Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan: Will It Ever Be Updated?

Bicycle-Master-Plan-coverWhile we wait for word about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, we’re wondering if there’s any effort to make Beverly Hills as a whole more bike-friendly. One sensible first step is to update our 1970s-era Bicycle Master Plan. It needs a refresher. And since the 2010 General Plan process left that bike plan behind, City Hall has talked about revisiting it. Yet we’ve seen no action. Before we embark on bike-share or install bike lanes, why don’t we properly plan for citywide bike routes like it says in that old plan?

The city knows that our Bicycle Master Plan is out-of-date. It dates from the great bicycle renaissance of the 1970s. Despite the four decades that have passed, it says all the right things about making our community bike-friendly: we should connecting the parks to neighborhoods and make sure that kids can bike to school. It proposed a citywide bike route network to integrate cycling into the city’s transportation system. It’s a great foundation to build upon.

Nearly five years ago, the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission created the ‘bicycle ad hoc committee‘ to begin that update. The committee was to collect material, meet with the community, and make recommendations to the commission. But aside from a few early meetings (in 2010-2011) there’s been precious little action on that update, and little has been heard from the committee otherwise over the past couple of years.

So we visited the Traffic and Parking Commission’s website to check on the plan update and to learn more about the committee’s work to make cycling safe in Beverly Hills. Spoiler alert: the committee, and this commission generally, is not doing very much to make cycling more safe.

For one thing, the content on the committee’s webpage is stale and insubstantial. The most recent posted documents date back to 2013. Likewise the referenced City Council priorities date to the 2013-14 fiscal year (which closed last June).

In the continued effort to meet the FY12/13 and FY13/14 City Council Priorities for a Citywide Bike Plan, in November 2012 the Beverly Hills City Council approved the development and implementation of pilot bikeways on Burton Way and North Crescent Drive, and a bicycle rack program.

The pilot bikeways referenced on the ad-hoc committee’s webpage were installed back in 2013. As for more recent developments, there is no mention of the ongoing discussion about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes. The page is silent on the city’s study of a bike-share system too. The webpage seems not to have been updated in more than a year. Stale!

As for substance, the page doesn’t note the changed roster of ad-hoc committee members. All three members then serving on the committee (in 2013) are no longer Traffic and Parking commissioners. Which is unfortunate, because two of them – Alan Grushcow, Chair of the ad-hoc, and Jeffrey Levine – were responsive to riders’ concerns where the entire commission isn’t. Even worse, this past January Alan Grushcow passed away,  but he is still listed as the committee’s leader.

Ad-hoc webpage screenshotThe remainder of the webpage serves as the city’s bicycle rack program request form (where one can request that a free rack be installed at a sidewalk location like in front of a shop, say). The form duplicates material on the Transportation Division’s ‘bicycles’ webpage.

Changed Priorities, Missed Opportunities

With an update of that 1977 Bicycle Master Plan, our city would have an opportunity to rethink how we want to move ourselves around Beverly Hills in the future. Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) tells us to bicycle more and drive less, for example, in order to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Our General Plan’s circulation element (2010) envisions ‘multimodal mobility’ for tomorrow’s Beverly Hills. But there the progress stops, short of an update of that old bike plan.

If we were to take a cue from the 1977 plan, we’d think about a citywide bike route network to safely connect neighborhoods, parks and schools. Here’s how extensive that proposed network was (or ‘is’ because the plan is technically in force):

1977 bicycle master plan map with parks

There are many good suggestions in that plan that can be simply carried over into a new bike plan. Like a southside crosstown bike route on Gregory Way, for example. That’s pictured on the map above. When City Council considered nearby Charleville for the route it was rejected as a nonstarter. Yet the need for crosstown travel between parks and our high school keeps the old bike plan’s vision relevant 35 years later.

Perhaps it’s the City Council that needs to re-think its vision. Turns out that changed City Council priorities will keep the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan from getting the facelift it so desperately needs. Back in 2013 Council identified as a B-level priority the creation of a new bike plan.

City Council Priorities 2013-14 excerptThe next year Council had other concerns, however. The firm commitment to a new plan was degraded into vague language about “acceptable enhancements.”

