Best Laid Plans….
Our Bicycle Master Plan (originally adopted in 1977 and re-adopted without change in 2010) anticipated that any citywide bicycle system must serve vehicular, utility, and recreational cyclists if it is to be effective in getting people out of single-occupancy cars. And that meant offering a viable transportation alternative to driving. “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available then people will bicycle more,” the plan says, and we agree.
The Bicycle Master Plan envisioned a 22-mile system that would be unrecognizable to the cyclists that attended these Pilot outreach meetings. Routes “unimpeded by stop signs,” for example, is but one of the recommendations. It also suggested improvements widely used in cities today, namely the “preferential lane for bicyclists” and bike paths that offer an exclusive, off-street place to cycle. Why doesn’t the Pilot program envision these improvements?
Indeed it is simply impossible to reconcile the good ideas and specific proposals included in the Bicycle Master Plan with the feasibility study because the latter simply ruled them out of consideration. You see, under the Pilot, cyclists will share the roads with motorists just as we do today. But the difference would be a painted ‘sharrow.’
We are sure that Fehr and Peers had better ideas; didn’t they share them with city officials? Or did city officials handcuff their own mobility consultant to limit the safety improvements that could be considered? Why can Pottstown, Pennsylvania do a better job at protecting all road users that we do in Beverly Hills?
What Is Not on the Table…
Several points are worth noting. First, innovations and improvements that make cycling safer – whether lanes or roundabouts or paths or whatever – are measures that increase road safety for everybody. We’re not labeling crosswalks a giveaway to pedestrians, of course; nor are we calling lane separation markers a sop to motorists. They all are necessary for safety and are prescribed in the state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (as are many cycling-related improvements). It’s about road safety, period.
Second, the Pilot feasibility study simply leaves many good ideas off the table. By imposing criteria like “no change to traffic flow or parking,” the city eliminates from consideration tried-and-tested measures that would increase cycling safety. Santa Monica and Long Beach and other cities find that bike lanes and traffic circles not only allow cyclists to flow better with vehicular traffic, they also bolster public perceptions of cycling safety. (When Better Bike worked the Earth Day Farmers Market in April, bike lanes were the most often suggested improvement.) Yet San Francisco is installing ‘bike boxes’ (right) to give cyclists a head start across busy intersections.
So we won’t be rolling out Class II bike lanes on heavily-cycled corridors, and we won’t be introducing segregated bikeways where motorist-cyclist conflict makes cycling less safe, and we won’t be introducing traffic-calming improvements (as deployed in bike-friendly communities). But we will possibly be painting sharrows on the pavement. Indeed for 90% of the route mileage under the Pilot program, painted sharrows are the only option. Fehr and Peers has rolled these good ideas elsewhere. Shouldn’t the firm argue for those improvements here too?
The Process is the Problem
It is not that cyclists didn’t suggest good improvements. We worked with our Transportation division and members of the Bike Plan Update Committee across five meetings to provide suggestions and to indicate problems with current conditions. We called out rutted pavement and bad grates on Santa Monica Blvd. We noted that intersections unsafe for cyclists. But none have been remedied to date. We also suggested the best places for lanes and even noted experimental treatments like reversing the angle of Beverly Drive pull-in parking. (Read more of our recap articles.)
Yet preconditions (“no change”) kept all of these good ideas off the table. Our subordinate place in the process was highlighted, too, when we were simply told that preconditions were invoked without any prior discussion among the community members who had attended prior meetings. We only learned of the “no change” precondition when presented with the feasibility study findings. That’s not good faith bike planning.
We have a perfectly capable mobility consultant on board to tell our city how to do it better, but we’re simply not listening. Fehr and Peers’s walk-the-talk ethos and corporate culture of innovation don’t do much for us when the firm is shackled by an unreasonable yet politically-palatable constraints like “no change to traffic flow or parking.” And cyclists, indeed all road users, are the poorer for it.
The city is now taking comments on the Pilot program’s feasibility study findings. Your input will help the Traffic & Parking Commission shape recommendations for City Council for improvements next year. We can do better, and you can tell our transportation officials as much.