Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logoSecretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, appointed by President Obama in 2013, is continuing the efforts predecessor Raymond LaHood to make street safety the Department’s priority. “In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured,” Foxx says in a recent post. To reverse the trend he’s announced his Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in conjunction with last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Will Beverly Hills take the challenge?

Recently US DOT has upped its game on street safety. Where the department in the past focused less on health and welfare and more on moving people and freight, in recent years leaders have stressed the human toll taken on our roadways by errant drivers. Specifically, the department has focused on non-motor traveler safety through its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety initiative, as well by issuing safety-focused bulletins, surveys, and advisories.

Just recently, for example, Secretary Foxx noted that in the past decade the number of people killed on our roads has declined by a quarter. In the past five years alone, however, the number killed while walking or riding has increased 15%.

To underscore that disproportionately high representation of cyclists among road injuries and deaths, US DOT has undertaken public education and outreach efforts (like its Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to highlight safety and pointed to deficiencies in the designs of the roads themselves that likely contribute to the problem. To that end, the agency offers evaluation tools to help professionals diagnose built environment.

Secretary Foxx’s “Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” falls squarely into the department’s recent safety efforts and puts it right to executives who help set local priorities for transportation officials. The officials have a professional responsibility to provide for the safety of those who walk and ride a bicycle, but as the challenge suggests, they’ve not always met the charge.

It is all part of the US DOT’s mission, which is to provide Americans with “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.” Now, ranking safety as job #2 may not be our preference, but it is a leap beyond the department’s priorities during the automobile era.

‘Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets’

 

“As a former mayor, I know that our nation’s mayors with their ground-level view and community-specific resources offer us an effective way to get that done,” Foxx says. “The Challenge will showcase best local practices to improve safety, share tools for local leaders to take action, and promote partnerships to advance pedestrian and bicycle safety.” The initiatives identified in the Secretary’s challenge include:

  • Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles in the design of roadways to make streets safe and convenient for all road users;
  • Incorporate “on-road bike networks” during routine street resurfacing and deploy safety innovations appropriate to context;
  • Revisit and improve safety laws and regulations and collect non-motor traveler data; and,
  • Educate road users and enforce against bad behavior.

Let’s look at these ‘challenge’ provisions one-by-one. Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles? Yes we can! In Beverly Hills today, none of our city plans or mobility policy statements includes a reference to ‘complete streets‘ (or even reflects the spirit of the principles). Traffic-calming for example? Outside of the business triangle you won’t find a single complete streets improvement implemented to slow or calm traffic. In fact our policy is to speed traffic through. As for other ‘complete streets’ measures like curb extensions, continental crosswalks, pedestrian refuges and narrowed travel lanes? Beverly Hills uses none of them. Yet these sensible measures moderate traffic flow and reduce the incidence – and severity – of collisions (according to US DOT).

Incorporate “on-road bike networks.” Here we have a golden opportunity with the imminent reconstruction of North Santa Monica Boulevard. That boulevard should be the spine of a future bike route system (it connects schools and parks) but the city has resisted including bicycle lanes (necessary to separate bikes and cars) as part of the massive project. Advocates have put forward a plan, however. As for ‘networks,’ we’re invited by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan to identify and create a network of streets safe for riding. We’ve not updated that plan (though it remains in effect); and we’ve taken no step to think holistically about how two-wheeled travelers can safely access our streets.

Improve local safety laws and collect non-motor traveler data. Yes and yes. Beverly Hills has local ordinances concerning cyclists on the books that are out-of-date. For example, city law requires riders to always ride to the right without acknowledging that conditions may preclude it (hence the state law’s “when practicable” stipulation). And our municipal code makes bike registration mandatory even though such bike licensing laws have been declared unenforceable. Other areas of the code like that governing bike parking need a facelift too.

As for data, the city’s budget says that the Community Development department has the responsibility for annual “traffic engineering studies, speed surveys, traffic volume counts and compile accident data at the City’s 500 intersections and crosswalks.” Does the city do collect that data? No it doesn’t. Our Traffic and Parking Commission does receive a monthly BHPD citation and crash data report, but commissioners ask few questions; staff simply files away those reports. And we wish the city compiled crash data by intersection. We’ve asked BHPD for that kind of data and their system can’t generate such reports.

And that last of the four initiatives – educate and enforce road user behavior – would be welcome here too because there is no safety education. We’ve begged our transportation officials to post a simple safety tips page on the city’s website, but in five years they haven’t done it. (We’ve even offered to compose it gratis but we found no taker in City Hall.) Basic tips to help drivers and riders learn our rights and responsibilities in order to safely share the road would seem to be the minimum envisioned by Foxx’s challenge to Mayors.

As for enforcement, red light cameras are remarkably prolific and consistent generators of citations day-in-and-day-out. Evidently our drivers continue to be regular scofflaws. Yet citations in nearly every category have declined over the years (BHPD says it’s short-staffed). Witness the downward trend in the last few years:

Citation trends 2008-2013 graph

Even within a given year (2013 for example) there is a pronounced slack-off at the beginning and end:

Citation trends 2013

Heck, drivers run red lights all day every day at every intersection in the city. At least write them a ticket!

Let’s Hope Our Mayor Takes the US DOT’s Challenge

In March a new Mayor takes over in Beverly Hills: Dr. Julian Gold will have the helm for a full year. That’s enough time to prod our incoming city manager to do more than simply warm the chair; he or she should be directed to immediately implement the Secretary’s suggestions right away. Maybe then we’ll do something about this shameful lack of progress on reducing collisions (see the chart below). Another mark of distinction is that Beverly Hill’s relatively high incidence of crash injuries keeps us tops among smaller cities in California in the crash injury rate category.

All collisions 2008-2013 graph

Crash injuries in all categories show remarkable resilience in the face of state and federal safety education programs and law enforcement initiatives. Call it a Beverly Hills achievement!

