The Gran Fondo Italia ride, an annual for-profit ‘packaged’ bike ride & marketing extravaganza, comes back to Beverly Hills with city sponsorship this September 28th. It’s the only kind of ride our city appreciates: hospitality dollars roll in while City Hall basks in ersatz Euro-gloss. Fittingly, premium riders will enjoy a dinner at the Montage Hotel and a Tuscan wine ‘goody bag.’ But those linen tablecloths and Tuscan wines won’t streets any safer for the everyday riders. If you’re concerned about safe streets in Beverly Hills, this Gran Fondo is as relevant to your commute as if it actually happened in Italy.
The Laguna Beach-based organizers behind the Fondo promise “a strong ‘Italian feeling’ with Italian sponsors, Italian foods, and a great Italian atmosphere,” according to correspondence with city officials. “The spirit and passion of Italy, iconic Italian brands and products, and incredible destinations are all part of the experience with Gran Fondo Italia events,” their promo materials say. And the pitch to riders: “Grab your cycling friends and line up behind the Lexus lead car and police escort for a fantastic start to a beautiful ride through the Santa Monica mountains and back to the finish at Beverly Hills City Hall.”
But we need remind nobody that non-paying riders in Beverly Hills enjoy no lead car or police escort through our city. We’re subject to regular motorist harassment (as if we’ve got no right to the road) but no cop comes to our aid. Though we’re threatened by reckless drivers, speeders and red-light runners every day, there is no traffic cop on the beat as enforcement has decreased over the past five years, according to our analysis of BHPD data.
In fact, dangerous conditions greet riders every day especially along this big event’s main course – a few blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard between City Hall and Wilshire. For this key regional connector has languished over the past decade as the city has simply refused to repair it. Yet the Gran Fondo riders who brave only a few blocks of the rutted corridor won’t feel the full Beverly Hills welcome. That said, we will not be surprised to see some spot repairs made on the event section (that is, only where our event guests will see it).
It’s All About the Marketing
But then it’s all about the marketing anyway, as the Chamber’s letter to Council supporting the event says:
The event will provide an opportunity for local merchants to participate in the event and related activities. Attendees of the event will be able to easily dine at our restaurants and walk around and shop while in Beverly Hills. In addition, the event could be a nice occasion to bring the residential community and the business community together.
Yes, why not use cycling to bring residents and businesses together? Why not encourage two-wheeled travel to shops and restaurants? Great questions. But in the past, the Chamber has not been very receptive to notions of bike-friendly business districts. (We received an icy reception when we met with a Chamber official a few years ago.) Indeed the Chamber is actually driven by larger members anyway – hotels, restaurants, and banks for example – and so is not particularly representative of the smaller shops who would find support in a ‘shop local’ program. (The Chamber even once ran its own until it folded that tent when City Hall money ran out).
Of course City Hall is on board. “We are thrilled to host the Gran Fondo Italia and it is a great way to help promote our Centennial year internationally,” said Mayor Lili Bosse in an event press release. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the bike friendly activities in our city and build on our Healthy City Initiative, both for our community and for cyclists visiting from around the world.”
Should Local Bike Clubs Support a Marketing Event?
Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills organizers have reached out to local clubs for a little bit of promo love. “Dear Cycling Club: Help get the word out!” an email pleads. “The Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills is Sunday September 28. Please post the event on your website calendar. And feel free to use the image links (below) in your messaging.”
Pasadena Athletic Association Club President Wesley Reutimann brought it to our attention and copied us on his reply to event organizers:
Thank you for reaching out to our club. As President of PAA cycling, a 350 member bike club, I am unable to promote this event or any other in the City of Beverly Hills as long as its elected leaders and City staff do not take the safety of ALL road users seriously. Over the past few years, the City of Beverly Hills has repeatedly failed to support local efforts to improve the safety of its streets.
At the same time, neighboring LA, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica have made significant investments to protect vulnerable road users like bicyclists (e.g., bike lanes on Santa Monica Blvd). Until the City can address these issues (e.g., existing bike lane gap on Santa Monica Blvd), I will be compelled to take my business elsewhere, as well as encourage that of our entire membership to do so as well. Please feel free to relay my message to your contacts in the City.
Bravo! Wes has been witness all along to our city’s resistance to safer streets for cyclists, and he’s lent his effort to secure bike lanes for Santa Monica. So he has a right to gripe.
And he’s right: Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and Culver City have each pressed ahead with bike-friendly measures while Beverly Hills has slapped down only a few block segments of sharrows and lanes and called it done. That’s par for the course for Beverly Hills: we talk a good game in our plans – for example, about multimodal mobility in our General Plan and we even encourage cycling in our Sustainable City Plan – but we seem to not be able to muster the interest to make cycling safe for folks who might want to bike to the cafe or store.
Heck, we’ve even got a Bicycle Master Plan that dates to 1977 (and it’s still legally in effect, contrary to what our transportation officials think) and it calls for all the right things: a citywide bikeway network; a designated bike route on Santa Monica Boulevard; and safe connections between schools and parks.
Yet city leadership won’t follow our own guiding policies. Most recently, City Council slapped back at the over 200 riders who spoke up in support of class II bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. A majority of councilmembers essentially disparaged supporters and waved away their comments in support. One, Nancy Krasne, questioned whether lanes were even safe (despite evidence that they are more safe than streets without them). Read more about the SM Blvd project on our dedicated page.
We feel that city support for Gran Fondo Italia should be seen as a rebuke to anyone who calls for safer streets for cycling in Beverly Hills. Because really it’s the principle of the thing: why take unearned rewards by coat-tailing on an ersatz Euro sport ride event when policymakers can’t make a simple effort to create welcoming, complete streets?
So we appreciate Wes and his club for speaking up. “Cyclists have a lot of purchasing power,” he says, “and we shouldn’t be shy to wield it and encourage others to do so too.”
Has your club been on the receiving end of the organizer’s outreach? Has it declined to support the Fondo? Let us know. We hope you stand with Wes! (Update: Ted Rogers over at BikinginLA chimed in too: “While I’m normally willing to back any event that promotes bicycling, it just doesn’t make sense to support a bike event in a city that doesn’t support us.”)