Action Deferred but Opportunity Awaits in Beverly Hills

City Council meeting July 26, 2012Beverly Hills City Council in study session today deferred action for the second time on the Bike Route Pilot program. Again the item was preempted by prior agendized items (notably Roxbury Park) that took much Council attention. To us that’s fine. We’d rather proceed judiciously than embark on a half-baked Pilot. The breather allows us an opportunity to recommend to City Council that we revisit the process and in the meantime proceed with cyclist-friendly improvements today. Read our letter to City Council or read on for our idea for Crescent Drive.

Nearby cities have garnered much attention lately for implementing on-street bike facilities, bike parking infrastructure, and programs for cycling skills education, each of which underline our region’s transformation from auto-dependence to true mixed-mode mobility. But Beverly Hills alone has an opportunity to steel the thunder because we’re well-positioned to affect mobility on the Westside; and of course we’re starting from nothing. Any improvement is a significant improvement.

What if we were to implement a cutting-edge demonstration project featuring the most innovative improvements on a key corridor? We could refocus attention on what we do for Westside mobility rather than what we’ve done to impede it. We can use the good press!

Crescent Drive looking Northwest

Crescent Drive: Wide, commercial businesses on only one side, and relatively low traffic counts make it a great bike route demonstration project!

After noting the shortcomings of the Bike Route Pilot program as presented to City Council, I suggested that Crescent Drive be that demonstration project:

Crescent Drive connects our northern neighborhoods to the Southeast through the Civic Center and Triangle.

This corridor is unique in that one side is entirely residential and the other relatively under-utilized retail (meaning fewer car trips). And it is sufficiently wide to accommodate buffered bike lanes if we reduce through traffic lanes. While reducing traffic lanes is always controversial, the buffered bicycle lane is the single most effective safety improvement that our city can make here for cyclists.

Low levels of traffic could trigger a traffic lane reduction. The corridor’s average daily traffic (ADT) count is sufficiently low that it has not been measured (according to the data that I have) and evidently it accommodates much less vehicular traffic than does adjacent Canon Drive.

What better place to try cyclist-friendly safety innovations than on Crescent? With City Council continuing the Pilot process recommendations discussion to the next study session (hopefully), we still have an opportunity to put forward a framework for a better plan – and a more effective program of improvements for keeping cyclists safe.

Beverly Hills Bike Route Pilot Outreach Meeting #1

Bike Route Pilot public meeting #1

Beverly Hills doesn’t have much to stand on when it comes to cyclist safety, so it’s heartening at least that a Bike Route Pilot program is underway to bring, for the first time, cycling-friendly improvements to some of our city streets. With the first public outreach meeting under our belt and two more upcoming on April 25th and May 9th, here we recap where we are and the next steps to safer bike routes.

The city’s first-ever bike facilities planning workshop just wrapped up, part of the Bike Route Pilot program to bring safer bike travel to city streets. This meeting is the first step; subsequently the Traffic & Parking Commission will formulate recommendations on or after the third meeting on May 9, with City Council action thereafter. The city mailed out 3,000 flyers (below) and Better Bike did some legwork too. Nevertheless, turnout was rather light. Hot-button issues draw the crowds (and the attention) but bike planning meetings? Not so much.

About seven or eight speakers total took the microphone. Collecting public input was the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee members Levine (Chair), Grushcow, and Friedman.

The meeting began with planner Martha Eros presenting an update on the Pilot, including the city’s bike rack effort. The latter includes new racks for commercial districts, new racks to replace the few substandard ‘wave’ type racks already installed, and (prospectively) a rack-on-request program so businesses can ask the city for a needed nearby bike rack. As presented, it’s clear that the city has come a long way in recognizing the value of bike parking. (And we appreciate it!) We look forward to these racks and this program in late summer and autumn.

The four routes identified for possible improvements (basic map) include Charleville Blvd., the most direct connection between La Cienega and Century City; Beverly Drive, the city’s commercial spine; and Crescent Drive and Carmelita Avenue. The latter seem to be the city’s preferred routes: they are less-traveled than the others, but they are also, we feel, a complement rather than a substitute. Should the city move forward on all four, we’ll see the kernel of a citywide bike network emerge, a prospect envisioned by our Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan from 1977.

