The Beverly Hills Traffic & Parking Commission met this week to further consider a long-continued bicycle rack agenda item. In brief, the city is entertaining a bike parking program that could include city-initiated bicycle rack installations and a bicycle rack-on-request program. It can’t come too soon: local businesses owners have asked for them; cyclists beg for them; and every city but ours is already installing them. For the past year, though, Public Works has only talked and it has been years since any bicycle rack in our city has hit a sidewalk. We’re curious to know the progress that’s been made and eager to learn when we might see a new bicycle rack touch ground.
The short answer is that there won’t be any new bicycle racks for Beverly Hills for some time yet. Discussion about the need for bicycle racks had commenced last summer in meetings with the bicycle community, but progress has come slowly. Public Works Transportation planner Martha Eros today reprised for the commissioners her PowerPoint presentation (not changed much from last March) that now includes a few refinements concerning rack locations in commercial areas, and in a surprise adds an education program. (Why it is part of a rack discussion is not clear, nor it is clear why it would be associated with the Chamber of Commerce. But then again in Beverly Hills, isn’t everything passed by the Chamber?)
The commission last heard about this program in early August [recap], but back then it was clear from commissioners’ comments that staff didn’t do their homework. The advisory body couldn’t as a result make any specific recommendations. At this meeting, a few additional details were presented. In total the program includes:
- City-initiated bicycle racks for city parks (one rack per each of the eight identified parks) and a program to install sidewalk bicycle racks for 11 locations in commercial districts citywide according to the city’s determination (with notice to nearby businesses);
- A rack-on-request program (in both online and paper formats) to allow businesses to request that a bicycle rack be installed near their business on an adjacent sidewalk (pending city approval according to guidelines);
- Identification of a preferred bicycle rack style for further study & pricing, including bicycle racks branded with the Beverly Hills logo or shield: and,
- Development of an education program (in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce) that might include workshops to teach riding safety and bicycle repair.
After the brief bicycle rack PowerPoint presentation, staff requested that the commission review the items and recommend all or any for City Council review in an October study session. Martha said, “We’re recommending the whole package [of program items] but we can pull out the design style” for discussion. Spoiler: the Commission moved to accept the proposals with a suggestion to favor a post-and-loop design possibly with an incorporated parking meter. The motion passed 5-0.
The commission asked a few questions about each program item, starting with the rack design. Consensus emerged quickly in favor of a single-point post-and-loop design (easier to install) with a stainless finish (easier to maintain) and branded in such a way as to be impervious to tourist pilferage.
Commissioner Friedman then asked about funding. Martha noted that the city was funding the program ($30k now, perhaps $200k all told) through its entire AQMD grant (awarded to reduce air pollution). She said that no target number of bicycle racks has been established; the ultimate number of racks provided will be determined “depending on the style” chosen by the city (suggesting that a custom branded bicycle rack design would come at the expense of the total number of racks ultimately installed).
Indeed commissioners showed great enthusiasm for a branded custom rack, and they spent as much time talking about branding as on an actual rack design. “Our preference is that the design once chosen is reflective of our city and identifies it as a bike rack,” said Commissioner Alan Grushcow. Commissioner Lester Friedman concurred. But bicycle racks are often unsightly, he suggested, apparently referring to our library’s new rack corral. He seconded the need for a city-branded rack, and another commissioner suggested the city’s trademark shield be that brand.
Where should these racks go? Staff proposed 34 bicycle racks (or rack locations?) rolled out in two phases:
Phase I would install racks in 11 locations. Phase II would address an additional 23 locations. But discussion about the proposed locations, their suitability for demand today, or their proximity to important destinations was cursory. Commissioners instead discussed whether bicycle racks shouldn’t be installed in the city’s parking garages. Commissioner Grushcow, who sits on the Commission’s ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee and who is familiar with bike-related issues, said that if that were the solution, then the closer to the attendant the better. But some city-owned garages have ramps which might preclude installation, staff said.
The commissioners did talk about how to make bicycle racks less conspicuous. Commissioner Grushcow, for example, said he was concerned about reducing sidewalk ‘clutter.’ That seemed to be a reference not only to objects on our sidewalks but bicycles themselves. He asked staff whether bikes locked to trees and meters was “a chargable offense” in the city. Parking Operations director Chad Lynn replied that there was no such ordinance on the books. “I’d suggest that we consider that,” Commissioner Grushcow said. “It adds an enforcement burden, but if we’re spending money [on racks] we should encourage use of them and get rid of the clutter.”
The proposal to outlaw locking to meters, poles and other fixed elements was met with enthusiasm from Transportation division staffer Martha Eros, who called it a “great idea” and offered to coordinate with the city’s legal department. (We haven’t seen staff that motivated since the whole rack issue came up long ago!)
With support for park and garage bicycle racks, agreement on rack style, consensus on branding, and interest in regulating bicycle parking without providing much of an alternative to the cyclists to live here, work here, or stop by to patronize our businesses, the Commission swiftly forwarded its unanimous recommendation on to City Council for the first or second study session in October.
With demand for bicycle parking citywide consistently outstripping the city’s existing supply of 21 total sidewalk racks, the need for new bicycle racks is clear – as it has been since we started talking to the city about bicycle racks in early 2010. It is even more pressing today because we see more folks traveling by bicycle than ever.