Either our transportation officials aren’t cognizant of current best street safety practices, or they view it as simply unimportant. So let’s hope that the next Mayor takes the Foxx challenge. We’ll check back in with Mayor Gold after he attends the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets this coming March. What will he proposes in the way of safety policies for Beverly Hills? Our own municipal neighbors take these steps now to make their streets safe; why can’t we do it here?

TPC Commissioner Alan Gruschow Passes

We are very sorry to hear about yesterday’s untimely passing of Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commission member Alan Grushcow. In our experience working with transportation officials at City Hall, Commissioner Gruschcow distinguished himself as a near lone voice for bike safety in the city. And he was always a voice of reason on the commission dais.

A couple of years ago, riders and advocates worked with Mr. Gruschcow to identify ‘pilot’ bike routes for lanes and sharrows. Along with commissioner Jeff Levine, he was a member of the two-man ad hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. With their support we got those improvements (if not the actual plan update) and in follow-up conversations he continued to support the expansion of bike-friendly measures  – even while he expressed prescient concern that our city would have to move slowly.

We regret that the ad hoc committee (and the commission) has lost a sharp thinker and vocal supporter of multimodal mobility. And of course we’ll miss our neighbor here on the south side of the city. Funeral services will be held this Sunday, January 25 at noon at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley.

Bike Share for Beverly Hills?

Santa Monice bike-share system promoIn study session this week, City Council deferred to February a discussion about our city’s possible participation in a regional Westside bikeshare program. (Ours would piggyback on the coming Santa Monica system.) It’s very early for a substantive discussion about our participation, but that the question even comes up might herald a new approach to multimodal mobility for Beverly Hills. With new(ish) bike lanes on Burton and Crescent and Mayor Bosse strongly behind a bike-friendly city, are we turning the page on our auto-centric past?

City of Santa Monica will be first out-of-the-gate with a LA-area bike-share system. With grant funding already in hand, the city gave the nod back in November to what could be a $10.4 million system of 500 ‘smart bikes’ and 1,000 racks. First in line, the city might well bring along in its wake other localities (like Beverly Hills). Santa Monica’s commitment to multimodal mobility reaches back more than a decade to the city’s sustainability initiative.

But it finds full expression in the city’s innovative Land Use and Circulation Element. That update to Santa Monica’s General Plan in 2010 envisions no-net-increase in car trips as the city develops. And to meet that (relatively) ambitious goal, the city has doubled-down on bicycle lanes of literally every conceivable stripe and installed innumerable bike racks citywide. A downtown ‘bikestation’ opened in 2011.

A Westside Regional System?

The prospect of a regional Westside system emerged from  the Council of Governments (COG) in 2012. The member-city organization meets every other month to exchange information and tackle regional problems (so it says). But mobility hasn’t been much on the agenda at the COG; indeed the substantive policy discussion was less the focus than the free lunch. (Join the COG for its next one January 22nd at noon in West Hollywood.)

Mobility was ushered back on the COG agenda under then-Chair Richard Bloom,* Mayor of Santa Monica. Under the COG umbrella, member cities collaborated on the development of a proposal for a shared system; Santa Monica’s issued a request-for-proposals to get the first city system off the ground. (While Bloom put a fire under the COG,  Santa Monica councilmember and present-day mayor Kevin McKeown co-moved local authorization for the city’s bike-share program.)

The COG effort predates Metro’s current proposal, and it’s very different. Metro would tie bike-share into its transit system by anchoring bike hubs at major transit stations and (one day) allowing the bike borrower to use the agency’s TAP card to authorize the transaction. The Metro system would not rely on sponsorship but instead envisions a agency-city cost split (35% for Metro, 65% local). Rollout is limited to Downtown Los Angeles at present.

The Metro’s bike-share system was just approved by the board but won’t go live until 2016. Most important, Metro reserves the right to pull the plug on what it calls a ‘pilot’ program, which is none-too-reassuring to any city that might want to buy into it.

So a Westside system makes sense because the region has an interest in moving congestion-causing local car trips to other travel modes. And bike-sharing is a regional mobility solution. More, regional interoperability maximizes utility. Imagine even traveling from Beverly Hills to West Hollywood by bike-share without a single, interconnected system. Where would you drop off the Beverly Hills bike?

Santa Monica Takes the First Step

Santa Monice bike-share system promoSanta Monica in November committed $5.6 million for a 500-bike system, which is the first phase of what is anticipated to be a $10.4 million 1,000-bike program (if all goes according to plan).  The city calls this system “a model for the region.”

Cost per bike under the Santa Monica contract is $2,190 and each rack will cost another $300. That’s regardless of quantity: there is no economy of scale in purchasing hardware. The city would capitalize and own it. But the city contracted with a private operator, CycleHop, for an initial 8-year operations period. (See the Santa Monica staff report for more detail on costs, contract bidding and vendor selection as well as proposed rate structure and more.)

The system will be funded by a combination of general fund money, grants, sponsorship and user fees. Getting the ball rolling are grants from Metro ($1.5M) and AQMD ($360k) to which the city will add $361k in already-budgeted capital improvement funds. So the city has already stepped up with a capital funding commitment!

Then there is the in-kind match, which is grant-speak for, We’re giving you the money; what are you throwing into the pot? Santa Monica will provide at least one full-time staff position to run the system. That’s intriguing: will Beverly Hills do that too? Santa Monica has the staff and experience to run a bike program while Beverly Hills does not.

Besides grants and city money, Santa Monica expects corporate sponsorship to provide $250k-500k annually. User fees should kick in a whopping 85% of operations, the city says. The user fees as broken out in city’s projections:

Santa Monica bikeshare costs chart

Will riders pay $2 for every 20 minutes or pony up $15 to $25 per month to borrow a bike? That’s an unknown. The current cost of a Metro trip is $1.75. And it will take you from Santa Monica to Sierra Madre.