The Pilot Program Feasibility Study

Our old bike plan hasn’t been a foundation of this effort; instead, the city commissioned a Pilot Program feasibility study from Fehr & Peers. On hand to present that study (PPT) was civil engineer Sarah Brandenberg. Emphasizing that “no decisions have been made yet,” Sarah enumerated the key parameter: the study assumed the existing right-of-way with no change to parking or vehicular flow. “We’re not removing anything,” she said. “This is what we could do for bicyclists.”

Moving through the four corridors (plus Burton Way, a late addition) she identified the possible improvements: bike lanes; share-the-road lane markings; and traffic circles. For most of the route segments, bike lanes are off the table; there simply isn’t room, she said. For sharrow-applied routes, like Carmelita and Charleville, the many stop signs that exist there could be replaced by innovative intersection treatments like roundabouts. “Nothing is envisioned [like that] now,” she added. “Maybe down the road.”

BH Small Business Task Force: Not Asking the Obvious Questions

Tree base on South Beverly Drive

North Beverly has fancy tree grates. South Beverly? Not so much. Task Force: start here!

It’s one of the regular Beverly Hills approaches to a problem: appoint a ‘task force’ that meets behind closed doors with notice not required and scant public participation beyond the handpicked appointees. That’s how City Council approaches issues like sustainability and revitalization, and it’s been most recently applied to small business viability and associated challenges of recruitment and retention. The Small Business Task Force delivered recommendations this week which included parking measures, streetscape improvements, and ‘shop local’ marketing, but it overlooked one potential bottom-line booster: attracting more cyclists to boost foot traffic to retailers.

Let’s Start With Governance

Let’s take a look at the Task Force. A task force is an ad-hoc body created by the City Council to identify problems, find facts, and penultimately identify policy options from which policymakers can choose. Task forces generally report findings in study session (held the afternoon prior to a formal council meeting where much problem-solving actually happens); subsequently, direction may be given to city departments. If action is to be taken, action items will appear on the Council’s formal agenda.

Traditionally, the task force is Council-appointed with seats apportioned to each Council member. For the interested stakeholder, it is important to pay attention to those appointments, and to the guiding question(s) that define the scope for the task force. Gadflies would also do well to monitor study session agendas closely to see if a task force is making recommendations. That’s the time to speak up, before the City Council subsequently considers formal action in an evening session.

Now, the task force is but one kind of body created to problem-solve city problems. And the task force is not even mentioned in the city’s City Council Policy and Operations Manual (essential reading). City commissions (defined in the municipal code) create ad-hoc committees to do fact-finding and recommend action. Like the task force, and ad-hoc committee need not meet publicly, nor post notice of meetings, or even produce findings for public review. In practice, findings are transmitted via staff report to the commissions under which committee members serve (and all products are accessible via public records request). Our city’s Bike Plan Update Committee is one such ad-hoc body.

Small Business Task Force Background

Let’s consider the Small Business Task Force roster. Appointments were weighted somewhat toward corporate entities (law firms, finance, and realtors) with disproportionately smaller representation among concerns that we might conventionally call ‘small business,’ like small shop proprietors. (See p. 2 of the findings report for a rostser.) No surprise here: it’s in keeping with the City Council Policy and Operations Manual‘s direction to conduct business outreach “at the corporate level.”

But the Task Force’s definition of ‘small business’ was established as: “independently owned and operated, is organized for a profit, and is not dominant in its field.” That leaves much flexibility for making appointments as Beverly Hills businesses are typically not dominant and relatively few businesses here are franchised.

A true small-business task force, by contrast, might have drawn exclusively from independent proprietors like the small retailers who labor in the shadow of larger firms, and perhaps those in our neglected commercial areas outside of the Triangle who suffer disproportionately in an economic crisis. It might weight findings to reflect districts where the vacancy rate is much higher – perhaps double – that of the Triangle. That might surface a greater variety of perspectives on the ‘barriers’ to small-business viability that identified in this report.

Turning to scope, the Task force, which first met in September of 2011, was charged (in brief) to:

  • Review vacancy rates in “key commercial areas”;
  • Identify barriers to retention and new small business recruitment;
  • Review “best practices” of programs in other cities;
  • Develop feasible solutions to overcome identified barriers; and
  • Provide recommendations to Council “to retain and attract small business in [sic] Beverly Hills.”

