The ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met for the third time on November 16th with representatives from the Beverly Hills cycling community. This was the latest in a bi-monthly series to bring the city & bike community together. We last met in August to discuss the our need for bike-friendly facilities and programs, and to identify candidate bike corridors for a pilot program here in the city. Here is the recap from this third meeting, with comment to follow in subsequent posts.
Unlike previous meetings, Chair Levine noted that this was a public hearing, indicated that it would be recorded, and set a very tight time for duration: just one hour and fifteen minutes (a limitation not previously mentioned or indicated on the agenda itself). In attendance were about 17 bike community members*, including two who remarked on recent collisions. Three commissioners from the parent body, the Traffic & Parking Commission, Jeff Levine (chair), Alan Grushcow, and Ira Friedman, presided.
The committee is self-tasked with bringing our outdated bike plan up to date, as well as moving ahead on specific bike improvements. It operates as an ad-hoc body, which means that it need not meet regularly, nor adhere to state requirements for public meetings.
On the agenda was 1) a presentation by Fehr & Peers, which was retained by the city to assess bike facility opportunities for each of the four potential pilot project corridors (selected in the last meeting); 2) a review of progress on bike-related initiatives by the Transportation division, which has engaged an intern to focus on same; and 3) a general discussion about problem intersections and how to make them more safe for cyclists, a last-minute addition to the agenda).
1) Pilot Project Presentation
Fehr & Peers was retained by the city to examine four candidate corridors chosen at the last meeting to assess suitability for bike facilities. The routes are: Carmelita, Charleville, Crescent and Beverly Drive. Two are north-south and two are east-west.The criteria discussed in that August meeting included 1) value to regional transportation connectivity; 2) utility as linking city schools; 3) current usage levels by cyclists; and perhaps most important for a pilot program, 4) “learning value” of applying new (to Beverly Hills) bike-friendly facilities or improvements to a corridor. The expectation is that lessons could be applied to other corridors.
Fehr was charged with coming back to the committee and the community with options for these four different corridors. The firm was represented by civil engineer Sarah Brandenberg; she presented findings from this “high-level” study, which is intended to “give something to cyclists in the city…food for thought,” she said. But the study didn’t include long-term bike improvements. And the opportunities presented here “were not analyzed in any level of detail,” she added.
More significant was the constraint: the premise for this feasibility analysis was that any options evaluated “would not impact car travel or existing parking.” That precluded any outside-the-box thinking on improvements like ‘road diets’ to calm traffic, of course – a safety measure that is currently being rolled out in cities like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.
From a process perspective, such constraint was not previously discussed in our Bike Plan Update meetings; that instruction provided to Fehr by the city. It necessarily shaped the options evaluated and presented; without considering a wider set of opportunities, perhaps this feasibility analysis functions best as a survey of conditions. Handouts were provided to illustrate each route, existing characteristics like width and parking, and provide an overview of possible improvements. (When PDFs are available, Better Bike will review them route-by-route.)
The constraint was material to how the evaluated options were presented. South Beverly Drive, for example, is a key commercial district; it is included in the city’s pedestrian district and is well-used by cyclists today (as suggested by the bikes attached to parking meters). But the Beverly Drive corridor is also congested. It’s somewhat dangerous for cyclists, who are often seen riding on the sidewalks (illegal in that district).
But the Fehr presentation somewhat discounted the corridor as a candidate route because of those issues, rather than prioritizing it as an already well-used destination (which was one of the original four criteria identified in the prior meeting with the bike community).
In Brief, The Routes Discussed & Findings
Carmelita (42′ wide, parking both sides, 25 mph limit). The key challenge to this northerly alternative to Santa Monica Blvd. is continuity: at the eastern and western ends it terminates at non-controlled intersections on busy thoroughfares (SM and Wilshire, respectively). Carmelita also crosses several busy north/south boulevards without signals (only stop signs – and a total of 18 stop signs on this route inhibit fluid travel). The width is also insufficient for striped lanes, the study found, as parking is allowed on both sides. A ‘shared lane marking’ or sharrow would be appropriate, Sarah added.
It’s worth noting that Carmelita has long been identified by the city as an alternative bike route to Santa Monica Blvd. on-street bike lanes. That proposal envisioned a single, eastbound bike lane on Santa Monica and a westbound bike lane on Carmelita. Were Carmelita considered as a designated bike route for both east and west travel, with dual bike lanes, connections to those thoroughfares might present significant obstacles to eastbound travel in particular, however.
