In conjunction with the Bike Route Pilot Program, which our City Council recently recommended to proceed, we’ve been talking to Public Works staff about planting a few sidewalk bicycle racks around our city’s commercial districts. Long overdue, bicycle parking has been in the works for the better part of a year. On our recommendation, Public Works planners have crafted a preliminary rack-on-request program to respond to specific bike parking need. But progress has been slow, and in the meantime the City of Los Angeles has installed many hundreds of new bicycle racks (many of them on demand) and launched an online web mapper to highlight them (right). Whither Beverly Hills?
There have been plans in the works for at least a year. Last fall the Transportation staff of Public Works presented a PowerPoint to bike advocates during the Pilot meetings. After much-needed feedback, the presentation was revamped to focus not on parks and schools but on commercial districts – namely the Business Triangle. We saw that revised PowerPoint this Spring. The Council was given a heads-up about it in July and then the identical presentation from the Spring was provided to the Traffic & Parking Commission in August (read our detailed recap).
With scant progress made through Spring and Summer, we anxiously await the next meeting of the Traffic & Parking Commission (Sept. 6th) to see what progress has been accomplished in the intervening time. When presented with the draft program in August, commissioners suggested that staff seemed unclear on the cost of racks, for example, and which rack might best fit our needs. And when the Commission asked about the cost of putting the BH brand on new racks, staff really couldn’t say; they hadn’t investigated it even though it had been a matter of discussion for many months.
Without a firm program to react to, the commissioners couldn’t refer it on to City Council. As it happened, Council did quite a bit of talking about bike facilities in their July and August meetings and it would have been valuable to have their feedback – and give staff direction to proceed – in that meeting. It was not meant to be.
Our Homework is Already Done for Us
The beguiling thing is that we have cities all around us that have progressed far past us and presumably have worked out the details for us: surely they have cost-out and road-tested a selection of racks and manufacturers. (Indeed no two cities use the same racks, so there is a wealth of data out there already.) Perhaps a field visit is in order?
We could simply ask staffers from those cities, Why did you choose such-and-such rack? And regarding the rack-on-request program, we certainly would benefit from insight gained in Santa Monica and Los Angeles as they’ve gotten a good workout to date: each had installed so many new racks that the cyclist in any business district has little problem finding a decent rack. As the LA DOT Bike Blog says, “With over 5,000 bicycle parking spaces available in the city, chances are there is one close to your destination.”
Indeed! Los Angeles even provides an online mapper (right) for routes, amenities, and yes, racks so that the cyclist is never in the dark. Beverly Hills has no cycling safety, routes, or amenities page. And likely never will. (We’ve offered to construct it for free but have gotten no nibble.)
Most importantly, our staff could benefit from a view beyond the bubble. We’ve been trying to arrange a trip to Long Beach for our policymakers and staff through the LACBC for months but we can’t seem to get our city to nail down the day.
A trip through the southland would show our policymakers that there exist economic benefits that flow from making our commercial districts attractive to those who choose to bike.
Sound implausible? One consultant in Long Beach has created a whole business around advising cities about how they can increase foot traffic without increasing vehicular traffic by adopting improvements like the humble bicycle rack. Don’t believe us: the proof is indeed in the pudding. Things are turning around in Long Beach, particularly for those retail strips that have long-suffered the city’s broader economic malaise. Without that city’s savior (community redevelopment funds) coming to the rescue, it’s a bootstrap effort to be sure. So why not take a shot on a few dozen $200 bicycle racks? Long Beach did; policymakers there are yanking on them bootstraps! Check out their imaginative art racks. Beverly Hills, eat your heart out!
Studies are beginning to show that good bike parking can make all the difference when you’re luring new shoppers, while bad or non-existent bike parking will surely discourage them. It pays to plan for your two-wheeled visitors. Yet when our Council-appointed Beverly Hills Small Business Task Force looked at our own under-performing business districts, all our participants saw was the need for more car parking. Evidently staff didn’t point them to Long Beach or Portland or Bay Area success stories. Our frame of reference remains Beverly Hills always, and so – no surprise! – the resulting findings report said nothing about attracting other mode users. What difference could a few $200 bike racks make anyway?
The answer can’t always be more parking structures. The Task Force should have asked tougher questions about how to make these districts more attractive. Such as, Why not provide a handful of bike racks if the costs of catering solely to motorists will result in a projected $40 million parking operations deficit through 2021? Or, Why not encourage other forms of mobility when taking the emphasis off the car takes the fiscal burden of parking operations off of Beverly Hills taxpayers? Indeed, why saddle ourselves with big bond debts for under-used public parking facilities when there are alternatives? Chad Lynn, Director of Parking Operations, never has to answer these questions because they aren’t ever asked.
Let’s Start Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit
We’ve urged the city to create a rack-on-request program like Los Angeles (and other cities) has implemented in order that anyone who sees the need for bike parking can request it. Once approved, a city crew comes out to plant it. Santa Monica alone has purchased a warehouse of racks. All over that small city their commitment to reduce car travel is evident. Not only that, it’s a codified policy in their Land Use and Circulation Element: no new car trips. Need a rack where you shop? Simply let Santa Monica know.
Whither Beverly Hills? The focus here seems to always be on the wrong thing. Instead of looking at where need is evident, staff have long talked about parks and schools. (Fine, as far as those opportunities go.) Instead of sifting through the wide variety of innovative rack designs our there, we only talk about how to put the Beverly Hills brand on it. Instead of allowing the public to say where they want to park a bike, we conjure up a rack request program that dissuades the call by slapping a fee to install a rack on the sidewalk – a city-owned right-of-way. Instead of simply putting some racks down where demand suggests their needed today, staff instead focused instead on creating a website to help cyclists locate one of our only 21 bike racks (and they are all in the Business Triangle). Yet even that initiative has been in the pipeline forever.
What takes so long to put some bike racks on the sidewalk? It beats us. But we hope to learn more about the progress that we haven’t made when the Traffic & Parking Commission next meets, which will be next week on September 6th. Our prediction: the rack program won’t be ready for prime time and we’ll see the year close without a single new sidewalk rack installed. But hey, we could be wrong! But we haven’t been wrong yet about Beverly Hills.