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Sunday, Dec 10, 2023

Beverly Hills Merchants Wrong to Rail Against Subway

Some Rodeo Drive retailers have strong reservations about positioning a new Purple Line subway station at Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Drive. The complaints, as reported in the July 11 issue of the Business Journal (“Subway to the Sea? Don’t Stop at Rodeo Drive”), range from attracting too many people (or those from the wrong crowd) to the station not being positioned on a major north-south street.

These concerns are shortsighted at best and absurd at worst. Beverly Hills is one of the most exclusive shopping destinations in the world, with Rodeo Drive being its most famous destination. However, the principal distinction between Rodeo Drive and locations such as Bond Street in London, Via Veneto in Rome, Avenue Montaigne in Paris, Chuo-Dori in the Ginza district in Tokyo and Fifth Avenue in New York is simple: There is no fixed-rail mass transit to Rodeo Drive, while the other streets are within three blocks of a transit station. In the case of Tokyo, New York and Paris, the stations are located on the destination street itself. In the case of Bond Street, the Tube station (on nearby Oxford Street) is actually named after the street itself, and the connections are promoted within the station.

These other cities understand a fundamental issue that Los Angeles (and Beverly Hills) merchants apparently do not: Wealthy visitors often take rail transit to shopping destinations. Rodeo Drive prides itself on its international reputation yet seems content with having insufficient parking and, worse, remaining a destination that requires renting a car or hiring a taxi to visit.

It is one thing to turn away the “riff-raff.” (Many Rodeo Drive shops already do this quite effectively based simply on their prices.) It is another to discourage well-heeled visitors who are accustomed to taking mass transit to shop and simply shipping their purchases home.

Yes, more people will come to Beverly Hills by rail than do so by bus. But large numbers will be people who previously arrived by car.

And as for Beverly Drive not being a major north-south street, it connects to Coldwater Canyon Drive (and the San Fernando Valley) to the north and represents a reliable route for drivers headed south toward Pico Boulevard and beyond. There is no more significant north-south street in Beverly Hills’ main commercial district.

With the local economy in mind, I’ll point out that the Purple Line reached Wilshire and Western Boulevard in 1996. It would be 2022 (under current projections) when the Wilshire-Beverly station would open. That marks a 26-year gap in which Beverly Hills could have benefitted from increased tourism and reduced congestion. Enough is enough. If the merchants on Rodeo are concerned about their clientele, perhaps they should talk to their peers in New York, Rome and Paris before they rush to judgment and take the rest of us along for the ride – or lack thereof, as the case may be.

Kevin Klowden is managing economist and director of the California Center at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica.

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