The Beverly Hills Traffic & Parking Commission on Thursday morning will review a staff proposal for new bicycle racks and a rack-on-request program. This is the latest step in moving ahead on the installation of new bike racks since about twenty racks were installed in the business triangle many years ago as part of a beautification effort. Outside of the triangle, though, the city has not installed a single rack. With bike racks finally back on the city agenda, we look at what’s proposed.
The staff report identifies two elements to a bicycle rack program: 1) new racks for city parks, garages, and business districts; and 2) a rack-on-request program that would provide a bicycle rack upon receiving a request from a business in Beverly Hills. The rack-on-request program will target racks to where they’re needed today. Indeed the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica have found such great success with this kind of a program that they’ve stepped up the pace of installation to the tune of many thousands per year. Beverly Hills, however, stands practically alone among Westside cities in not having installed any.
Why not? Our city plans say we want to encourage multimodal mobility. The Beverly Hills Sustainable City Plan (2009), for example, includes as a long-term policy recommendation:
Reduce traffic-related emissions through investments in the City and the implementation of land-use and other strategies that reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.
Under “simple things that you can do to encourage a more livable city,” the plan helpfully suggests that we “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible.” But it doesn’t note that there are virtually no places to park a bike in Beverly Hills. Were our city to follow the sustainability plan’s recommendation, we would integrate bike parking into every public area and mandate it for every private commercial development (just like we do for off-street car parking).
New Racks for Garages and Parks
The need for new bicycle racks is plainly evident yet our city makes few accommodations for cyclists. Few city garages provide a bike parking area, for example, and those that do tend to shunt bike parking off to a far corner rather than make it convenient. The city’s new Foothill garage (left) places its bike rack as far as possible from the buildings it serves.
Other garages slap a poor-quality rack down in an area that is not highly-visible, as is the case at the Civic Center garage (at right). Many Business Triangle garages are often not amenable to bike racks because entry & exit ramps make walking a bicycle unwise, but proximate street-side locations could accommodate a few racks. And there is always an opportunity to install a bike rack ‘corral’ by converting a single on-street parking space to bike racks in order to accommodate as many as 14 bicycles.
The proposed bicycle rack program would target garages for new racks. It also identifies parks as needing racks. Indeed our sustainability plan suggests that we make better use of local parks and community centers – and even better that we ride to them – but the cyclist is hard-pressed to find a single bicycle rack at any city park (as affirmed by the city’s own survey). A racks-in-parks discussion is timely: the Roxbury renovation has focused so much on traffic and parking impacts that park opponents have successfully argued for downsizing park facilities simply because they’re concerned about car parking.
It’s time we talked about how moving trips from car to bikes can affect the larger planning decisions we make. The parking value of bicycle racks cannot be overstated: a typical free-standing bicycle rack can accommodate two bikes at literally one penny on the parking dollar relative to constructing a garage space for a single car. One penny!
New Racks for Business Districts
As proposed, these candidate areas are a fine start. We can quibble with some of these locations (like the Western Gateway, an area that is likely to undergo significant redevelopment soon), but where are key corridors like Beverly Drive North and the South Doheney business district? Beverly North is home to many major restaurants and popular destinations, and we already see bikes locked there, so it makes sense to expand parking opportunities for cyclists ASAP.
South Doheney, like many of our under-patronized small business districts, would also benefit from bicycle racks because retailers there need the foot traffic yet the neighborhood can’t afford greater vehicular traffic impacts. So let’s get people making their shopping trips by bike! But note that our city’s recent Small Business Task Force report didn’t even acknowledge the upside of attracting cyclists to these shops. While other cities garner great returns when low-rise business districts are perceived by cyclists as hip destinations, our business areas stagnate. (To his credit, our Vice-Mayor Mirisch has included bike-friendly planning in his Southeast Beverly Hills Task Force discussions.)