While the findings presented to Council don’t include an analysis of vacancy rates per se, a follow-up call to the city’s economic development office produced data that puts the citywide vacancy rate into a Westside context (though too coarse to assess vacancy rates across our outlying retail districts).

Vacancy rates chart for the Westside 2009-2011

Vacancy rates for the greater Westside (2009-2011) via Costar report.

That limited data suggest that Beverly Hills is not as competitive as we would like. For the current quarter, the citywide retail vacancy rate is about 13.3% – a level sustained for the past 8 quarters. The average of all other Westside cities during that span was 4.6%. (Charts by Better Bike.)

Asking lease rates chart for the Greater Westside 2009-2011

Asking lease rates for the Greater Westside (2009-2011) via Costar.

Likewise, our lease ask rate (per square foot) was on the decline over that period. That’s not surprising since the vacancy rate was relatively high. But it is a drop of 17% from late 2009 nonetheless – the largest percentage drop among cities studied. That it remains relatively high is due to our city’s unique advantages – brand, cachet, and centrality. But most important, we will have to await more fine-grained data to understand the variance across BH districts as our outlying commercial districts are grouped with Triangle retailers in this dataset.

Foot Traffic is Key

From our anecdotal understanding of vacancy rates across the city, vacancies are relatively fewer in the Triangle and higher in outlying retail districts. Certainly the ask price also shows a peak in the triangle. In the Triangle, retailers pay high freight for high foot traffic and maximal visibility. So when we look at shops north of Wilshire we can see that revenues are high; even in tough times these shops tend to persevere (with some exceptions) because they are better capitalized to start and have the foot traffic (and tourist visitors) to cushion against a recession.

In outlying districts like Robertson south of Wilshire, for example, or the western gateway between Moreno and Wilshire, and even to an extent South Beverly, retailers tap relatively less foot traffic. They pay less for space, of course, but here absolute undercapitalization (i.e., not simply relative to costs)  is a problem. These concerns are less financially robust and may succumb in a downturn.

What is the single best means to reduce this variance? Increase the foot traffic in outlying districts. Indeed our outlying commercial districts are the key to improving the small business picture overall because there’s so much more upside there (relative to investment) when compared to the prospects for small businesses in the Triangle. In other words, much can be done in the outlying areas and it can be done tomorrow.

How important is foot traffic? Compare the 200 and 300 blocks of South Beverly. The 200 block is vital and vibrant and draws from the surrounding neighborhood. Noontime visitors come from local offices off Wilshire, and even walk south from the North Beverly corridor. (Tourists even make the trek as the Beverly Wilshire is just two blocks away.)

On the 300 block it’s much different. Some make it as far south as the Post Office, then they turn around – leaving the businesses south of the P.O. with hardly a fighting chance. It’s proven difficult to sustain even a casual dining restaurant much less a high-dollar boutique there, and vacancies tend to linger longer. Because there just isn’t the foot traffic!

The problem is one of planning: there is no critical mass of retailers to draw shoppers south of Gregory. The west side is almost exclusively small offices plus a supermarket; on the east side, retail contiguity is interrupted by the post office and a parking lot. This kind of micro-district needs a wholly different, perhaps unconventional approach (or mix of businesses) to attract traffic. The mid-block crossing suggested by the Task Force won’t cut it.

While it’s pretty clear that small businesses need foot traffic in order to improve their bottom line, one Task Force answer to undercapitalized small businesses is to subsidize them. Indeed the Task Force identified “financial incentives” such as grants, loans, and tax deferrals, for example. But consider the shops on the eastern side of the Triangle on Crescent Drive as a cautionary tale. The shops there cater to residents but they’re just not drawing additional foot traffic because they’re off the beaten path, retail-wise.

In response, the city lowered rents in city-owned properties to as little as 5% of the average citywide lease rate (“below market,” the city dryly notes). But tossing them a lifeline won’t right a sinking ship; they simply have to generate more revenue. And that means more foot traffic.

