Metro’s Bike Roundtable: Why it Matters

Metro bike-to-transit presentation calloutBetter Bike BH attended the Metro Bicycle Roundtable’s planning subcommittee meeting on September 22nd to learn more about this big-gorilla transit agency’s work on behalf of cyclists. The agency is particularly keen on ensuring that our big investment in rail is not undermined by the ‘last mile’ problem: the disinclination of would-be transit riders to take transit because they can’t conveniently get from the station to destination. Linking transit and cycling is a no-brainer!

We wouldn’t have known about Metro’s priority in this regard if we had not heard it from Metro officials themselves. After all, to most folks, Metro means slow buses (or no buses). Behind the scenes, though, the agency has been working with cyclists in the Metro Bike Roundtable for some time, and this is where we make progress on moving a behemoth agency forward where active transportation is concerned.

But believe it or not, this meeting was evidently the first time that anybody from Beverly Hills ever showed up. Our city is so important to the Westside transportation network, and we’re a main stop on Metro’s major bus lines (Wilshire & SM Blvds.) but as an official presence we’re little seen. In fact, our city has a well-earned reputation for causing Metro problems – as city officials are doing by fighting the agency’s preferred Century City rail station location alternative.

Why attend a Metro roundtable? This regional transportation agency moves buses and trains but also plays a key role in planning and construction of facilities. That means that every station is a transit hub and every bus transfer point or key stop a transit node. Each presents an opportunity to encourage greenhouse-gas reducing transit like cycling. Pie-in-the-sky? No! I can tell you that Metro (along with the Southern California Association of Governments and all participants at this table) fully expect cyclists to help move our region away from auto-dependency.

Metro Roundtable meeting September, 2010
Metro Roundtable meeting September, 2010

In the meeting room, though, filled with bike and alternative transportation advocates and the like, merely the mention of a rep from Beverly Hills being at the table (however unofficially) unleashed modest applause. Roundtable attendees (bikers all) urge high standards for transit-oriented-developments (TODs) because TOD developers get a break on financing and given more intense use near transit (under zoning provisions) they can more fully reap the higher value of the land.

It’s more than bike racks, in other words. In exchange for cheap money and taller buildings, TOD developers are supposed to provide infrastructure and facilities to encourage walking and cycling. (More info.) Thus TOD is supposed to be a win-win: public investment in transit that greatly boosts property values near stations is recouped through facilities that serve cyclists and pedestrians and development-proximate investment in ancillary structures with public benefits (like affordable housing).

Hollywood & Vine TOD
Hollywood & Vine W Hotel: Big investment in Transit-oriented design but not without its critics.

In practice, though, we’ve gotten some high-profile projects anchored by rail (like the W Hotel at Hollywood and Vine, right) but where the public doesn’t clearly benefit. Bike activist Stephen Box has highlighted on his Soapbox blog the ways that these developments fall short of the promise even as developers walk away with the gains. Box was successful in shaming Metro and the W Hotel developers to do more than install a couple of racks. At the present time, Metro has committed to converting a ground-floor room (in theory, valuable floor space) into a secured bike parking facility. Box wants to raise the bar much, much higher than what we currently expect of TOD developments. Think lockers, bike valets, parking reductions and transit discounts. It’s another example of how the bike advocacy community is working to refashion how we build cities one development at a time.

Metro Bike Hub presentation slide
Bike 'hubs' are a key piece of the Metro rail investment strategy. They are the 'last mile' link between transit and destination.

Metro sets the standards, designs and builds transit stations, and funds transit-related improvements. They’re a huge player, and by incorporating cyclists’ needs into transit we have an opportunity to establish the all-important bike-transit link. (See the slide on bike hubs, at right.)

Metro also undertakes long-range strategic planning. They are in the process of updating the Bicycle Transportation Strategic Plan (2006) and the roundtable offers guidance. Indeed last night’s meeting ranged from TOD standards-setting to moving forward with the agency on their strategic plan update, and cyclists are a part of it to ensure that new rail stations are equipped to accommodate cyclists too.

And for the first time Better Bike was in the house. We will be back on October 6th for the Metro regional governments roundtable too, because Beverly Hills officials won’t be there We’ll attend the operations subcommittee meeting too because BH staffers won’t be there either. And we’ll be back on November 5th because our city will still be missing in action.

We’re committed to plug the gaping hole in the network that is Santa Monica Boulevard, as Metro highlighted as #2 in their assessment of gaps (below).

Metro's identified gaps in the inter-jurisdictional bikeway network
Gaps in the inter-jurisdictional bikeway network keep people in cars and stick us with the 'last mile' problem: linking transit and cyclng.