Last week the Traffic & Parking Commission took public comment about the five corridors identified by the Bike Plan Update Committee for potential bike-friendly improvements. Today the full Commission met in special session to determine the committee’s recommendation to City Council. The good news: The 3-2 split Traffic & Parking Commission recommended three corridors for possible bike-friendly improvements. The bad news: the commission declined to recommend the two most congested routes, Beverly and Charleville, and the majority expressed concerns with even the three routes that they did recommend. Let’s recap this important advisory vote.
After a brief introduction by Transportation planner Martha Eros and a feasibility study presentation by Fehr & Peers engineer Sarah Brandenburg, the Commission turned the hearing over to public comment. Sixteen members of the public addressed the Commission (about two-thirds being residents) about the proposal for possibly improving Beverly and Crescent drives (north-south), Charleville and Carmelita (east-west), and a late add-on, Burton Way. On balance, eleven spoke generally or specifically in support of the Bike Route Pilot program.
- Alexis Lantz, Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, bicycled across town from Silver Lake to hail the effort and to recommend that the city reconsider bicycle boulevards, roundabouts, and other traffic-calming measures not addressed here but that make city streets safer. (Full disclosure: Better Bike is a LACBC affiliate member organization, but we’d agree regardless!)
- West Hollywood Transportation Commission member David Eichman praised the Beverly Hills effort as he spoke to support regional connectivity. He stressed the need for cooperation in “creating more safe bicycle routes” across the Westside and added, “We’re excited that you’re looking at making Beverly Hills bike-friendly, and a Carmelita route would pick up where West Hollywood lanes leave off.”
- A north side resident urged the commission not to approve any routes because “they are very unsafe and are a threat to our property values” and would slow traffic. “A lane [sic] on Carmelita would create an unforeseen hazard at our driveway and invite outside people to use our private areas.” (Note: only sharrows were proposed for Carmelita.)
- Another north side resident said that “parking traffic” spillover from the business triangle offices and a nearby church was a nuisance on Carmelita, and that tour bus traffic and motorists created “unsafe and dangerous” conditions as she pulled out of her driveway. “We moved here to be in a residential neighborhood, not a 24-7 bike route,” she added.
- One north side resident said he “totally rejects all of these routes and disagrees with the findings,” calling school-related congestion at Rexford & Carmelita “dangerous” and said that sharrows on Carmelita would invite out-of-towners, cause accidents, and precipitate litigation against the city because cyclists don’t obey stop signs. “People would suffer a major loss of our property values,” he said.
- A south side resident said that she liked Beverly Hills because “you can do errands by bike, but it’s terrifying.” Commenting on an earlier remark, she added, “Instead of concern for property values, I’d think they would want an environment that is safer where they could bike with their children and parents.” [Zing!]
- One resident rejected property values as a criterion but bemoaned the “arrogance and self-entitlement” of cyclists. Saying he’d been “flipped off,” he concluded, “There’s no reason to provide these people with that attitude with bike routes.”
- A south side resident said, “I live and work here and represent a community that doesn’t own a car, so [to us] bike-friendly is important.” Conceding that she herself was not an experienced rider, she said that she rode her bike to this hearing but called the experience “scary” and praised the Crescent route (though preferring a bike lane over sharrows) and added, “I don’t get why it turns down [Reeves] but that’s cool.”
- A north side resident identified Crescent between Santa Monica and Sunset as “the most heavily-traveled corridor to and from the Valley” but objected to a bike route. “This is not a commercial district or mixed-use but a resident neighborhood already taxed with traffic – and we pay our taxes.”
- A West Hollywood resident cautioned that he does stop at stop signs when he bikes to work in Beverly Hills but said that many do not. “Outreach and education for cyclists and motorists is important” and sharrows merely communicate to riders and drivers “what’s already in state law,” he said. He added, roads are made for all road users regardless of mode of travel and cited a study that showed property values actually increased with proximity to bike lanes.
- One north side resident said he was “interested in bike lanes” for north Crescent and Beverly drives as an avid rider. Some drivers treat Beverly as a 4-lane thoroughfare, he said, so calming traffic and tamping down motorist misbehavior was a good idea. “Bike lanes there might take space out of the road.” Carmelita, however, was “unnecessary” given the light overall traffic there.
