Will Recommended Bike Facilities Ever See Beverly Hills Pavement?

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is recommending several new bike facilities for adoption by the Federal Highways Administration. Those identified here are easily-implemented pavement markings that would better safeguard riders negotiating hazardous Beverly Hills intersections. Adoption by NCUTCD would lend support for in-state inclusion in our state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is required before local transportation agencies deploy a traffic control treatment. Let’s take a look at a few that were recently recommended.

Of the dozen or so new facilities recently recommended by National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee, there are three that could help riders navigate Beverly Hills intersections not upgraded over the past half-century. By ‘upgrade’ we mean the incorporation of good practices we see rolled out in neighboring cities: durable thermoplastic, continental-style (aka ‘zebra’) crosswalks, and of course bicycle lanes that help position riders for safe transit though. Here in Beverly Hills our markings fade quickly because we won’t use thermoplastic (for reasons unknown) while we’ve just begun to use the new crosswalks. And our bike lanes are few.

Bicycle Lane Extensions

Bicycle Lane Extensions exampleMarked extensions to bicycle lanes running through intersections help riders get across intersections that can span 10 lanes or more and reduce uncertainty and ambiguity by providing a marked path. Per the NCUTC’s committee recommendation report, they “denote the expected path for bicyclists and advise motorists that bicyclists are likely to use the intended path.” Thus it’s a facility that serves both riders and drivers. Even better, the NUCTC recommendation suggest coloring them green!

Now we know what you’re thinking: What use is a lane extension when Beverly Hills has so few bike lanes, and those that we have only span a few blocks? We’ll suggest here putting this cart before the horse if only because we have several particularly hazardous intersections that would benefit from immediate help. And extension markings might be the thing. Consider the Wilshire-San Vicente intersection for example. What a mess it is!

Wilshire-San Vicente aerial view

The issue here is that San Vicente is very wide (it once accommodated streetcars) and is divided by a median. And Wilshire is a race course. Both make traversing this intersection a high-stress endeavor. But City of Los Angeles is already upgrading their side of San Vicente with bicycle lanes. Hopefully Beverly Hills lanes will come soon. Lane extensions are the next step.

What about the Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection? This perennial LOS-level F juncture needs all the help it can get. But unfortunately it’s in City of Beverly Hills which appears in no hurry to improve it. We’ve suggested the need for immediate improvements but hear from city transportation officials that it might not happen anytime soon – perhaps not until phase II of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction.

Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection

The Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection is a hazard to everybody’s health. Marked guidance for cyclists would be a good first step for safer transit.

Looking ahead, though, bicycle lane extensions might be just the ticket because today’s traffic flow clearly compromises the safety of riders. The only caveat: can extensions can be striped if there is no existing adjacent bike lane? Proposed lanes for Santa Monica Blvd have run into political headwinds.

The Bicycle Box

Oh the venerable bicycle box! Currently considered an ‘experimental’ design by our state’s MUTCD, the bike box serves a simple but useful purpose:

Similar to a recessed or advanced stop line, a bicycle box creates a reserved space in front of one or more travel lanes, but outside of pedestrian crosswalks, for bicyclists to wait for a green signal ahead of queuing motorists.

Bicycle box diagram

The bicycle box is shown at low-center in the diagram.

The virtue of the bicycle box is that improves the visibility of cyclists by putting them ahead of motor traffic. It also gives riders a head start on turns if there is no dedicated bicycle signal (which is most every intersection in the region).

Among the benefits (as cited by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) are that groups riding together clear an intersection more quickly and minimize impediments to traffic; that the box helps to prevent ‘right hook’ conflict with right-turning vehicles; and that it keeps riders from breathing exhaust while queued and contributes to the rider’s perception of safety. All good reasons for Catrans to officially adopt the Bicycle Box. Both City of Davis and Santa Monica have been granted permission from Caltrans to ‘experiment’ with it.

We hope that NCTUCD follows the NACTO’s Urban Design Bikeway Guide recommendation and adopts this traffic control device so that local agencies like Caltrans might include it in the local toolkit.

Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box

Among the most diminutive of traffic control devices is the Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box, “a waiting area for bicyclists to queue to turn left at an intersection by first proceeding to a position to queue at the [far] right side of the intersection,” according to the NCTUCD’s technical committee’s recommendation. More:

In locations where conventional left turns are prohibited or where bicyclists’ merging to a conventional left-turn would be inconvenient, a two-stage left turn can be utilized… The distance traveled for a two-stage left turn is longer…but a two-stage left turn may nonetheless save time if the merge to the conventional left-turn position is blocked by traffic congestion.

Many larger intersections appear suitable for this treatment because riders may feel uncomfortable crossing two or three lanes of fast and aggressive traffic to reach a left-turn lane. At intersections like Westwood Boulevard at Santa Monica, for example, the two-stage box might be what’s best. Behold this beauty!Santa Monica-Westwood Boulevard intersection

Two Stage Turn Queuing box diagramAt such locations, the two-stage turn queuing box would allow the rider to stay right in order to navigate a left turn through the intersection. By simply progressing to the far side and waiting for the green light (as depicted in the diagram at right), she crosses no passing traffic. So heading southbound to turn left (east), the rider takes her place in the queue box on Santa Monica (bottom left in the diagram) and waits for the eastbound green. No need to cross busy Westwood Boulevard traffic!

These three traffic control devices are no-brainers and we wait for inclusion in California’s MUTCD. But there are other ‘experimental’  treatments used in California and they await approval for statewide deployment. Among those of interest are City of Long Beach’s buffered bike lanes, green shared lane markings, and bike signals; and San Francisco MTA’s red-colored pavement for transit-only lanes. The Federal Highways Administration enumerates experimental control devices across the country with 16 currently active evaluations of all kinds underway here.

We hope that all of these facilities are simply the beginning of an effort to re-engineer our streets to make them safe for bicycling. Like the Vision Zero initiative argues, streets must be forgiving of human error; it’s  simply good enough to just move traffic. Looking ahead, we will see that we’ve lived through dark times when it comes to managing multimodal traffic. Caltrans and local transit agencies have for far too long done too little to keep riders safe.

Proof that Law Enforcement Needs Pro-Bike Training

Laura Weintraub video headshotHave you been involved in an injury collision only to find that the responding officer didn’t take your story seriously? Or that the report understated your account and you don’t recognize the basic facts of the crash? Or perhaps the officer let the offending motorist off without a citation because, well, you assume the risk of injury when you ride? Ventura County police reservist Laura Weintraub embodies the misconceptions that often make it difficult for us to get a fair shake from public safety.

Laura Weintraub selfieLaura Weintraub is not only a lifestyle blogger and body stylist (left) she’s also evidently an avowed foe of those who choose to bike. In her video ‘cup holder commentary bicyclist edition,’ she tours the suburban streets of Santa Paula in an SUV looking for riders to skewer. What’s her beef? The fashion infraction that is spandex, for one thing. Riders who deign to turn without signaling (as if drivers always signal). Or that riders move too slow for her taste.

But it hardly matters; just don’t get in her way. “Get in your friggin’ lane!” she cries about a rider on a typically wide suburban street where the bike lane unceremoniously comes to an end. At that point it’s a shared lane anyway, right? But why quibble over the fine points of traffic law or road safety.

We wouldn’t quibble because this kind of ignorance is dime-a-dozen. But this Ventura County-based fitness trainer is also an officer reservist with the City of Santa Paula. As a graduate of the Ventura County Police and Sheriff’s Reserve Officer Academy, she’s surpassed her “most physical and mental challenge to date,” she says. Some will quibble: a post to a forum on officer.com describes that training this way: “You run around, do some obstacle courses, do some pushups, stuff like that. It’s on the lower end of the difficulty spectrum.”

But the physical test is not the real challenge anyway. Rather it’s the law enforcement training on offer in this 21-week program. “The reserve academy will help you develop a law enforcement aptitude and furnish considerable police training,” the academy says. “Successful completion of the academy proves to potential law enforcement employers that you have the aptitude for police work and can endure a para-military style academy environment.”

