Bike Plan Update Committee Meeting #4 (Bike Racks)

The Beverly Hills ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met on January 18th to update the bike community on several projects of concern to cyclists, including the installation of new racks, the Bike Route Pilot, and the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project. The previous post addressed the Pilot, the next will address Santa Monica Boulevard, and here we will focus on racks. While we see some city-side progress from the presentations, we have a long way to go to meet demand with new racks. We also see the need for active-transportation expertise among Transportation staffers.

Elias, an intern working on bike issues for the Transportation Division, presented in the January meeting a draft map of locations for the business triangle’s 22 bike racks. Revising an earlier version, this map now includes more descriptive information and geo-coordinates so that the map may be integrated into the city’s GIS system. One day, available bike parking will be searchable via mobile and the web, we’re told, and that’s good news.

Today though there exists a pressing need for new bike racks simply to accommodate demand. Cyclists lock up to trees and meter poles in commercial districts throughout the city (which seems not to be prohibited in the municipal code) simply because there are so few racks to be found across most of the city. No new racks have been added to our commercial districts in many years, for example, and those 20 or so racks that do exist there are not clearly recognizable.

The Transportation Division (of Public Works) is undertaking two programs to increase the number of bike racks: an assessment of locations for new racks and the development of a rack-on-request program that will serve the business community. Fortunately, there exist several existing models for our rack-on-request program, and many cities are installing new racks. We need only to look next door to see how it’s being done.

Rack ‘Installments’

In a PowerPoint presentation titled Bicycle Rack Installments, Elias reviewed city parks and schools as candidates for new racks. Two criteria guided his location assessment: “bicycle density” and whether or not bike racks already exist in the location. (See the assessment for details.)

He found that 5 of 8 major parks and 4 of 7 mini parks were likely candidates for a rack, while 1 only school needed a rack. For the parks, a location was identified (e.g., “near the entrance” or “near the center of the park”) while for the High School a more general “different locations” recommendation was offered. Locations were recommended based on immediate suitability, such as a flat concrete slab available.

Rack types identified in the presentation
Note: not recommended!

The presentation identified several different types of racks to install, including the inverted-U standard rack and the familiar ‘wave’ design. But the ‘wave’ doesn’t comport with accepted rack standards anymore. Racks need two points of contact in order to stabilize a locked bike. Racks that secure only the front or rear wheel are substandard too for that reason. Often substandard racks bracket the rear wheel but don’t allow a lock though the frame. (Read more about securing your bike.)

Fortunately there are accepted rack guidelines that go into detail about rack types and installation. The ABPB Bicycle Parking Guidelines, for example, state that at the very least a rack must:

  • Support the bicycle upright by its frame in two places;
  • Prevent the wheel of the bicycle from tipping over;
  • Enable the frame and one or both wheels to be secured;
  • Provide enough room for two bicycles to be secured to each rack element with independent access for each bike.

Prohibited rack stylesThree of the four racks identified in the assessment are wave-style racks, however. About those the guidelines say:

“Wave style racks are not recommended. Bicyclists commonly use a “wave” rack as if it were a single inverted “U.” This limits the actual capacity of the rack to two bikes regardless of the potential or stated capacity. Bicycles parked perpendicular to a wave rack (as intended by the manufacturer) are not supported in two places and are more likely to fall over in the rack. The advertised capacity of a wave rack is usually much higher than the practical capacity.”

Cities are no longer installing the ‘wave’ design, preferring instead inverted-U racks (Los Angeles) or dual-pillar uprights (Santa Monica). There are variations on the style, too, as the ‘art racks’ in Long Beach (as noted by a meeting attendee) are popular and functional.

Beyond a few general locations and the rack types, there wasn’t much substantive about  the presentation. It seemed hastily put together (no city logo or staff contact information appear – a no no as I remember from graduate school in planning) and not particularly helpful to the new racks discussion.


Los Angeles rack request screen

A second presentation concerned proposed rack on request program guidelines. The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica operate a rack request program to allow both businesses and individuals to suggest the need. Simply fill out the form on the website (Los Angeles, Santa Monica) and at no charge the cities will install one or more rack. Judging from the number of new bike racks appearing in those cities, those programs are working well. Cyclists who make a sport of it say that new racks do indeed appear upon request.

According to the proposed guidelines, Beverly Hills will make its program available only to businesses and perhaps on a 50-50 cost-share basis. Those other cities don’t require a cost-share. And unlike those cities, the criteria here is identified as ‘need’ as “determined by city staff with knowledge on bicycle rack implementation.” The presentation continues, “After eligibility is determined, a field check will take place to determine if and where the bike rack will be installed.” (Emphasis mine.)

