On the Right Track
August 8, 2011 — (Los Angeles Business Journal Op-Ed by Bohnett Foundation grantee Angelenos Against Gridlock's President David C. Murphy)
OP-ED: Beverly Hills merchants should know other cities’ high-end retail centers have benefited from subway access.
By DAVID C. MURPHY Monday, August 8, 2011
Some Beverly Hills merchants and building owners expressed concern in the July 11 issue of the Business Journal about the effect the Wilshire-Rodeo subway station would have on the neighborhood (“Subway to the Sea? Don’t Stop at Rodeo Drive.”). While I strongly share the desire to protect this world-famous district, I believe these fears are unnecessary, and that the subway will be a great asset for Beverly Hills businesses, commuters and residents. An examination of luxury shopping districts in other cities around the world with subway systems is instructive.
Before moving to Beverly Hills, I grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., close to a subway stop on the Washington Metro system. What kind of effect did the subway station there have? Far from destroying the affluent neighborhood, the area around the station instead has blossomed in the 26 years since it opened. Affluent residents want to live near the subway station so they can easily commute to law firms and well-paying jobs downtown; the average household income within one mile of the subway station is $192,474.
Others from around the region can easily use the subway to come to the area and shop. In fact, a few years ago, a development opened near the subway stop that the Washington Post described as Washington’s answer to Rodeo Drive. Literally less than 400 feet from the subway station escalators, Bulgari, Dior, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Max Mara, Ralph Lauren, Cartier and Tiffany & Co. all set up shop.
Office landlords have benefited, too: The Ritz Carlton Hotel Co. moved its corporate headquarters there, and Microsoft rented space.
Meanwhile, another affluent part of the Washington area – Georgetown – suffers without a subway station. Parking is a chore. Luxury retailers that Angelenos associate with Rodeo Drive have chosen Chevy Chase, not Georgetown, for their Washington-area locations.
Might Washington be a fluke? Surely the subway has destroyed luxury areas in other parts of the world? Well, the Paris Louis Vuitton flagship on Champs-Élysées is adjacent to the Métro’s George V station (the station opened in 1900 and doesn’t seem to have spelled doom for the area). The Four Seasons Hotel George V, ranked among the world’s finest hotels, is a short walk down the street. Elsewhere in Paris, the Ritz, and perfumeries and boutiques around plaza Vendôme are surrounded by not one but six subway stops within a five- to 10-minute walk. In London, Slone Street and Bond Street luxury shopping areas are surrounded by Tube stops.
No, a subway station need not be the end of an affluent business district. In fact, it can be quite an asset. As Beverly Hills Councilman John Mirisch rightfully pointed out, parking in the Golden Triangle is a problem that the subway can help mitigate.
But while the subway will serve retail workers and help the transit dependent, the fact is that a properly built-out subway system will also attract white-collar and affluent riders. On a gridlocked route such as this, the subway will be much faster than the car. Riders can whiz under cars stuck in gridlock on the streets, traveling underground at speeds of 30 to 70 miles an hour.
Time is money. Beverly Hills residents could dine at Scarpetta or Bouchon Bistro for a pretheater meal before a relaxing ride downtown to the Music Center in half the time it takes to fight traffic in a car. Professionals commuting to downtown jobs will take the subway in droves. Many drivers who don’t think they’d take public transit actually will ride this new subway route when they see how it can cut their travel time compared with gridlock at its everyday worst.
The subway will be the single biggest improvement to quality of life for Beverly Hills residents and commuters in decades. And, I believe, it will be a significant benefit for businesses.
Retailers and restaurants should see more business; by making it easier to get here, professionals from Century City or downtown will be more likely to come to Beverly Hills for lunch meetings. Landlords will see increased leasing demand in the long term, as the subway will help attract high-end tenants who want to make commutes easier for workers.
I would even posit that Rodeo Drive merchants’ revenues will actually increase as tourists and SoCal residents can easily get to Rodeo Drive to spend their dollars. Less time in gridlock equals more time for shopping! Merchants and landlords should embrace the station as a way to gain an advantage over competing local shopping districts.
We simply cannot let well-intentioned, but I believe unneeded, fears about the subway sidetrack this station. As seen in cities from Washington to Paris to London, subway stations need not be the destroyers of luxury shopping communities. Stations bring enormous value to businesses, land owners, commuters and residents, and I believe we will come to greatly value ours here in Beverly Hills.
David C. Murphy is a Beverly Hills resident and is president of Angelenos Against Gridlock.
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