is a valuable educational asset to the city and its surroundings communities, but it also creates its fair share of negative impacts and cost burdens on the city and its neighbors. The most contentious issues are an auto-traffic mess on school days and spillover parking onto neighborhood streets.
The school has made some efforts to address these issues, with the most notable and successful measure being the “Any Line/Anytime” program allowing current SMC students to ride the without paying a fare directly.
To clarify, that service is not provided free by the city. It’s a contract paid for by the school. The SMC website also touts bicycling as a great way to get to the campus.
But the school does a pretty substandard job of accommodating bikes. With all the concern over car traffic in the area, students willing to ride a bike to school should be rewarded, not made to feel like leftovers.
The school currently does not provide enough bike racks for the number of students biking to school at peak times. When racks in one area fill up, students often have to wander all around campus for an open parking space.
Additionally, nearly half the racks on campus are of the variety known as “wheel benders.” They are known as such because you roll your front wheel into them and there is a tendency for the bike to lean over and the bars of the rack can bend the wheel spokes out of alignment.
Most bike advocates, and the LAPD as well, actively discourage using these types of racks for the additional reason that they make it difficult to lock the frame of the bike with most U-locks, favoring locking the wheel. A bike locked by the wheel is incredibly easy to steal, because on most bikes a slight twist to the quick release and you can walk off with the rest of the bike without any tools.
Not only that, but students are instructed that if they want to keep their bikes secure, they should never attach their bikes to anything not bolted to the ground. As it turns out, some of the school’s bike racks themselves are not even bolted to the ground. Whoops.
To add insult to injury, campus police can "boot" a bike with a heavy-duty lock if the bike is attached to hand railings. That's a common practice when available bike racks are full.
The SMC website's transportation page says “bikes that are improperly locked will be impounded” and then directs students to click through to another page for more info. That page makes no mention of where the bike racks are, nothing on the impounding policy and does not define “improperly locked,” other than to provide a link to a guide of how to prevent bike theft.
This guide, posted in a few places on campus, made by Kryptonite locks, does not depict locking to insecure wheel-bender racks as are provided in many places around the campus.
Sgt. Jere Romano of the SMCPD elaborated on this booting policy to my wife, Meghan Kavanagh, who is currently taking classes at SMC. He said booting is usually done to protect bikes that are not locked or locked insecurely. Romano says bikes attached to railings can sometimes present a fire hazard. He says discretion is being used, for now, in booting bikes attached to railings; campus police only do so if a bike is clearly blocking a walkway.
Romano said this leniency, which includes not charging a $10 fee, is offered because very little education has gone out yet about proper locking. Romano also indicated that the old SMC website used to have more information on these issues, but they disappeared in the site's latest updates. He said that needs to be fixed.
Romano added that he has also been asking, for years, for more money to be allocated for bike racks. BUt his requests seem to have taken a back seat to the build-out of massive and costly structures for cars and satellite lots orbiting the city.
To put things in perspective, the school offers thousands of car spaces in its on-site parking structures. In addition to taking up a substantial portion of land use on campus, the structures typically cost in the ballpark of $25,000 per space to build.
The building cost for a single car space in a structure could purchase enough bike racks to secure hundreds of bikes on campus. Students with semester-long parking passes are paying less for their daily car parking than going one way on an L.A. Metro bus. So the true cost of that parking is clearly not coming out of the students’ pockets.
In other words, we are all paying to help students park their cars and congest the streets, at a great expense that could go to other aspects of education.
In the school’s defense, it is making some efforts to address transportation issues and promoting alternatives, such as the aforementioned partnership with the Big Blue Bus. The school has been stepping up the messaging on promoting other ways to get to the campus. However, its facilities for bikes are clearly lacking and unable to meet existing demand. These conditions will stifle any efforts to encourage more bicycling.
Students determined to bike anyway are locking up bikes in all kinds of strange ways to poorly designed racks, sometimes risking damage to their bike to do so. Hearing perspectives from students who were locking up bikes, it was clear there is frustration about the quality and availability of bike racks, with it being especially difficult when you don’t show up really early before the racks fill up.
Hopefully, SMC can shake a few coins out of the budget it’s using to buy up satellite parking lots around the city and buy a few more bike racks. They might find it’s an investment that saves money in the long run as more trips are made by bike.