If you’ve been waiting for Beverly Hills to install bike racks, we’ve got good news and bad. The good news is that the city may move ahead on three initiatives: racks for city properties, installations in commercial districts, and a rack-on-request program. This week the Traffic & Parking Commission discussed the particulars. The bad news is that the Commission continued the discussion until September, which means we’re approaching three years since the Commission formed a bike committee to implement just this kind of improvement but with scant progress to show.
Recall that our Traffic & Parking Commission back in early 2010 created an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee to bring our 1977-era Bicycle Master Plan up to date. The committee also discussed with bike community representatives at length the kind of racks we need – as well as bike route selection and other improvements over five meetings from last Summer through this Spring. Yet after nearly three years, the only progress we see is another proposal presented to a city commission.
You see, the Transportation Division has been developing a bike rack initiative since for the past two years. A presentation was made to the Bike Plan Update Committee in March about it, but the presentation today to the Commission [we’re waiting for it] has seen very few refinements. Progress seems to have lagged despite having an intern work the issue and there is no shortage of models & policies from other cities to choose from. So why the delay? That’s been an imponderable from day one. On to the meeting….
The City’s Current Bike Racks Proposal
The key aspects of the initiative as presented today are three and include:
- Racks installed in/on city properties like parks and garages. Our parks are woefully under-served by bike parking, and few public parking facilities have bike racks. Neither of the city’s two new ‘green’ buildings on Foothill boast a bike rack. Low-hanging fruit.
- City-initiated installations in commercial districts. Here the model is well-established. There are existing guidelines from many major cities and professional transportation organizations. We already have 21 racks in the business triangle, so this effort could add more there and reach out to satellite commercial districts like South Beverly, N/S Robertson, etc.
- A rack-on-request program. Here the model is established by Santa Monica and Los Angeles, which allow businesses and ordinary folks to request a rack where needed – at no cost because providing public bike parking is viewed as a city responsibility. In Beverly Hills it has been envisioned differently: as a business program with a possible cost-share. (The latter not discussed today.)
The Commissioners discussed how each should be implemented. The rack on city property proposal met little challenge. Substandard racks at Civic Center (left) and in our garages argue for replacement, and they could be replaced (and new racks added) without much fanfare.
Staff seemed to indicated that City Council needs to weigh in. (Public Works moves a lot of money around. They couldn’t do this on the department’s authorization?) Staff planner Martha Eros also said that parks need racks but she noted that today not many cyclists bike to our parks. (With the exception of Beverly Gardens and Beverly-Canon, few people cyclists or otherwise use any of our parks at present.)
The discussion then turned to rack designs appropriate for Beverly Hills. Martha noted the importance of two points of contact and showed standard inverted-U racks and others from nearby cities. Commissioners asked about custom racks with the BH logo. But recommendations from the commissioners was hard to come by because the commissioners weren’t presented with specific models from which to choose. Nor were they given specific price points by which to estimate costs ($200-$600 was noted as a general range). Staff didn’t identify an appropriate rack type, custom template, or even rack vendor. All to be decided.
Without specifics the commissioners could not offer direction and so the question will be revisited in September. “Let’s have the information prior [to going to City Council], not just ‘We can get it,’” Commissioner Levine said in pointed comment to staff.
Discussion finally turned to city-installed racks in commercial areas. Commissioner Jeff Levine referred to the staff-identified five commercial zones that would be targeted – all of them outside the central business district (at right). Commissioner Alan Grushcow asked whether that exempted the Business Triangle where a total of 21 racks stand today. He instead recommended including all business districts including the Business Triangle. “If we need bike racks in front of Cartier,” he said, “then it should be done.” (An earlier staff proposal for racks-in-parks seemed to exclude the central Beverly-Canon Gardens Park near the Montage hotel, but staff backed off on an implied exclusion.)
Commissioner Levine asked about prioritization. “We didn’t prioritize them,” Martha said. “I’d look at South Beverly, Robertson north and south, and Crescent” (at the eastern edge of the triangle). How many racks are expected to be installed, asked Commission Chair Steinberg. Staff didn’t have a number. “Maybe a hundred?” (Staff nodded.) Where would they be installed? “We’ll start looking in the Triangle and in commercial districts – at the end of the blocks probably,” Martha said. “What if we put up 100 racks and nobody uses them?” Steinberg asked. “I’m confident they’ll use them,” Martha replied. “Build it and they will come.”
