Update on the Ad-Hoc Commmittee

Beverly Hills logoCatching up with Aaron Kunz at BH Transportation brought us somewhat up-to-date on the next steps for the Traffic & Transportation’s Commission’s ad-hoc bike planning committee. This body was formed by three Commissioners last August to explore the next steps for fleshing out our city’s bare-bones bike plan (5 pages + old maps adopted in January 2010). Readers will recall that the Committee has only met twice and both times in closed session. There have been no posted agendas or minutes.* So we’re left making telephone calls to find out when the ad-hoc committee will meet next and what it will do.

As Aaron is our point of contact, he’s the go-to guy. Last week he filled us in. It seems that the ad-hoc committee will next meet in April (date TBA). They’re still in the fact-finding and workplan-setting phase, he said, and the next meeting will likely bring in a staffer from neighboring West Hollywood to bring our officials up-to-date on their own bike plan update process underway. (West Hollywood has formed an advisory bike task force for the effort.)
The next meeting will likely be a small roundtable format with a public comment period. Evidently that will be our opportunity to address the Commissioners who comprise the ad-hoc committee. While it’s reassuring that the committee will meet again, we’ve expressed concern that there is not a place at the table for advocates. Two minutes at the mic is not sufficient, we said.

Also, there are several key areas of concern that need to be addressed before we feel more confident about the ad-hoc committee’s progress in any event. (Refer to the Bike plan staff report March 1st for a summary of the committee’s progress.)

Key Areas of Concern

First, our city is falling behind. Every other local government has picked up the bike planning pace. Los Angeles is currently implementing its new bike plan; Santa Monica is working on finalizing the ped & cycling aspects of its LUCE (the General Plan mobility element); West Hollywood has formed a large advisory committee (Better Bike members Ron Durgin and Kevin Burton have been appointed); and even the County of Los Angeles is in the midst of public workshops to inform its own bike plan.

Second, we recognize that fact-finding is important but there is a cost in time and energy. The city must take account of facilities, programs, and policies already in place, of course, but let’s be honest – it’s a short list. An afternoon should suffice to gather the relevant internal material.

As for best practices and the like, being the last to arrive to the dance has its advantage: we can see everybody’s best moves. Just like Cory Wilkerson, bike planner in Glendale did, we can literally pull material off the shelf. “Cheat, rob, and steal” the best practices from other cities, is how Cory phrased it. Our city need only look to the wheels as finely wrought by other municipalities in our region and beyond.

Third, there seems to be no place at the table here for bike advocates – the folks who actually ride these streets and, more important, know as much or more than most every planner about bike facilities, signage, striping, etc. We have regional advocates who are not only well-versed in the Manual of Uniform Control Devices but are paid staff on organizations like Safe Routes to School and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC).

Now, it’s a mystery to me why Beverly Hills is so locked down. We have folks who are most knowledgeable about sustainable transportation practices but there is little city-side interest in bringing them in.

Fourth,Transportation Department’s attention seems diverted from pressing issues and solutions to less-pressing initiatives. Two identified priority actions (refer to the Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee Meeting Notes) would appear to address the shortage of bike racks in Beverly Hills. What’s proposed is not a rack-on-request program like Los Angeles or other cities; instead what’s proposed is a decal to mark the few racks that do exist but may be overlooked. Likewise, the department would map these few racks and post it on the web.

With all due respect, a couple of Better Bike volunteers can map racks and develop a map in an afternoon. After all, activist Alex Thompson of Bikeside almost single-handedly developed an interactive bike accident map. We can even design a rack decal. Tasks accomplished!

What we cannot do, however, is to apply department resources where they’re needed most: to provide more racks, properly installed, in conspicuous locations in order to suggest that cycling is not only convenient, but the preferred means of getting around town.

Because the January meeting was not a public meeting, it’s impossible to know how these efforts were proposed and debated. Were we in the house, though, we could have off-loaded these priority actions and left the committee and the department to focus on the pressing needs that we’ve consistently highlighted on these pages and directly to the Traffic & Transportation Committee on several occasions.

Safety

The Transportation department appears more keenly focused on developing a safety awareness program. This is an issue that city officials have taken to the Westside Cities COG, and which was debated in the March meeting (read more). Cycling advocates favor safety since we’re most vulnerable on the rights-of-way, but it’s too early to say if this represents a substantive effort or merely window dressing.

We’re taking with Transpo officials to see if we can launch a bike safety course this summer, perhaps in conjunction with Bike Week (May 16-20th) which falls, of course, in Bike Month. This could be an anchor element in a broader set of education programs offered through Rec & Parks just like many of their other child- and adult-ed summer classes. Heck, go ahead and give the Rec & Parks Commissioners a call and tell them to proactively put bike ed on their department’s next season class list. We can recommend instructors!

Stay tuned for more news on the ad-hoc committee and for further safety course-related developments!

An accounting of the second and more recent meeting in January was provided upon request. More list of topic items than summary minutes or a plan of action, at least it suggested that the Committee has considered the most relevant issues.

One possibility is that officials here are especially enamored of control. That would explain the closed-door ad-hoc committees that cook up policies later revealed to a public invited for 2-minute comment. Another possibility is that officials are fearful. Fear is often baked-into organizations, of course, and public officials sometimes seem inordinately blind to returns while being too cognizant of risk. For a given course of action, the official is likely to see little direct personal benefit (for example, being recognized as an innovator) while feeling out on a limb as an advocate.

Encouraging innovation in public administration is a cultural shift that characterizes some smaller municipalities, but Beverly Hills is evidently not one of them.