Sobi-smart-systemAs for technology, Santa Monica will use a ‘smart bike’ system (rather than ‘smart-racks’) as the borrowing technology travels with the bike rather than be integrated into a bike hub or kiosk. Santa Monica’s contractor CycleHop will use NYC’s Social Bicycles (SoBi) for the ‘smart bike.’ According to the  staff report:

…each bike is capable of accepting payments and releasing the bike-locking mechanism independently via a mobile, web and administrative software that interacts with the smart-bike hardware… Once registered, users can initiate rentals by walking up to any bicycle. – Staff report.

Where a hub-kiosk approach might be practical in high-density and high-demand neighborhoods, low-density cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills make hubs less practical. (Hubs/kiosks power bike-share systems in New York, London, Chicago, Boston, and Washington.) “Without need for a kiosk, smaller stations, consisting of as few as four racks, are feasible,” the staff report says. That suggests a benefit could be the rapid reallocation of racks according to demand. The ‘smart bike’ system’s integration with smartphone apps might actually recommend it to Beverly Hills, which is fancied as a ‘smart city’ with an app of our own.

Beverly Hills

Three aspects of the Santa Monica’s proposed ‘regional model’ suggest some questions for Beverly Hills City Council. Let’s look at start-up costs, operating costs and funding, and management of the system.

Start-up costs. First-year implementation costs for equipment, installation, and operation ranges from $327k (50 bikes) to nearly $1m (150 bikes), according to the staff report. (The figures include a 20% padding for contingencies.) Operating costs would range between $110k and $329k “less offset from user fees.” These three size tiers will be presented to City Council in February:

Bevery Hills bikeshare costs chartYou can see here that the system’s flat cost-per-bike means that start-up cost scales directly with the number of bikes rolled out. (The only significant cost to be amortized across the system under this proposal is the two ‘solar kiosks.’) Flat costs could benefit a smaller city like Beverly Hills. On the other hand, as a system grows it realizes no per-unit cost efficiencies. Here the per-bike cost declines very modestly with a bump-up in system size. Doubling units from 50 to 100 bikes realizes a 4.5% decrease, for example, while tripling the size of the smallest system to 150 units realizes only a 6% per-unit decline in costs.

Without economy-of-scale as incentive, would a smaller city like Beverly Hills choose to roll out a ’boutique’ system with only a few bikes in a handful of central locations? That would undermine the utility of bike-share as everyday transportation, of course, because the practical mobility option must be available and accessible wherever people need it. As proposed for evaluation, however, the larger system (150 bikes) on a per-capita basis works out to only 3/5 the size of the Santa Monica system. Can we afford anything smaller?

And then there’s the funding. Where will it come from? Per the staff report, only $150k in Air Quality Management District funds are now available for the capital costs; no other available grant funding is identified. Staff will look for more grant support in a coming (outsourced) feasibility study.

With only $150k in hand, Council will have to dip into the general fund in the next capital improvement program. So let’s look at City Council-identified priorities for this fiscal year (July through June).

Every fall the city sets priorities. In the fall of 2013 City Council chose to maintain “enhancements to bike mobility” as a ‘B’ level priority (per the priorities staff report). And this past fall, Council again directed that bike mobility continue to be a ‘B’ priority:

Priorities FY 2014-15-bike excerpt But a ‘B’ priority either reflects long term objectives (beyond a single fiscal year cycle) or identifies initiatives that would be completed “with the same staff resources after current ‘A’ priorities are completed.” This is very different than an ‘A’ priority, which is funded. Keep in mind that an update to our citywide bike plan (1977) has languished for years despite being a ‘B’ priority. And what does this year’s capital improvements budget say about bike mobility programs? We’d like to know, but inexplicably the city doesn’t post the most recent budget on the hard-to-find financial documents webpage.

Operating costs and funding. Aside from year one costs, the staff report is vague about ongoing support beyond estimating $109k for the smallest, 5-bike system. User fees are mentioned – and are estimated to recapture 30% of operating expenses – but that’s a big unknown. Santa Monica is proposing relatively high fees to complement expected advertising revenues. Whether Beverly Hills can sustain elevated fees or even begin to recapture costs with user fees (especially if we roll out a smaller boutique system) is an open question.

But experience from other cities shows user fees wouldn’t cover operations and, further, other systems have rejiggered fees once ridership numbers came in under projections. (As a transportation option, bike-share isn’t unique in this regard: the farebox hardly covers any transportation capital investments whether road, rail or bus.)

What about sponsorship of operations? Would city consider branding our system for a corporate partner? Will our municipal code even allow that kind of branding in the right-of-way? (That’s been an impediment to bike-share systems in other cities.) This staff report is light on specifics: there is no reference to other systems that are currently run by CycleHop, so we don’t see how such systems are supported. And there is zero data pulled from other cities to inform a Council discussion about user fees. The staff report defers much of this to “further study.”

Last there is the issue of management. The system envisioned by Santa Monica (and structured with participation from COG member cities) identifies CycleHop as the long-term private operator. But Santa Monica will devote a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee to manage the city’s end and add an additional .5 FTE for undefined ‘administration.’ Beverly Hills, however, identifies only a half-FTE for those jobs. Is that realistic?

Looked at another way, Santa Monica already has transportation staff knowledgeable about these issues, and we need that level of staff support too. We’d propose the city to hire a full-time equivalent multimodal mobility coordinator with half time devoted to bike-share management if implemented and the other half to mobility-related tasks that today fall through the cracks. Like that long-awaited bicycle master plan update, for example. Or the need to incorporate mobility concerns into our land use policies. We also need to revisit the municipal code to eliminate antiquated or inappropriate regulations that affect riders. That should keep a full-time coordinator busy.

City Council’s February Discussion: What to Expect?

Without much hard data on the table, City Council’s discussion about this bike-share system will likely suggest more about our mobility concerns generally than reflect concerns about this bike-share program specifically. A positive discussion would go some way toward walking-back some of the more parochial Council comments during consideration of Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes. It might even build on the relatively optimistic debate about lanes this past January, when some members of Council seemed to keep the option open. Heck, even this clause when included in a Beverly Hills document warrants some optimism: “As bikeshare is a form of transit….”

