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Absurdist Shrubbery

May 15, 2012 3 comments

From what I can see, the engineers and planners at LADOT’s Bicycle Program are hard at work installing bicycle-specific infrastructure around the city. Sharrows keep popping up on the routes I ride, and I read about lanes being striped here and there. It’s great to know the city is thinking about us.

But permit me a moment to grouse. Almost all of the recent build-out has been “paint job infrastructure.” If you’ve ever ridden down one of those numerous sharrow-marked streets — say, Fountain Avenue — you know that there’s really no difference in “feel” between the road with or without them. Sharrows, of course, are supposed to make streets safer by indicating the proper riding position to cyclists and drivers alike. They change nothing else about the street. That leaves cyclists still mixing it up with traffic. I figure that sharrows are going to do as much to encourage cyclists to ride as the “Bike Route” signs the city did in the 1970s. Eventually the paint will wear away, and no one will notice. That was a bicycle route?

Still, I sort of get the problem that LADOT faces, especially on a street like Fountain. There’s not much room, and we the populace don’t want to remove parking (that is, stop subsidizing it), so the quickest, cheapest, politically easiest nod to cyclists is painting some chevrons. Great. Whatever. Maybe someday sharrows will help some poor cyclist resolve an injury lawsuit in his or her favor. But as my dad used to tell me when teaching me how to cross the street: you may dead right, but you’re both dead and right.

So, sharrows, schmarrows. What really gets my goat is the half-attention paid to cyclists even when the space is available for great infrastructure. At the risk of opening old wounds, consider the Santa Monica Boulevard bike lanes, between Century City and the 405 Freeway. They’re some of the nicest on the Westside, with no parked cars to door riders, and smooth pavement. But they’re still just paint. Meanwhile, take a look at what lies just beyond them for much of the boulevard: a beautifully manicured median strip, with lovely drought-resistant plants, and a tranquil business parking zone. I am grateful for the lanes, but every time I use them I feel as if the city is more concerned about road beautification and parked cars than the safety of cyclists.

But, again, I might give the LADOT the benefit of the doubt. The Santa Monica lanes were striped back in the lean times (for cyclists) of the early 2000s, before the explosion of interest in Dutch cycling, separated paths, and back when gas prices were still pretty low. In our “modern times” we’re supposed to know that you can’t keep a lot of cyclists on the streets unless you make them feel safe. Which makes me wonder what to make of the new, the brand new, Expo Line bike infrastructure. Sunday past, I took a spin over to the La Cienega stop, riding from the beach up the Ballona Creek bike path, to the connector path. I was terribly excited by the initial bit, a beautiful (if bumpy) stretch of Class I pavement leading up to the stop. I was also tickled to see the extra pedestrian signal call switches installed on posts for cyclists (although they don’t seem to work now). But after a hundred yards or so, I found myself riding down Jefferson Boulevard on yet another bike lane, with yet another line of beautifully manicured shrubbery to my right. Shrubbery! Exactly where the Class I path should be! It’s an absurdity right out of a Monty Python sketch.

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Categories: Lanes, Los Angeles, Parking

Why the Beverly Hills Parking Propositions Miss the Real Issue

February 27, 2011 3 comments

For the past few weeks my mailbox has been packed with slickly-produced campaign flyers, nearly all of them about the issue of free parking in garages owned by the City of Beverly Hills. There are actually two proposals on the ballot. The first, Measure 2P, was put on there by a group of local landlords, and would require the city to provide two hours free to everyone in all city garages. The second, Measure 3P, was put on the ballot by the city council itself in response to “2P,” and would give three free hours to city residents only.

The details of these proposals aren’t that interesting, and I’ll be voting against both of them anyway. I rarely use city parking anymore, which makes my decision easier, but it also makes sense from other perspectives:

Donald Shoup would point out the “High Cost of Free Parking,” and how it encourages unnecessary driving. He might then give some statistics on how much Beverly Hills spends per space (including the latest underground project on Crescent Boulevard), money that could otherwise be spent on projects with more impact.

■ The city council would rightly point out that 2P removes ability to use resources at its disposal to balance the budget, especially in a time when it is facing shortfalls, and sets an unfortunate precedent over who gets to make the rules in this city (3P wouldn’t even be on the ballot except as a “desperation move” in response to 2P).

■ I would point out that the proposals are a reminder of how inefficient California’s proposition politics has become; we’re very good at voting in benefits, and very bad at voting in ways to pay for them.

Business promotion is the main argument offered by 2P supporters, and comes up on all the flyers I’ve received. (I’ve yet to receive anything in the mail against the proposal, but there is some opposition.) Some of the flyers mention the increasing competition from areas surrounding Beverly Hills, like the three free parking hours that Westfield Century City offers, or the cheap parking at the Beverly Center and The Grove. While these comparisons may be accurate, I don’t think they’re justified, as most of the examples offered concern private garages in shopping malls, where mall businesses subsidize spots. Beverly Hills public parking is, instead, “socialized” by the taxpayer, and paid for by every resident who also pays property taxes. Parking is expensive. People should pay for what they use.

There is some question over the legality of Measure 2P, and that challenge is still in the courts. I believe the proposal will still hit the ballot, however, despite the outcome of that case, and my guess is that it will pass, and not 3P. Whatever. Allowing public policy to come to a vote is a recipe for bad results, and makes me wonder whether Hans Voerknecht (the Dutch “bicycle activist”) has a point: “Democracy is not about doing the will of the people; it’s about choosing the best men and women out of the people who make the wisest decisions.”

Whatever the outcome at the ballot box, I think Beverly Hills and its businesses are missing out on the bigger issue. If business is suffering here versus our neighbors, it’s not because of parking, free or not. Shoppers prefer Century City or The Grove because the shopping experience is better. These other places have restored the human dimension to space: they take cars off their ersatz “streets,” and give it back to pedestrians. (Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and Universal Studio’s City Walk do the same.) Shopping in Beverly Hills isn’t interesting or fun anymore. The model has become obsolete. The magic is gone.

A few years ago, Jimmy Delshad, who subsequently became mayor, proposed the idea of pedestrianizing Rodeo Drive. I don’t know exactly what came of the proposal, but Fred Hayman, the former owner of Giorgio’s and the “Pa Kettle of Rodeo Drive,” thought it wouldn’t work: “Exotic cars are part of the attraction of California.” I respect Mr. Hayman’s business acumen, but I can say with some confidence that no matter how much you may be enthralled by the odd Lamborghini that passes by, the noise and exhaust of cars eventually are going to wear you down. Who wants to dine outside with sports cars roaring by?

I’d really like the city of Beverly Hills to pick up this idea again, at least on an experimental basis. Close Rodeo Drive or Beverly Drive to vehicular traffic one day weekly. Maybe the city could move the Farmer’s Market from behind the courthouse to Beverly Drive on that day. Make the shopping experience unique, compelling, and fun again. Do this for a few months and see what happens. Otherwise, I am going to predict that Beverly Hills will continue losing shoppers, including me, to its neighbors.

Oh, and by the way, since this is nominally a bicycle blog, I should mention how bicycles fit in. Simply put, if we can pedestrianize the city center, the human-powered ways to get there have to be next. I don’t think there’s any great city that added bicycles to its transportation network without making pedestrians fit first.

Categories: Beverly Hills, Parking, Policy