But not all of public safety’s finest have gotten the memo. She seems under-informed about the vehicular code, for example. Here’s a reminder: it’s not only legal to ride our roads (in whatever outfit at whatever speed) on a bicycle, it’s also state policy to actually encourage it. We guess that academy graduates learn about firearms and chemical agents but perhaps don’t learn too much about the most likely kind of encounter with the public: affecting a proper and constructive attitude as a public safety official.

What a Public Safety Attitude Is Not

“I came out today hoping to film for you,” she tells her viewers, “and there’s like no bicyclists around, but I’m hoping that we’ll run over, er, run into some so that I can actually make this video for ya.” She asks her pal in the driver’s seat, “How much would I have to pay you to run one of these over?” Just give me a dollar, he replies.”I’ve got a few” she says.

Funny right? No, not so funny. “As much as I like the sun, I’m definitely moving somewhere where it snows all the time so that I don’t have to put up with these A-holes.” (Well that feeling is mutual.) And then Laura Weintraub closes her ‘cupholder commentary’ with this video still frame:

Laura Weintraub video crashAfter her commentary made the rounds, the police department’s chief disavowed her comments and put her on administrative leave. [UPDATE: The chief announced she's resigned from the reservist position. As @Rakdaddy said, "Too bad she wasn't fired."]

Time to Focus on the Fitness Business Exclusively

We support the chief’s action to put her on leave and have urged both the Police Chief and the Santa Paula Mayor and City Manager to dismiss Ms. Weintraub from reserve duty. The offense? Her less-than-constructive attitude concerning public safety and her disregard for the legitimacy of two-wheeled road users. There is no small number of cyclists who tour the Ojai Valley area, and each of them deserves the presumption of legitimacy. Not to be referred to as “A-holes.”

What’s next for this fitness trainer and public safety officer? Hopefully some quiet time to consider how her perspective makes getting a fair shake difficult for those who share the road with SUVs in suburban towns like hers. And maybe to reconsider how she presents herself.

I must say that there are 2 things I promised to never write about. Religion and politics. I will also abstain from sharing my thoughts about gun control.

Add to that too-small list the making light of running down people who choose to ride a bike for transportation, sport or pleasure. She’s taken down the original video but as news outlets picked up the story, Laura Weintraub’s hate lives on.

Santa Monica Boulevard Update

Santa-Monica-Boulevard-hazard-8If you have been eagerly awaiting a City Council decision on Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, you may be disappointed (or perhaps heartened) to know that no decision is forthcoming soon. The item originally scheduled for last Tuesday is now rescheduled for this coming Tuesday’s study session and only provides information to Council about an upcoming traffic mitigation study. The next decision will wait until September.

So, is this extended delay good news or bad news? Time will tell. But there is no question that the timeline has indeed slipped. Council was to already have decided a conceptual design by now, with consultants working away on the engineering. (Read more about the project here.) In fact, we concluded the public input process back in January through the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee (a body created by Council) and we had expected by March to know whether bicycle lanes, say, were on offer for tomorrow’s corridor.

Bike Backbone map missing Beverly Hills piece(In the perfect world, of course, bicycle lanes would complete the regional backbone network in which Beverly Hills is a missing link, at right.)

Oh, best laid plans! As it happened, the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee did meet over four sessions concluding in January and heard from many riders that we need those bicycle lanes. In fact, the Blue Ribbon voted to both incrementally expand the corridor and to stripe class II bicycle lanes. Unfortunately the Council didn’t seem to agree, and, as problematic, the scope of the project seems to have narrowed with concerns rising about the cost. A better corridor may be out of our grasp…for decades.

So How Did We Get to This Impasse?

The Council’s discussion about the design of the boulevard was tripped up by alarming cost estimates and renewed concerns about staff management of the project. And that provided an opportunity for a small but vocal segment of the community (almost entirely located within the handful of blocks north of the corridor) to speak out against bicycle lanes at the March meeting.