Leaving aside the question of whether a request for a rack isn’t itself prima facie evidence of need – if need is already affirmed, then wouldn’t rack provision be a question not of if but of where? And shouldn’t the presumption be that we need the rack since we have so few? The language of the guidelines seems to want to default to denial of eligibility.

And shouldn’t the priority be on getting as many racks on pavement as possible? Santa Monica reports that it’s installed fifty racks per day at one point last summer. Should Beverly Hills (at half the population) shoot for about 25 per day rather than waste time on negotiating cost-share? We think so. We invest considerable energy into making curbside spots available for business patrons. Why not make more racks the reflex and approved eligibility the default?

Rack location requirementsLastly, the presentation described specific rack installation requirements (at right) that will guide eligibility determinations. But these are somewhat more conservative than established guidelines.

For example, the ABPB Bicycle Parking Guidelines suggest a 2-foot minimum from stationary objects with racks on 30” centers. Cambridge Bicycle Parking Guidelines, like those from the ABPB, specifies tighter spacing too:

  • 3 feet between racks, or from rack to building wall
  • 4 feet from closest upright to wall (if oriented perpendicularly); and
  • 2 feet from rack to curb when oriented in parallel to the curb (this is always preferred)
  • At least 4 feet for safe pedestrian clearance

With conservative guidelines, the concern is that rack placement will be farther than necessary from building entrances. ABPB guidelines are not specific about proximity but does recommend placement “no more than a 30-second walk” away. Cambridge guidelines say closer than 30 ft. from a building entrance. (Perhaps the BH-specified minimum of 9 feet is a code requirement?) We should hew to that philosophy to make bike parking as convenient as possible. We want to convince people to make it a ride rather than drive and hunt the meter or sweat the garage.

This rack-on-request program has long been requested of Public Works, and these guidelines are clearly in the early draft stage. Nevertheless, we appreciate that this program is finally moving forward.

Our Perspective on the Rack Programs

The request program draft guidelines is a good step that will benefit from some refinement. And to its credit, Transportation recognizes that we’re in an early stage.

The rack assessment references “bicycle density,” for example, but our city has completed no bike counts or surveys by which to establish a baseline for calculating it. And what does the “bicycle density” refer to anyway? Bike ownership, bike use, or observed demand for bike parking? Regardless, we have no real metric.

Methodologically speaking, the rack installments assessment seems to rely on observation but it doesn’t identify an observation protocol. That makes statements such as “little or no bicycle volume” too anecdotal. We have to be especially careful when jumping to the conclusion that locations “do not need bike racks.” Four of the 5 public schools in Beverly Hills don’t conspicuously provide any racks, for example; they don’t encourage cycling to school. But health professionals see youth cycling as a much-needed corrective to record levels of inactivity. Shouldn’t we ask schools to make more racks available? Is there a school that doesn’t need a rack?

Likewise, the observation that Greystone is “unsafe”doesn’t stand up. The simple fact is that cyclists enjoy the same rights of access to all public roads as do motorists, and Greystone is a local landmark. Cyclists will inevitably want to park there. (Let’s organize a Greystone bike event to prove that it’s not unsafe!)

By defaulting to ‘no need,’ our concern is that staff would make arbitrary decisions about need according to standards or thresholds that don’t withstand scrutiny. Meeting attendees made clear that the principles in the draft guidelines don’t reflect accepted norms.

Locking up to the pole on South Beverly
With no alternative, this cyclist locks to a South Beverly pole.

Second, why look only at schools and parks? In previous meetings, advocates mentioned commercial districts and cafes as the most logical places to install racks. Parks and schools seemed to be secondary priorities in that sense. We have a situation where folks are locking to poles and meters that are much closer to motor traffic, to hydrants, and to crosswalks than we would have if bike racks were in place. Isn’t that reason enough to spread a few around?

Our schools do indeed need racks, but those campuses belong to Beverly Hills Unified and the city won’t be determining rack placement on school property any time soon. Schools should be excluded from this assessment and taken up in joint-use discussions, perhaps, where the city can one day work with the district according to the city’s accepted standards for bike parking. (Clearly our district has none.) Or leave it to the advocacy folks to work with the schools.

Parks need racks too. But the assessment seems arbitrary in identifying some parks for racks but excluding others based on ‘no need.’ Simply because a park “does not present a bike rack location” upon first examination, or doesn’t fit the criteria as specified in the assessment, or is found to be “unsafe” for whatever reason, is no reason to eliminate any park from consideration. On the other hand, let’s over-provide at parks where the constituency is likely to be inclined to bike if we make it attractive and convenient.

There was one interesting omission in the presentation on parks: Beverly Canon Gardens. This was a significant public investment by the city for the benefit of the adjacent hotel. And not least because it sits atop a taxpayer-provided parking structure. Why is that park not suitable for bike racks? Don’t the hotel folks appreciate cyclists lunching in the park?

