The Road to Nowhere

I’ve written a bit lately about Beverly Hills and its seemingly complete lack of concern for cyclists…well, perhaps not “seemingly,” as the present sum total of bike infrastructure there comprises twenty decorator bike racks in the “Golden Triangle” and a small corral at the library–and the corral is brand-new.

But at an ad-hoc meeting of the city’s Bike Plan Update Committee a couple of weeks ago I heard a lot of positive talk from the commissioners, and a lot of questions from them too. They made plenty of notes and seemed enthusiastic about making the city more welcoming to cyclists.

Then I saw their proposed bike route entwork, and saw that they were falling victim to the same “low-hanging fruit” mentality that has afflicted Los Angeles and almost every other US city when it comes to bike planning.

Too many cities choose bike routes based on how easy they would be to implement, usually assigning them to wide streets with little traffic.

The problem with those streets is that they usually have little traffic for a reason…and that reason is that they go nowhere.

Cyclists–especially urban cyclists–are usually not just riding randomly around for the sake of turning pedals. The kind of riders who want bike routes on city streets are people who are riding to get to work, to shop, to dine, to visit–people who need to get somewhere.

A winding, tree-shaded street that leads you to the middle of a residential neighborhood, while pleasant, is not very useful unless you’re one of the few people who lives there. A street that loops around the main commercial district of your city will not induce residents to leave their car behind and ride a bike to the bistro.

Yet this is precisely what Beverly Hills’s tentative network does. It skips South Beverly Drive, which is where most of the 90210’s middle-class residents shop and eat. Beverly Drive, which despite hundreds of car parking slots, can’t accommodate enough visitors to keep merchants comfortable. Beverly Drive, which has two of the widest traffic lanes I’ve ever seen anywhere, with plenty of room for bikes.

South beverly Drive

Yeah, it has angle parking, but plenty of other cities have flipped their angle parking around so that cars back in, rather than nose in. This makes it easy for drivers to check traffic as they pull out–and makes the street safer for motorists as well as cyclists.

Back-in angle parking, bike lanes, sharrows along a couple of perpendicular streets to lead people in, a bunch of simple sidewalk bike racks, and you would revive the little strip of shops and restaurants at almost no cost. Loads of people would then feel comfortable pedaling a few blocks to Beverly Dr., rather than firing up the Volvo to head for the Grove with its giant parking structure.

I pushed hard for this idea, as did some of the other advocates present, and in a couple of months there’ll be another meeting where we’ll see whether they even considered it.

It’s not just Beverly Hills. Too many towns pick bike routes based on what is least complicated to implement. We can’t as cyclists accept that. We need, not random networks, but routes that go places where people need to go. They will be more difficult to build, because they will naturally be routes with plenty of car traffic already. But if we do it, then there might not be so much car traffic after a while–and that will make everything, from cycling to city budgets to merchants’ incomes, better–because it will make the streets and sidewaks more attractive to shoppers–and easier to get to.

In other words, bicyclists aren’t looking for routes that lead them on tours of flower gardens. Give us roads that that take us somewhere. To do otherwise is to waste our time, and our cities’ money.

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