Charleville (35′ wide, parking both sides, 25mph limit). Charleville was identified by the bike community in the prior meeting as a popular east/west route that usefully parallels Wilshire (but one block south). It serves as a regional connector (another identified criterion) between Century City and Mid-City Los Angeles. It was also noted to connect several schools (which was another identified selection criterion). Charleville, too, is very stop-and-go: every intersection is controlled by stop signs. But unlike Carmelita, key intersections like Doheny, Robertson, and Beverly are controlled by signals. Width is too is too narrow for bike lanes given existing two-sided parking. Sharrows here would suffice too, Sarah said.
The city has resisted looking at Charleville as a practical bike route. The narrow width mandates lane-sharing, yet busy through traffic and the significant volume of in/out parking activity between Reeves and Rexford, adjacent to a mixed-use and commercial areas, presents a safety challenge for cyclists.
Beverly Drive and Crescent Drive, both key north/south streets, are wide (60′ and 50′ respectively) and 2-lane and will accommodate on-street bike lanes north of Santa Monica Blvd. These routes are already relatively safe to ride, however. The challenge lies to the south, in the business triangle and beyond, where they both change character.
South of Santa Monica, Beverly maintains its width but expands from 2-lane to a 5-lane configuration (4 travel and one center/turn lane) and hosts parallel parking on both sides. Below Wilshire, diagonal parking nibbles further into the travel area, requiring the elimination of the center turn lane. At Olympic, though, Beverly splits into two southbound boulevards, each of which connect with City of Los Angeles and eventually Culver City.
Crescent Drive, on the other hand expands below Santa Monica to 56′ wide; it accommodates 4 lanes and parallel parking, but south of Wilshire it narrows considerably (to 30′) – yet maintains dual-side parallel parking. That makes for a very narrow travel lane (which already slows traffic considerably). Because Crescent narrows south of Wilshire, the feasibility assessment suggested that an alternative route might jog west on Charleville to Reeves, where it turns left. Reeves has parking only on one side, leaving a relatively wide roadway.
As pointed out by Planning Commission member Brian Rosenstein, Reeves is considerably busy with spillover from the adjacent Beverly Drive corridor. (As a resident on Reeves I can attest that road speeds from circling traffic routinely approach 50mph for that one-block stretch.)
The other challenge with the jogged alignment is that it would terminate at Olympic Blvd. because there is no through route to the south. At Olympic it simply comes to an end. Moreover, for the cyclist looking to continue south, she is forced to ether 1) cross Wilshire to enter the left turn pocket (facing west) for the left-hand turn; or 2) to cross both Beverly and Beverwill in the crosswalk.
Attendees asked a number of questions concerning the evaluation of the routes and options (with responses in parentheses):
- How well will it serve destinations? Places people actually want to go?
- Did you do any of your surveying by bike? (“No, we did our observations in a car…I prefer to ride in a bike lane or with sharrows.”)
- Were single-direction bike lanes considered in this analysis? (“No, we couldn’t do a one-way lane without a parallel facility” on the other side.)
- Was Gregory considered [as an alternative to Charleville]? (“No, it doesn’t have the continuity that Charleville does.”)
- Back-in parallel parking is safer for both cyclists and motorists. On Beverly it makes sense, and its where people want to go.
- We need physical barriers to illegal left turns, like on Crescent near Whole Foods and South Beverly, near the parking garage. With sharrows there, turning cars will scoot between cyclists. (“In Santa Monica they’re putting sharrows on streets like Beverly Drive.”)
- These routes are fine, but are they attaching to anything else? Charleville connects to the bike route on Santa Monica in Century City.
Several (including yours truly) questioned the conditions imposed on the analysis: no effect on vehicular flow, and no change in parking arrangements. These constraints precluded lanes on all but the northerly reaches of Beverly and Crescent drives. The city adjusts parking regulations all the time – it’s a regular agenda item for the Traffic & Parking Commission – so why not consider rearranging parking where it would open up additional options, like on Carmelita or Charleville, where curbside parking precludes class II (on-street) bike lanes entirely?
Aaron explained that the city has no bike facilities now, and suggested their gradual introduction to take the temperature of the community. “It’s what we can get now – the low-hanging fruit – to get us started,” he said. “If we removed parking as a first step, it could derail [further improvements]… In the future, if this takes off, if cycling increases, maybe parking can be removed.”