Bike Plan Update Committee Meeting #3

Ad-Hoc Committee - Ellen and TerryThe ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met for the third time on November 16th with representatives from the Beverly Hills cycling community. This was the latest in a bi-monthly series to bring the city & bike community together. We last met in August to discuss the our need for bike-friendly facilities and programs, and to identify candidate bike corridors for a pilot program here in the city. Here is the recap from this third meeting, with comment to follow in subsequent posts.

Unlike previous meetings, Chair Levine noted that this was a public hearing, indicated that it would be recorded, and set a very tight time for duration: just one hour and fifteen minutes (a limitation not previously mentioned or indicated on the agenda itself). In attendance were about 17 bike community members*, including two who remarked on recent collisions. Three commissioners from the parent body, the Traffic & Parking Commission, Jeff Levine (chair), Alan Grushcow, and Ira Friedman, presided.

The committee is self-tasked with bringing our outdated bike plan up to date, as well as moving ahead on specific bike improvements. It operates as an ad-hoc body, which means that it need not meet regularly, nor adhere to state requirements for public meetings.

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee at workOn the agenda was 1) a presentation by Fehr & Peers, which was retained by the city to assess bike facility opportunities for each of the four potential pilot project corridors (selected in the last meeting); 2) a review of progress on bike-related initiatives by the Transportation division, which has engaged an intern to focus on same; and 3) a general discussion about problem intersections and how to make them more safe for cyclists, a last-minute addition to the agenda).

1) Pilot Project Presentation

Fehr & Peers was retained by the city to examine four candidate corridors chosen at the last meeting to assess suitability for bike facilities. The routes are: Carmelita, Charleville, Crescent and Beverly Drive. Two are north-south and two are east-west.The criteria discussed in that August meeting included 1) value to regional transportation connectivity; 2) utility as linking city schools; 3) current usage levels by cyclists; and perhaps most important for a pilot program, 4) “learning value” of applying new (to Beverly Hills) bike-friendly facilities or improvements to a corridor. The expectation is that lessons could be applied to other corridors.

Sarah Brandenberg from Fehr and Peer Engineers

Sarah Brandenberg presenting the feasibility analysis to the ad-hoc committee

Fehr was charged with coming back to the committee and the community with options for these four different corridors. The firm was represented by civil engineer Sarah Brandenberg; she presented findings from this “high-level” study, which is intended to “give something to cyclists in the city…food for thought,” she said. But the study didn’t include long-term bike improvements. And the opportunities presented here “were not analyzed in any level of detail,” she added.

More significant was the constraint: the premise for this feasibility analysis was that any options evaluated “would not impact car travel or existing parking.” That precluded any outside-the-box thinking on improvements like ‘road diets’ to calm traffic, of course – a safety measure that is currently being rolled out in cities like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.

From a process perspective, such constraint was not previously discussed in our Bike Plan Update meetings; that instruction provided to Fehr by the city. It necessarily shaped the options evaluated and presented; without considering a wider set of opportunities, perhaps this feasibility analysis functions best as a survey of conditions. Handouts were provided to illustrate each route, existing characteristics like width and parking, and provide an overview of possible improvements. (When PDFs are available, Better Bike will review them route-by-route.)

Carmelita Avenue study via Fehr & Peers

The Carmelita Avenue study from Fehr & Peers

The constraint was material to how the evaluated options were presented. South Beverly Drive, for example, is a key commercial district; it is included in the city’s pedestrian district and is well-used by cyclists today (as suggested by the bikes attached to parking meters). But the Beverly Drive corridor is also congested. It’s somewhat dangerous for cyclists, who are often seen riding on the sidewalks (illegal in that district).

But the Fehr presentation somewhat discounted the corridor as a candidate route because of those issues, rather than prioritizing it as an already well-used destination (which was one of the original four criteria identified in the prior meeting with the bike community).

In Brief, The Routes Discussed & Findings

Carmelita (42′ wide, parking both sides, 25 mph limit). The key challenge to this northerly alternative to Santa Monica Blvd. is continuity: at the eastern and western ends it terminates at non-controlled intersections on busy thoroughfares (SM and Wilshire, respectively). Carmelita also crosses several busy north/south boulevards without signals (only stop signs – and a total of 18 stop signs on this route inhibit fluid travel). The width is also insufficient for striped lanes, the study found, as parking is allowed on both sides. A ‘shared lane marking’ or sharrow would be appropriate, Sarah added.

