Rec & Parks Follow Up

Rec & Parks appearanceBetter Bike appeared before the Recreation and Parks Commission this past Tuesday to highlight the need for safe streets for those who ride a bicycle to our parks in Beverly Hills. Our city plans recommend that we ride or walk around town as an alternative to driving, we said, and recalled for commissioners that our Bicycle Master Plan (1977) once proposed a 22-mile citywide bicycle network. That extensive systems of lanes and paths used our parks as anchors – an idea that should have appeal to the commission. And the commissioners were receptive. And why not? Bicycles and parks go great together!

We always enjoy jawboning with commissioners, but we came before this commission because we need these commissioners to take an interest in the bike planning process. To date our Traffic and Parking Commission has spearheaded it, but that has only produced an underwhelming Pilot bike route initiative (only two short segments), a paltry bicycle rack program, and a stillborn effort to update that old bike plan. That’s no way to make tomorrow’s streets safe for riders, we think, but then the Traffic and Parking Commission has not been inordinately concerned with safety. It’s primarily a parking permit and valet oversight body evidently.

Into the bike planning void can step the Recreation and Parks Commission. Our city is very proud of its parks, after all, whether pocket parks like those on Rexford and Reeves or the historic Beverly Gardens park that spans Santa Monica Boulevard. The parks are tranquil oases amidst the urban clatter, surely, but the problem isn’t just the dearth of bicycle racks. Today there’s no signed or protected routes to these parks for those who want to ride to them.

Ambitious Plans….

The commissioners nodded when we described how our plans talk a good game. Our Bicycle Master Plan (1977) reaches back to the heyday of the mid-1970s cycling renaissance with a grab-bag of good ideas about creating a 22-mile bicycle network, facilitating efficient cycling by eliminating unnecessary stops, and most interesting, removing curbside parking where necessary to create a bike lane. All good ideas, we think. What is old is new again!

Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) urges residents to walk or ride whenever possible in order to reduce the harmful impact of automobile congestion (like greenhouse gas emissions) and to promote the physical activity that leads to better community health outcomes. commissioners clearly know that.

Our Circulation element from the General Plan (2010) also acknowledges that we need to take advantage of alternate means of mobility including walking, cycling, and transit. It puts the emphasis on bicycle riding by calling for an “integrated, complete, and safe bicycle system to encourage bicycling within the City” in addition to enhanced pedestrian routes.

…But Poor Follow-Through

City of Beverly Hills has neglected to act on the alternative mobility recommendations enumerated in our plans, however. So it’s time we jump-start the bike planning process by bringing in an advisory body like the Recreation and Park Commission.

In part that’s necessary because the city agency responsible (the Transportation division of Public Works) has exhibited neither the vision nor the enthusiasm necessary to communicate to policymakers the message that cycling must be considered as a realistic mobility option – and not just as talked up like a feel-good policy notion in our plans.

In fact, we’ve called it bad faith bike planning. Nearly all of the good ideas contributed by cyclists to the bike route pilot program in the end fell by the wayside, including the key local and through-town routes we suggested. The Traffic and Parking Commission recommend only five to City Council, which in the end whittled it down to only two route segments. They should be installed by the end of this month.

Our suggestions for a robust bicycle rack program also fell on deaf ears. As a result, Transportation’s attenuated bicycle rack program (read the PowerPoint) proposes as few as one bicycle rack for some of our city parks. That’s no way to welcome cyclists!

We framed our presentation to the commission as a community health & sustainability concern because the commissioners enjoy a relatively broad mandate: to provide advisory input on “any subject that encompasses the City’s open space or leisure-time activity.”

In addition to our appearance before the commission (download the audio) we also suggested a few opportunity areas for commissioner consideration in a follow-up letter. We suggested the commission consider to:

  • Revisit the city’s blanket prohibition on cycling in the parks to create bike paths to parallel  our parks’ major walkways (as suggested by Commissioner Bilak) to facilitate leisure riding away from city streets;
  • Develop a bicycle rack standard to quantify rack provision for parks perhaps indexed to park size or attendance;
  • Include bike-safety education like safe-riding classes in next year’s city summer recreation program; and,
  • Support the concept of a citywide bicycle network to make our parks a natural destination for riders.

We focused in our presentation on the opportunity to create a citywide bicycle network because that’s where we feel the commissioners can have an outsized impact. It would signal the city’s commitment to non-auto modes of mobility as envisioned 35 years ago (!) by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan.

The Key is a Citywide Bicycle Network

What would that citywide bicycle network look like? The Bicycle Master Plan gave us a starting point. Viewed today against our current park network, the network that a citizens committee proposed back then clearly took city parks into account.

1977 bicycle master plan map with parksNow it’s time to follow up with the implementation of a citywide network that would connect the parks with our civic institutions, key business districts, residential neighborhoods, and surrounding communities. From their proposed 22-mile skeletal network could flow a contemporary discussion about how such a network would serve future users and reflect upon the future of mobility generally in Beverly Hills. It is our obligation to enact the kind of robust network for which our community recognized a need so long ago.

We’re not talking about the cutting edge of pro-bike advocacy. We’re not inventing the wheel. We’ve not suggested bicycle boulevards or bike boxes or any of the forward-looking measures we see in Long Beach (and other cities). Instead let’s start with the concepts already in our plans and build incrementally on the key policy goal expressed in them: addressing the scourges of auto dependence like greenhouse gas emissions, tailpipe pollution, threats to pedestrian and rider safety, and, of course, the negative health effects of physical inactivity.

We don’t underestimate the political challenges ahead but we do hope that this commission will join our call for safe transit for those of us who choose to ride a bicycle to city parks for our health & pleasure — and for the benefit of the larger community.