Monday, March 29, 2010

Metro's Hollywood & Vine "Bike Room" draws the crowds!

Opening night for the Metro's Hollywood & Vine "Bike Room" drew overflow crowds of the Hollywood elite, all anxious to take part in the Metro's ongoing commitment to Transit Oriented Development. They arrived in lovely private automobiles that were parked by the valets on Hollywood Boulevard, they arrived in taxis that competed with the Metro buses for the prime real estate on Hollywood Boulevard, they arrived in limos, they even arrived on foot, and if the bike parking had been in place they might have even arrived on bicycles. No matter, there's always time in the future for the cyclists, most importantly, the beautiful people were there to celebrate the "Bike Room" ribbon cutting and to be part of the TOD scene!

The W Hollywood is a $600 million Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that features the W Hotel, complemented by the W Residences, justified by the W Apartments, perched atop the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station, and wrapped around the Hollywood Boulevard public plaza. Critics might suggest that the public plaza is the "posterior" of the large complex, pointing to the lack of integration and connectivity as evidence to its "backside" status. (The public are asked to take Hollywood to Argyle and then to walk down to the "Motor Court" entrance to access the W Hotel. Delphine has no signage on the plaza side, instead aiming for the motoring public on Hollywood Boulevard. Those that arrive by Metro get little enticement to stay and become part of the W experience.)

As for the "Bike Room," critics have asked how a TOD project of this size can spend over a decade getting to the finish line, only to find that Metro Planning is just now asking "Where do the cyclists go?" It's only now that Metro Planning is looking to the other Metro Departments such as Real Estate, Operations, Rail, and Security and asking the tough questions such as "Who's in charge?"

None of which matters in the least to the crowds of Hollywood's finest who turned out to celebrate the impending arrival of the "Bike Room" and to celebrate the idea that pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit passengers are all "transportation heroes" at the Metro's Flagship Hollywood & Vine Red Line station.

Nestled discretely in an eastside nook, just opposite the rest rooms, is the "Bike Room." Take a look at the plywood wall (all dressed in black!) and the hasp lock (understated yet powerful!) and the fact that it is obviously closed. (Hollywood exclusivity only makes people want more!) Nothing says "Yes!" like being told "No!"

Truth be told, in spite of the overwhelming success of the "Bike Room" opening, I have a few suggestions for the Metro, which I offer in the hopes that the Hollywood & Vine Red Line station can improve and become the standard against which all other TOD projects are measured. Most importantly, this journey at Hollywood & Vine is also an opportunity for the Metro to examine its own (dis)organization and to improve systemically so that it becomes the Transportation System capable of planning and executing the 30/10 plan that would fund a dozen mega-projects, all executed within a decade by the same people who can't get bike racks installed at a Metro Station. Here are my observations and recommendations.

1) Metro Systemic Failure: The "Bike Room" non-start demonstrates that the Metro wasn't paying attention to its development partner from the beginning. The W Hollywood opened several weeks ago (complete with pictured employee bike parking) and the Metro is just now grappling with the need for to develop a plan for the proposed membership based bike parking system for the Metro station. This is not the visionary work LA needs from the Planning Department of the Metro. In fact, it demonstrates the need for the Metro to integrate and synchronize its many departments who all had a piece of this (in)action, from Real Estate to Planning to Operations to Rail to Security to Financial to the Executives who allow these people to operate without oversight or accountability. "Tear down these silos!"

2) Bike Room Location Conflict: The "Bike Room" is currently located on the east side of the plaza, in conflict with the W Hollywood and Drai's, both of which use the red carpet area as entrances to their venues and the open plaza as a holding area for crowd control. The "Bike Room" would be best used as storage for the space heaters, the barricades, the stanchion poles, and the velvet ropes that Drai's and the W use on a regular basis. The "Bike Room" is a very inhospitable room in a very inhospitable location and to stubbornly insist on shoe-horning a bike storage facility into a small room with 24" thick walls and no windows is the recipe for failure. Give it back and negotiate for a better space that will hold a flagship "Bike Room" worthy of a flagship Metro Red Line Station.