It’s worth noting that Carmelita has long been identified by the city as an alternative bike route to Santa Monica Blvd. on-street bike lanes. That proposal envisioned a single, eastbound bike lane on Santa Monica and a westbound bike lane on Carmelita. Were Carmelita considered as a designated bike route for both east and west travel, with dual bike lanes, connections to those thoroughfares might present significant obstacles to eastbound travel in particular, however.

Charleville (35′ wide, parking both sides, 25mph limit). Charleville was identified by the bike community in the prior meeting as a popular east/west route that usefully parallels Wilshire (but one block south). It serves as a regional connector (another identified criterion) between Century City and Mid-City Los Angeles. It was also noted to connect several schools (which was another identified selection criterion). Charleville, too, is very stop-and-go: every intersection is controlled by stop signs. But unlike Carmelita, key intersections like Doheny, Robertson, and Beverly are controlled by signals. Width is too is too narrow for bike lanes given existing two-sided parking. Sharrows here would suffice too, Sarah said.

The city has resisted looking at Charleville as a practical bike route. The narrow width mandates lane-sharing, yet busy through traffic and the significant volume of in/out parking activity between Reeves and Rexford, adjacent to a mixed-use and commercial areas, presents a safety challenge for cyclists.

Beverly Drive and Crescent Drive, both key north/south streets, are wide (60′ and 50′ respectively) and 2-lane and will accommodate on-street bike lanes north of Santa Monica Blvd. These routes are already relatively safe to ride, however. The challenge lies to the south, in the business triangle and beyond, where they both change character.

South of Santa Monica, Beverly maintains its width but expands from 2-lane to a 5-lane configuration (4 travel and one center/turn lane) and hosts parallel parking on both sides. Below Wilshire, diagonal parking nibbles further into the travel area, requiring the elimination of the center turn lane. At Olympic, though, Beverly splits into two southbound boulevards, each of which connect with City of Los Angeles and eventually Culver City.

Crescent Drive, on the other hand expands below Santa Monica to 56′ wide; it  accommodates 4 lanes and parallel parking, but south of Wilshire it narrows considerably (to 30′) – yet maintains dual-side parallel parking. That makes for a very narrow travel lane (which already slows traffic considerably). Because Crescent narrows south of Wilshire, the feasibility assessment suggested that an alternative route might jog west on Charleville to Reeves, where it turns left. Reeves has parking only on one side, leaving a relatively wide roadway.

South Beverly & Wilshire intersection overview

South Beverly as it meets Wilshire Boulevard

As pointed out by Planning Commission member Brian Rosenstein, Reeves is considerably busy with spillover from the adjacent Beverly Drive corridor. (As a resident on Reeves I can attest that road speeds from circling traffic routinely approach 50mph for that one-block stretch.)

The other challenge with the jogged alignment is that it would terminate at Olympic Blvd. because there is no through route to the south. At Olympic it simply comes to an end. Moreover, for the cyclist looking to continue south, she is forced to ether 1) cross Wilshire to enter the left turn pocket (facing west) for the left-hand turn; or 2) to cross both Beverly and Beverwill in the crosswalk.

Feedback

Attendees asked a number of questions concerning the evaluation of the routes and options (with responses in parentheses):

  • How well will it serve destinations? Places people actually want to go?
  • Did you do any of your surveying by bike? (“No, we did our observations in a car…I prefer to ride in a bike lane or with sharrows.”)
  • Were single-direction bike lanes considered in this analysis? (“No, we couldn’t do a one-way lane without a parallel facility” on the other side.)
  • Was Gregory considered [as an alternative to Charleville]? (“No, it doesn’t have the continuity that Charleville does.”)
  • Back-in parallel parking is safer for both cyclists and motorists. On Beverly it makes sense, and its where people want to go.
  • We need physical barriers to illegal left turns, like on Crescent near Whole Foods and South Beverly, near the parking garage. With sharrows there, turning cars will scoot between cyclists. (“In Santa Monica they’re putting sharrows on streets like Beverly Drive.”)
  • These routes are fine, but are they attaching to anything else? Charleville connects to the bike route on Santa Monica in Century City.

