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.
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.
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.
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.