“What We Can Get Now”
The “what we can get now” theme surfaced repeatedly because political considerations are important. “Our first idea for this committee is to get the discussion to other facilities… to measure the community’s reaction to bicycles,” Aaron said. Consultant Sarah also reiterated the theme, suggesting that with no facilities currently in place anywhere in the city, modest measures (like sharrows) might be prudent. “This is not Mars,” cyclists Rick Risemberg said of Beverly Hills. “Residents here have seen bike lanes; they travel throughout the region.”
But with four candidate routes identified and now analyzed (according to the city’s constraints), the process appears beyond further participation specifically by the cycling community. This pilot program feasibility analysis was presented as an informational item: though questions were taken and answered, it’s not clear that the bike community’s input during this meeting has any bearing on which routes are selected, or how options might be considered by the Traffic & Parking Commission. In the end, “The Council drives everything,” Aaron said.
To a question about the timeline for the pilot program, Aaron said, “I don’t want to commit. I’m anticipating at the beginning of next year going to the community – public outreach – on one or more of these [routes].” When pressed, Aaron said, “Our goal is in the next four months: first to the community, then to Traffic & Parking Commission” and finally to City Council.
2) The Bike Facilities Update
The Transportation Division’s new intern, Elias, presented a spreadsheet identifying the business triangle’s 22 bike racks (including those at the library). In an advance over the division’s previous bike map (read more about it), the current effort notes exact locations, describes the type of rack, and attaches pictures, with the eventual goal of posting the information online. Elias said that the data would provide a basis for moving past the business triangle when installing new racks, perhaps next along the South Beverly commercial corridor.
“We’ll get this on the web,” Aaron said, “then develop guidelines for other areas.” When asked about a rack-on-request program, Elias responded, “We’ve been talking about it.” [Indeed, Better Bike has been talking with Transportation for the better part of this year about creating a rack-on-request program, and was under the impression that the effort was the focus of the new intern’s bike efforts. Evidently the map has been the sole focus.]
3) Intersection Safety
The meeting concluded with a discussion of intersection safety, an item added relatively late to the agenda at the request of Better Bike upon hearing about another cyclist injury collision – this one at Olympic & South Beverly. Given already documented problems with the Santa Monica & Wilshire intersection, we suggested that intersection safety be a focus of the Traffic & Parking Commission. But it was instead referred to this committee.
Bike community members suggested guidance for cyclists through the intersections to avoid some of the present ambiguity and confusion, as well as innovations like a ‘bike box’ that puts the cyclist ahead of motor traffic at the stoplight prior to moving through the intersection.
Aaron said that both intersections were identified in the city’s capital improvement program: Olympic & Beverly as a $1 million project and SM/Wilshire in conjunction with reconstruction of the boulevard. With no firm plans for Olympic/Beverly at present, and SM Blvd. reconstruction slated to conclude in 2013 (Hilton Hotel development is uncertain and is a complicating factor here), safer conditions won’t be soon in coming, he suggested. “In the meantime we’ll look at re-striping” options, he said.
4) Next Steps
The next ad-hoc committee meeting is scheduled for January 18th (again at 5pm) where Transportation will work on formalizing a workplan (requested at the first ad-hoc meeting) and establishing a timetable to get the pilot program to City Council.
There was no timetable discussed for finalizing or posting of the bike rack map, nor was one indicated for the rack-on-request program. Though discussed, no timetable was offered for posting a bike-focused webpage on the city’s website.
Recap: the Tone & Tenor of the Meeting
When asked what kind of outreach the city had done for these meetings, perhaps to other city departments or commissions, Chair Levine suggested that there hadn’t been extensive outreach, saying, “Well, this is an exclusive group. Our outreach was to get the core ridership together.”
When asked if the next meeting time could be pushed back from 5pm to perhaps 6 or 7pm to accommodate those who work days, Chair Levine was non-committal. “No promises. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll keep you posted.”
That about summed up the tone and tenor of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee meeting, from the arbitrary 1-¼ hour duration announcement to the “We’ll keep you posted.” It seems like we in the bike community are on a need-to-know basis when it comes to road facilities that would make our travel though Beverly Hills more safe and secure.
* Unfortunately, not all cycling community interests could be represented. The 5pm Wednesday meeting precluded attendance for at least a couple of working folks, for whom an evening meeting is more convenient. Moving the meeting from Monday to Wednesday, too, raised a conflict for LACBC representatives who had attended earlier meetings. They were obligated to attend an organization board meeting downtown this afternoon.