What Role Will the Westside COG Take on Bike Share?

Westside Cog logoWith news breaking that Santa Monica is embarking on a bike share program, we can’t help but think back to the Westside Cities Council of Governments (COG) meeting in May. Talk of a Westside-wide bikeshare program promoted by Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom captured the COG board’s attention then, and the board directed COG staff to formulate a Request for Proposal (RFP) and identify suitable vendors. But member City of Santa Monica seems to have jumped the gun with it’s own Metro grant-funded system. Whither the COG?

We remember the COG board directing staff to develop a request for information from bikeshare program vendors and to present it to the Transportation Committee at its June meeting. The idea was to get out ahead of local bikeshare efforts with a plan in hand or a program identified in order to lead cities toward the best program option(s). In COG terms, to “move the procurement process forward by providing the COG jurisdictions with details of the financial, staffing, operations/management, and real estate needs (for stations) of the joint program.”

But Los Angeles under Mayor Villaraigosa has already announced to everyone’s surprise the selection of a bikeshare vendor, and now Santa Monica looks set to proceed under a Metro grant for bikeshare. We wondered, Where do these developments leave the COG’s effort?

We asked Maria Rychlicki, the COG’s Executive Director. “Santa Monica has applied for an AQMD grant that, if awarded, I believe, would include installation, in addition to Bikesharing stations in Santa Monica, five in the COG region outside of SM,” she said. “The COG cities are working together and in dialogue with METRO and LADOT.”

It is a complicated thing, this sub-regional governance! Coordination across member cities ensures that member governments are aware of the various programs and opportunities and, crucially, on board with the same or compatible systems. Indeed The Westside COG could be a coordinator that brings a measure of consistency – as well as potential economies of scale – to local bikeshare.

But member governments have their own prerogatives, to say nothing about chief executives attuned to the political winds and departments of transportation attuned to….to what exactly?

The peril in governmental fragmentation and organizational obstruction is that cities may or may not go ahead independently, leaving bikeshare across the region a potential patchwork of incompatible systems. Imagine taking a bike from West Hollywood and returning it to Beverly Hills at the same vendor’s kiosk. You pay for a one-way and go on your way. Now imagine that you’ve got to pay for a whole evening because you’re visiting for the night and the Beverly Hills system is simply not compatible. Our Mayor, Willie Brien, knows very well about the advantages of region-wide bikeshare because he sits on the COG board.

The COG needs to get out front of these efforts, but expecting the COG to lead presents a problem: member cities are better equipped with bodies and expertise to undertake a bikeshare process. The COG is under-equipped because there is only executive director (Maria) and perhaps an intern working alongside. A grant could fund a planning effort – and maybe there’s funding in the offing – but that takes management time. Then there is the question of mobility expertise: who would the director tap for help? Again there the challenge is staffing.

Now, it seemed for a time that the Westside COG might take an active role in addressing the mobility problem. In the Fall the COG undertook an exercise to identify priority Westide routes for signage and ‘gap closure.’ (With some member city staff support.) But that initiative seems to be on the back burner.

Now we’ve called for a COG mobility coordinator, but with this fiscal year’s budget already put to bed, we will have to wait until the new fiscal year in Summer of 2013 to know if any change is coming to staffing. And we’ll wait until the next meeting of the Board on July 26 to know more about bikeshare via the COG.

We’ll say it again: the Westside COG needs an in-house mobility coordinator. That might put the COG back out in front of its member cities, so that Los Angeles and Santa Monica don’t plow ahead with planning while the sub-regional coordinator follows.