I’m returned to Santa Monica this week from attending the California by Bike Summit in Oakland, with the theme of mainstreaming the bike in California, and a few extra days in the Bay Area and San Francisco as well. There were numerous sessions and discussions with valuable lessons that will inform my writing, but I thought I would start with reflecting on the experience on day one, attending the optional bike tour of Davis California by way of the Amtrak Capital Corridor from Oakland. The tour was led by local advocates Steve and Emily Tracy of Davis Bicycles!.
Lore of Davis is impossible to not come across in the writing on American bicycling, but until this trip I had not experienced the only city distinguished with a platinum bicycling friendly community award by the League of American Bicycling. After a bit of a let down in the gap between the cycling paradise mythology of platinum rated Portland Oregon and the more moderate reality of being better than most everywhere else, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Davis did not disappoint in providing miles of seamless and continuous idyllic cycling that ties the small city together (the scale makes the task of a bike network a bit easier). While not perfect, it did exceed my expectations in several regards.
One of the things that struck me most of all about Davis though was the high bicycling mode share in the context of what is a fairly low density, low to mid-rise urban environment. Apart from the network of dedicated bike paths and a few other subtle differences, Davis is predominately the sort of land use pattern most often associated with a near monolithic dependency and orientation around driving in much of the U.S.
Some of this can be attributed to Davis being a college town, but not all college towns have fostered a culture of cycling around them quite like Davis, nor do I think we can’t learn from or apply lessons from such a context to other environments, like suburban office parks.
The orientation to relaxed and comfortable cycling also reaches every level of education, and every part of the city, with nearly every school for every range of grades, connected by a loop of high quality class 1 cycle path facilities. The long standing commitment to safe routes to school was both exciting to behold, but also frustrating in light of how lacking progress has been on creating comfortable spaces to ride to school in most of the state and the country, including the debates here in Santa Monica. Read more…