On the other hand, our plans say the right things about the role of multimodal mobility in reducing congestion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but officials in the past seemed loathe to acknowledge them though they are stated city policy goals. Bike-share might pull into the foreground questions such as: Do we see ourselves as part of the Westside congestion problem? Are are we prepared to recognize that we have obligations to the region to ameliorate it? A positive bike-share discussion could be a significant step forward.

And last, in Beverly Hills City Hall, the tendency is to frame initiatives as marketing or branding opportunities. For councilmembers looking to rationalize any system, the smaller boutique system when presented as a hospitality service (for tourists) might overcome their hesitation. We can imagine that program run not out of Community Development/Transportation but rather the Convention and Visitors Bureau – and that would be a mistake. We’ll know more when we hear councilmembers talk generally about bike-share for Beverly Hills.

We don’t expect much in the way of concrete commitment from City Council though. It’s  early in the process and there’s too little hard data provided to Council on which to make any definitive decision. Besides, the multiple unknowns present many opportunities for the skeptical councilmember to simply refer it on for “further study” if not shut it down. And perhaps one or more councilmembers might balk at accepting the contract as presented; not because they’re not workable, but because Council didn’t have a say in fashioning it.

Keep in mind that this proposal hasn’t even been presented to the Traffic and Parking Commission, which as a courtesy would be given an opportunity to advise Council. (The commission does have a dormant ad hoc bike plan update committee.) And of course City Council could simply wait to see how Santa Monica fares. As the staff report says, “staff will benefit from Santa Monica’s implementation process and lessons learned from their bikeshare model during planning, start up and actual operations.” That alone suggests a long and winding path for bringing bike-share to Beverly Hills.

Update: Mayor Lilli Bosse appears to be a bike-share fan!

bosse bike-share tweet*As our Assemblyman, Richard Bloom has backed bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills throughout our city’s boulevard reconstruction discussion. He even dispatched a district representative to address our Blue Ribbon Committee and City Council. Which begs a question: given Santa Monica’s lead on multimodal mobility, why is that municipality doing more for alternative mobility policymaking here than our own Beverly Hills officials?

Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills Could Soon Be Bicycle Safe.” That’s a real headline, not an April Fool’s day prank or The Onion having a laugh on you. That accurate (if optimistic) take on a recent Beverly Hills study session says it plain: City Council actually kept alive a chance that we’ll one day see bicycle lanes striped on Santa Monica Boulevard. WestsideToday.com has our respect for publishing a detailed recap and the best of the coverage among three local papers that we recap here.

Westside Today

Westside Today‘s Jennifer Eden set the bar high with a 692-word story that front-loaded the real news from the on January 6th study session: City Council decided to keep bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard on the table. Even better, she put our ‘Greenway’ proposal into a complete streets context (a concept heretofore unknown in Beverly Hills):

Advocating a “complete street” concept, Elliot’s Beverly Hills Greenway campaign calls for a 62-foot-wide street encompassing safe bicycle lanes, similar to those in Mid-City and Santa Monica.

“Where safety is concerned, there is always an alternative,” Elliot said, explaining that the Greenway proposal offers no net loss of parkland and could be a perfect solution for the boulevard. City Council listened to almost two-hours of speakers on the issue, the majority who supported a shared road to accommodate all users. – Westside Today, January 9th

That was our expressed intent as we presented the Greenway to Council. (We being Eric Bruins, Kory Klem and other multimodal advocates.) Eden then moved on to the focus of the agenda item, construction mitigation.

After a detailed review of the traffic impact analysis and lane closure alternatives, the Santa Monica Blvd. Ad-Hoc Committee recommended the Alternative 4 lane closure option be adopted.This alternative utilizes a combination of lane closure alternatives that “balances minimizing traffic impacts and providing opportunities to expedite construction in order to reduce the overall schedule and cost associated with reconstruction of the boulevard,” according to the City. “A range from four traffic lanes to three/two traffic lanes depending on activity.”

She then sketched out the next likely steps in this $27M project:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also recommended that staff: return to Council with a draft construction mitigation plan developed in consultation with the Traffic & Parking Commission five months after commencement of project design; consider landscaped medians in project design and return to City Council at 50 percent of project design – proposed modifications to bus stops, street lighting, and other changes to the existing roadway would be forwarded at this time; and conduct public outreach.

Done. In tone and substance her story is accurate and balanced. And it focused on the policy aspects of the Council’s action. We expect that from the New York Times and Streetsblog Los Angeles, but a news organization serving our neighbors to the east pleasantly surprised us.

Beverly Hills Weekly

Over at hometown favorite Beverly Hills Weekly, the headline summed up the relevant news (at least in our view): “Life in the Bike Lane: Santa Monica Blvd. Bike Lanes Remain on the Table Following Study Session Meeting.” In the story, staff writer Mina Riazi succinctly explained our Greenway proposal right at the top.

The County Bicycle Coalition and several local advocates presented a “Beverly Hills Greenway” proposal, which envisions a 62-foot wide boulevard that fits two 5 foot-wide bike lanes and exacts no cost to the adjacent park.

Then starting with a quote from yours truly, she focused on the participatory aspect of the process.

“I think if we had not shown up in the numbers that we did and sent the voluminous comments that we did, [the lanes opportunity] would have quietly disappeared. To me, that was the big win. The second big win was just the process that City Council very patiently listened for more than two hours to us talk about what we need to feel safe on the Boulevard. Mayor Lili Bosse said, ‘We can get there.’ When there’s a will to find a compromise I think we will find a compromise. There’s some good will on the city side to make this happen.”

Riazi then stated our key concern.

Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember Willie Brien, members of the Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee, acknowledged that the bike lane issue has not been the main focus of their meetings so far. Instead, the Council has mainly concentrated on traffic congestion issues associated with the project. Santa Monica Boulevard’s current minimum width of 60 feet is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes.

And finally she put some wind in our sails by reaching out to the only councilmember who has been an explicit supporter of complete streets for Beverly Hills, John Mirisch. “I won’t vote in favor of any project where we don’t have dedicated bike lanes because I think it would be a grave mistake,” he tells Riazi. It was gratifying to hear him say it in study session and important to see them in print.Beverly Hills Weekly story

Beverly Hills Courier

And then there’s the Beverly Hills Courier, which brings its own journalism stylings to issues like Metro tunneling and now our bootstrap effort to get Beverly Hills to make streets safe for everybody. The story, “Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Traffic Mitigation Turns into Bike Lanes at City Council,” by Victoria Talbot, sets the tone early.

Cyclists hijacked a City Council study session Tuesday that was scheduled to consider traffic mitigations for the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project, and focusing [sic] the entire meeting on the subject of bike lanes instead. – Courier January 9, 2015

She goes on to claim that we “ambushed City Hall” and suggests that we checkmated the opposition with some shrewd tactical move to commandeer this meeting.

The legion of cyclists came charged with fervor and reciting phrases about complete streets, carbon emissions and progressive mobility and booing any residents who came to disagree. Bike lanes were not on the agenda; the opposition, prominent in former meetings, did not know they should be present in force.

Now we can disagree about how to characterize an audience’s reaction, but we should be able to agree that local democracy works when one shows up to advocate for their interest. And Talbot’s “not on the agenda” take? Here’s what the agenda says:

North Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project Construction Mitigation Item First Agendized December 2, 2014 Forwards Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee recommendations and seeks direction to proceed with project design. –  Study session agenda item #1 January 6, 2015

We came to chambers to talk about project design. As for boulevard width, that’s on the agenda too. Per the staff report, the recommendation behind the agenda item perversely argues that the state’s new safe-passing law actually recommended that the city mix riders and motor traffic in Santa Monica Boulevard’s #2 lane. This corridor carries 54k vehicles every day; mixing modes is the perfect opportunity for Beverly Hills to bolster our dubious distinction of racking up more crash injuries than nearly any other small city in the state. That recommendation comes in the 2nd paragraph:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also reviewed the implications of the “Three Feet for Safety Act” that went into effect in September 2014 in the State of California and requires vehicles to provide 3-feet clearance for bicycles. Attachment 3 provides detail of this act in relation to the lane widths of Santa Monica Boulevard. After this review, the Ad-Hoc Committee recommended that the project be designed with the existing roadway width.When we put forth the Greenway proposal to Council the week before the study session, we stated very clearly our concern that the city’s hands would be tied if the city simply reconstructed the corridor we have today without room for bicycle lanes. That’s why we presented an alternative design concept. We were speaking precisely what was on the agenda.

Curiously Talbot writes that we also “monopolized the Study Session, deferring all other City business including an item on Bike Sharing….” Must be another strong-arming of legislators by the all-powerful ‘bicycle lobby‘! If only.

We’d like to remind all Courier reporters that the Mayor directs City Council meetings. And Mayor Bosse seemed firmly in control of the proceedings. In fact, we’re grateful to Mayor Bosse for allowing for full discussion of the ad hoc committee’s recommendation.

We noted other areas of disagreement in a letter to the editor, including how this Greenway proposal came together. To be clear, this proposal was formalized and named the week prior to the study session. But the underlying concept – state-approved narrow travel lanes and a narrowed boulevard profile for example – were presented to the Blue Ribbon Committee by LACBC’s Eric Bruins last fall.

There is no such thing as bad publicity, they say, so let’s tip our hat to Talbot’s succinct summary of our proposal:

To achieve the bike lane, the Beverly Hills Greenway proposal would widen the 60-foot stretch to 62-feet and reduce the 63-foot stretch to 62-feet…removing two feet from the parklands on the narrow portion and then adding back one foot on the wider portion of the road.

Well said!

There is an irony to Talbot’s story, though. She wants to take us to task for hijacking the discussion, but she herself gives short shrift to what she says was the real agenda issue: traffic mitigation. “City Council did decide on the recommended option for traffic mitigation when construction begins,” she reports. “The traffic mitigation will include a range from four to two or three traffic lanes, depending on the construction activity.” And that’s all she wrote.Bevery Hills Courier story

News Flash! City Council Keeps Bike Lanes on the Table

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

A more detailed update will follow shortly, but let’s get to the good news straight away: bike lanes are still on the table for North Santa Monica Boulevard, according to City Council. Just before Council sent the $24M reconstruction project on to the design phase, councilmembers heard from no less than 33 bike lane supporters that this multimodal mobility opportunity is too important to squander. Safety for those who choose to ride a bicycle is too important to sacrifice, we said, particularly on the symbolic “not one blade of grass” argument heretofore made by lane opponents.

What happened in today’s study session? Council listened…and listened. And then listened some more as we presented our last-minute compromise proposal called the Beverly Hills Greenway and a veritable parade of 33 speakers supporting bicycle lanes followed on. In fact, Councilmembers effectively cleared the rest of the afternoon’s agenda to talk about the agenda item – construction mitigation – but with a healthy dose of discussion about how we could eek out another half-foot (or more) out of this relatively narrow corridor to fit bike lanes. (Talk about safe mobility consumed three-quarters of the meeting if not more.)

In the Council discussion we saw hardened positions soften a little and a metaphorical space was found to talk about the prospect of lanes. And if ambiguity about the ultimate outcomes remains as councilmembers discuss design over the coming months, we believe that progressive mobility solutions can happen in Beverly Hills. As the Mayor said, “We can get there – we can find a way.” And we’re prepared to work with the city to make that happen.

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

Our proposal: The Beverly Hills Greenway. We can have bicycle lanes yet lose no green space!