City Council Priorities 2014-15 excerptWe presume that means politically-acceptable enhancements. Whatever the intent, the term “enhancements” itself is puzzling because there’s not much implemented to actually ‘enhance.’ Does it mean additional identified bike routes; marked bike lanes or sharrows;  safety signage; or new policies to promote multimodal mobility? What about an updated and more informative website at least? These are opportunity areas for City Council if it made safer streets for cycling a priority.

The good news is that we sometimes hear councilmembers say they support cycling. our Mayor Bosse hails progress-to-date. A few on Council even seem open to including a bicycle lane on tomorrow’s North Santa Monica Boulevard. And we’re expecting a feasibility study for bike-share this spring.

The not so good news is that stalled progress on the 1977 bike plan update doesn’t suggest any real commitment to bike safety in Beverly Hills. And the downgraded B-priority for bike planning generally only formalizes that lack of resolve.

We can’t say it’s not for lack of awareness. We’ve attended many City Council and Traffic and Parking Commission meetings to highlight the language in our own plans to campaign for safer streets. We even spoke up at the latest priorities meeting last fall to advocate for this plan update. But progress comes slow to Beverly Hills (when it comes at all) and if it never arrives, we can likely trace it not to the language in our plans or the words emanating from the Council dais, but to the shortage of political will to do the hard work of making streets safe to ride.

Is a Mandatory Bike Helmet Law the Answer?

State Senator Carol LiuState Senator Carol Liu recently introduced a bill that would require every bike rider regardless of age to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Though a well-intentioned safety measure, SB 192 and its helmet mandate has spurred a backlash among some riders and several established statewide bike advocacy organizations. Why the opposition? Why not mandate helmets for adults?

On first look, helmets can only increase safety by wrapping the noggin in plastic. So it might seem like a common-sense safety measure to require riders to wear them. Accordingly, SB 192, if it became law, would “require every person, regardless of age, to wear a bicycle helmet when operating a bicycle… [and] require a person engaged in these activities in the darkness to wear retroreflective high-visibility safety apparel….”

Proponents argue that if all riders wear a helmet, we could reduce the too-high incidence of bike-related crash fatalities that can surpass 150 (statewide) on a particularly bad year. Of course, even one crash fatality is too high, we believe, but is a mandatory helmet law the means to getting to vision zero? After all, if children benefit from head protection (as required under existing law) shouldn’t adults benefit too?

Of course it’s not that straightforward. In fact, the California Bicycle Coalition says that this bill “sends the wrong message about bicycling” and the mandatory use of helmets would “discourage bicycling.” The bill, they note, makes it a ‘crime’ to violate the provisions. Is it appropriate to criminalize helmet-less riding when so much more threatening driver misbehavior goes unpunished every day? From their call to action:

There are proven ways to make our streets safer while encouraging bicycling — reducing speed limits on key streets, building protected bike lanes and bike paths, and educating motorists and bicyclists on how to drive or ride safely, to name a few. A mandatory helmet law is not one of them.

It’s not helmets per se that has advocates so exercised, as many riders already wear them. Nor is it the proposed $25 fine that goes with the misdemeanor citation. That’s a relative pittance compared to running a stop sign, say, which many riders despite the possible penalty of $300 (or much more with court costs) and license points. Even the bill’s nighttime reflective clothing requirement isn’t a deal-breaker as many riders already take measures to increase their visibility. (Reminder: state law requires a headlight and side reflectors.)

No, behind the opposition to this bill is concern that other crash factors are far more important to rider safety than a plastic helmet. For example. speed kills, we’re told by law enforcement. In any collision, the chance for injury and death actually outpaces the increase in vehicular speed. So nobody should be surprised that on wide streets that are seemingly designed for vehicular speeding, riders do die with much greater frequency than they do in areas (like Beverly Hills) where congestion, say, might keep a lid on speed. Those wide streets are dangerous by design, according to a report by that name from Transportation for America, and that there is an opportunity for lawmakers to take the initiative.

Reduced speed limits for motor vehicles increase bicycling in two ways: by increasing the speed of bicycling relative to the speed of driving, and by increasing the safety of bicycling. Most studies, though not all, show an increase in bicycling with lower automobile speed limits. per purcher infra programs paper

Then there’s the paucity of safe bike-friendly improvements. Here in Beverly Hills, despite our congestion and relatively high crash injury rate, only two streets boast a bicycle lane that separates riders from motor traffic: Burton Way and North Crescent. And each includes just a few blocks of lanes. We’ve got some sharrows on Crescent too, but riders lived with poorly-placed sharrows there that guided us right into the scrum of fast-moving motor traffic. (It took us six months of prodding to get the city to fix it.)

