Santa Monica Bike Center In The LA Times, & Could Be A Model For Region

Santa Monica Bike Center
Over the weekend the Santa Monica Bike Center was covered in the Los Angeles Times, which some of you may have read in the “Today’s Headlines” roundup from yesterday. The article by Matt Stevens offers  a great snapshot of what the facility is and what it does. Importantly the Times covering Bike Center gets broadcasts what they’re doing to a gigantic audience. Local advocacy group and LACBC chapter Santa Monica Spoke also got a big shout out for kicking off the momentum for bike policy in the city over the past couple of years.

Full Disclosure: Our Santa Monica weekly column is supported by Bike Center in Santa Monica.

The no strings attached loaner program for giving people like Barry Balmat a chance to try out bike commuting for two weeks is slowing creating new converts who decide later to buy their own bike. Between the extensive member racks, walk up valet service, bike rentals, loaner program, lockers, showers and repair shop, the Bike Centeris quickly becoming it’s own game changing force in Santa Monica. And this is just the first year of operation, with a lot more foot and bike traffic expected following the Expo phase II completion.

Bike Center was , initially funded in part by the city and a Metro grant, and now supporting it’s operating expenses on service revenue.

While Santa Monica Bike Center is a flagship location for bike parking it also highlights the inconsistent consideration for quality bike parking facilities throughout the Metro transit system. This seems like an enormous gap as I come to realize more and more the importance of bike to rail station facilities in cities with high bicycling and transit mode share. Granted Santa Monica bike ridership and bicycling interest is starting from a higher baseline than most of the region, but it doesn’t quite sit right with me that one of the Metro stations best served by adjacent secure bike parking and supporting facilities is one that doesn’t exist yet, the 4th St. Expo terminus.

A number of contained bike lockers have been installed at rail and Orange Line stations through Metro system, but at the most popular stations these get reserved quickly. LACBC manages reservations for the bike locker system, and LACBC executive director Jennifer Klausner points out that people are already requesting spots for bike lockers for stations that don’t exist yet (which they can’t). Each station also has loop racks, but at the most popular stations, these fill up fast.

Photos by Steven White at Culver City Expo Station.

One of my readers, Steven White, is a regular bike and transit commuter who frequents the Culver City Expo Station. He has been pointing out that racks were always filling up and people started attaching bikes to handrails and benches where they begin to get in the way of other patrons. To Metro’s credit, they just recently installed new U-racks at that station to address the demand and requests, but a more systematic approach to bike parking planning is clearly needed for initial station design and future expansion.

Tens of millions of dollars are devoted to massive Park and Ride lots and garages for cars by Metro, despite the fact such facilities may not be as big a boom for rail ridership as is conventionally thought (something we’ve also built for reasons that include old funding models and our car centric EIR process). The least we can do is get the bike parking halfway right.

It’s also worth noting that we charge people for the privilege of fully secured bike parking, but many of the large parking structures offered for automobile park and ride convenience, are completely free. If the goal is to facilitate less dependency on cars, it’s a counter productive set of incentives to be so heavily subsidizing driving to train stations and then place an annual fee for scarce bike lockers.

Bike Center manager Ron Durgin, portrait by Russ Roca of pathlesspedaled.com

Something I wanted to know when I became a member of the Expo Phase II Bicycle Advisory Committee was exactly what is the methodology Metro has for how many bike parking spaces to design into stations. We were shown tables of what was standard for phase I, and and they seemed inadequate in some cases, and rather arbitrary numbers. I kept asking around it was finally admitted the numbers were essentially arbitrary apart from stations with a park and ride car lot getting a few more racks. Metro now has a grant that is funding a bike parking specific plan, and does seems aware of their need to catch up. Good luck finding the bike parking at Union Station if don’t already know where it is.

Santa Monica also has tentative plans for smaller Bike Center facilities to coincide with it’s other 2 pending Expo stations at 17th St, and Bergamot. As we consider bike parking that goes beyond a few loops in the ground placed outside, this may be a case where a regulated monopoly might ultimately be a good way to go.

If we had Bike Center type facilities anchored in a number of different key transit oriented districts, if they were the same operator, a membership suddenly becomes far more valuable. Presently, the Bike Station in Long Beach is operated by another owner. Moving forward we should carefully consider station bike parking with a future in mind that is seamless multimodal connectivity on a regional level.

For some perspective I’ll close with a look at the present and future of bike facility design in a city that truly values seamless bicycle to railway travel at the Utrecht Central Station.

  • I’d love to know where the bike parking is at Union Station… I live there and haven’t yet found it (other than a few racks near the Amtrak Bus plaza… I hope that’s not “it.”)

    I should also point out, the new racks at Culver City Expo Station have been in for a few days and I’ve yet to see a single bike locked to them. The original racks remain packed full. I believe that most bike commuters come from further west and do not even see these new racks, on the east side of the station.

    It seems there were far better places to put them, as the new racks are in between the cars and the station’s stairs, creating an obstacle for drivers-turned-pedestrians who got out of their car and are heading to the train. Location/placement is also a problem with the original ones… my bike locker door swings open directly into the main pedestrian path, literally blocking the entire way when I’m trying to put my bike inside.

    There’s a ton of space under the station platform, between the two sets of TVMs, and I’d love to see that filled with a long row of both lockers and racks. They’d be convenient, visible, and yet also out of the way.

  • Erik Griswold

    Love the double-articulated buses in the Utrecht video.  

    Attention LA Metro, Caltrans and CHP:
    *That* is real BRT!

  • Erik Griswold

    Love the double-articulated buses in the Utrecht video.  

    Attention LA Metro, Caltrans and CHP:
    *That* is real BRT!

  • This is also a growing issue with train space.  In the past year, I think I’ve almost never been on a metro rail car that didn’t have another bike or two (about half the time I have my bike with me), and it’s sometimes substantially more.  I appreciate the value that being able to bring my bike on the train gives me, but I think that at some point we have to conserve space on the train for people, and leave the bikes at the station.  We’d never think of bringing our car onto the train (except for those funny cases like the Chunnel, or the Trans-Siberian Railroad) and sadly, bikes have the same problems, just to a far smaller extent.  Hopefully Bike Nation will help us get around at our destination.

  • Good point… I do notice that trains (especially the light rail like Expo, where there’s not really a space for them) have been getting crowded with bikes. If everyone goes where they’re supposed to on the Red Line, there’s usually room for bikes in the ends of the cars, but the center of a light rail car doesn’t really cut it.

    I think it’s good to have some space in each train specifically for bikes, but the more parking at stations the better, because it allows people to leave them there.

  • I didn’t get into it in this piece, but I consider bike share systems a powerful way to facilitate solving the last mile issues for transit service. Knowing you had bike share on the other end of a train trip might attract some without a bike to give it a try, and encourage people with bikes to consider leaving the bike at their departing station. As Jarret Walker of Human Transit has pointed out, the geometry of transit service prevents bikes on transit vehicles from ever being more than a modest niche without room to grow, and if there is a lot of extra capacity for tons of bikes, then the transit is not being well optimized for ridership.

    So I’ve been trying to get more attention focused on station facilities, because that is where the real bike + transit growth potential is, and it’s far cheaper than providing for equivalent numbers of park and ride spaces for car travel.