Make no mistake, the clear winner today was street safety. But we are all victors too in a sense: the quality of the public process today reflected the best City Hall has to offer.

We want to thank our fellow advocates and lane supporters of all stripes who worked together to bring this Greenway proposal to Council: Drew Baldwin, Eric Bruins, Kevin Burton, Ron Finley, Mahala Helfman, Rich Hirschinger, Sharon Ignarro, Lou Ignarro, Lou Karlin, Kory Klem, Tish Laemmle, Greg Laemmle, Barbara Linder, Ellen Lutwak, Taylor Nichols, Alison Regan, Richard Risemberg, Danielle Salomon, Samuel Spencer, and Eric Weinstein.

We also want to thank those who took their time today to persuade City Council to keep this option on the table. In addition to the above, they include Susan Eisenberg, Jay Slater, Bruce Phillips, Susan Gans, Josh Padget, Marisa Schneiderman, Jim Pocras, Zachary Rynew, Kevin Winston, Paul Hekimian, Josh Kurpies, David Eichman, Jeff Jacobberger, Jon Weiss, Mel Raab, Kate Rubin, Jerry Sue Ginger, Nina Salomon, and Jennifer Wright.

We also want to thank institutional supporters Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the City Council from the City of West Hollywood, Mid City West Community Council, Finish the Ride, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and others. And a special thanks to Blue Ribbon Chair Dr. Barry Pressman, who listened to reasoned argument when few did and came to be a key boulevard bike lanes advocate.

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

LA Councilman’s Hostility Toward Complete Streets Sounds Familiar

Cedillo's diagonal parkingNortheast Los Angeles neighborhoods can seem a long way from Beverly Hills, but a scrum over bicycle lanes there suggests that we have at least one thing in common: elected officials standing in the way of a worthy safe-streets effort. Our City Council may block bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. In Highland Park, LA councilman Gil Cedillo is tanking a plan to make Figueroa (that community’s main street) ‘complete.’ Where we differ: silence greets our Council’s opposition; in NELA Cedillo has stirred a revolt among bike advocates.

The Highland Park story may sound familiar to those of us who advocate for bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills: much-needed improvements that would make a street safe for non-motor travelers simply hits the chopping block when elected representatives decide to buck city policy, wave aside community sentiment, and fly in the face of common sense just to put the brakes on the installation of bicycle lanes.

In Highland Park, Cedillo single-handedly shut down ‘complete street‘ improvements for North Figueroa Street, even though that project is included in the city’s bike plan (2011) year-one implementation program. A thousand people participated in the drafting of that plan; bike advocates have weighed in on implementation priorities; and riders have repeatedly turned out to public meetings to support bicycle lanes on busy Figueroa. But Cedillo says he knows best how to serve his constituents.

Or does he? Gil Cedillo stated his support for the Figueroa Street project when he was running for LA City Council, only to turn his back once in office. The about-face on this much-heralded ‘Figueroa for All’ (Fig4All) project sparked heated debate about politics trumping public safety.  Consequently, a vocal contingent of transportation advocates has turned up the heat on ‘Road Kill Gill’ (as he’s known on twitter). There’s even a website dedicated to reviving the moribund Fig4All project.

Fig4All Is Worth the Fight

‘Figueroa for All’ would remake North Figueroa as part of a broader basket of complete street improvements (40 miles of them overall) that are already earmarked for implementation in year one under the city’s bike plan. The project is described succinctly in the environmental impact report:

From the SR-110 ramps to Pasadena Avenue, though the existing lane configuration could be retained with bare minimum widths to allow for bike lanes, the proposed project would remove one southbound lane to allow for buffered bike lanes. From Pasadena Avenue to York Boulevard, the two southbound lanes would be reduced to a single southbound lane, still allowing for buffered bike lanes. From York Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard, both northbound and southbound lanes would be reduced from two to one, allowing for standard bike lanes. – Figueroa Streetscape Project Draft EIR (emphasis added)

A planned ‘road diet’ right though the heart of Highland Park between Pasadena and York would reduce the number of travel lanes on Figueroa to calm traffic and provide sufficient room for bicycle lanes on this regional corridor. (Some segments would even include ‘buffered’ lanes to provide an additional safety margin for riders.) For pedestrians, enhancements like curb extensions would shorten crosswalks on this busy street too.

Highland Park zero vehicles mapIndeed there is good reason to remake Figueroa for the safety of riders and pedestrians. Households in the community are less-likely to own a car. Household income is lower than more advantaged neighborhoods in the city, making auto ownership a luxury; and a higher incidence of immigrant households also depresses ownership. But as important, the community has been well-served by rail: Highland Park sits aside the Gold Line (just off Figueroa on Marmion Way) and long before that was a stop on the Pacific Electric.

But to be a walker in Highland Park is to understand that Cedillo’s pedestrian constituents are poorly-served by faded crosswalks, which put us in harm’s way as drivers speed through town on the way to Downtown. The prevailing speed makes this corridor a good candidate for bike lanes too. But there is another reason to make Figueroa safe for cycling: there is an influx of younger folks and they are less likely to drive than generations before them.

The changing nature of mobility and demand for transportation alternatives are reflected in the city’s bike plan. It puts the emphasis on safe multimodal mobility:Great Streets bike network table

A ‘Figueroa for All’ would seem to be a win for everyone then. Upgraded intersections and calmer traffic would make it safer for pedestrians; bicycle lanes would be safer for riders and less-stressful for drivers; and for business owners in commercially-depressed Highland Park, any uplift in transom traffic generated by local shoppers arriving via bicycle, say, could only help bootstrap the nascent commercial revival.

And it would benefit brick-and-mortar shops like the Flying Pigeon (“beautiful bikes for everyday life”). Owner Josef Bray-Ali champions the project, and not only because his shop may pick up some new business; a ‘complete Figueroa would be good for greater Northeast Los Angeles.

