We caught up with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, for an update on the Beverly Hills bike plan update process. In a wide-ranging recap we discussed the timetable and process for reconstructing Santa Monica Boulevard; opportunities for adding on-boulevard bike lanes to that corridor to support regional connectivity; progress on bringing a bike rack program to the city; and next steps on the pilot program. Here’s the recap – first the corridor reconstruction then the rest.
Where We Were
Recall that the Traffic & Parking Commission had formed an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee in mid-2010. In two meetings with advocates, the three commissioners heard an earful about our city’s inhospitable conditions for cyclists. The lack of lanes or other facilities to separate transportation modes, combined with no guidance for cyclists or motorists alike on sharing our congested roads, advocates said, suggested insufficient attention to the needs of active transportation road users.
The Commissioners in the first meeting had identified low-hanging fruit for action: mapping existing business triangle bike maps; marking those racks with a decal to make them more conspicuous; and creating safety education materials to reach road users with a ‘share the road’ message. Cyclists training was also mentioned.
Progress on even that limited agenda was uncertain, however, so in our second meeting with city officials we focused on identifying four candidate routes for lanes, sharrows, and/or signage in a pilot project suggested by the Transportation division. Chosen were Carmelita, Charleyville, South Beverly, and Crescent (see the map).
The city has preferred to keep the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction on its own separate track. Today, the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor is a chaotic mess of vehicle congestion and substandard road conditions that make it perilous for cyclists. Since the city took over the corridor from the state in 2006, it has done little to improve it, and certainly nothing to make it safe for cyclists.
Because it’s a key element of the region’s transportation network, and because it’s the one major transportation project that’s guaranteed to proceed, it’s critical that we active transportation advocates (both cyclists and walkers) participate in the design process if we are to secure continuation of the on-boulevard bike lanes in place today in Century City and West Hollywood.
The Boulevard Reconstruction Process
In our call with Aaron, we focused on the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project, which when completed will accommodate a center turn lane and two travel lanes in each direction. In particular, we’re interested in details from the city’s topographic survey of the corridor that specify the existing roadway’s width so that we know what will be required if we were to add bi-directional bike lanes.
For example, Aaron said that the existing roadway is about 60 feet curb-to-curb, but that’s an imprecise measure because the actual width varies along the corridor. The city owns right-of-way (land available for roadbed) that extends to 85 feet, mostly to the north but in some segments to the south of the present roadway. Aaron also said that the preliminary thinking is for the reconstructed boulevard to be divided into lanes as follows (from south to north): |11|10| 10-ft median|10.5|11.5| with a possible 7-foot single-direction bike lane.
That is, a single bike lane. The city’s 85 foot right-of-way is much wider than the current 60-foot boulevard and can easily accommodate standard bike lanes in both directions. Should the boulevard need to be widened to accommodate bike lanes (or indeed other active transportation or mass transit enhancements) will we need six inches or six feet? We’ve asked for topographic survey findings because we need to know where we stand on that question.
Steps in the Planning Process
It’s crucial that our community understand how bike lanes can fit into reconstruction before the project is scoped and design alternatives presented to policymakers. Aaron described the process this way:
- The City Council will discuss scoping in an early 2012 study session (these typically precede formal Council meetings) and provide direction to Transportation;
- Transportation will contract design services based on that scope of work and return to Council with design alternatives;
- City Council will discuss design alternatives and at that point make a policy decision about bike lanes or other facilities and proceed with reconstruction.
The public will have a chance to participate in the Council meetings, but as we know, a couple of minutes at the microphone is not sufficient to meaningfully shape any project, much less one as significant as this. It’s important that we’re prepared to talk in detail about what will be necessary to fit bike lanes in. Will we have to widen the boulevard, and by how much? Do traffic lanes have to be 11 feet wide, or can we experiment with different widths to open space sufficient for an on-boulevard lane?
Scoping is about nailing down the key aspects of the project before proceeding to design. If bi-directional boulevards are not included in council direction, we won’t have any opportunity to insert them later. Once the project is scoped and guidance provided by Council to Transportation, the division will work with a firm to translate that direction into design alternatives.
Design is the next crucial phase. We want to shape those designs to represent the needs of active transportation users. Will it be a bike lane or a full-on active transportation corridor with sidewalks and/or a running path? How will mass transit service integrate into the streetscape? How will traffic conflicts be managed at intersections?
Traffic engineers can provide answers to those technical problems, but it is the community that has to press our vision of a transformed Santa Monica Boulevard Corridor upon the policymakers. [More about the transportation planning process.]
Our Next Steps
Aside from the reconstruction, Aaron said that the city is interested in moving forward on a bike rack program. We’ve long advocated a rack-on-request program, and other cities already have such programs, and now it seems like Beverly Hills may too. Transportation division expects to hire an intern in the next week or two to work the program.
Aaron also said the city was finalizing a contract with an engineering firm to provide as-needed support for the bike routes pilot program. This should enable our short-handed division to move forward on identifying possible improvements for the four pilot project alternatives (see the map above) before selecting one or more routes for improvement.
Other areas for improvement include the city developing online materials for rider and motorist education; developing policies that would mandate the inclusion of bike racks in every public and private garage; and identifying reforms to the municipal code to encourage, rather than discourage, cycling in the city.
We have our work cut out for us. And make no mistake, making streets safe for cyclists is a political process throughout. Need it be so political? We need to have a broader discussion about why it’s not viewed as simply a matter of safety, which would make it squarely the responsibility of policymakers, transportation officials, and engineers. We’re ready to have that discussion.
In the meantime, look for the next meeting of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee in late October or early November, two months after our last, late-August meeting as was agreed. Sign up for our email newsletter to be kept abreast of progress.