Where are the Bicycle Racks? [Updated]

Beverly Hills bicycle rack design as adoptedOne year ago, in November of 2012, the Beverly Hills City Council approved a program to place bicycle racks on sidewalks and city parks. A year ago, last February, Council chose a custom design and this past summer we took delivery of the racks. Since August the racks have sat in a warehouse. No new rack has hit a Beverly Hills sidewalk in a decade. Yet Santa Monica installs 200 racks each year. In the coming months that city will install another 250 more. What’s the holdup in Beverly Hills? Why are riders still waiting for bicycle parking?

Bicycle racks provide a convenient and secure place for a riders to park, which is no different from what we would expect when we drive a car.  Just like every motorist wants to find a spot close to her destination, we want our bike parking conveniently located. As the driver wants her car protected from theft and vandalism, and her person secure from danger when parking the car, we want bicycle racks placed close to building entrances or in well-lighted places so as to thwart theft and vandalism (a key concern when lights and bags can seem to walk off on their own).

From a century of parking cars we’ve learned how to engineer garages to be safe for motorists to use. We’ve learned to put them where they are convenient to access. Because they’re so expensive to build we emphasize efficiency in their design and construction. So why don’t we accord some of this kind of forethought to providing bicycle parking? The requirements are much more straightforward: bicycle racks need only provide two points of support (to which we can lock the wheels), be firmly planted in concrete, and allow sufficient room to accommodate various kinds of bikes. It’s not rocket science.

Portland corral guidelinesA city like Beverly Hills need not invent this wheel. It already rolls along in the form of bike parking standards. For example, the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals, an industry group, has published guidelines that are available to all transportation professionals. Local cities like CambridgeMadison and Oakland have developed their own guidance for locating racks, spacing them, and choosing a preferred rack type.

Why the decade wait for new sidewalk bicycle racks in Beverly Hills? Isn’t it as simple as choosing a rack supplier, packing a warehouse with racks at $200 or so a pop (a steal compared to car parking) and then installing them wherever people want to park. Yes it is that simple. And every city around us has blazed that trail; we need only follow. Heck, we’re volunteers and in an afternoon had called several suppliers (we had prices in hand within a couple of days), mapped existing racks in the business triangle and identified new rack locations, and even spotted places where racks ‘corrals’ could offer bike parking en masse.

Crescent corral location
Here’s a perfect place for a bike corral: Crescent Drive at Dayton, where a one-way street precludes right turns. It’s also on one of the city’s pilot bike routes and near two food markets. (Click to animate before and after views.)

But in Beverly Hills it’s not so easy, evidently. Our professionals have taken many months to brainstorm a program; then taken more time to map existing racks (a map that already needed revision when it was posted); and then ginned up a few PowerPoints for Council review. So the timeline stretched out and we’re still waiting for a sidewalk bicycle rack in our busy South Beverly commercial district – a full year after Council approved the program and design.

Did the timeline simply stretch to fit the time available (there was no hard program deadline)? Did the paltry number of proposed racks simply shrink to meet the few dollars budgeted for the program? By contrast, our city went $20 million into the red to build and operate our parking garages. But this current rack program (view the presentation) gets by on the bureaucratic equivalent of food stamps. And we’re not even paying! AQMD foots the bill. No wonder why Transportation has proposed only 30 racks citywide with only eleven for phase I. (Who knows if there will be a phase II?)

City initiated racks map
The city’s map of phase I and phase II rack rollouts. The map is a year and a half old and we’re still waiting to see one of these dots morph into an actual bike rack.

New Beverly Hills bicycle rackIndeed the eleven proposed phase I racks will be stretched quite thin: the civic center (a new rack there is shown at right) and city parks will take half of them with the business districts – where most of our bike travelers need parking – expecting perhaps just two racks apiece. (See the map above.) Just two racks for a busy three-block South Beverly commercial district. Today on the 200 block of South Beverly we counted five bicycles alone…and that’s just one side of the street.

Part of the problem is that both the custom rack design (as seen at the top of this post) and the durable stainless fabrication increased the program cost. We’re paying about three times per rack what other cities pay. And with a low cap on program expenditures this means that we riders will benefit from far fewer racks.

How Does Beverly Hills Compare?

Talk is fine but the proof is in the pudding. With bicycle racks relatively cheap and easy to install they are the lowest-hanging fruit to pick should Beverly Hills want to show its commitment to those who arrive by bicycle and need a place to park. Yet even by this one measure, Beverly Hills has fallen way behind. Santa Monica and Los Angeles have embarked on an aggressive installation program over several years. Today those cities have racks where riders need them for the most part.