The staff report is very thin on the details here too. According to the staff report, “Bicycle racks would be placed at locations, most likely at block end/corners, to maintain an unobstructed public right-of-way…” There is proposed a public notice process for bicycle racks akin to the city’s parking permitting process that allows for public comment.
Two things. We applaud the idea of corner bicycle rack corrals – indeed our business triangle and the South Beverly Drive corridor has curb bulb-outs seemingly made for bike racks (right). So yes, let’s take advantage of those opportunities. But we also need racks mid-block near destinations people go or else cyclists will continue to lock-up to meter poles.
Second, there’s hardly a commercial corridor in Beverly Hills that cannot accommodate a bike rack. So the bias in a new rack program should be placed on accommodating them. If we are concerned about impediments in the public right-of-way, we could sooner look to outdoor dining areas that already greatly encroach into the sidewalk. We could look at utilities like lampposts, mailboxes, and newspaper boxes that pinch the sidewalk. And we could point to parking meter poles that are every downtown’s unnoticed blight. Let’s not focus on precluding bicycle racks because they might obstruct pedestrian traffic and put the emphasis on locating them in order to reduce vehicular traffic. Seems simple to us!
The rack-on-request program is one of the most successful of the alternative transportation programs embraced by surrounding cities. Bike racks are a few hundred bucks installed and at that low cost encourage additional foot traffic without the attendant motor traffic impacts. Not for nothing have Los Angeles and Santa Monica focused on providing new racks at city expense to businesses simply upon request. Here in Beverly Hills, our rack-on-request recommendation has not garnered the interest in City Hall.
As presented in the staff report, our program could mirror those implemented elsewhere. But for some reason city-provided bike racks are viewed on par with major infrastructure changes like speed bumps. That means public notice in a specified radius and review by the Traffic & Parking Commission should any opposition emerge.
Bicycle racks are not speed bumps, however; the rack is parking infrastructure while the speed bump is traffic management. These should not be conflated. And nobody in City Hall has asked merchants if they wanted parking meter poles outside their businesses. Who among them would say yes? Likewise, there is no need to canvass public sentiment about a bike rack. With people locking up to parking meters and signposts, the need is already clear, and providing a bicycle rack within identified guidelines (not specified in the staff report) on the public right-of-way should be a staff-level decision because it wouldn’t affect traffic or pedestrian flow. Larger efforts like sidewalk bike corrals and the conversion of car spaces for rack corrals should go to Commission.
The need for new racks is evident: all across the city we see bicycles lashed to parking meters, lampposts, and fences anywhere near popular destinations like markets, coffee shops, and banks. Yet we are no closer to putting new racks on city streets than we were a year ago largely because Transportation Division staff has not put in the effort. Evidently staff has not developed any specific draft location guidelines or identified preferred rack designs or even cobbled together a short list of preferred suppliers for the Commission to review. (If so, they’re not included here.)
The quality of the staff report should also raise concern. This staff report includes an old (and inaccurate) map of existing bike rack locations despite staff having in hand an improved version (at right). Why wasn’t it included instead? We remember how poorly-executed was that first map (in fact we provided staff with our own corrected version) and here it is again in the staff report. Back in March the staff generated a much better presentation on bike racks. Why isn’t it included here?
We’re not surprised. We’ve groused time and time again about the questionable good faith of City Hall when it comes to making the cycling experience better. At every step, it seems, our Transportation planners suggest their limitations when it comes to planning for alternative modes of mobility in Beverly Hills. Is it the lack of interest? Is it basic competence? It’s time our city hired a mobility planner or consultant to help us get it right. As the rest of the region moves ahead with good plans and many bike racks, we’re still churning over the same old proposals and the same crappy maps.
While this staff report is far too insubstantial to suggest the opportunity, hopefully the Traffic & Parking Commission will flesh out these issues on Thursday and provide staff with the proper direction so that we can finally get a new rack on the ground in Beverly Hills. But we’re not holding our breath; we’ve held false hopes before!