Aggrieved by the Blue Ribbon outcome and enraged by the cost blowup, folks like those who are aligned with the loosely-organized Beverly Hills North Residents Association set out to mischaracterize the Blue Ribbon process and assert without evidence that state-approved class II bicycle lanes are dangerous. Yes, all the old canards came out: lanes are a hazard to riders; they create blind spots for drivers; and among the silliest of arguments, that bicycle lanes inhibit emergency vehicle access. It was all part of a cynical smokescreen and we transportation advocates called them out for it. Then just recently, a so-called Municipal League official fired his own broadside in an association newsletter.

Santa Monica Boulevard gardens trim line

Wouldn’t you trade a few feet of ragged grass for boulevard bicycle lanes?

But these folks are accustomed to having their way whatever the merit of their claims. They work not by the light of reason but by threats and efforts to intimidate that are lobbed from the shadows.

Here’s a suggestion of how detached from reality are the opponents claims: even though our consultants have steadfastly recommended against striping lanes, NIMBYS continue to call the consultants a stalking horse for the pro-bike community.

The crux of their argument: An incrementally-wider boulevard would sacrifice the historic park. Just how much wider would we need it in order to enhance multimodal mobility, precisely as our city’s plans commend us to do? Just a couple of feet on average. Today the city’s 1.8 mile segment varies between 60-63 feet and our consultants say regularizing it at 64 feet would accommodate lanes.

More, it’s difficult to take seriously the pro-preservation hyperbole. For decades the north curb face has been a mess of broken asphalt, dead grass and utility detritus. Our city has lived with irregular, blocked sidewalks and unsightly bus stops. Not to be snarky, but if we could live with those conditions for a generation, certainly we can live with a new bicycle lane too.

Besides, ‘preservation!’ is a cri de coeur that should fall flat in a city which has not cared much for it to date. Indeed when Council recently considered landmark status for the park, councilmember Krasne’s only question was, “Will this keep us from widening the boulevard?”

Next Step: Liaison Committee

Coming to Council on July 1st in study session is a simple information item: staff will, with agreement from Council, proceed to evaluate traffic mitigation options before considering design alternatives later. Here’s the meat of the staff report:

Staff report excerpt: next stepsCity Council sometimes creates liaison committees in order to work with commissions on difficult questions in a more manageable setting. For this project, Council created a Santa Monica Boulevard liaison committee that will seat Mayor Bosse and councilman Willie Brien (to date the most vocal opponent of boulevard expansion on the Council). We’ll be attending in late August or early September to keep you apprized. It’s a public meeting, so only two elected members of the Council can sit on it under the state’s Brown Act, but anyone can attend.

Whether or not the current pause in the discussion is good news depends on your perspective. Did bicycle lanes have a better chance of getting the Council’s nod early, before costs blew up and northside folks reached for the torches? Will the Loma Vista tragedies prompt a broader discussion about street safety in Beverly Hills? Would a couple more months to lower the temperature allow cooler heads to prevail? We’ll know more when we get to the liaison meeting.

In the meantime, consider the next six weeks or so your summer vacation. It’s been perfect weather for a ride on a cool breeze. But then it’s back to school, folks; not the classroom kind but the organizing kind. We’ll have to work again to enlighten our elected representatives about the real, not distorted, merits of state-approved bicycle lanes.

Use the Joint Powers Agreement as Leverage

BHHS bicycle rack cluster

City of Beverly Hills can take many steps to encourage safe cycling, but no step would be as formative as making sure our school district plans for safe cycling align with our city’s vision for multimodal mobility. Today our school campuses are hardly bike-friendly: only a few K-8 plants include a bicycle rack, and our high school (right) is a worst-practice example in how to discourage riding to school. But City Council could leverage our joint-powers agreement with BHUSD to ensure that the school board makes campuses much more bike-friendly. As we’ve said before, the schools might just be the best opportunity to get folks riding. In the face of policymaker indifference to a citywide bike network, and outright hostility to … Continue reading