There were tough times last week for non-polluting self-propelled travelers in our town. Santa Monica has honorably made significant efforts to make our streets bicycle-friendly. In the past, these efforts may have had as much to do with accommodating recreational riders and even tourists on bikes as they did with what we now call “green” efforts and sustainable consciousness. But I think that’s turning, and a new view of bicycle use is emerging: Bikes are reliable, cheap, green transportation in a new era of fuel-use consciousness and they deserve as much help as they can get.
This was of course on my mind when I read that the process for building the new Agensys cancer research facility was moving ahead despite a failure to conceptualize a bike path through the grounds that would have connected bike riders to the future light-rail Expo line stop via Michigan Avenue. It’s my guess that automobiles won’t have a problem navigating to and from that station although maybe they will but the point is… we still prioritize automobiles in our urban planning. At this post-Gulf Spill/get-off-oil moment, bicycles are still often treated like second-class citizens when it comes to City planning.
Again, Santa Monica is way ahead on bike paths and bicycle accommodation. I think I’m talking about something more ingrained in our general culture and nature. Far beyond that oft-cited romance between Southern Californians and their cars, we’ve come to think of point-to-point city travel solely in terms of our automobiles. Last week a young person responded in the Los Angeles Times to issues of poor planning in the execution of a music festival in downtown LA. The writer specifically cited the fact that commuter trains weren’t running late enough for persons wanting to catch all the music performances and still travel by rail.
What I heard when I read that letter was the sound of a generation that is serious about getting off oil and cars. And in the form of requesting that rail schedules be responsive to citizen needs, they were saying that we were not keeping up with them. While we’re on responsiveness, let’s also take note that last week the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club closed its skate park. Kids and their parents who had used the facility regularly were stunned, and the loss of a caretaker for the park plus the possibility of liability issues were cited as reasons for the closure.
Society waffles in a very contradictory way in regard to activities for young people. We angst over their futures and grouse about them getting into gangs or other kinds of trouble, as we often under-fund or (in this case) close facilities for activities they are often passionate about. Word is that the closure of the skate park might precipitate plans for a city facility. I will happily praise that energy here in the Mirror as it emerges.
To me much of this can be modeled on recycling. When it became clear that cities would need to integrate recycling into their patterns of trash collection, systems emerged and patterns were formed and became the way of things. Perhaps what’s still missing underneath efforts related to bicycles and skating is a sense that citizens have a lasting seriousness and commitment to wheels that are not attached to automobiles. Skateboards might still strike many as some kind of outdoor toy, but the culture and organized competition that has grown around skateboarding shows that’s simply not the case anymore. Folks: It’s outdoor activity powered on physical exertion and a desire to excel at something. That’s exactly what we want for our kids, and we should demonstrate our approval with safe and modern facilities.
As a resident of Fourth Street, I would testify that there are now more people traveling by bicycle in our city than even five years ago. People of all ages travel Santa Monica on bikes, with their back packs and helmets indicating serious commitment. Young people go everywhere on retro-looking coaster bikes with a regularity that makes them a constituency almost unto themselves. Whether there’s been a sea-change or not, there’s no question that any planning accommodation for bicycles in Santa Monica will be integrated by cyclists and warmly received. And each time that City planning advocates alternatives by way of providing them, those alternatives move closer to long-term adaptation.
Encouraging skate and cycling activity also pays out in other large and meaningful ways. I don’t have kids, but if I did I’d much rather my child worked-out at the skate park for two hours than in front of a flat screen playing a video game that involved disturbing levels of violence and aggression and pixilated mutilation. And every person on a bike is one less person feeding the oil system at the very moment we should be looking to stop feeding the oil system. At a time when it seems voices must be shrill and irrational to be heard, citizens on bikes and skates speak by doing in support of sensible alternatives and less garbage in our atmosphere. They speak to health, well-being, and even some Zen of mind and body. Assuming that we’re careful when we’re near them in our cars. Let’s always be on their side, since by their habits they are clearly on ours.