Bicycle lanes and even safety signage could really address the threat of harm on our most congested crosstown corridors. And for years we’ve pressed our city to take such a step. But the opposition to bicycle lanes suggests the challenge of realizing a more bike-friendly Beverly Hills. One of our busiest corridors, North Santa Monica Boulevard, for example, is a transit corridor and designated truck route; it carries about 50,000 vehicles daily. Yet both policymakers and staff opposed lanes there. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps Beverly Hills one of the more dangerous small cities in California for riders. (Recently we gained some traction in the North Santa Monica lanes campaign, however.)

For advocates smarting over policymaker inaction, the notion that riders should have to protect themselves from dangerous streets with a plastic helmet is pretty galling. And then there’s the argument made by bill proponents that helmet use is effective in reducing crash fatalities. Hogwash!

Are Helmets the Answer?

Helmet laws were first adopted in the United States by state and local governments in 1987; today 21 states require young riders to wear a helmet (typically children under age 16). But there is no existing model for Senator Liu’s legislation: according to the Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report (2014), published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, no state yet has adopted an adult helmet law.

With no law in place, we can’t compare before & after adoption fatality rates through a study of the data. But we can look to other places to see how they minimize fatalities. For example, European countries show much lower injury and fatality rates. Yet helmets are rarely used there at all. “In the Netherlands, with the safest cycling of any country, less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets,” say John Pucher and Ralph Buehler in Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from Europe (2008). The solution in those places appears to be streets engineered for user safety.

Even worse, Pucher and Buehler say, mandatory helmets may work against our policy objective: safer cycling.

The Dutch cycling experts and planners interviewed for this article adamantly oppose laws to require the use of helmets, claiming that helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable and less fashionable. They also mention the possibility that helmets would make cycling more dangerous by giving cyclists a false sense of safety and thus encouraging riskier riding behaviour. – Pucher & Buehler

Another study offers some support for that proposition. “Where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact,” says Piet de Jong in The Health Impact of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws (2012). “In jurisdiction where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer.”

Whether or not academic studies find merit in helmets, does local data support Senator Liu’s argument for mandatory helmet use? Thankfully a Beverly Hills rider looked at the state data. Yet he saw no correlation between bare-headed riding and the likelihood of dying. And not only is there no evident correlation; there is considerable noise in the state data as about one-fifth of all bike-involved fatality crash reports don’t even record whether a helmet was worn (or not).

We looked at that data and see considerable variability in rider fatalities from one year to the next too – variation that can’t be correlated with helmet use. For example, the year 2006 saw a ten-year-high of 155 rider fatalities; just three years later in 2009 the number dropped to a ten-year low of 107 fatalities. But those years the proportion of riders who donned a lid remained constant (just above one-fifth). Why did so many more die in 2009 despite the consistent use of helmets?

Moreover, look at the trends in helmet use among crash victims in California: they’re moving in a positive direction. The number of fatal crash victims not wearing a helmet is on the decline while the number of victims wearing a helmet is on the increase. Does this suggest that helmets are necessarily working to prevent fatalities? Or in light of the upward trend in helmet use, that we need a law to mandate it?

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Now take a look at the proportion of those killed while not wearing a helmet: it too is one the decline.

Chart of Californa crash victims (helmeted versus non-helmeted)

Ratio of non-helmeted to helmeted victims in California crashes from 2001 to 2012. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Indeed in 2012, the most recent year for which fatal crash data is available, more than one-third of those killed wore a helmet. That’s well in excess of decade’s average of 21% and suggests that we don’t need a law to compel helmet use. Perhaps an outreach campaign can increase the proportion to much more than one-third to appease the pro-helmet folks.

Looking again at the numbers, to what extent is the helmet working to prevent crash fatalities among riders? That same year of 2012 saw a record number (49) of California riders killed while wearing a helmet. And despite an upward trend in helmet use, the state recorded a record number of fatalities (146) that year, which is considerably higher than the 20% decade’s average.

If riders appear to reach more often for a helmet than they used to, but wearing a helmet seems not to attenuate the number of fatalities, is there sufficient correlation to support a mandatory helmet law? For us to support it we’d like to see a much stronger correlation between bare heads and fatalities in crashes.