Several (including yours truly) questioned the conditions imposed on the analysis: no effect on vehicular flow, and no change in parking arrangements. These constraints precluded lanes on all but the northerly reaches of Beverly and Crescent drives. The city adjusts parking regulations all the time – it’s a regular agenda item for the Traffic & Parking Commission – so why not consider rearranging parking where it would open up additional options, like on Carmelita or Charleville, where curbside parking precludes class II (on-street) bike lanes entirely?

Aaron explained that the city has no bike facilities now, and suggested their gradual introduction to take the temperature of the community. “It’s what we can get now – the low-hanging fruit – to get us started,” he said. “If we removed parking as a first step, it could derail [further improvements]… In the future, if this takes off, if cycling increases, maybe parking can be removed.”

“What We Can Get Now”

The “what we can get now” theme surfaced repeatedly because political considerations are important. “Our first idea for this committee is to get the discussion to other facilities… to measure the community’s reaction to bicycles,” Aaron said. Consultant Sarah also reiterated the theme, suggesting that with no facilities currently in place anywhere in the city, modest measures (like sharrows) might be prudent. “This is not Mars,” cyclists Rick Risemberg said of Beverly Hills. “Residents here have seen bike lanes; they travel throughout the region.”

But with four candidate routes identified and now analyzed (according to the city’s constraints), the process appears beyond further participation specifically by the cycling community. This pilot program feasibility analysis was presented as an informational item: though questions were taken and answered, it’s not clear that the bike community’s input during this meeting has any bearing on which routes are selected, or how options might be considered by the Traffic & Parking Commission. In the end, “The Council drives everything,” Aaron said.

To a question about the timeline for the pilot program, Aaron said, “I don’t want to commit. I’m anticipating at the beginning of next year going to the community – public outreach – on one or more of these [routes].” When pressed, Aaron said, “Our goal is in the next four months: first to the community, then to Traffic & Parking Commission” and finally to City Council.

2) The Bike Facilities Update

The Transportation Division’s new intern, Elias, presented a spreadsheet identifying the business triangle’s 22 bike racks (including those at the library). In an advance over the division’s previous bike map (read more about it), the current effort notes exact locations, describes the type of rack, and attaches pictures, with the eventual goal of posting the information online. Elias said that the data would provide a basis for moving past the business triangle when installing new racks, perhaps next along the South Beverly commercial corridor.

“We’ll get this on the web,” Aaron said, “then develop guidelines for other areas.” When asked about a rack-on-request program, Elias responded, “We’ve been talking about it.” [Indeed, Better Bike has been talking with Transportation for the better part of this year about creating a rack-on-request program, and was under the impression that the effort was the focus of the new intern’s bike efforts. Evidently the map has been the sole focus.]

3) Intersection Safety

The meeting concluded with a discussion of intersection safety, an item added relatively late to the agenda at the request of Better Bike upon hearing about another cyclist injury collision – this one at Olympic & South Beverly. Given already documented problems with the Santa Monica & Wilshire intersection, we suggested that intersection safety be a focus of the Traffic & Parking Commission. But it was instead referred to this committee.

Bike community members suggested guidance for cyclists through the intersections to avoid some of the present ambiguity and confusion, as well as innovations like a ‘bike box’ that puts the cyclist ahead of motor traffic at the stoplight prior to moving through the intersection.

Aaron said that both intersections were identified in the city’s capital improvement program: Olympic & Beverly as a $1 million project and SM/Wilshire in conjunction with reconstruction of the boulevard. With no firm plans for Olympic/Beverly at present, and SM Blvd. reconstruction slated to conclude in 2013 (Hilton Hotel development is uncertain and is a complicating factor here), safer conditions won’t be soon in coming, he suggested. “In the meantime we’ll look at re-striping” options, he said.

4) Next Steps

The next ad-hoc committee meeting is scheduled for January 18th (again at 5pm) where Transportation will work on formalizing a workplan (requested at the first ad-hoc meeting) and establishing a timetable to get the pilot program to City Council.

There was no timetable discussed for finalizing or posting of the bike rack map, nor was one indicated for the rack-on-request program. Though discussed, no timetable was offered for posting a bike-focused webpage on the city’s website.

Recap: the Tone & Tenor of the Meeting

When asked what kind of outreach the city had done for these meetings, perhaps to other city departments or commissions, Chair Levine suggested that there hadn’t been extensive outreach, saying, “Well, this is an exclusive group. Our outreach was to get the core ridership together.”

