Friday, June 10, 2011

To school without a car?

Children come with wheels, it seems. First the small plastic wheels for the stroller, then the new family car, sometimes large enough to set up a family home on the road. And then there is the bicycle, the famous vehicle of childhood.

Today, many parents are concerned when their children want to ride their bike to school. Our streets seem hostile and dangerous. The cars are intimidating and seem intent to harm our children.

So when the question comes up if your kid could take the bike to school, the answer is often difficult. That is why a group of concerned parents in Santa Monica have come together to make it easier to get to school without a car. We have compiled some resources which can help make cycling a safe part of attending school in Santa Monica.

The good news is that most bike crashes can be avoided. A little bit of education can greatly increase your safety. Crashes are rare, but when they happen the cyclist has often acted in a manner which put him at a higher risk. An exaggerated anxiety about cycling in traffic can sometimes lead us to adopt unsafe and dangerous road behaviour. This is why education is crucial when you consider doing the school run with a bike.

So when the question about cycling to school comes up, the answer should be: Let's look at the route. Let's look at the rules, rights and responsibilities. Let's look at the advice from the experts, let's see when the next bike skills classes are scheduled. Perhaps they offer classes for parents on how to raise a competent cyclist. And: Let's see how we can make the streets around the school more welcoming for cyclists.

Many good things happen when people ride bikes. But in many families being a chauffeur has become the currency of parental love. The streets around our schools are crowded with cars because the parents enjoy those five minutes of quiet company, regardless of global warming, the price of gas, missing exercise, etc. So when the question of the bike comes up, make some space on the sofa, leave the car in the garage, and enjoy the company of your children without burning gas. Even better, find your own bike and become a cycling companion for your child.

For more information:
When People Ride Bikes, Great Things Happen.
Fourteen Ways to Drive your Bike in Traffic
Bike It Day
Sustainable Streets

Contact your PTSA to get involved with the local PTSA Transportation effort (Alison Kendall)

The Maps: Below are the links to maps which will assist parents and students to find the best route to school when not driving:  Please remind everybody to ride slowly, circumspect, attentive, and never without a helmet!
Will Rogers

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Bridge Across the "Trench of Doom"

Every "Trench of Doom" (Jeff Tumlin) needs a solid bridge across it. Our own "Trench of Doom" is called Interstate 10. It contains a steady flow of fast moving, smelly vehicles which transport humans who should be walking and cycling, if their doctors and good sense could only get them out of their cars. We have some bridges across this dark stream of traffic, but most of them are not very inviting for pedestrians and cyclists, some of them (Lincoln, 4th Street) are downright dangerous and beastly.

SAMOHI students suffer from a lack of bicycle facilities. The school is right next to the interstate. Those who want to do the right thing and take the bike to school have fast and furious drivers on Lincoln to deal with. On top of it, our local police enforces the sidewalk riding ordinance against anyone seen on the sidewalks of Lincoln. Safe Routes to School, where are you?

There is a solution. It is called the 7th Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge. This is a project which was included in the presentation by the planning department to the City Council on April 12, 2011. The staff report underlined the benefit of this bridge for SAMOHI, and its connectivity with Michigan Bike Boulevard to create a robust bike network. It would offer students a convenient path across the "Trench of Doom". Precisely what is needed in order to entice more people to leave the car at home!

In comes our representative of traditional car culture, and historian of local traffic. He is called Robert Holbrook, a member of the City Council since 1990, master of common sense and sometimes defender of the car culture of the 1960ies. Here is his 2010 election advert, depicting a freeway sign referring to our very own "Trench of Doom"

Election Advert, Nov 2010

These are the issues Holbrook raised during the Council meeting (Item 4-B, time counter at 3:09):
Let me ask you some questions. We had a 7th Street Bridge. It was a pedestrian and bike bridge and I think it also carried important utilities across the freeway and it was removed, - I think - because no-one used it. It had to be maintained and eventually they took it out. So I am sitting here thinking: if we had it, and they did not come, why would we build it - again, - ...
Indeed, why would you re-build a bridge that was of no use? Luckily, Mr Holbrook's recollection is not quite correct. The Bike and Pedestrian Bridge (Caltrans # 53-1593) was removed in 1991, not in order to save the maintenance costs of an under-utilized structure, but in order to create a new, eastbound 4th Street Exit Ramp for cars who use the "Trench of Doom". The Los Angeles Times from September 13, 1992 lays it out nicely, even though it does not tell the whole story how pedestrian and bicycle interests have lost out against the car drivers who would not be satisfied with Pico access to school.