3) Install Public Bike Racks First: The "Bike Room" does not address the basic needs of the casual cyclist who needs to lock up a bike at the Hollywood & Vine Metro Station. Bike Racks must be the basic and minimum "end-of-trip" accommodations that are part of all Metro Stations. To operate without basic Bike Racks is cavalier and irresponsible. Simple Bike Racks give the most ROI for bike parking, are the most basic foundation for multi-modal transportation, and are the opening move. Fancy key-fob, private access, membership based "Bike Room" proposals fail to resonate in an environment that lacks the basics. "Start with public access inverted U racks."

4) Consider the Humans: Site surveys must take place when the public is using the common area, the public plaza. A significant amount of surface space on the west side of the plaza is made of vented grates. The women who frequent the W and Drai's tend to wear high-heels and they avoid the grates. To install inverted U racks on the cement area on the west side of the planter reduces the walkway leaving a small amount of cement and a wide swath of grates. In addition, this area is the access to the gate for the Living Room and Delphine's patio. One would presume that when the finishing touches are put on the patio area, perhaps as summer gets closer, this west side of the plaza will enjoy crowds similar to the east side. Is it necessary to put the cyclists at odds with the public simply because of especially poor planning?

5) Send in the Negotiators: It is apparent that the developer got away with little, if any, community benefit in this deal. Renegotiate now or prepare to accept defeat. The public plaza could stand to lose a planter or two, it is poorly laid out and the fact that those on a site survey are always "in the way" demonstrates that this looked good on paper but fails the simple "people" test. Take out the westside planter, put in parallel bike parking with endcaps to protect against crowds passing by, cover with an awning, and move on.

6) Get a Room: There are lots of street level spaces on Argyle. Start there and negotiate for a real facility, one that people will write home about. Set the standard for innovation. Create a "Bike Room" that offers all of the services that Hollywood needs. Would this be a location for a bike share for tourists? Would this be where people get information? Would this serve as a hub for Bike Culture? Would this be a place that offers education and encouragement for locals? Would this be the location of a Bike-Share for W guests? Would this be the location for a Bike-Share for the W residents? Would this be an opportunity to create a presence in Los Angeles for other transportation innovations such as electric bikes, cargo bikes, a bike delivery service, and a pedicab service? These questions and others should become part of a commitment to raising the standard, not lowering it, and now is the time to "Get a Room" and to fill it with ambition and innovation.

7) Protect the Walk of Fame: Both Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Avenue are part of Hollywood's legacy. People come from all over the world to visit the Walk of Fame. Treat it with respect and take care of it. Curbside inverted U racks are great and they are always a welcome sight when looking for opportunities to lock up a bike. But curbside racks are no substitute for a bike corral that is visible, safe, effective, and protected. The W Hollywood has four sides to a five acre property. Concentrating all bike parking efforts on the northside public plaza means that Trader Joe's is opening with no bike parking. If there is no plan in place now, the solution will end up being inverted U racks on the Walk of Fame. Hardly worthy of the Metro, Gatehouse Capital, the CRA, the City of LA, Legacy Partners, the W and the cycling community who continually accept promises of "Don't worry! We've got a plan!"

8) The Bike Stops Here: Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the Metro has an abysmal track record for bike parking. Witness the Hollywood & Western "Metro Bikes" fiasco that never opened. It resulted in years of activity including the purchase of racks that have since disappeared, the hiring of an operation partner who was paid but never performed, the partnership of the CRA, the City of LA, the Developer, none of which resulted in one bike ever getting parked. Consider the recent Eastside Extension and the bike racks at the Soto Station and the Mariachi Plaza. Both stations had racks installed and in both cases the racks failed to meet the feeble Metro Bike Parking standards. The Metro doesn't spec the standards, the contractor doesn't meet the standards, the Metro doesn't inspect and the contractor doesn't correct. This casual approach must stop.

The Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station is in the middle of LA's largest Transit Oriented Development. It is here that the Metro's performance as a robust and comprehensive Transportation System must be evaluated and it is here that the Metro demonstrates its commitment to multi-modal transportation. Good, bad, or indifferent, the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station bears witness to the Metro's relationship with the cycling community.

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