Advocates seize on the weak support of the state’s data. “Whatever comes of Senator Liu’s legistration,” says local rider Brent Bigler, we should make sure that incomplete data don’t lead to bad statistics used to justify bad policy enshrined in unhelpful laws.” We agree!

We can focus our attention on other contributing collision factors, however, like speeding. Consider that we’re not taking the necessary steps to ensure that we’re keeping riders safe, as has European nations. According to the Alliance’s Benchmarking Report, California dedicates only 2.4% of federal transportation money to bicycling and walking infrastructure projects. That put us near the middle of the pack among US states. Can’t we do more to create safer streets before we explore a mandatory helmet law?

Federal dollars for bicycling and walking via Alliance (2014)

Reprinted from Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report, published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

The Gall!

Michelin Man helmeted

If Senator Liu has her way, under state laws all riders will one day dress like the Michelin Man for our own safety.

One aspect of the helmet policy debate that really galls bike safety advocates is the hypocrisy of legislators who are charged with making our streets safe. While they are quick to prescribe one or another obligation for riders (like mandatory helmets or rider licensing or liability insurance), they generally fail to take action.

Now Senator Liu in the past has been a supporter of safe streets policies. Perhaps she can move a bill that would create a standalone statewide bicycle master plan (as 13 states already have).

In looking at the helmet issue, the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee agreed that policymakers should first focus on other opportunity areas, such as rolling out bicycle-friendly infrastructure (like bike lanes) to separate non-motor from motor traffic, among other measures.

While we wait for legislation that will make streets safer for riders, each of us can do ourselves a favor by at least knowing the rules of the road and educating ourselves in safe-riding practices. We recommend the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Bicycling Skills Workshop series. It’s free for LACBC members ($35 for the general public) so join as a member and RSVP here! The next one is focused on women and will be held on March 14th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at LACBC Headquarters, 1st floor Edison Room – 634 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. A mandatory helmet law might not keep you from becoming a statistic, but riding with skill most likely will.

Beverly Hills OKs Bike-share Feasibility Study

Santa Monice bike-share system promoBeverly Hills City Council recently gave its preliminary OK to city bike-share and authorized a feasibility study to explore the merit of a 50-bike system. We’re following Santa Monica’s lead here: it has tapped vendor CycleHop to implement a ‘smart bike’ system (as we previously reported). Should we piggyback on that contract, would this be a significant step forward for mobility in Beverly Hills? Or would it be only a tourist amenity for the ‘golden’ triangle?

The Beverly Hills system that got the preliminary OK from City Council warrants some optimism. Framed as a transportation measure rather than a recreation amenity, the bike-share system reflects the spirit of our city’s plans. We’ve made multimodal mobility a policy goal, and our plans (especially our Sustainable City Plan) encourage us to ride rather than drive in order to reduce both road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. (Read the staff report to learn more about our incipient system.)

While we welcome City Hall’s support for cycling in whatever form, City Council is looking at a relatively small system – just 50 bicycles citywide – than can be considered a practical transportation option. Back in January, staff presented Council with three size options – 50, 100 or 150 bikes – but in the meantime the proposal was scaled back, and we’re now looking at only 50 share bikes. We’d term that a ’boutique’-sized system.

Scale matters when it comes to transportation convenience; this smaller rollout may hinder widespread embrace of bike-share as an everyday option for residents, workers and visitors. But it’s early days yet. Council has yet to discuss (much less decide) key program aspects such as bike placement.

On placement, a small system will likely be concentrated in the business triangle with an emphasis more on tourism than on overall transportation needs. For example, a boutique-type system just for the business triangle likely won’t reach travelers outside of the central business district in the city’s several other commercial areas.

Moreover, an inter-operable bike-share system that operates across city boundaries could reduce solo-occupancy vehicle travel between Beverly Hills (accomplishing our policy objective of reducing congestion) but wouldn’t make much of an impact if share bikes are not racked outside of the triangle. That wouldn’t be ‘citywide’ system, now would it? Nailing down these details will await the feasibility study (already underway).

Lili Bosse bike-share tweet

Mayor Bosse appears to be a fan of bike-share!

