As one of the densest cities in America, Santa Ana has a lot of opportunities to make it easier for people to walk and cycle, a leading national bicycle and pedestrian advocate told local residents and officials Monday.
“When we build our infrastructure so that children and seniors are able to travel safely, we all benefit,” said Jeff Miller, the president and CEO of the nationwide Alliance for Biking & Walking during a presentation at the Garfield Community Center.
“None of us should be not able to get where we want to go,” he said.
The event brought together Santa Ana officials from the library, public works and planning departments and representatives of Orange County Bicycle Coalition, Latino Health Access and Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance, among others.
Miller encouraged local advocates to focus on putting policies and funding in place to create a long-term plan for making Santa Ana more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
He also encouraged people to look first at making bike routes between public schools and neighborhoods safe for children, then work on downtown areas and other employment centers.
Given that density does a lot to make biking an effective transportation option, Miller said the city has a lot of opportunities.
“Santa Ana is the fourth-densest city in America. So you have that going in your favor,” he said.
City officials also expressed support for making Santa Ana a much safer place to cycle and walk.
Santa Ana wants to become the friendliest bike city in Orange County, said Parks and Recreation Director Gerardo Mouet, “and I think we can do it.”
“We’ve seen the statistics, in particular with pedestrians, that we don’t have enough signage, we don’t have enough lighting, we don’t have the appropriate infrastructure for folks to feel safe,” said Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who more than any other member of City Council has pushed for bike-friendly policies.
If people “don’t have any other means of transpiration, they have to bike, they have to walk to the bus stops,” she added.
Miller’s presentation comes amid a major jump in interest nationwide in making communities more bike and pedestrian friendly.
One example is the popularity of “open streets” or ciclovia events, in which entire sections of a street are temporarily dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic.
While five American cities held such events in 2005, more than 100 do so today, Miller said.
Los Angeles’ CicLAvia events, the latest of which took place on Sunday, have drawn crowds estimated at well over 100,000.
Santa Ana itself is planning its first open-streets event, SOMOS, for Oct. 12 along a two-mile route on Main Street between of First Street and Warner Avenue.
Miller said his group prepares nationwide data on biking and pedestrian issues, which now centers on the country’s 52 largest cities and 17 mid-sized bike-friendly cities.
The data show that while cycling and walking account for 11 percent of trips and 15 percent of roadway fatalities, just 2 percent of federal transportation funding goes to pedestrian and biking infrastructure, Miller said.
Data also show that cycling and walking reduces blood pressure, Miller said.
“We know by encouraging people to bicycle and walk, it has a real impact on the health of society as a whole,” he said.
The latest “benchmarking report” is scheduled for release next Wednesday.
Miller said a central question for American cities is, “How do we move from communities that are completely focused and catering to driving, [to] places where we can bicycle and walk more, or at least have it as a safe option?”
While cars are a key element to a functioning society, he added, about 50 percent of trips in the country are three miles or less, and a fourth of all trips are one mile or less.
“Imagine how much more easily traffic would flow on the roads that we have now if small percentages come off,” Miller said.
Minimal reductions of car usage can have major improvements to traffic congestion, he added, pointing to figures that a 5-percent reduction in car use around 2007 and 2008 was associated with a 30-percent reduction in traffic congestion.
Miller pointed to infrastructure investments such as protected bikeways, bike boulevards, bike parking and bike sharing systems as key to making cycling safer.
The potential for bike boulevards, which allow bicycles to travel through a neighborhood without hitting stop signs, is “rich” in Santa Ana, Miller said.
As for bike parking, replacing some on-street car parking with bike corrals has been shown to be a boon for local businesses, he added, with 60 businesses in Portland wanting to sign up after a pilot program.
He added that a good example of a city finding solutions for bike parking is nearby Long Beach, a city that several local officials, including Martinez, plan to tour soon.
Miller added that the most effective way to have bike infrastructure installed is for bike and pedestrian advocates to organize and push government to do so.
Political leadership, he said, is also key.
“It takes not only outside advocates, it takes some inside advocates.”