BHUSD Grapples with the Cost of Driving to School

BHUSD logoBeverly Hills Unified School Board recently heard about the cost of student parking at the high school. Not the price to students, which is nominal, but the costs that the district and the community bear for failing to encourage more students to ride to school. For the community, it is clogged streets every morning and afternoon and few curb spaces available for residents. For the district, however, it means financing garage parking for a large share of the estimated 970-1200 needed spaces. With bond financing pinched under current law and the district taking heat for wanting to hike property taxes for a multi-campus expansion, isn’t there a better alternative than spending $40-50k for each new garage spot?

You bet there is, and it’s a tried-and-tested solution to the cost-of-parking problem facing the district: get some of these high school students to ride school on a bicycle. That would solve several problems at once: immediately reduce much motor traffic around the high school; obviate the anticipated need for hundreds of high-cost spaces; and reflect our city’s stated policy to encourage mobility by means other than driving (as our Beverly Hills Sustainable City Plan (2009) says.

The school district heard from their facilities staff at the March 12th board meeting that cycling may play a role in offsetting future demand for parking at the high school. “The vast majority of students arrive each day by car,” the staff report says, “either driven by themselves or by parents.” It continues:

It may be possible to increase the share of students who walk or bike to school, but it requires a serious and sustained effort to be meaningful. Part of the effort required is to change attitudes to make walking or biking as “cool” as driving. Another part of the effort required is to make area streets safe and convenient for walking and biking.

It goes on note that Charleville Boulevard (one block south of Wilshire) is an “ideal connector” to the high school and when fitted with bicycle lanes could have a “significant impact” on attitudes concerning ride-to-school safety. Visually it could encourage students to ride more too – a benefit that would accrue not only to the high school (reduced financing for fewer car spaces) but to the neighborhood too. And it would facilitate access to the two other BHUSD schools on the corridor.

Charleville schools mapped in relation to proposed pilot routes.
No fewer than three BHUSD schools are connected by Charleville, which is already a well-ridden crosstown route for cyclists…even without a single sharrow or sign.

Sure seems like a win-win doesn’t it? For parents looking to escape the nightmare that is school drop-off, bicycle lanes on Charleville would provide safer transit for students in the eastern and southeastern parts of town. And the district board of course would not have to justify spending education dollars for the construction of garage spaces. It would also position the school board as taking the lead on making the city bike-friendly precisely where City Hall has failed to lead.

When the city considered Charleville for a bike route under the Pilot program last Fall, though, it was summarily rejected as we point out on our Pilot recap page. The argument against making this route safe for cyclists was that there were too many stop signs, but City Council conveniently overlooked the opportunities to rethink circulation here. It could be the city’s demonstration premier bicycle boulevard. (See our map of proposed and accepted bike routes. Here’s a Pilot study map of the Charleville corridor.)

Time for the District to Lead

The time is right for the district to lead on this issue. It is undertaking a major renovation plan. Other school officials have indicated support for increased riding to school. And of course the bike parking situation at the high school can only be improved because what’s in place there hardly encourages bike-to-school.

BHHS bicycle rack cluster
Bicycle rack cluster at Beverly Hills High School: old wheel-bender style racks far from campus tell would-be cyclists, “Leave that bike at home.”

But the district is asked instead to consider providing those estimated 970 to 1200 slots either fully or partially underground (the latter case making lemonade from lemons by slapping a sports facility on top). With the board already wrestling with a parcel too small for anticipated high school uses, wouldn’t any other option be more attractive?

After all, other school districts grapple with the parking issue. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has adopted a much more strict policy: spaces are provided for only staff plus a 10% margin, says the staff report. That makes securing a student parking space a challenge indeed (if possible at all). With that policy the district accommodates both famously large urban high schools and spread-out suburban campuses. The emphasis instead is on walking to school and using mass transit. It’s noteworthy that LAUSD has secured Safe Routes to School funding for making that trip-to-school safer. (Neither BHUSD nor our city has found success with those grants. Have we even tried?)

TheĀ BHUSD parking demand staff report notes that today’s district policy would mandate that 1200 to 1300 car spaces be provided for the high school. About 75% would account for student demand. For a similarly-sized school in most of the region, LAUSD would require only 275 total spaces. So under current formula for a hypothetically similar school, we in Beverly Hills would provide three times as many spots for students than would Los Angeles?

The board on March 12th was asked by the facilities folks for direction now that campus renovations are moving forward. The BHUSD board should embrace this opportunity. We’ll plan to suggest as much when we appear with our own recommendations at the next meeting on March 28th.

BHHS needs a bicycle lane hereThe benefits are undeniable. Riding to school could only improve the health and fitness of students. Students who ride (and those who see other students arriving by bike) will come to view cycling as a mobility solution. And new demand for safe cycling facilities may prod our city policymakers to consider some of the opportunities around the high school for bike lanes where currently there are none. Here’s the bonus: it should please BHHS Principal Carter Paysinger who is a former phys ed instructor.

And at a time when greenhouse gas emissions reduction is not only a sensible step but is also standing city and state policy, why not encourage another look at riding to high school? This is a policy issue that all transportation advocates in and around Beverly Hills should engage. Join us at the next BHUSD board meeting on 3/28. (Calendar link)