By Vince Echavaria
In a move to continue expanding efforts to support transportation by bicycle, the Santa Monica City Council is advancing a plan to establish a bikeshare system in the city.
The council voted 5-1 Sept. 24 to accept a $500,000 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District for the bikeshare system and to begin the process for selecting a program operator. Bikesharing, which has been implemented in other cities across the nation and in cities throughout Europe, allows people who pay for the service to access bicycles for shared use from various stations on a short-term basis.
The Santa Monica system, which staff said could be one of the first in Los Angeles County, would begin with approximately 375 bicycles stored at up to 35 stations at certain locations throughout the city. Users could rent a bike for a short-distance trip in the city or surrounding areas and either return the bike to another station or the original pick-up location.
The council additionally voted to explore the use of streets, sidewalks and other city property for station sites.
Santa Monica, which is the only local city that has capital funding allocated for the program, has received over $2 million in grant funding and completed preliminary research and analysis of other programs.
Hoping to work with other Westside cities and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to coordinate the bikesharing across jurisdictions, the city is pursuing extending a grant requirement for a December deadline for awarding the bikeshare contract.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, who says he has taken part in bikeshare systems in other U.S. cities as well as Europe and seen them be effective, believes that the program can also be successful in Santa Monica and the Los Angeles region.
“Given our great weather and flat terrain, a regional bikesharing program on the Westside of Los Angeles is guaranteed to be a success,” the councilman predicted.
“The convenience of a cheap readily available bike for short trips, where you can pick it up nearby and leave it for someone else to use at the other end, makes climbing in your car a bad second choice. Those who need cars can still use them, but lunchtime errands, jaunts to the beach, and a refreshing ride to dinner all become healthier options that don’t pollute the air or clog our streets with cars.”
McKeown noted that the city is “uniquely positioned” to move forward with such a plan because it has already received funding and approved a Bicycle Action Plan. During the bike plan process, residents called for bikesharing as a way to reduce car trips, and the plan identifies bikeshare as one of its high priority projects for implementation.
While the bikeshare concept has received strong support from the community, city staff noted that the system could have an estimated operating deficit between $453,000 and $614,000 annually. According to staff, the program is not fully funded by user fees but the city could attempt to cover the shortfall through sponsorship or advertising. In response, the council voted to seek potential funding for the anticipated operating deficit through sponsorship and possible advertising revenue.
But Councilman Bob Holbrook, the sole vote against advancing the bikeshare effort, said he has reservations about the city seeking sponsorships related to the program.
“I don’t know how we would ever sort this out, and I’m not sure I want to sell Santa Monica to the highest sponsor,” Holbrook said.
Bicycle advocates who spoke at the council meeting offered praise for the proposal to implement bikeshare stations across the city.
“I think Santa Monica has an important role in the region to get this started,” said Ron Durgin, who works with the Bike Center, calling it a “tremendous opportunity.”
Cynthia Rose of the bike advocacy group Santa Monica Spoke said it’s important that a system is in place throughout the region and the city is ready to move forward on such a plan.
“In my view, bikeshare can’t come fast enough,” Rose said.
City Recreation and Parks Commission chair Phil Brock said bikesharing “works and works well around the world. I think if we establish a system, other cities will now follow.”
Some council members concurred on the need to have a coordinated system throughout the region, allowing for users to take advantage of extending their trips to other points of interest in surrounding communities.
“I think a regional approach to bikeshare is really important,” Councilwoman Gleam Davis said.
Davis, along with McKeown, believes that having Santa Monica lead the way with the bike program will inspire other municipalities to join the ride.
“I’d like to be the city that made it happen, and I think we’re capable of being that city for Southern California,” said McKeown, who noted he helped convince the Westside Council of Governments to seek bikeshare options for the entire Westside.