Given the legendary congestion and mobility challenges facing Beverly Hills, couldn’t we could use a crack engineering outfit to get us moving more smartly? A firm with experience, say, in bicycle planning, and maybe with plans already in hand to help us boost walking and cycling near transit hubs. And what if we had that firm on contract? The possibilities: we could integrate into our plans Complete Streets principles and develop a real network of bike-friendly streets. Hey wait a minute – we’ve already got that firm on retainer – Fehr & Peers! And of course they already did conduct our bike route feasibility study. So why is that study so bereft of innovations that we see in surrounding cities?
Fehr & Peers is the engineering firm that you’d like to have on your side. The staff walk the talk and embrace active transportation in their daily commute, according to the firm’s outreach materials at least. Steeped in a corporate culture that’s “always looking to find a better way,” the can-do spirit and “creativity and problem-solving attitudes” the firm brings to the job suggests success. You got a problem? They’ve got a solution. You want acronyms? They’ve got those too: GPS, GIS, LOS, TDF, and TAZ, just to name a few. (It is an engineering firm after all.)
This firm knows that roadway planning influences walkable and bikable communities and that transportation professionals have a responsibility to make our streets complete and accessible for all road users. For cyclists, Fehr and Peers has bikeway design down cold:
Designing bikeways for bicyclists and other roadway users is a complex and rapidly evolving professional engineering discipline. Effective design of bicycle facilities requires a broad base of knowledge and significant expertise…Fehr & Peers provides clients with the necessary expertise to implement a wide range of bikeway types in varied urban, suburban and rural settings in response to the specific vision and needs of each community.
So why is our Beverly Hills Bike Route Pilot feasibility study by Fehr and Peers so utterly lacking in imagination?
When our Transportation officials assigned the study to the firm, it shackled the consultant by specifying preconditions that precluded change to traffic flow or parking. In other words, the city said to the people to whom we turned for mobility advice, Tell us how to make our city better for cyclists but still allow motorists run of the place.
Every mobility consultant knows that in order to move from an auto-centered transportation paradigm to a post-auto multimodal future, we have to make some changes in how we organize our streets. The old practice of simply turning over blacktop to motorists won’t cut it if we’re to provide safe cycling facilities on city streets that were created nearly a century ago. But we can do it. In the 19th century, engineers looked at chaotic cities where pedestrians collided with horse carriages and saw the need for sidewalks. The engineers then specified what an appropriate, safe pedestrian walk would look like – width and elevation off the street – and it was done. Today we take it for granted.
Cyclists are in the same position today as pedestrians were then. We’re mixed in with motor traffic without sufficient provisions to share the blacktop safely. But we can re-engineer our streets for maximum safety. And yes, sometimes it requires a change to parking and traffic flow.
Behold this example from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, which shows what a street re-engineered for universal access actually looks like:
What Pottstown did was to reduce the lanes for vehicular travel from two to one in each direction and use the liberated space to provide a dedicated bike lane; increase the buffer space between motor traffic and parked vehicles; and increase parking capacity on one side by changing from parallel to angled.
That corridor looks quite a bit like our own South Beverly Drive, doesn’t it? Were our city thinking outside the box, we might consider a ‘road diet’ for South Beverly too in order to remember that the street is for people and not only motor traffic. With that extra space we could create bike lanes or provide a mid-street buffer. We could also follow the Pottstown example by reversing the angle of parking in order to increase the visibility from the driver’s perspective when exiting the spot. These changes could make that street more pleasant and welcoming – and not only to cyclists.
Our own city plans call for multimodal transportation on city streets. According to our 2009 draft Beverly Hills Sustainable City Plan (2009), for example, “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways” (a plan objective) means simply implementing strategies that “reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.”That’s a necessary step if we are to reduce traffic congestion by walk and riding whenever possible, as the plan suggests of us.
Fehr and Peers certainly has the engineering experience to recommend these improvements. But as the Fehr and Peers representative told attendees to the two public bike plan outreach meetings to date, such “long term improvements” like real bike lanes, intersection safety upgrades, or new treatments like traffic circles (in lieu of 4-way stop signs) must wait. “Nothing like that is envisioned right now,” consultant Sarah Brandenburg said in highlighting “what we can for cyclists today.” For 90% of the identified bike routes, though, that means only a painted ‘sharrow’ on the pavement.