(Martha said what we’ve always observed – that bikes are chained to meters and poles everywhere. We’ll add that the need is plainly evident and the bikes locked to meter poles alone suggests appropriate locations.)
Then there is the process. Process? As presented today, the community would have a say in whether racks were suitable for a specific location with objections coming back before the Commission. Martha likened it to installing infrastructure speed bumps or a red [no parking] curb – or for that matter removing parking. (There seemed to be an implied veto power accorded to the community.) Commissioner Grushcow disagreed. “If wisdom says that a certain spot [would benefit from a rack], we’re saying it’s needed then it’s installed there. Why not do that? I’d love to see them everywhere over time.”
Martha seemed vague about what that process would entail, or how it would apply differently to city-initiated racks versus business-requested racks. Clearly the details aren’t not ironed out.
In a sign that even an enlightened Commissioner is not rack-happy, Mr. Grushcow suggested a phased installation. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” The specifics will have to be decided before the issues comes back to the Commission in September.
Is Bike Parking the Same as Car Parking?
The discussion about capacity, location, and process seemed framed by concerns about car parking. With car parking, there exists a limited number of on-street spaces, which means the city enforces strict time-limits to encourage parking space turnover. And parking is of course a concern when permitting new commercial development and renovations. The city can mandate that businesses accommodate employees in private or public parking facilities and often requires them to lease spots if they can’t provide it on-site. Should those principles apply to bike parking?
Commissioner Grushcow asked how we can ensure that casual cyclists would use the racks but not employees, for example. “We’re not trying to provide on-street bike parking for employers,” he said. “Deli [delivery] parking – that bike should be parked on their property.” Commissioner Friedman was also concerned. “Delivery bikes shouldn’t be at a public rack…They may detract [from the streetscape].” Commissioner Levine suggested racks behind businesses for employees and more racks in city garages for overflow.
Chair Steinberg disagreed, citing concern that spillover from districts like South Beverly would impact nearby residential neighborhoods. “We should strongly encourage employees to use these racks. If on South Beverly, say, the Burger Lounge employees use the bike rack, we should put up another one.”
Another policy question for the Commission: Should businesses be required to accommodate delivery bikes with racks behind the establishment? “We can look at that,” Aaron said.
The staff report for this meeting said that the Transportation Division needed direction from the Commission, but there was not sufficient information presented to the Commission to allow them to recommend anything definitively. Instead it was more fact-finding for the Commission. Indeed the staff report included a year-old inaccurate map of Triangle bike rack locations (which the Commissioners did not note).
The meeting was largely a waste of time for everybody because staff was not prepared to discuss details nor advise on specifics. But staff is not the only resource: commissioners Levine and Grushcow sat on the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee and heard plenty from cyclists about bike parking. Over five meetings across nearly a year, many suggestions were made. Put parking where cyclists want to park. Focus on commercial districts and the more racks the better. Look at what other cities are doing. Los Angeles and Santa Monica install them by the hundreds!
Little of that crowdsourced wisdom made it through to the whole Commission, however. When Better Bike inspected public documents to understand the information provided to the Commission in May, when it recommended against all five Pilot bike routes, we found that staff had synthesized five meetings of bike community input into a short bullet list (fewer than ten) at about an average of six words per point. Of course the Commission has nothing to go on.
Despite the tendency to view bike parking like car parking, we believe that bike parking is fundamentally different. There is no finite capacity. Installation costs are low. The impact of bicycles on the community is negligible even in volume. More than do drivers, cyclists like to park where they feel they’re bike is secure so over-provision is better than under-provision. Alleys, dark corners of parking garages, and substandard racks are eschewed; they simply won’t be used.
But nobody’s asking us. If they did, we’d say forget ‘process.’ Nobody asked businesses whether they want meter poles out front. But they love the proximate parking, which comes at a significant expense to everyone.
As we approach three years since that ad-hoc committee was formed, and a full two years since Better Bike has been talking to staff about racks, racks, racks, we still haven’t installed a single rack on any sidewalk in this city. And now the can is kicked to the next Commission meeting on September 6th. Stay tuned: After the Commission makes a recommendation, City Council will likely hear the racks proposal on September 20th perhaps in conjunction with a continuation of the Pilot Bike Routes discussion from early July. We’d love to say for sure, but two calls to City Council’s office for the schedule haven’t been returned.