Budget For Bike Action Plan Encounters Setbacks, But Progress Continues

Yesterday, the Santa Monica Daily Press published a story documenting “budget adjustments” affecting the city’s Bike Action Plan. The changes being made are driven by a number of factors with declining state revenue to the city being chief among them. The changes went largely unnoticed until planning commissioner Richard McKinnon started digging into the matter and discovered numbers weren’t adding up to prior promises.

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On June 12, the Santa Monica City Council approved a series of adjustments to its two-year budget that reflected both the changing economic climate and the ever-worsening conditions in funding from the state level.

In the capital improvement budget, which funds infrastructure projects like new streets and sewers, $300,000 that many had expected to be available for new bike lanes and other connections was gone.

Ashley Archibald’s Daily Press article is well worth a full read, and is perhaps one of the most detailed accounts of a bicycling related political issue I’ve read in the paper. That fact alone is worth a mention because I can recall when just a few years ago my personal blog, Gary Rides Bikes, was about the only place to find coverage of most local Santa Monica bike issues.

This shuffling of budget allocations takes some cuts out of new bike racks for the next two years, scales back some street improvements, and offers less wiggle room for matching funds to secure outside grants. The accelerated push for the bike sharing system also complicates the whole matter. This is because the bike share project is partially grant funded, but the matching funds had not originally been expected to be utilized this early. Transportation planning manager Lucy Dyke expressed concern that with a reduced budget it may be harder to implement as many ambitious treatments that go beyond paint such as cycle-tracks, or as Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek is calling them these days, protected bike lanes.

This new gap should be made up, and still pales in comparison to the spending we’re still devoting toward the diminishing returns of accommodating more cars when so many more bikes can fit in limited space. Although hard local data is lacking, it’s become visually apparent that the increase in bike parking along Main St. has been good for business turn over. Richard Risemberg of Bicycle Fixation, who stops by Santa Monica regularly on his rides, has been documenting the progress here and likes what he sees. Especially business by bike observations on Main Street.

Bikenomics - Car Parking Versus Bike Parking
A visual demonstration of bikenomics I featuring a bike corral in Portland OR, and used in slide presentations by Elly Blue.

An enlightening new study on bicycle economics pointed out to me by Elly Blue, and conducted by Portland State University examined spending at bars and restaurants by transportation mode. What they found was that bike riders typically spent less money per trip than drivers, which at first glance might seem to be deflating for selling bikes a business boom. However they also found that the bike riders made more total trips, and on average spent more money going out over the course of the month than the drivers in their study. Perhaps this discrepancy is partially a product of less money spent feeding their vehicle, and a need for more calories. These factors deserve consideration in determining budget priorities because of indirect revenue return potential. Building for bikes is not just a cost of city government, it can be a benefit when well implemented.

The good news is that even if the unplanned for shortfall in funding is unable to be remedied, the amount allocated to bikes in the coming years are still substantial enough to make significant progress. Between the various pots of money, from the city and outside grants, $5 million is allocated for 2012-13 and another $3 million the year after. These amounts, even if some did come through, are quite high for a city of 8 square miles, especially by North American standards. I’m hopeful enough can be accomplished in the next few years to open more eyes to what’s possible and lay the foundation for both broader ridership and stronger political consensus for bicycling in future budgeting.

My Neighbor Heather Rides 14th St. Buffered Bike Lane
14th St. resident Heather Davis demonstrating the space of the new buffered bike lanes on 14th.

The on the ground progress on the street has shown no signs of letting up and the speed of change has been encouraging. The latest big developments I’ve seen in the ongoing bikeway development in Santa Monica include two new prominent buffered bike lanes on 14th Street and 6th Street. Seeing the 14th St. lanes go in was a victory close to home for me, because I have a bike lane right up to my front door now.

In case you where so much space came from, the center turn lane previously on the street was buffed out. Adding that space with space cut out from what were overly wide travel lanes, enabled much higher than minimum spacing. Approaching some intersections the lane width narrows down or combines with right turn lanes (that will soon be marked & signed for throughway travel for bikes). Parking was also moved back in a few spots help accommodate better intersection approaches than some older bike routes in the city.

These new lanes differ slightly from prior buffered bike lanes in the city, featuring extra room on both sides. Both separating further from the door zone and from passing traffic than minimum standard lanes, with double lines to the left to further clarify separation. I love the extra room, but I think going this wide without any physical barrier can only work where traffic volumes and congestion are low enough that drivers don’t start getting tempted to drive down the bike lanes despite the obvious markings. So far drivers appear to be responding appropriately. Budget issues permitting, these new lanes are also slated for some green paint in a later stage as well.

As gaps in the bike lane grid are filled in with new street redesigns, they are setting up the potential for network effects that are greater than the sum of their parts. Each of these new lanes creates connections to existing bikeways, making those existing routes even more useful than they were before. I hope we do see the budget shortfall from prior promises is made up somehow, but whether that happens or not, the next two years should be an exciting time for bicycling in Santa Monica, and it will continue be a city to watch.



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