And then there’s bike parking policy. We simply don’t have an effective means of ensuring that private-sector developers provide parking for those who would ride. Some localities mandate a minimum number of bicycle racks for multifamily and/or commercial buildings (just like they do in setting off-street car-parking minimums). The number of required racks can be indexed to the number of units, or derived from the square footage of development, or just set by some ratio of bike racks to car spots.

And you know, our green building law does say that. All 7+ story commercial buildings must provide ‘short term’ bike parking:

If the project is anticipated to generate visitor traffic, provide permanently anchored bicycle racks within 200 feet of the visitors’ entrance, readily visible to passers-by, for 5 percent of visitor motorized vehicle parking capacity, with a minimum of one two-bike capacity rack. – Municipal Code (Title 9 Chapter 1 Article 11)

That’s fine to put in the code, but is it ever enforced? How many bicycle racks have you seen around Beverly Hills commercial districts? And such a low standard simply rankles us: the specified two-bike minimum is just one rack; and the 5% threshold hardly mandates enough racks to visibly signal that we encourage cycling. And these paltry requirements aren’t even met: find us a 7+ story building with private bicycle racks near the entrance (as prescribed) and we’ll show you the rare building that meets a weak bike parking standard.

Likewise Beverly Hills falls short on meeting our threshold for ‘long-term’ bicycle parking, too, as required by our amendments to the state’s green building law:

For buildings with over 10 tenant-occupants, provide secure bicycle parking for 5 percent of tenant-occupied motorized vehicle parking capacity, with a minimum of one space. – Municipal Code (Title 9 Chapter 1 Article 11)

Now, we’ve looked in some private garages and didn’t see those required bicycle racks, but do contact us if we’ve overlooked any.

Bike parking policy is not only about establishing minimums like we do for off-street car parking. Some localities (like New York) have put their money where their mouth is by mandating bike access (wheel it in!) to commercial buildings and even requiring changing rooms to encourage bike commuting. Our green building code only makes this optional in Beverly Hills. How many changing rooms have you seen here?

We Can Do Better

Public Works Department information kiosk
The information kiosk in the lobby of our Transportation department when it was located in Public Works in the Foothill building. Not quite meeting the spirit of our law, is it?

With only 1% of all commute trips in the US made by bicycle, we would all benefit from encouraging two-wheeled travel to work. That’s what our plans say, at least; they recommend we reduce congestion and greenhouse gases and work toward better community health. Even policymakers thought so: our Transportation Demand And Trip Reduction Measures law (title 10, chapter 7 in the muni code) requires the display of “bicycle route and facility information including regional/local bicycle maps and bicycle safety information” on “bulletin board, display case, or kiosk” and in a “prominent area” too. Ever seen any of that information posted?

With bicycle travel considered a legitimate form of transportation at the federal and state levels – not to mention codified in our General Plan’s circulation element, the Bicycle Master Plan, and our Sustainable City Plan – the obvious question is, Why not think about bike parking like we do car parking?

We suggest that it may be simple path dependency. Our officials have always thought about transportation in terms of car travel. Consequently, our perspective on mobility and mobility-related planning problems (like the Transportation Demand And Trip Reduction Measures seeks to address) will likely continue to be framed by the proverbial windshield.

windshield view

Garage commemorative plaque
A city so proud of parking that we put a plaque on it!

We need instead to step out from behind it to follow the lead of other cities. We need to think differently.

It’s not only path dependency,however; it’s also a matter of problem scoping. If we define the problem as congestion, then increasing vehicle throughput must be the answer (as the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee agreed this past fall). Our options are then to raise speed limits or relax enforcement or both (and more on that soon). Likewise if we frame our economic challenges in terms of parking, then we won’t look beyond the phantom ‘parking deficit’ and we’ll continue to build more parking garages at enormous expense. We’re not taking the broader view of mobility. We need to encourage people to drive less, not more.

And last there’s goal displacement. What’s our real objective? Despite our congestion management strategies and the empty requirements of our green building law, we’re not really doing much to encourage bike commuting. We’re just looking for strategies to move more cars on the very limited blacktop that we have available. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to move people.

Why not encourage people out from behind the wheel? We won’t be able to conduct a  sober reevaluation of our transportation policies and programs until we step out from behind the windshield ourselves – both as officials and as everyday travelers. Let’s start by picking the lowest-hanging fruit: the installation of the bicycle racks that we already own. Until we do, the humble bicycle rack in Beverly Hills will remain more of a metaphor than a reality.

Update: We’ve heard from the Transportation division that five racks (including the one pictured in the post) have been installed in parks and the civic center, with an additional 17 scheduled for installation beginning the week of February 24th. Four of these will go to parks and the remainder will be sidewalk racks. Mostly they comport with the city’s rack installation map (above). The questions now are, How long will it take to install these 17? And when we will roll out phase II? Our city is in desperate need of bike parking. We should be mashing the gas, not tapping the brakes. But then nobody asked us.

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