Time for a Culture Change in Beverly Hills Transportation

David Guftavson

David Gustavson, Director of Public Works

Speaking with Beverly Hills officials, one would think that laying down a few bike racks is akin to a capital improvement project. Just this morning, Transportation (a division of Public Works) suggested that cyclists might have to wait until the next fiscal year (starting in July) for a single new bike rack. This makes absolutely no sense: racks are a couple of hundred dollars apiece. We know where they are needed. Cities already have guidelines for placement. And Beverly Hills has $30,000 in Metro Transportation Development Act Article 3 funds available for the asking to pay for them. Why are we getting the runaround from Public Works?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s simply a cultural disconnect: that our Public Works and Transportation officials are so beholden to 20th century auto-centric principles that they’re unable to view bike racks and other bike improvements as anything but an extra-curricular recreational amenity like a hitching post, rather than view cycling as one answer to our 21st century transportation problems.

Yet these folks have no trouble recognizing a car parking deficit. The city will always build another garage (a 2nd one is coming to South Beverly) or simply mandate that project applicants create even more off-street parking at significant expense (as exemplified by the proposed gateway overlay zone).

But here we’re talking about $200 bike racks. That’s petty cash, relatively speaking. It’s representative of a larger cultural problem: while cities work to reduce congestion and increase energy efficiency by shifting travelers to non-motor modes (like cycling and walking), Beverly Hills has not made a single tangible improvement to encourage cycling here. Even as our streets are demonstrably unsafe for cyclists.

Somehow, providing an everyday piece of transportation-related hardware like a bike rack is mired in a process better suited for building a parking structure: conduct a study, go to policymakers for authorization and funding, and then let a contract. (No wonder why we have no new bike racks in town.) Since we’ve been talking to Transportation about some new racks, cities like Los Angeles and Santa Monica have installed thousands of new racks on sidewalks across the region. Beverly Hills? Zero.

Why not just put a few racks down already? Don’t we in the cycling community have to wonder why no improvements have been made? We’ve been bending the ears of city officials for so long that we’re entitled to a bit of frustration. And when a Transportation official says, unbidden, “In no way are we trying to delay anything…” that should be a heads-up to ask exactly what’s behind the delay if not intent to delay?

It’s the Culture of Transportation in Beverly Hills that Needs to Change

There is a need for a change in the culture of transportation – and the culture of Transportation (the division of Public Works). That was highlighted recently in a series of meetings with the bike community.

Over four meetings with Transportation staff, we asked for racks in commercial districts and pointed to existing programs in other cities where racks are successfully deployed as a parking solution and by request. In our most recent meeting, we were presented with a PowerPoint presentation highlighting possible locations at parks and schools – not the commercial districts where need is evident today. Worse, the presentations suggested  where racks weren’t needed (a question nobody asked).

Staff also seemed ready to reinvent a wheel that’s now rolling in other cities. They have established rack placement standards already. Why not simply pull their guidelines off the web, or ask their staff for guidance? There also exists rack-on-request programs right in our own region that we can copy. But rather than follow prevailing practices, we’re rolling our own. Go figure. (Read our recap for the full story.)

More than a program in development, it’s our outmoded principles behind our policies that show a need for a new way of thinking about transportation in Beverly Hills. Namely, that bike racks and facilities are measures that address a transportation problem that we have today – congestion. Why not encourage a shift to non-motor travel and view bike racks and such in that light?

Santa Monica rack request screenFor example, other cities install bike racks on city sidewalks upon request for free as a gift to local businesses. Santa Monica (right) and Los Angeles make it as easy as filling in a web form. That’s because bike racks encourage bike use which can bring new shoppers (a value-add for local businesses) who wouldn’t even bother to park here because it’s a hassle. Look around at all the storefront vacancies in Beverly Hills and ask whether the answer might not be a few $200 racks.

That’s why it’s puzzling that Transportation wants to force those businesses to share the cost of a bike rack, even though that rack is installed on public property, in the public right-of-way, and would continue to belong to the public long after that shop owner has moved on. Why would they pay for a city bike rack? Why should they? Although this aspect of the proposed rack-on-request program was criticized by cyclists, a month later it remains part of the presentation as City Council prepares to receive it shortly.

A change in culture is already anticipated by the text of our policy documents. Our General Plan, for example, hits all the right policy notes with the following goals:

Accommodate a balanced mix of land uses and encourage development to be located and designed to enable residents access by walking, bicycling, or taking public transit to jobs, shopping, entertainment, services, and recreation, thereby reducing automobile use, energy consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gases. (Land Use goal 14, ‘City Form’)

 

Promote the health of residents by developing streetscapes, bikeways, accessible parklands that encourage pedestrian activity, and requiring that development be located and designed to promote walking and bike riding as alternatives to automobile use. (Land Use goal 16.7, ‘Public Health’)

And this rather pertinent policy goal really hits the nail on the head:

Create or collaborate on an interconnected transportation system that allows a shift in travel from private passenger vehicles to alternative modes, including public transit, ride sharing, car-sharing, bicycling, and walking. Before funding transportation improvements that increase vehicle miles traveled, consider alternatives such as increasing public transit or improving bicycle or pedestrian travel routes. (Circulation goal 2.10, ‘Interconnected Transit System’)

Yet our Transportation planners sill only want to move metal; vehicular throughput is our chief circulation concern. And it is vehicle-related impacts that preoccupy our aptly-named Traffic and Parking Commission, not advance planning for that multi-modal mobility network. Indeed in the 18 months that it’s been meeting, our in-aptly named Bike Plan Update Committee, which is composed of three T&P Commissioners, has made no effort to update our 1977 bike plan.

But you wouldn’t recognize that kind of blinkered perspective on vehicular circulation from the Transportation division’s raison d’etre:

“The Transportation Department is committed to providing a safe, pleasant environment for living, conducting commerce and traveling while promoting residential quality of life and economic strength in our community.”

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