Recreation and Parks Commission: Bicycles Ain’t Our Thing

Recreation and Parks commission this January formally decided to abandon the bicycle safety and training program the city undertook in 2015. Every month at a city school a trainer was on hand to educate children about bicycle safety and to provide hands-on ride-safe instruction. But the sessions were under-attended so it came as no surprise when the program was put on hold in 2017. More recently the commission showed little interest in revisiting the program. That was just the latest sign of the commissioner’s lack of enthusiasm for pro-bike park policies.

The few children who ride a bicycle in Beverly Hills seem completely unaware of ride-safe principles. They wear helmets because they must abide by the law, but they (and their parents) seem to see sidewalks as a kind of protected space for cycling. They cross the city’s many alley outlets without a care while each one is instead a danger point where serious injury is simply waiting to happen. The chance of a bike-car crash injury is greatest not on our streets but at blind alley crossings.

We could make our streets safer with a complete streets plan and a citywide bicycle network of marked routes to protect those who ride a bicycle. Indeed this is not a new idea for Beverly Hills. Back in 1977 the Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan (still on the books but never updated!) envisioned a 22-mile citywide bicycle route network “of the ‘bike lane’ variety” that would connect schools and parks “by the shortest, safest possible routes.” Imagine the possibilities!

Parks and schools were seen as anchor nodes of the future bike network. The General Plan updated in 2010 concurred: it saw a bikeway system as integral to outdoor recreation:

[A] bikeway route system should be developed to encourage bicycling on less- travelled streets and thereby separate transportation modes and lower the probability of accidents. The bike lanes (exclusive routes) or bike routes (portion of street or sidewalk labeled for bicycle use) should connect facilities such as schools and parks – places between which children may want to ride bicycles. – General Plan Open Space Element goal 12.5: Development of a Bikeway Route System

But our Recreation and Parks commissioners have not shared that view. Back in 2013 the Roxbury Park renovation was kicking-off and we reminded the commission about the Bicycle Master Plan’s vision of a route system that connected parks for riders. “This commission can integrate non-motor mobility into your oversight of recreation programs and park planning beginning with the Roxbury Park renovation,” we said. We suggested the commission develop ‘pre-planning guidelines’ in conjunction with the Traffic & Parking Commission in anticipation of the eventual bike plan update. The commission should have a role in the process, we said.

Active mobility was also a key recommendation in our Sustainable City Plan. That ‘shelfware’ was finalized in 2009 but roundly ignored by every city department — and not least by the Transportation division of Community Development which never regarded active mobility as worthy of planning.

While commissioners generally didn’t subscribe to our recommendations, one commissioner did consistently support pro-bicycle initiatives: Frances Bilak. Notably she pressed her fellow commissioners to let bikes in parks back in 2014 when, as her request, the commission on March 25, 2014 discussed adding a Class III path to Roxbury Park.

The in-park path would have allowed bicycle riding adjacent to walking paths. That it would have invited recreational riders in while giving children a protected opportunity to hone riding skills off of the street. But fellow Recreation and Parks commissioners did not endorse the concept.

Roxbury path minutes 2014-3-25Commissioner Bilak tried again that year: on May 24th she presented a revised proposal that would have allowed riders and walkers to share existing paths in Roxbury Park (after the park was renovated). She suggested that scheduled rides could encourage recreational bicycle riding in the park and perhaps remind riders to visit the park on a bicycle.

But fellow commissioners nixed that idea too!

A couple of years later in 2016 the commission heard from a member of the public who wanted to see bicycles in parks. Ye again the commissioners swatted away the idea. They did create an ad-hoc ‘bicycle liaison committee’ but it never evidently did any business. No commissioner other than Bilak suggested a way to make parks welcoming to riders (or integrate them into a bike network).

Complete Streets Plan: A New Opportunity Missd

Over the years we have urged Recreation and Parks commissioners to take a proactive role to make active mobility the preferred means of access to city parks. (Indeed it is something of an irony that Roxbury Park was, and is, accessible by bicycle lane — but that lane was striped by City of Los Angeles!)

In April of 2017 we rolled our prior recommendations into a broad suggestion that Recreation and Parks Commission anticipate the coming complete streets plan by making bikes-to-parks and bikes-in-parks priority items in the work plan. “We want people to visit our parks,” we told commissioners, “and we want them to leave the car at home.

That too fell on unsympathetic ears: early in 2018 the Recreation and Parks commissioners voted to formally jettison the long-standing, pending ‘bicycle riding’ priority item from the commission’s work plan.

Bicycles item pending 2017Now that the complete streets process was officially kicked off with a signed contract, commissioners simply let the ball drop entirely.

The Recreation and Parks Commission has done some good work. They presided over the Roxbury Park and Beverly Gardens renovations. There was the dog park (and a reprise of the dog park discussion) and the commission has other items on the plate too. Unfortunately, the relationship between active mobility and city parks as envisioned in our plans was ultimately not among the commission’s priorities.

We appreciate the bike-ed program that Community Services operated until 2017. But we were sorry to see the commission decline to revisit it when commission priorities were discussed this past January. Another missed opportunity.