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Could Beverly Hills become the next bike-friendly city?

Mark Ellen BBBH booth Better Bike Beverly Hills

Bicycle down Santa Monica Boulevard, and your journey will get a sudden jolt when you hit Beverly Hills. Why? This rich town is decidedly bike lane-poor. The marked bike lane — whether you’re coming east from Century City or west from West Hollywood — disappears unceremoniously at Beverly Hills’ borders, leaving cyclists to wend their way through traffic without even a “share the road” sign.

“Beverly Hills has no bike facilities whatsoever,” says Mark Elliot, a longtime Beverly Hills resident and avid cyclist. “And we have very few bike racks, perhaps 15 public bike racks in total around the city. Otherwise, there’s no signage. There are no cycling education programs. There’s really nothing that encourages the importance of active transportation for kids, for adults, for reducing congestion — all the great things we know about cycling.”

But all that might soon change, now that a grassroots pro-bike group has sprung up in this posh city. Dubbed Better Bike Beverly Hills, this group came about when Elliot started personally researching the city’s bike plan — a “paltry, 5-page document” that spurred him to create Better Bike Beverly Hills as a Google Group. The group held its first meeting in September, and became a local affiliate of the nonprofit group Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition earlier this year. The group’s goal? To make Beverly Hills a bike-friendlier place by changing city policies.

That’s no easy feat in a city like Beverly Hills, where residents recently voted to preserve free parking for cars. “The prevailing feeling is that we can best facilitate retail owners here by catering to motorists who arrive to shop,” says Elliot.

But Better Bike Beverly Hills has already attracted 100 members, including 15 to 20 active ones who’ve been volunteering at the group’s occasional booth at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market events and organizing events like a free bicycle safety workshop earlier this month. After all, Beverly Hills does have quite a few cyclists, according to Elliot. “When you look around Beverly Hills, if you start to look for bikes, you see them everywhere. They’re chained to businesses, lamp posts.” And if more people started to see cycling as a welcome option in the city, they may choose to get around with two fewer wheels.

And Better Bike has big goals to make that happen. First up: Replacing what Elliot describes as “an old, wheel-bending rack” at the Beverly Hills Public Library with a concrete pad and bike corral — a project Elliot believes will happen within the next six months, based on Better Bike’s conversations with library and public works officials.

Then, Better Bike hopes to take it to the streets with a pilot project to make bicycle-friendly improvements on the roads, identifying a corridor with a city and equipping it with a bike lane or sharrows, along with bike-friendly signage. “That’s something that was suggested to me by the city, so I think there’s definitely support for that,” says Elliot.

Longer term, Better Bike hopes to finally close up that bike lane gap on Santa Monica Boulevard, since the city’s planning a reconstruction of that road in the next two and a half years. “In the next 9 months or so, designs will start to emerge from the city,” says Elliot — and Better Bike plans to make sure bike lanes are included in those designs.

Despite the current lack of bike facilities, Elliot says riding in Beverly Hills is still a joyful experience. “It’s a small, compact city. It’s a walkable city, and a bikeable city. We have many tree shaded streets and lanes…. We have good quality pavement, and we’ve got a great local retailing base that just makes it a pleasure. If I want a coffee or if I want something to read, I can just ride around — 5 minutes and I’m there. The potential for the joy of cycling is what Beverly Hills offers, if we can start to change that dynamic from pro-motorist to people-powered.”

Bike-curious in Beverly Hills? Get involved with Better Bike by joining the email list andfollowing the website to get the latest bike-related news in the city. Or find the group in real life by stopping at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market this Sunday, where Better Bike will be promoting the upcoming L.A. River Ride. The group also has plans for organized rides and a fundraiser this summer.

In the meantime, get on the road. Elliot says his favorite road to bike in Beverly Hills is Charleville, a quiet street a block south of Wilshire Boulevard. “It’s a very useful east-west, tree-lined street that connects Robertson on the east to Santa Monica Boulevard near Marino Drive on the west,” says Elliot. “It’s one of the safest ways to get across Beverly Hills.”

Photo: Better Bike Beverly Hills members Mark Elliot and Ellen Lutwak at a booth at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market (Credit: Better Bike Beverly Hills)