The Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commission’s Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee met on Wednesday, June 8th for the first time in public. You’ll recall that the Traffic and Parking Commission is the advisory body that reviews, well, traffic and parking issues, but it’s also the commission that works most closely with the city’s Transportation division. This Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee meeting (agenda) invited a handful of Better Bike members to communicate concerns, gripes, and ideas that show our support for a real active transportation planning process and bike facilities.
By way of review:
The Ad-Hoc Committee was formed back in August to consider opportunities for updating the city’s outdated Bike Plan (technically an appendix to the city’s General Plan). The vintage 1970s planning principles and maps that inform it today is an embarrassment to the city, and Better Bike and longtime bike advocates have urged officials to bring up to speed with the contemporary efforts of surrounding cities. In a closed-door November meeting, Transportation staffers and the Ad-Hoc Committee had established general parameters for the committee’s work, and in a second closed meeting in January had finalized the workplan. Despite our expressed concerns about road conditions, safety education, and bike facilities, the committee’s workplan (which was not released) evidently focused on easily-accomplished actions.
In January a workplan was established, and in the intervening months through today, bike racks were counted and mapped; a rack-identifying decal design was developed; and a safety class was held for the public. But otherwise, no bike-friendly improvements have been made. We last reported on the ad-hoc committee back in March.
This meeting was facilitated by Traffic and Transportation Chairman Jeff Levine, with fellow commissioners Mel Grushcow and Ira Friedman attending. Chairman Levine opened the meeting lamenting the pace of change in Beverly Hills, but noted the challenges of creating a “bicycle-smart city” when many pieces have to come together. This is the first of several meetings said, though there is no timetable for the committee’s work and no workplan on paper as yet.
Advocates were first up with a familiar litany of observations: Kelly O’Neil lamented that she can’t get a rack in front of her physical therapy business. Mel Raab contrasted the sad state of bike accommodations here with that in Barcelona, where the city is rolling out new innovations to encourage people to ride. Friends of the Library emerita Barbara Linder called for greater safety measures and Ellen Lutwak, founder of Walk Beverly Hills concurred that it’s not safe to ride to school, noting that her child was hit by a car on a Beverly Hills street while cycling. We cyclists know these hazards almost literally by the seat of our pants.
Commissioner Ira Friedman agreed that cyclists were second-class citizens in Beverly Hills and he himself noted that he confines his own cycling to the off-road Ballona Creek trail. Commissioner Gruschow noted his personal interest in cycling, but he too elects not to take to two wheels in town because it’s not safe.
With introductions behind us, Transportation Deputy Director Aaron Kunz – the go-to guy in Transportation – described the staffing shortages and the task that compete for staff time. Santa Monica is undergoing a review; the subway has soaked up energy; and the Westside Cities COG bike coordination effort. (Read more.)
Commissioners and staff enumerated the work of the committee so far: mapping the location of the city’s existing bike racks; developing a decal to be applied to the racks to identify them as such; and conducting a bike safety class at Roxbury Park. But no movement on identifying bike routes, the installation of additional public bike racks, the laying down of bike lanes, markings, or signage, or implementation of a rack-by-request program.
Commissioners and staff described their work to date as picking the low-hanging fruit – the “bang-for-the-buck” actions to make our city more bike-friendly. Clearly there is much more work to be done, and we advocates are ready to help. As Better Bike member Kelly put it, “I’m here to get it done – I’m a soldier.”
Aaron identified several next steps:
- Lay down lanes or sharrows “where it doesn’t take away parking” in a pilot project. The objective here is to see an improvement in action and solicit perception from the public (in advance of the SM Boulevard redesign). [Note: Better Bike has offered to sit down with Transportation officials to select a route, but the city has not called.]
- Develop a bike rack policy to address the installation of racks in the right-of-way. Aaron suggested meeting with staffers from surrounding cities to gain perspective on current practice. [Note: Better Bike has recommended that racks be installed near public buildings and employment centers and commercial corridors like in the designated pedestrian district. The city has not called for specifics.]
- Map existing bike facilities – an effort underway. (See the map below right.) The thinking is to make the public aware of the existing racks, for example, which are not of conventional design hence the decal to identify them. [Note: advocates never suggested the value of developing a decal, which seems impractical given the specific design of the rack.]
Commissioner Friedman said they’re trying to move forward on accommodations, but acknowledged that bike advocates see nothing going on. Better Bike said that communication matters, and observed that alone on the Westside, our city’s website makes no mention at all of cycling. (For that matter that the Commission’s own web page makes no mention of the Ad-Hoc Committee.) What’s needed is a means to communicate with the public about cycling issues, we added. Chair Levine agreed. “We need to get the community and those in charge to play well with cyclists.” He added that merchant support would go a long way toward moving improvements through the city pipeline.
[Note: Better Bike offered to develop for free a bike-friendly portal for the city’s website, but no official has responded.
This meeting was more of a get-acquainted session than a substantive planning session. To be truly effective, advocates need a firm timeline for this process and a next meeting date; a tangible workplan about which we can comment; and a contact person in Transportation to whom we can turn for information about racks, for example, or route suggestions. But today we have none of those. As an interim measure, Aaron suggested cyclists email the city at firstname.lastname@example.org. But if the Commission is serious about making progress on upgrading our second-class status, we’ll need more of a commitment from the city – as well as a firm timeline and solid course of action.
Better Bike can make a few off-the-cuff recommendations:
- Identify a preliminary network of bike routes that would suggest candidates for a pilot lane/sharrows project. We have suggestions and will be glad to work with city officials or the Transportation Commission to set this important baseline, rather than embark on an ad-hoc, one-off, back-of-the-envelope pilot.
- Establish a rack-on-request program to allow cyclists and the public more generally to let the city know where these facilities are needed. Why repeat the same mistake and place racks exactly where they don’t meet their promise? (See the map above.) Los Angeles has one. Santa Monica has one. We can have one.
- Establish a website to inform road users of all ages (including motorists!) that cyclists are legitimate on the blacktop, and that would teach cyclists and would-be cyclists some of the basic safety fundamentals. This is the lowest of low-hanging fruit.
- And over the longer term, develop bike-friendly policies and inducements to get people to ride and then incorporate that language into the municipal code.
This is an opportunity to ask (or mandate) private developers to provide parking for bikes, just like they do for cars. The city could establish minimums that might, say, offset some of the required car parking…at a great savings to developers. The city could also mandate that every public parking garage and lot meet a minimum ratio for on-site bike racks. This is the province of the Transportation Commission. Proceeding on bike facilities without regard to the policy opportunities would be a great oversight.
We need only look to neighboring cities for good examples of how to proceed. Look to the solid plan adopted by Los Angeles; or the collaboration among Culver City, the LA Department of Health, and bike advocates on their bike plan; or to the task force just formed by West Hollywood. Heck, for concrete examples of how to make roads safer we can look at the new improvements in Santa Monica, which seems to roll out something new every week. What’s missing here is the political will to upgrade our cycling experience to first-class.
Thanks, though, to the Commissioners who made themselves available on a weekday after work. They’re volunteers on the advisory commission so we appreciate their time and attention.