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Santa Monica's Mobility Plan Isn't Working, Development Watchdog Group Contends


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October 10, 2018 -- The City of Santa Monica has been touting its "mobility plan," but residents haven't bought in and City employees are not practicing what they preach, according to a new report by a local watchdog group.

In a report released Wednesday, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) concluded that the City's Mobility Plan "hasn't been working even for its own employees and top officials."

Most City government employees still drive alone to work and park for free, while use of the City's Bike Share program and bus service is "seriously declining," according to the report.

"As the City pushes forward with intensified development, their plan to deal with increasing traffic is already failing," the report said.

The report -- based on an analysis of "internal" City records and other documents obtained by the slow-growth group -- found that two-thirds of City employees drove alone to work during peak hours this year and fewer than 15 percent came by bus, bicycle or Expo.

This was the case even though most of the City's more than 2,000 employees work in City Hall and other facilities near Expo and Big Blue Bus stops, the group said.

"Most city staff park in the Downtown/City Hall area, and ALL City employees park for FREE, paid for by the City," the report said.

"Every time the City enters into new collective bargaining agreements with City employees, free parking is included. This needs to stop."

Parking perks are even "sweeter" for top City officials who "have failed to set an example" for their workers, the report said.

While municipal workers park for free, the City "has been making driving and parking in Downtown, and elsewhere, more difficult and expensive for residents and small businesses."

This practice "disproportionately impacts families, older residents and the poor (as does the decline in the bus system,)" the report said.

In an email to the Lookout Wednesday, City officials noted that more than 350 City employees have opted to take advantage of a "parking cash out incentive" that was introduced by the City at the beginning of the year.

The program is part of an effort to boost the City’s "average vehicle ridership" -- which currently stands at 1.63, up from 1.57 the previous year -- to a target of 2.2, City officials said.

"We still have a ways to go," said Constance Farrell, the City's public information officer, "but we have seen a steady increase in the last three years."

Farrell attributes the decline in the use of some alternative modes of transportation to increasing "mobility options" that "have expanded at a rate incomparable to preceding years."

She points to "Breeze," the City's bike share program introduced in 2015, the Expo line that reached Santa Monica in May 2016 and the introduction of electric bikes and scooters that has made the past year "the year of micromobility."

"All of this leads to a greater mode split among the various forms of transportation, including Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus system," Farrell said.

The report notes that Big Blue Bus ridership has "dramatically decreased" and "local routes are being cut" ("Ridership Plunges on Santa Monica City Buses as Expo Popularity Soars," January 17, 2018).

"Our bus system may be geared too much to east-west, out-of-town centric, too duplicative of Expo," the report said. "This is at the expense of vital in-town ridership, which is inadequately serviced."

Use of the City's bike share program is "in near freefall, with sharply reduced rides," according to the report.

Ridership dropped 63 percent in March from the same month last year, according to internal records cited by the group. It has since continued to drop monthly by between 30 and more than 80 percent.

"This is despite the City having promoted ("Breeze") as a key element of its efforts to advance wellness and a healthy lifestyle."

The Bike Share program's "precipitous fall" may be due to the growing popularity of e-scooters, the report said ("Santa Monica Launches Pilot Program for Electric Scooters, Bikes," September 17, 2018).

The scooters "are not primarily being used as 'last mile' connectors to Expo as hyped and are being used in dangerous ways," the report said.

SMCLC cautions that alternatives to driving, such as e-scooters and car share programs, "may be wishful thinking, but are not helping."

The report cites studies that found that car share programs such as Uber and Lyft increase auto traffic, adding 2.8 miles driving "for each mile of personal driving eliminated."

SMCLC, which first came to prominence a dozen years ago when it opposed a plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place, warns that "the City must face reality if it wants more development.

"Without a working plan, our streets will be completely gridlocked."

The City "should slow down its development push" until it can get traffic "under control," the report concluded.


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