‘Road Kill Gil’ says he has a vision for Figueroa, and it primarily entails the installation of four blocks of angled parking in downtown Highland Park (his proposal is skewered in the illustration at the top). But that won’t make travel safe or calm traffic; nor will it spark a small-business renaissance. Instead it looks to an auto-centric past and takes Los Angeles in the wrong direction (according to the city’s stated mobility priorities).

Other reasons to oppose Cedillo’s plan: parking is the least of Highland Park’s economic challenges; and the plan runs counter to Metro’s complete streets policy, which provides money for multimodal mobility improvements. It is ironic that Cedillo wants Metro funding to implement his proposal. For Fig4All supporters, Metro grant money for ‘Road Kill Gill’ is bitter icing on a shit cake.

Look over at the Figueroa for All blog for a detailed chronology of Cedillo’s disappointments, as well as a peek inside the bureaucratic mechanism that should not allow him to single-handedly tank a worthy “shovel-ready project.” (< Remember that term? We don’t hear it too much anymore.)

Social Media Battle Heats Up!

Cedillo’s opponents have aligned against him and taken to social media to make their case. And he’s making it easy: in order to deflect attention away from his opposition to complete streets plan for Figueroa (improvements already paid for, by the way) Cedillo has staged his own ‘public participation theater’ this past summer. But he’s fooling nobody: the town hall ostensibly held to gather community input for Figueroa was instead baldly used by Cedillo to heap praise on himself and his staff.

Angry cyclists decried Cedillo’s cynical move, and leading the charge was Flying Pigeon bike shop’s owner, Josef Bray-Ali.  He has assembled a posse to support a ‘complete’ Figueroa and to support candidates who say they prioritize street safety.

Cedillo December flyerStung by the persistent criticism, Cedillo doubled down and organized several more public forums earlier this month, again to ostensibly gather public input (this time with a sharpened focus on safety). But project proponents weren’t convinced: it was just more ‘participation theater,’ they say.

Next, Cedillo upped his anti-bike rhetoric at a mid-December City Council meeting. There the city was going to rubber stamp an application for Metro grant funds (including Cedillo’s diagonal parking scheme). But Fig4All supporters and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition together alerted the cycling community:

Cedillo is now asking the full City Council to sign off on his incomplete street and spend City staff resources applying for funding for a project that will be out of date before the ink is dry on the application. We ask you to write the City Council requesting that they uphold the integrity of citywide plans and refuse to include North Figueroa in the City’s funding application unless it includes a complete street.

They spoke out in City Council and via social media ridiculed Cedillo’s proposal:

Cedillo How to sell it tweetFigueroa diagonal parking tweet

But Cedillo told City Council that he would not be “bullied” by those whom he labeled “the 1%” – presumably referring to the small share of trips made by bicycle (which understates the increasing popularity of cycling in his precinct). Cedillo’s remarks triggered even more vitriol:

Figueroa one percenter tweet

Of course the City Council deferred to Cedillo and rubber-stamped the Metro grant application.

Figueroa City Council tweet

Now Fig4All proponents pivot toward Metro and argue that the agency should not fund Cedillo’s auto-centric parking scheme with the county’s multimodal dollars. In the meantime, Cedillo’s Highland Park constituents wait for safety improvements but are practically held hostage to this elected official’s intransigence.

Cedillo purgatory tweet

Why Mention Fig4All on a Site Focused on Beverly Hills?

Front and center here is a clash of visions between advocates for ‘complete streets’ and those who call for a return to auto-centric policies – the kind that prize diagonal parking (with its attendant blind spots), say, over bicycle lanes. And the forces working against complete streets and bicycle lanes in Highland Park are active here in Beverly Hills too: they’re opposing bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg: Beverly Hills has not even begun to plan for a multmodal future. While Los Angeles has been making significant strides, our policymakers ensure that our city still relies on a Bicycle Master Plan from 1977. Though our Sustainable City Plan (2009) and the General Plan circulation element (2010) say the right things about mobility and encouraging cycling, City Council simply hasn’t heeded that policy guidance.

We can change. In conjunction with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, we’re supporting a plan to include bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard because it’s the safe choice. We hope you will sign our petition and call City Council at 310-285-1013 to remind councilmembers that they need not follow Cedillo’s bad example.Beverly Hills Greenway logo

Passing Safely: It’s the Law!

Give Me Three posterCalifornia’s Three Feet for Safety Act went into effect in September. For the first time a law codifies what ‘safe passing’ means for those who ride a bicycle: drivers now must allow a minimum of three feet when passing a rider (or else slow to a “reasonable or prudent” speed when passing. [FAQ] While disregarding it may incur only a $35 fine, should an injury crash result then the penalty jumps to $220. If sanctions are rare, this law is at least proving its value in one key arena: it sets a standard for local governments when they build new roads.

Here in Beverly Hills we’ve seen the new law, AB-1371 Three Feet for Safety Act (Bradford, D-62), invoked long before it even took effect. The Blue Ribbon Committee that reviewed design concepts for the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project recommended a wider corridor and striped bike lanes precisely because the new law’s safe standard of   3-feet could allow riders to slow motor traffic. (We recommended a wide boulevard and bike lanes for safety too.)

Existing law also required drivers to take due care when passing, of course. Prior to the Three Feet for Safety Act the state’s vehicle code described ‘safe passing’ this way:

The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…. (Sec. 21750)

While the law didn’t identify a ‘safe passing’ distance, drivers were obligated to pass with some margin for rider safety. But the lack of a ‘safe passing’ standard made it difficult to enforce the law. And how often did drivers actually take the care necessary to pass safely? Not often enough. When we leave ‘safe distance’ to the judgement of a driver piloting a big steel box from the left-hand side as he hurtles down the road at speed, there will be close calls and, no surprise, many would-be riders are frightened of sharing the road with drivers.

(Keep in mind, however, that the law allowed, and still does allow, riders to use the entire lane if it’s too narrow to share with larger vehicles. Read more about your rights under the state law and local ordinances.)

