Beverly Hills Wants to Know: You Bike?

  • Put it online. Every survey we’ve reviewed has an online version. Having a paper copy is great for local distribution and for public outreach, but it’s no substitute for universal accessibility made possible by Internet survey platforms.
  • Use the outreach effort as an opportunity to inform. The Santa Monica Bicycle Action Plan Community Survey (2011) offers a preface page highlighting the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element process and links specifically to the bicycle chapter. This brings respondents up-to-speed and introduces respondents to actual city plans.
  • Broadly address transportation alternatives. Before focusing specifically on cycling, Culver City’s Culver City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative Survey begins with “general travel” questions concerning commute and mode choice. Then it moves to six questions about walking. And after that digs into cycling. The point is that gaining a greater understanding about mode choice will help the city plan for a future where that choice increasingly does not include the automobile (whether or not that choice is walking, biking or transit).
  • Know the cycling community. Cities like to know whether we are constituents, naturally, but some surveys handle this more gracefully than others. Santa Monica’s survey asks, “What is your primary reason for taking an active interest in this issue?” with multiple choices including resident, out-of-city worker, neither, etc. That’s a neutral way of asking. In contrast, Beverly Hills bluntly asks, Resident or non-resident? (The latter suggests that city leaders care only what residents think.)
  • Ask us about your experience. Cities always ask about the cycling experience of the respondent. Some ask straightforwardly about skill level; others use ride frequency and/or average ride length as proxies. Culver City asks about all that and more, including age, gender and home address. (There’s value in being able to slice the data by age and gender and even location, but only if there’s a sufficient response volume.)
  • Focus on the commute. This is the low-hanging fruit. Let’s get people out of cars an onto bikes and transit. New York City’s Bicycle User Survey (2006) focuses no fewer than twelve questions on how respondents choose to commute. It asks why people commute by bike (or don’t) and includes questions about transit accessibility. Then it drills down to specifics: origin, destination, frequency, preferred routes and on-route challenges. Culver City leads off with three questions about the commute, including whether respondents combine bike trips with transit (how often and on which bus lines). That survey also asks about starting and ending points in order to target improvements appropriately. By asking about bus lines, the city can solicit funding from those transit operators and perhaps plan in advance for tomorrow’s bike station to help surmount that ‘last-mile’ challenge. (Indeed one is coming to Culver City.)
  • Understand the perceptual barriers to cycling. The Long Beach Bike Safety Survey (2011) probes cyclist perceptions with questions such as “As a bicyclist, drivers make me most nervous or upset when they….” It then turns the question to rider behavior. “As a driver, bicyclists make me most nervous or upset when they….” It is an unusual approach but gets to issues that many people cite anecdotally when asked why they don’t cycle more often. LA-based Cyclists Inciting Change thru LIVE Exchange (C.I.C.L.E.) focused on barriers that impact families with children in its Familes and Bikes Questionnaire (2010). The idea was that getting families to ride together is key to making cycling a default transportation choice, so making “transportation bicycling” kid-friendly is a priority for that organization.
  • Destinations matter. Santa Monica identifies seven categories (including the beach) when asking respondents about priority destinations. Then the survey drills down into the beach category (among the most popular) with a separate priority ranking by means of beach access. That suggests to respondents that the city is really thinking about beach access to cyclists. Culver City likewise asks respondents to list five destination areas where bike access could be improved and then asks for suggested improvements. Beverly Hills asks no such questions.
  • Routes matter too. One drawback of the Beverly Hills Pilot program is that public input garnered at outreach workshop #1 and #2 was often unfocused or does not reflect the candidate routes on the table. So where are the questions about specific routes? (Santa Monica asks about north-south and east-west routes.) A route question will provide planners and policymakers here with focused feedback if it’s tailored to the Pilot program candidate routes.
  • How do we feel about programs? Santa Monica asks respondents to rate on a relative basis the importance of safety and education programs as targeted across nine different sub-populations (school students, first-time riders, motorists, etc.). Should those programs originate in the schools, from city staff, or an outside organization? That’s valuable when allotting programming dollars. The city also asks open-ended questions like, “List up to three events that you would like to see prioritized and explain….” Our only open-ended field on the questionnaire is ‘comments.’ About what?
  • How do we feel about bike parking? New York wants to know. “Do you park at bike racks provided by the city? Where else do you lock your bike?” Santa Monica goes so far as to ask respondents whether required business parking could be in part replaced by bike parking (a heresy here in BH!).
  • Finally, just ask stakeholders how we feel things stand today with regard to bike planning and infrastructure. Santa Monica takes a page directly from the planning curriculum textbook when its “existing conditions analysis” section asks respondents to identify “strengths” and “weaknesses” of the programs and policies already in place. There’s value in the How’re we doing? question. Beverly Hills ought to ask it too.

Listen, Beverly Hills – keep in touch, would ya? I’m not convinced that you will. Notices for bike meetings have come late every time and they’ve never been very substantive. So it’s not out of character that you’re not asking for our contact information on your bike questionnaire. But you know, every other city’s survey asks for an email address because to those planners, the stakeholder relationship is important. Their surveys promise to follow up with more information or process updates and we believe them. Now, we’re not making that commitment are we? But then commitment has always been the problem when it comes to Beverly Hills and progressive planning.