On the funding side, corporate sponsorship is expected to complement user fees to support system operations. But what will corporate sponsorship look like? And how much of operations will it cover? That’s not been discussed in substance. The Citybike system in New York was referenced as a model for its ‘branded’ bikes, but Council also expressed concern that we should not be bound by promotional arrangements made by neighboring cities. That might be a complicating factor as we sign onto the existing contract’s terms.

Nevertheless, every member of City Council expressed support for the bike-share idea albeit with caveats as to how it would work in practice (like the sponsorship issue for example). Let’s look at the proposal in a little more detail.

The Beginning of a Regional Bike-Share System?

Of course the advantage of rolling out regional bike-share is interoperability: borrowing a bike in one city and returning it in another makes bike-borrowing a practical inter-city mobility option. Uniform hardware and software makes it possible by eliminating a ‘Balkanized’ situation where small cities each run its own independent system.

Santa Monica is expected to be just the first locality to roll out bike-share on the Westside. West Hollywood appears close to signing a deal too, and both Culver City and Beverly Hills are considering the CycleHop system.

The Westside regional system idea emerged in the Westside Cities Council of Governments (COG) under then-Chair (and Santa Monica Mayor) Richard Bloom. With strong support from COG reps Pam O’Connor and Kevin McKeown (former Santa Monica Mayor and current Mayor, respectively), it’s no surprise that Santa Monica has taken leadership on the initiative, and the Beverly Hills proposal piggybacks on a contract signed between City of Santa Monica and CycleHop – a vendor of ‘smart bike’ systems.

The so-called ‘smart bike’ technology rides with the bike rather than be anchored at the station. With each bike geo-tracked, users can simply locate the nearest available bike (via smartphone, say) without concern that the bike belongs to a neighboring city’s system. Pricing is also standardized across localities. And another practical advantage is that the complimentary low-tech racks are inexpensive to roll out and easy to reposition as necessary (unlike hardwired bike stations).Cyclehop bike-share technology illustration

Costs

The regional approach brings some cost certainty too. Under the Santa Monica contract, the cost per bike is $1,500 with another thousand bucks for setup and a nominal $300 investment per rack (about the cost of a single ordinary sidewalk bike rack). The flat rate means that startup costs scale directly with system size, which is good for the budget folks.

Of course, the flat rate also means that there is no cost efficiencies to be had as the system scales up in size. There is no decrease in unit cost at the margin, for example, as illustrated in this cost matrix presented to Beverly Hills City Council.

Bevery Hills bikeshare costs chartThe flat-rate ‘smart bike’ system benefits a smaller city like Beverly Hills in that it minimizes  investment across a smaller system as there is no large fixed-cost element to capitalize. And with a phased rollout we can hedge our bet in case bike-share doesn’t catch on with the public. (Indeed Council discussion suggested some concern that the city wait to see how bike-share performs here and across the region before expanding it.) With a small rollout, too, we can measure early how much of the annual operating cost is recouped through sponsorship and fees (a question anticipated by the feasibility study).

But there are intangible costs to going too small. A smaller system will undermine the utility of implementing a system citywide. Anchoring a bike-share system in the triangle, for example, won’t help the outlying commercial districts – which were found by a city Small Business Task Force report to suffer what it called a ‘parking deficit.’ Where parking is a challenge (like in the Southeast and Western Gateway commercial areas) we could use bike-share to offset the parking demand that comes with foot traffic, but not if a smaller system never reaches these areas.

A small system by definition also will provide less capacity needed to cushion against spikes in demand. Every needy rider wants to find a bike when she needs one, and additional capacity makes it more likely to find an available ride. By just meeting (or possibly falling short of) demand, a small system with fewer available bikes may force travelers to turn to other travel options.

And finally, a small system is less conspicuous to the general public. In cities that have rolled out prominent systems and backed them with significant promotion, share bikes seem omnipresent – at least in the areas served by the system. It’s a reminder that there IS an option to taking the car. Visibility is crucial to success too.

We worry that a smaller system, perhaps one located only in the business triangle, will be viewed less as a transportation option than as a tourist amenity. Our concern was piqued when Mayor Bosse suggested that helmets be made available through the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which handles tourism promotion for the city. That made us wonder if she views bike-share in Beverly Hills as something primarily for tourists.

How Small is Too Small?

