some parking rates at frequently underutilized garages, like the underground lot at the Santa Monica main branch library downtown and the Civic Center Structure, were dropped. Of course the headlines leading up to parking-rate-mageddon trumpeted the rate increases and buried the decreases to brief glossed over mentions later in the articles.
Santa Monica is slowly and cautiously nudging toward more market rate based parking prices, although not quite on as an elaborate scale as San Francisco. Apocalyptic visions aside, these were modest and sensible changes reflective of our previously undervaluing parking and not some effort to simply gouge people. The rate increases are where demand is maxing out capacity, and decreases at lots that routinely have hundreds of empty spaces even on busy days will encourage better utilization of existing resources.
Using the parking we have more efficiently should take precedence over spending millions of tax dollars on visions of expensive new construction. Especially when big changes like the Expo Line, future bikeway development, and bus lane proposals are around the corner, that all have the potential to shift the way many people get to Santa Monica. Not to mention volatile gasoline price spikes, as we are experiencing now, and a trending upward trajectory. (For more parking rate info, including real time garage data, check out Santa Monica’s parking site).
Last Tuesday also marked the first time the Santa Monica city council had discussed pedicab operation within Santa Monica since 1998. Although I don’t recall pedicab operation as a specific goal in the Bike Action Plan, an entrepreneur, Dan Kerrigan of Texas Trike Pilots pedicabs, who saw Santa Monica as an ideal market to get into, brought the issue into the spotlight by applying for a business license. I caught the council study session on CityTV. The consensus on the dais after hearing staff, and then Kerrigan himself speaking in public comment, appeared to be that allowing pedicabs should or would happen. There were quite a few encouraging comments, but certain reservations and concerns were raised.
I admit I am not as well researched in the daily operations of pedicab services as I am in other aspects of bicycling, but I certainly agree some level of regulation is required, both to ensure safe operation, and fair business practices, as we do with other taxi services. However some of the concerns raised, particularly regarding where pedicabs might be routing are, first of all, things that may not be able to be regulated by the California vehicle code, but which I believe would be largely self regulating.
The streets where pedicabs would have the most conflicts with other vehicles, such as those that are higher in speed and intensity, are not going to be enjoyable to ride, for the driver or the passenger. A pedicab operating and wanting to stay in business isn’t going to to take their customers down streets where speeds may be uncomfortably fast or place the pedicab operator and passenger at risk of receiving excessive honking, verbal harassment or physical threats common wielded by impatient automobile drivers.
Likewise, the portions of the beach bike path that are most narrow, with the potential for a different sort of conflict, are unlikely to be attractive destinations. Personally I feel that further south of the pier, where we have wider lanes and a separate walkway, if pedicab operators rode through there, they would be no more cumbersome than other trikes or Segways and things we deal with on a daily basis already. In any case, I think they’ll be more popular for bar hopping and special occasions than the beach path. I know a lot of people are concerned about how it would work out if they end up on the beach path, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think it will be as big a deal or as bad as some are suggesting, and the operators themselves will likely limited their own scope.
Tying it back to parking, pedicabs may also play a part in encouraging people to utilize emptier parking lots further away if they know they have an easy way to hop over to another destination with door to door convenience.
Councilman Bob Holbrook seemed to be receptive to the entrepreneurial initiative of pedicab operators getting started, but gave some lengthy comments of concern about drivers potentially getting stuck behind one. However, my expectation is given the density and congestion in the corridors most attractive for picking up potential passengers, that more often than not, the pedicabs will held up by cars stuck traveling slower than the pedicab operator can pedal, & not the other way around.
I look forward to seeing pedicabs in Santa Monica, and let’s regulate them appropriately, but be careful not do so excessively. We regulate taxicabs in a number of different ways, but we also do not spell out route selection choices by law. Similarly, pedicab operators, and their vehicles, are treated as having the same rights and responsibilities as any other driver. Encouraging certain routes, or defining appropriate spaces for idling and pick ups is one thing, but trying to micromanage the regulation of routes, that is an entirely different can of worms. As well as being an issue that may in practice be self regulating and not necessary to pursue.
If you’ve got thoughts about pedicabs, please share in the comments, I’m interested to hear what others think. Especially those who have experience with them as an operator or customer, or have lived in city’s where the operate regularly.