Revision of the vehicular code to set a ‘safe passing’ standard was long overdue. Consider that only a few paragraphs after Section 21750 we see this passage that calls for a higher degree of care when passing livestock:

The driver of any vehicle approaching any horse drawn vehicle, any ridden animal, or any livestock shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signaled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding or in charge of the animal or livestock in order to avoid frightening and to safeguard the animal or livestock and to insure the safety of any person driving or riding the animal or in charge of the livestock. (Sec. 21759)

It will come as no surprise to any of us who ride in Los Angeles that a farm animal is probably safer on a city street than is a cyclist. (We’re animal lovers, but we think that parity at a minimum is appropriate.)

The new law also implicitly acknowledges that disproportionate harm is suffered by those who bike: riders are injured in collisions at a disproportionately higher rate than are motorists considering the relatively small number of riders on the road. But still this law was no slam-dunk for the Governor: two bills prior to AB-1371 died with a stroke of Jerry Brown’s veto pen despite relentless advocacy for the safe-passing standard by the California Bicycle Coalition. (This year, Brown vetoed a raft of hit-and-run laws he didn’t like.)

How Three Feet Affects (or Doesn’t Affect) Transportation Planning in Beverly Hills

The Blue Ribbon committee back in January heard that the new law provided a means by which riders could claim that 3′ of blacktop in order to pass safely, and committee members feared that riders in the travel lane would slow traffic inordinately. So the committee recommended a wider boulevard and the striping of lanes.

More recently, in December, Beverly Hills transportation staff presented a new set of concept options for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. And the staff report included a cursory supplementary analysis in light of the Three Feet for Safety Act. And what it found was that a boulevard less than 63′ would pinch the #2 lane to make safe passing impracticable. For example, maintaining a 60-ft width would allow only 8′ to pass, according to this city diagram:

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn't offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state's 3 foot passing law).

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state’s 3 foot passing law).

By contrast, a 63-feet wide blacktop would provide sufficient room for motorists to safely pass a cyclist in the #2 lane, which we feel is demanded on a busy regional corridor that serves 50,000 vehicles a day. That’s why the Blue Ribbon had earlier recommended an even wider, 66-ft wide boulevard with striped lanes: that’s what’s necessary to maximize safety, it agreed by a wide margin, and nearly 200 road users who commented agreed.

Even our staff, led by Susan Healey Keene, Director of the Community Development Department (which has responsibility for transportation planning) agreed – and recommended the wider boulevard (albeit without striping lanes).

So why would our transportation staff now now recommend constructing this key regional corridor at only 60-ft, rider safety be damned? Simply because it’s more politically palatable to our City Council.  (Stay tuned: a final decision on boulevard width will come on January 6th.)

No Net Loss Proposal: 62-Feet Allows Bicycle Lanes

We need not sacrifice rider safety on the altar of political expedience. A proposal to standardize (or rationalize) the entire boulevard at 62-ft with narrower lanes and striped bicycle lanes will be soon be presented to Council. As a bonus, those narrower travel lanes will slow traffic too. Win-win! We’ll discuss this proposal at a Monday (12/22) meeting at 7pm in the south meeting room of Beverly Hills Public Library (444 N. Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills).

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

Santa Monica at 62 feet restriped for bicycle lanes is possible!

The Three Feet for Safety Act provides street safety advocates with leverage we didn’t have prior. Before AB-1371, ‘safe passing’ was not defined; now it is defined as a three feet buffer around the rider. Transportation planners must take the new standard into account when, say, planning new roads or reconstructing existing ones (like Santa Monica). The law demands that rider safety be put on par with concerns like traffic throughput.

Beverly Hills will not have heard that message if City Council decides to construct Santa Monica Boulevard to a 20th century standard. At 60′ our segment of the boulevard will be too narrow to ever include bicycle lanes. Then we’ll not only have the impediment to traffic flow that Blue Ribbon committee members had feared; we’ll have a standing example of how our city, faced with the task of accommodating to new modes of mobility, simply disregarded our own plans and stuck our heads in the sand despite knowing better.Give-me-three Logo

Political Accountability Takes a Holiday in Beverly Hills

The usual mechanism for holding officials accountable in a representative democracy is the ballot: if we don’t like how we’re served by our representatives, we can simply “vote the bums out.” But what happens when elections come around and nobody steps up to challenge incumbents? Beverly Hills should be holding a municipal election this March for two Council seats, but the only two candidates to step forward are incumbents. So we simply cancelled the election. Here the practice of governing falls short of theories about governance, and political accountability for unsafe streets takes a holiday. The ballot box is a powerful lever for affecting the priorities of elected officials. Here in Beverly Hills, our opportunity comes every odd year. Terms … Continue reading

Santa Monica Boulevard Meetup This Monday

City of Beverly Hills will reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard in the coming years. Do you believe the boulevard should be made safe for travel by bicycle? Do you agree that this regional backbone route should reflect ‘complete streets’ principles when rebuilt? Join Better Bike, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and local riders in organizing around a proposal to put bike lanes on Santa Monica. Mark your calendar: Monday, December 22nd from 7-9pm at the Beverly Hills Public Library south meeting room. Read on for more details! We recently recapped the slow progress of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project. And we talked about how seemingly ‘the fix’ is in for a corridor constructed at too-narrow a width to ever … Continue reading

City Council Punts: Bike Lanes Deferred Again [Recap]

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz

When City Council last considered bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in March, the question of whether to expand the blacktop incrementally to accommodate lanes became bogged down in a broader discussion about costs. Then this December 2nd meeting mostly focused on traffic mitigation. So again Council has kicked the bike lanes can further down the road. Yet Council and staff nevertheless appear to be on the same page: no bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Let’s recap the meeting and look ahead to next steps and a new proposal. [Update: scroll down for more information about our just-announced strategy session on December 22nd.] We had ample reason to suspect that “the fix” was in even prior to the December … Continue reading