If there’s one criterion that is truly misconceived, it is “bike volume.” That can’t possibly be a legitimate criteria for not providing racks. “Negligible bike volume” is a subjective measure. After all, what is ‘negligible’ when it comes to bike share? Isn’t that a suggestion of a larger problem – marginalizing cyclists?

We want to encourage cycling tomorrow, not merely respond to today’s slack demand. So let’s raise our relatively low rates of cycling in Beverly Hills. Or as one meeting attendee said, “We need to integrate the use of bicycles in everyday activities. Businesses, facilities – all the destinations.” Another attendee agreed, saying that businesses present an ideal opportunity for providing racks because they already have workers who bike to work but no place to lock up their bikes. With so few racks available and so much latent need, what with bikes latched to meter posts all over town, let’s anticipate tomorrow’s demand.

After all, it’s a matter of policy: the General Plan sees encouraging pedestrian, bicycle, and transit mobility (in addition to other green initiatives) as a means to “living lightly” with a reduced carbon footprint. That’s what our city documents say.  Since we oversupply car parking at great expense (as planner Donald Shoup found) so why encourage more of what we don’t want –  motor congestion – and instead encourage commuting and utility trips by bike by making parking available everywhere?

Let’s start by providing racks on the public right-of-way where cyclists need them – near cafes and shops (as has been noted repeatedly to the Committee and staff in our meetings).

Next Steps?

“This is our first shot out,” Martha said. “It’s great feedback we’re getting from the community,” she said. She acknowledged in light of the questions that they needed to take another look at the criteria and the locations. And she agreed that Beverly Canon Park deserved reconsideration (the study found “no place” for a rack). “We’ll have to go out and make some measurements.”

We agree. We look forward to working with Transportation to bring more racks to city streets. Let me start with a couple of suggestions:

Curb bulbout in the triangle
Curb bulbouts are an ideal place for a small corral of bike racks.
  • Use the needs assessment to identify locations for rack clusters (aka corrals) in the triangle and beyond. We already have curb bulb-outs, so let’s scout candidate locations near major employers for a cluster of racks (as suggested by the attendee).
  • Identify Metro stops on the heavily-traveled Santa Monica and Wilshire lines suitable for racks or bike lockers (which Metro provides). Metro is working on that ‘last mile’ problem so that people can bike to transit, and we can help them.
  • See parks as components of the larger community. What are the key routes to those parks, and the key points of entry where racks could be located to serve the routes? We do this routinely with zoning maps and circulation plans. Why not situate parks in an active transportation circulation plan? With that kind of macro analysis in hand we can then go to the city’s Parks Commission and start the dialog that should have been underway long ago as part of the Bike Plan Update process: how can Community Development & Public Works work together to get people riding?
Bike parking NYC style
Bike anarchy NYC style: high demand, few racks.

We have to remember that it’s ultimately not about providing racks, but getting people to ride. Once people start riding, we’ll hope to have in place accommodations for them at parks, other city facilities, and sidewalks everywhere.

The assessment is a good first step toward getting a handle on the systematic provision of bike racks in Beverly Hills. But there’s no need to over-analyze it. Santa Monica and Los Angeles have been dropping racks on city pavement by the hundreds in the last six months alone. Long Beach says it has installed 1,200 racks. These cities recognize that, dollar-for-dollar, bike racks are the most cost-effective means of encouraging personal mobility without adding to congestion so they’re rolling them out everywhere. Let’s simply follow their lead.

2 thoughts on “Bike Plan Update Committee Meeting #4 (Bike Racks)

  • February 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    One relatively painless thing that BH could do to provide bike parking downtown would be to locate U racks in city-owned parking structures. These should be sited within view of the parking attendants’ kiosks. I’ve visited two city parking structures that had adequate room to accommodate racks and I imagine more do.

    Locating some parking in these structures does three things: 1. Provides a measure of security for parked bikes because of nearby “eyes”, 2. Is a better option for long-term bike parking and, 3. avoids siting difficulties associated with racks located on sidewalks. I’m not suggesting that this should obviate the need for convenient sidewalk racks, just that racks in parking structures may be easier to find room for.

  • February 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    You remind me Kent that I did a walk around back in December to all of the business triangle parking garages, looking for racks. Perhaps only one or two had racks there, notably including the Civic Center and the city’s Foothill garage. Except for the underground structures (like 300 N block between Bev & Canon), where the down ramp is not advisable for cyclists, many of the others could accommodate racks.

    There is also this great opportunity near the city’s ‘temp’ parking garages off SM Blvd. Like you say, it’s a lot of low-hanging fruit NOT being picked.

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