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An Apology: Santa Monica Gets Bicycling Right, and This Writer Got It Wrong

9:46 AM PST on January 4, 2013

Consider this a public apology to L.A. County’s bike-friendly city by the bay.

No, not that one. The other one.

It’s something I’ve been mulling ever since I met Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, at the ceremony honoring L.A.’s recognition as a Bike Friendly Community last October.

As we talked, I felt compelled to tell him I’d been one of the loud, angry voices complaining about the bike league’s 2009 designation of Santa Monica as a bronze level BFC.

He responded by asking if I was the one behind the petition calling on the LAB to rescind the award. I wasn’t, I said. But I sure as heck signed it.

And I was wrong.

It wasn’t like we — those of us who signed the petition and opposed the award — didn’t have our reasons.

In those deep, dark days of the last decade, Santa Monica may have been the L.A. area’s most pleasant place to ride. But compared to the virtually non-existent support for cycling in other area cities, that wasn’t saying much.

And Santa Monica certainly had its issues, like a heavy-handed crackdown on the city’s nascent — and now dead — Critical Mass, which included ticketing cyclists for things that weren’t even illegal. Not to mention a reputation for unresponsive city and police officials.

Then there was the relative handful of bike lanes in the city, all of which were in the door zone, and usually blocked with cars or other objects that didn’t belong there.

Meanwhile, traffic-clogged Lincoln Blvd was inexplicably classified as a Class III bike route in what could only be considered an attempt to thin the herd.

And what should have been the crown jewel of SaMo’s bicycling infrastructure, the city’s section of the beachfront Marvin Braude bikeway, was virtually impassible on weekends.

Evidently, some things never change.

But then a funny thing happened.

As Cynthia Rose of the LACBC affiliate chapter Santa Monica Spoke explained, city officials learned a lot from the application process itself, and in the process, actually grew into the award.

In place of door zone lanes, the city explored sharrows and ways to make their bike lanes better — including reconfiguring the Montana Avenue bike lanes with a door zone buffer. Which has gone a long way towards taming what had long been one of the area’s riskiest bike lanes.

Then the flood gates opened. From bike-friendly traffic signal detectors to the county’s first Bike Center this side of Long Beach, along with the area's first Bike Campus, period.

Even the pedestrian-clogged beach bike path — actually a multi-use path in some places — will soon be getting new markings on the concrete indicating where pedestrians are and aren’t welcome; preliminary markings are already starting to appear.

Then there’s the new combination bike rack/repair stand I noticed across from the playground on the beach bike path yesterday; I'm not sure when it was installed, although it’s been there long enough to get tagged on the opposite side.

And clearly, there’s a lot more to come, including a planned bike share program.

Even Santa Monica police and city officials have become more approachable. Or maybe advocates just became smarter about how to approach them.

Instead of the highly confrontational approaches of the past, a new generation of Santa Monica bike advocates — including members of the Spoke and Streetsblog’s own Gary Kavanagh — tried a different approach.

They listened. They made suggestions instead of demands. They worked with city officials to improve plans that didn’t go far enough, instead of rejecting them out of hand.

In short, they took to heart the advice offered on Twitter Thursday by BrooklynSpoke:

Best advice for advocates: Stay calm, stay nice, stay courteous. That's the path to winning.

And the city responded in kind, with results that can be seen on the streets.

They also took it a step further, pressuring candidates for city council to support cycling, and getting them on the record for their stands for or against various bicycling issues.

The result is a city government committed to moving forward with bicycling improvements and challenging Long Beach as the region’s most bike-friendly community. As well as one that now responds to riders and is open to suggestions.

The Spoke, Kavanagh and handful of other local advocates deserve a lot of credit for that.

Of course, Santa Monica isn’t perfect yet when it comes to bicycling. Over the next few days, I’ll explore a few areas where things could be improved a little. Or maybe a lot.

But in the meantime, I hope the city and people of Santa Monica will accept my most humble apologies.

I may have had good reasons for opposing that bronze-level designation, but time — and the efforts of the city’s leaders and bike advocates — have proven me wrong.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a very good thing.

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