Friday, May 30, 2014

Learning to See. A White Paper

Learning to See. The Santa Monica School District and the Bicycles. A White Paper.

This white paper tries to co-motivate the school district to become more engaged in active and healthy modes of getting to school. It reminds the district that the roads in Santa Monica have become much more bike-friendly in the past five years, and that the school district has not been moving much on cars, buses and bikes. Are they missing the bike train? I hope not.

Sometimes a little unguarded gesture tells you more than a thousand words. I found this architectural view from 2008 quite interesting. It is proudly displayed on the second floor of the district headquarters. It shows a "schematic design" of the High School parking lot.

"Let them drive Porsches", about as distorted as "Let them eat cake" (Qu'ils mangent de la Brioche) attributed to Marie Antoinette

Look a bit closer. Striking indeed, the sheer number of Porsches, Maseratis, Ferraris (or worse) that the architect has parked there. Apparently there is nobody in the district building or on the Board of Education who would object against this distortion of what getting to school in our little town of Santa Monica means. This design of a parking lot is steeped in poisonous culture of Fast and Furious. It has been framed and displayed. This makes it a revealing testimony to the unconscious culture of transportation at the school district. "Let them drive Porsches" is irresponsible, naive, pathetic and revealing at the same time.

From the distorted fantasy of fast cars, a fantasy which is so last century, to the reality of getting to work in the school district. This bicycle is happily parked in the lobby of the district headquarters. It tells the story of a brave employee who is doing him/herself and all of us a great favor by choosing the better way to arrive at work. Perhaps a proper bike rack could be placed in the lobby? This would invite more employees to park their bike there. And if parking space is limited (it always is), and if a proper bike parking structure would reduce the number of spaces available for cars, is there enough Santa Monica Bike Spirit in the school district to do the right thing?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five Years After: Revisiting the Bicycle Resolution of 2009

It is now 5 years that the Santa Monica School District adopted a far-reaching bicycle resolution. A good reason to revisit the commitments, and to see what has been achieved.

What has been achieved? Well, not too much.I think we were probably a little naive and too optimistic, thinking that the district would in due course discover this text and do the right thing. But paper is patient. We need readers who can remind the district that these good intentions are still only intentions. Some of the board members have probably never heard about this Resolution, so we better link to it in the form in which it was published in the minutes of the meeting on April 2nd, 2009.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Crossroads School: The First Bicycle Friendly School in Santa Monica

Crossroads School in Santa Monica is an independent school (K-12) with more than 1000 students. Last month they received word that they qualified as a Bicycle Friendly Business.

This distinction is offered by the League of American Bicyclists to places of employment which go the extra mile to encourage employees to ride to work. Participants undergo a complex evaluation process and receive guidance how to improve services to those who use a bicycle to come to work.

Andrew Gaines, who works as facilities manager at Crossroads, says the school has about 50 employees who ride to school, and many of the students do too. Employees do receive incentives (gift cards, monetary rewards) when they come to school without a car. Gaines said that the fact that teachers and staff are cycling is itself an important lesson for the children who understand that the bicycle is a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation around town, especially in Santa Monica. He hopes that his school can become an example for other schools in Santa Monica.

Congratulations, Crossroads! Keep up the good work!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Culver City Walk and Rolls to School

"Walk ‘n Rollers was founded to encourage children to walk and bike to school more frequently, helping kids start their day in a fun, active way." The non-profit is based in Culver City and has embarked there on a four-year contract to provide co-ordination, encouragement, education, helping to make sure that the Safe Routes to School funding is used effectively. "If you want to encourage kids to bike, walk, skate and scoot to school more frequently, then it is not about a new traffic light here or there, it is really an investment in cultural change." This is why a comprehensive and on-going encouragement program is fundamental.

Jim Shanman from Walk ‘n Rollers is full of praise for the Culver City School District. The district is very closely involved with the work he is doing on behalf of the city. He has monthly meetings with the CCUSD finance director. This continuing conversation allows school staff to give feedback and support his projects. "This kind of close collaboration is really essential," Shanman says. The school district has been very welcoming of his effort and is supportive of his work. "After 5 months we have not had a single case of reluctance or push-back. This is very encouraging. Culver City and the school district really get it."

For the city, which is funding his work through a SRTS grant, his role is to make sure that the Safe Routes to School funding is really spent in the best way possible. For this his local knowledge, his local contacts, the fact that he himself is a parent in the district, are invaluable. "Cities tend to think of Safe Routes to School as an engineering problem, but it is much deeper than that. It is about role models, about conversations at the school gate, about school nurses and involving the police department. You have to change the culture from within, and it will take time." One important item in his list is the drafting of a district-wide policy on walking and cycling which will create the basis for development in the future.

Santa Monica has better infrastructure for cyclists, but Culver City has embarked on a path of cultural change which is just as important. The fact that the Culver City school district cares deeply about how the students are getting to school is something Santa Monica school district should take note of.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bike It Walk It is moving

Bike it Walk it, Safe Routes to School, events and opportunities around cycling and walking to school in Santa Monica now have a new website

Be sure to visit it!

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?