What is most obvious sometimes becomes invisible. Call it the White Elephant phenomenon. Cars seem to be the most natural thing in the world for some, and questions about alternatives to cars are mentally uncomfortable and hard. Let us listen some more to the politician who carries interstate signage on his election advert:
Have kids changed? Because, when I was young, well, it's a long time ago, but I, but at some point they want to get off bikes and drive, or drive to school if they could, ride to school with a car. How many kinds ride their bikes to school today ?
Yes, the kids have changed. They have started to understand that the car is not always a good idea, and sometimes a very bad idea. The kids have seen the "Trench of Doom" and they have embraced the environmental benefits of cycling. SAMOHI Solar Alliance has organised a series of very successful bike and walk to school events, which seek to question the old notion that at some point they want to get off bikes and drive. The last, district-wide Bike-It Day in October 2010 was a celebration of independence from cars, where kids, partent and staff participated enthusiastically. Today, bikes are no longer for kids only, bikes are part of the active, healthy, community oriented, environmentally conscious life-style which the modern Santa Monica represents.

But let us go back to the new offramp for cars, for which the pedestrian and bike bridge was sacrificed. Every Interstate needs an off-ramp you may say. Next time you roll on the I-10, just count those on- and off-ramps, and ask yourself why they are so many and so close to each other in Santa Monica, when in Los Angeles they are three or four miles apart. Twenty years ago, when then decision for the new off-ramp was made, the car was king and children got their drivers license in kindergarden. Today the car is no longer king, and the time may come when we think about sacrificing some of those ramps to the "Trench of Doom" in order to achieve a "Path of Happiness" for our cyclists.

The moral? Bob Holbrook is our longest serving man on the city council. He is formerly a member of the Board of Education (1983 -1990), a recipient of the High School Distinguished Alumnus Award for Community Service, a pharmacist by profession for whom the health benefits of active transportation must be evident, and surely a supporter of Safe Routes to School. Bob is not the only dedicated follower of California Car Culture in our city. But on reflection they will see the need for a robust bicycle network which can entice more and more citizens to leave the car at home for those shorter trips. We have built the interstate network to entice people into cars, now we need to build the bike network to allow them to make the short trips without a car.

Tebb Kusserow, former SAMOHI coach and supporter of Holbrook's election campaign, rode his bicycle four times up Mount Haleakala, and is rumored to have taught bicycle skills to his students at SAMOHI. Perhaps he is the one who could to teach Bob Holbrook a lesson about Safe Routes to School. Because who would want to be mistaken for a car salesman?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recipe for a Bike Club

Children participating in a bicycle safety program run by the police in New York, 1945
Bicycle Education comes in many shapes and colors: Above a glimpse of a program offered more than 60 years ago in New York. Today we may do things differently: We signal a left turn with the left hand, and we know that when we put a few cyclists in a room together, they will soon find plenty to talk about. A school based bike club is a great opportunity for our young cyclists to learn from the mistakes and misfortunes of their peers, to become knowledgeable about their bike, and to better understand how to communicate with car drivers in traffic. 
So what would be the ingredients for a student run bike club at middle school level? 
A pair of  presidents, a webmaster, an event planner, an education committee, a membership director, a Safe Routes to School coordinator, a Bike Community Liaison officer, a Spoke Card designer, and a photographer, the flat tire expert and the ball bearing expert, the quick release master and the gender equality officer. And more. (The League of American Bicyclists has a many resources here )

The search has begun for a good name for a bike club at Santa Monica Alternative School. Will you help us find a smashing name? What responsibility do you want to take? In which area do you want to lead?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bicycle Master Plan in Santa Monica: Take the Survey

City planning has started work on a new Bicycle Master Plan. It will set priorities for bicycle facilities on the basis of public input. The plan, once adopted by the council, allows the city to apply for funding for bicycle related improvements.