Studying the two larger size options would have allayed our concern about a too-small system. Consider that a 50-bike system puts just marginally more rides on the street than the number of sidewalk bike racks in place today citywide. Where are those racks when you need one? They are hard to find.

Is 50 bikes too small? Well, compare our commitment to that made by Santa Monica. On a per-capita basis, even the largest 150-bike option would still fall short of what’s on offer for Santa Monica. In fact, that option would have provided only three-fifths the number of share bikes per capita that Santa Monica will roll out in its program. (See the map at bottom for the breadth of that city’s system.)

Regardless of size, bike-share for Beverly Hills might make a significant contribution if it puts in the saddle tourists who are unfamiliar with the city and are maybe less-experienced with urban riding. It may sound crass to say, but inevitably some will crash, and one significant injury could force into the foreground the safety issue – and by extension the city’s long neglect for street safety generally. City Council didn’t touch on that in the bike-share discussion, but it will have to confront City Hall’s blunt indifference to bike safety sooner or later.

Santa Monica CycleHop system map

Santa Monica’s relatively larger system will do a pretty good job of covering the seaside city.

What is a smart bike graphic

File Under ‘Crap Facilities': Dangerous Crescent Dr. Sharrows [Updated]

City of Beverly Hills was warned many months ago about this improper placement of sharrows on Crescent Drive:

Crescent Drive sharrows placement

Is this any way to make our streets safer for those who choose to ride a bicycle?

As explicated in this graphic, these sharrows guide northbound Crescent riders into the left-hand lane, which allows motor traffic to pass on the right. After the South Santa Monica intersection, however, riders are then guided back to the right-hand lane which requires a merge back into faster-flowing traffic. This remains an eye-catching road engineering #FAIL six months after we notified the city about it.

[Update: After yet another round of emails, the city finally fixed this in late February, and without so much as a thanks to the citizens’ brigade for repeatedly reminding transportation officials of their responsibility to make our streets safely passable.]

Crescent Drive is a well-traveled N/S street that finds northbound motorists rushing to make the stoplights at North and South Santa Monica boulevards. So putting riders literally in the middle of this scrum is at best a mistake and, more likely, is a result of professional incompetence or ignorance.

While the misplacement of a sharrow marking may seem trivial to a driver, this state-approved traffic control device is important to riders as it offers official guidance as to where to ride. It is intended to make roads safer for those who ride a bicycle, not put them in harm’s way.

What is a Sharrow?

According to the state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), sharrows can be used to:

Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way; and encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists…. (MUTCD Section 9C.07 Shared Lane Marking)

sharrow markingAccording to the manual, the marking “shall only be used on a roadway which has on-street parallel parking.” But Crescent northbound here has no parallel parking, of course. And even if it did, the MUTCD offers this bit of specific guidance: Where used to direct riders to a lane adjacent to a traffic lane, it should be only to the left of a right-turn-only lane. (Section 4D.104 Bicycle Signals).

As the manual suggests, it is better to use no sharrows at all than to implement unsafe sharrows.

We’ve Tried and Tried to Get This Fixed

I first contacted the Beverly Hills Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz in early June after noticing the unsafe sharrows placement:

Sharrows on Crescent (south of little SM) make an ill-advised jog around a non-turn lane as I recall (not the best practice).

Then I suggested that our city fix it. After seeing no action, though, I followed up in early August:

I’ve been puzzled by the hazardous placement of n/b Crescent sharrows. I wonder if the city has a plan to fix it?

Kunz acknowledged the problem and said a fix was in the works. But no fix came. So I followed up again in early October:

Can you remind me if the city will be fixing the sharrow alignment problem on Crescent at SM South? (We spoke about it in early August.)

Kunz replied, “I will check on the status of moving the sharrow as we discussed and get a date.” Hearing nothing back about it (of course) I then followed up a third time in late October:

I’m wondering if you’ve been able to nail down the date?

Aaron replied, “The moving of the sharrow will be a priority but unfortunately I do not have a date yet.” Optimistically I said I would look forward to having the problem corrected.

But evidently I was too optimistic! Here we are approaching February and there is no fix yet. Where in the transportation planner’s handbook does it say that a mistake like this can go unaddressed despite highlighting the problem and following up three times? It cries out for a lawsuit!

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 parking

Northeast 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 … Continue reading

Passing Safely: It’s the Law!

Give Me Three poster

California’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 … Continue reading

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