Yet our city’s response has been consistent: either kick the can down the road (as it has done with this bicycle rack program) or toss hungry cyclists two-thirds of a half-loaf of modest street improvements as the city did with its Pilot Program. Indeed the challenge facing those who ride in or through Beverly Hills remains as formidable as it was two years ago. When asked about safer streets, for example, our Traffic & Parking Commission reflexively looked to regulation of cyclist behavior. When asked for places to park, the Commission today tossed a bone (only 11 rack locations citywide) but turned with relish to outlawing locking-up to anything but the few racks on offer. These approaches are counterproductive and punitive in spirit and betray the disconnect between our need to encourage every mode of mobility (our own plans say it!) and our city’s ‘windshield perspective’ that cycling is a niche activity for which facilities need not be provided.
So let’s take a look at what’s on offer here, starting with the proposed city-initiated bicycle rack installations. From the beginning the city has mentioned racks for parks but we still don’t have a concrete proposal in place, only a vague prescription for 8 parks and 4 mini-parks. But our larger parks like Roxbury (pending renovation) and La Cienega alone need that many bicycle racks each. So twelve racks total cannot be the extent of our park bicycle rack installations.
But it’s not simply the number: does the installation of these racks tip the hat to the eventual creation of a network of bike-friendly streets? That’s what our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan suggested. It’s 35 years out of date but in Beverly Hills still smells fresh as a daisy. And when we do install a few park racks, will we put them where they will be conspicuous and easily accessed to encourage cycling…or as we have in the past will we relegate them to an obscure location? Will our gift to the Montage Hotel, the premium, taxpayer-funded Beverly-Canon Gardens Park, get some bicycle racks or get a pass?
The Commissioners didn’t ask these questions. Nor did they question whether the proposed commercial areas racks are adequate to demand today. At a time when Los Angeles and Santa Monica have installed probably 5,000 racks between them, why are we shooting for only 11 in Phase I? With only three of them in our central business district?
Outlying districts like South Beverly fare little better. On any given day there are between a half-dozen and a dozen bicycles locked up on the 200 South block alone. But that block is targeted for three rack areas. And busy business districts like Robertson get none. The entire Southeast of the city – sixty square blocks – is targeted for only two.
Not only is this too little and too late, such deficiencies passed without comment from commissioners who are tasked with knowing better but were more preoccupied with hiding racks in garages or camouflaging them behind city logos. Commissioner Alan Grushcow (ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee member) spoke from the heart when he thanked staff for their work and added, “Your presentation represents all of our thinking.”
The trouble is that the thinking behind the presentation (and evidently the commission) won’t help us accommodate to a multi-modal mobility future. We’ll continue to spend many times more every year just for debt service on our $40 million estimated (car) parking operations deficit than we will spend on providing cyclists with facilities. Calling bicycles ‘clutter’ won’t encourage folks to reduce car trips. Hiding racks in garages won’t encourage people to ride.
A Shout Out to the Staff!
Had staff really thought out this proposal, Martha would have presented the commission with branding ideas and design alternatives for their vetting. They would have priced rack designs accurately (instead of a price range of 3x!) so that the commission could assess value in choosing rack designs (remember that cyclists will trade capacity for if expensive racks with city logos gobble the budget). And staff could have provided a rationale for the city-initiated installation program. Why 34 target locations? Why divide them into two rollouts? We don’t know, staff didn’t say, and the commission didn’t ask.
Looking at the bicycle rack staff report included in the commissioners’ agenda packet, it is word-for-word the same staff report from a month ago with several program aspects added for this meeting: bicycle racks for La Cienega Boulevard, a new designation of ‘restaurant districts’ added to commercial districts (that’s redundant), and the most curious item, the education & workshop program.
Education & workshops? Better Bike wholeheartedly recommends that the city move on its own program to raise awareness about cycling and to educate cyclists of all ages. Repair workshops are great too. But there’s little expectation that the Transportation division will ever get it off the ground. Were the city serious, an education & workshops program would be better addressed by the Community Services department that already administers our sports & recreation programming. And the best first step would be opening a dialog between this Traffic & Parking Commission and the city’s Rec & Parks Commission. That’s where it belongs…not in a traffic commission, right?
Nobody should be surprised that the details aren’t really worked out. In the intervening month between August’s and September’s staff reports to commission, the MS Word’s tracked changes feature suggests that the time spent editing this document is twenty two minutes. And the report itself is based on a previous staff report (dated 2/28/12 – a few days before staff gave the commission a bike program update on March 1st). Why note this detail? Because over the past two years, the time invested in making cycling safer by the department charged with the responsibility is so insufficient as to suggest contempt for two-wheeled road users. We deserve better that a recycled PowerPoint presentation.
Rather than slap the back of staff for a job hardly well done (that’s how Beverly Hills rolls!), the commission might have sent staff back a second time to nail down particulars not clarified in this meeting. How many bicycle racks is staff proposing to install across those 11 Phase I locations? Are these identified installation locations near high-demand destinations where we see bikes locked up to meters today? When is Phase I anticipated to be completed, and when does staff anticipate Phase II rollout could be started? How will a branded rack choice affect the total number of racks that can be installed?
These are not tough questions. But it would be good to ask them before the issue goes on to City Council, because there these questions will come up.
Today the Traffic & Parking Commission passed up an opportunity to flesh out this hastily-cobbled program in detail. But since we’re back-slapping staff for a job well done, let’s back-slap the commissioners too. Good job guys!
Updated to clarify progression of staff reports and to include screenshot of tracked changes.