When asked if the next meeting time could be pushed back from 5pm to perhaps 6 or 7pm to accommodate those who work days, Chair Levine was non-committal. “No promises. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll keep you posted.”

That about summed up the tone and tenor of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee meeting, from the arbitrary 1-¼ hour duration announcement to the “We’ll keep you posted.” It seems like we in the bike community are on a need-to-know basis when it comes to road facilities that would make our travel though Beverly Hills more safe and secure.

* Unfortunately, not all cycling community interests could be represented. The 5pm Wednesday meeting precluded attendance for at least a couple of working folks, for whom an evening meeting is more convenient. Moving the meeting from Monday to Wednesday, too, raised a conflict for LACBC representatives who had attended earlier meetings. They were obligated to attend an organization board meeting downtown this afternoon.

Whole Foods: No Welcome Mat for Cyclists

Whole Foods garageWe dropped by our local Whole Foods store on Crescent Drive, today, right in the heart of bikable Beverly Hills. Crescent is a candidate for bike improvements, so why not make a grocery run on our trusty Trek? Surely Whole Foods recognizes the value of sustainable, active transportation. But you wouldn’t know it from their chronically-dysfunctional garage and second-class accommodations for cyclists.

What could be finer than an autumn trip to the local market by bike to pick up some late-season heirloom tomatoes and a head of buttery butter lettuce. And why take the car when Whole Foods is right there in the center town? In fact you’d have to be mad to drive, because anywhere near the end of the day their garage is a traffic-choked, fumes-suffused nightmare game of musical chairs. Too many motorists chasing too few spots. It’s a wonder it was ever permitted.

Of course, with the right mix of modes, their garage could offer plenty of parking and space a few spots for quality bike racks. Not so for the Beverly Hills Whole Foods, where there was not a rack in sight.

Making do with a provisional bike rackWhat could we do but to chain up to one of the few metal uprights we could find? Even if it is a moveable sign. See we weren’t going to be long, and we were already in the garage, so….

But once inside we asked about the store installing a bike rack. (Our customary pitch is usually delivered with helmet-on-head to make the point.)

“We do have a bike rack,” an assistant manager said, pointing to a dirty, poorly-lit  corner of the garage.

Whole Foods bike rackBoy were we surprised to find a rack there. We always thought it was a storage area. Upon further examination, though, we did spy a rack. But it is a junk rack – a ‘wheelbender’ in the parlance – one that makes securing a frame difficult but does readily impart a deviation to one’s rim if you’re not careful. The worst of both worlds!

We’ve seen bad racks before, but this one takes the cake. It says to cyclists that we’re not welcome. Needless to say, spurning would-be cyclists who might choose to ride and thus reduce demand for the store’s very limited parking spots is ridiculous. Each additional cyclist is either a customer that might not have visited or one that would have visited but now opens up a space for an additional motorist.

We thought the situation such a no-brainer that we contacted the marketing director for the store with a proposal: If Whole Foods steps up with a few standard bike racks, decent lighting, and perhaps even a green or blue painted pad, we’d be happy to provide technical assistance on rack selection and installation. We would also highlight the effort as a model project and bring some positive press to the environmentally-conscious chain.

We never heard back! Maybe because the store is without a manager (huh?) or because the marketing director thought rack installation was outside her wheelhouse. C’mon, Whole Foods, get it together! There’s a great opportunity to make this small effort worthwhile in the larger scheme of people-powered mobility.

Crescent Drive looking NorthwestCrescent Drive is lined on one side by small retailers and on the other by apartments. But it’s a cyclist’s nightmare given that three garages in two blocks provide plenty of in-and-out cross-traffic and curbside parking means too much traffic friction (especially near Whole Foods). Despite the small retailers on this stretch (including a hardware store that sells bikes!), however, there’s not a single bike rack on Crescent.

Why doesn’t Whole Foods show some enlightened self-interest here and step up with a bike corral as we two-wheeled customers deserve? That’s something we at Better Bike could get behind, too, as it would represent a baby step toward the kind of integrated bike improvements that will make this store more welcoming, make the entire corridor more hospitable, and make our city more friendly and enjoyable to two-wheeled road users.