Many think that Santa Monica could become a bicycle perfect community: Take a community keenly interested in sustainability, a council which wants to do the right thing for the environment, and add sunshine most of the year: Really great things can come of this. The Bicycle Friendly Community Award (Bronze) from the League of American Bicyclists is proudly displayed in City Hall. Santa Monica Spoke emphasizes the community benefits of cycling, and there is talk about a bicycle commission for the city council. We are here in the Prius capital of the world: Every gas saving vehicle encountered on our streets bears testimony to a mild sense of guilt many motorists feel.

If you want to give the city the benefit of your comments, please take the survey. As part of the school community we are convinced of the value of education, but it may be important to remind the planning department that this is not only about bike lanes and bike paths, but about a change in transportation culture which needs lots of education and encouragement in order to initiate a process of change. Because we can no longer view the car as the default transportation mode.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I used to be one of those people who hugged the right curb...

The District PTSA offered a very successful bike education and encouragement event on 2 October. Sustainable Streets presented a Bike Safety Skills Workshop to a packed classroom of about 35 SMMUSD middle and high school students and their parents, with an age range of 9 to 40 years old.  The group included lots of kids who have been cycling with their parents in preparation for Bike It! Day October 13. Everyone had great questions on the rules of the road, hair raising bike crash stories, and lots of enthusiasm for cycling to school.  After adjusting helmets and checking bikes, the group headed outside to practice key safe cycling skills to scan, signal, stop and turn left at an intersection. 

Among the kids’ enthusiastic comments on the class evaluation form were “Awesome fun!” and “I loved this class!”  Parents were equally positive, saying “This is so valuable. I used to be one of those people who hugged the right curb; now I know why that’s not a good idea.”  This was the second two Bike Safety Skills Workshops, the precious one was held at Lincoln Middle Schools, taught by League Certified Instructors from Sustainable Streets. Some of the participants raised the idea of setting up a bike club at the school, which would offer more opportunities for advanced training. The complete course (10 hrs) of confident city cycling is usually taught over two weekends and includes an official certificate.

Many thanks to the PTSA, JAMS and Lincoln Middle school staff, and the students and their parents for supporting this workshop to promote safe cycling by our students!  Hope to see you all at Bike IT Walk IT Day on October 13.  We are expecting record participation by every SMMUSD elementary and middle school in Santa Monica and by SAMOHI, whose Solar Alliance Student Group started the Bike IT movement four years ago.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bike Skills Workshop

On Wednesday 6 October 2010 Santa Monica will wake up to the first city-wide Bike It Day. In previous years each school had its own bike and walk to school day, - but because of the success and popular demand, the event is now conducted city wide, and other local institutions, employers, schools and colleges are encouraged to join in and leave the car at home.

In preparation for the event the district PTSA is sponsoring two bicycle workshops on Saturday 26 September and 2 November. These workshops are conducted by Sustainable Streets and aimed mainly for an adult audience.  Parents are encouraged to bring their children (age 10 -15) and teachers and school staff are especially welcome.

You want to bike more and become a more confident cyclists. You want to help your children to cycle more safely. Join us for a free Bike Skills Workshop for parents, teachers and students in Santa Monica SMMUSD. Free workshops will be held on Saturday, Sep 25 at 1 pm at Lincoln Middle School and again on Saturday, Oct 2 at1 pm at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica. Please bring bike and helmet. Snacks and bike pins will be provided. To register for the workshop please email

The invitation is here and here (smaller format)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bikes on Display

John Adams Middle School rides, and some of the bikes bikes are being hung up on the fence on display for the day. Well done everybody! You doubled the number of cyclists for the day. We also sold a few bike helmets, and gave away those ever popular bike pins ("Can I have a green one", "Can I have a pink one"), those bright green "Bike It" stickers, and of course the ever popular Clif bars (Peanut).
Now we are planning an experimental session to compare the effectiveness of hair gel and normal bike helmets. Just to