- Another north side resident said she “won’t ride a bike but I’m for bike routes.” But she argued for a “reduced scope” for the Pilot, adding that north Beverly Drive traffic is too fast and tourists already detract from the beauty of the neighborhood. (“Reduced scope” was not described further.)
- South side resident who “fully support bike lanes” said that cycle commuting was growing in popularity and she herself had experienced bike accidents when her business partner and cousin “were hit by cars.” She said lanes would encourage kids to bike, so “why can’t we create safe conditions for them?”
- South side resident and self-proclaimed avid cyclist who understood the concern said that people will take their own route from A-to-B but that he prefers bike lanes particularly for routes “connecting through town.” He suggested we create lanes to join existing West Hollywood lanes with those in Century City.
- One non-resident lamented what he heard to be a “bicycle witch hunt” and said that he finds the streets here to be inhospitable to cyclists in his decade riding here. “I’m a stopper, he said, asking, “Why Charleville? There are stop signs every 100 feet and many cyclists don’t stop. To cross town I’ll drop down Doheney to Olympic.”
Commissioners Jeff Levine, Alan Grushcow, Lester Friedman, Andy Licht, and Julie Steinberg (Chair) listened very attentively. (That’s the virtue of a small city.) With public comment wrapped up, we were off to the races!
Commissioner Levine, from the Bike Plan Update Committee, started off with a brief overview of the Pilot process and noted that “many hours of work” went into it. “Unless there is some reason otherwise,” he said, “I believe that we should recommend as many routes as possible.” Commissioner Grushcow (the other commissioner from the committee) reminded the commission that City Council had already identified bike-friendly improvements as a priority. He then called bike-friendly improvements a “win-win” for the community and added:
It is 2012 and bikes are part of the discussion. Every single community is putting together studies – the City of Los Angeles has been for years now. We can’t avoid it. There is concern, support, even fear, but it has to be addressed because it’s on the table in every community. It is not about ‘the bikers’ or the drivers but it is about everybody, and we have to get along.
But the balance of the commission was not entirely persuaded, and by a 3-2 vote the split commission declined to recommend the five routes as a package. Before taking them individually, the commissioners expressed concerns about safety and effectiveness.
Commissioner Lester Friedman sparked the discussion by focusing on rider behavior. “The speakers indicated a lack of [cyclist] observance of stop signs. Would bike lanes or sharrows increase or decrease the likelihood of stopping?” Consultant Sarah Brandenburg replied that sharrows do increase the margin of safety because motorists are alerted to the presence of cyclists, and added that enforcement was one of the “three Es” (along with engineering and education) that the city should consider.
Chair Steinberg said she too was concerned about safety, and traffic flow. Without enforcement, she said, “we’ll be a place where people run stop signs.” And speaking of Carmelita Drive in particular, she noted that cyclists already cause motorists to “stack up” at the intersections and thus impede traffic flow. “[As Chair] I already get calls saying, ‘I almost hit a bicycle.’I would be assuaged if the bike community would stop at stop signs.”
Commissioner Friedman also wondered whether sharrows (the facility suitable for 70 of 80 route segments analyzed) give a “false sense of security” to cyclists who shouldn’t feel so secure on our congested streets. Wouldn’t cyclists actually be more cautious without them?
Commissioner Levine replied that no, sharrows didn’t detract from safety but rather “increase driver awareness and make each [road user] sensitive to the others.” Commissioner Grushcow agreed: “Sharrows help people to feel safe and they help to educate the community.” There was no real discussion of bike lanes, though Chair Steinberg did concede that as a driver she’s more alert to the presence of cyclists when lanes are nearby, as they are in West Hollywood for example.
When the discussion focused on South Beverly and Charleville, commissioners moved from the theoretical to the practical. They expressed the concern that any bike facility would negatively impact traffic.
Commissioner Friedman called Charleville “an absolute mess” and said that sharrows would only compound the problem. “Drivers will be driving in the center of the road” to avoid the sharrows, he said, and Commissioner Licht seconded that. “Charleville is narrow and it will get more narrow.” He then said that his kids are more aware of traffic without that false sense of security and choose to ride on the sidewalk. (Note: sidewalk riding in Beverly Hills is not legal.) Commissioner Licht then said flatly that there isn’t room for bike facilities on a street like Charleville – or indeed many others. “What streets have room for bike lanes? Certain streets weren’t designed for sharrows and bike lanes.”
He then asked whether cyclists wouldn’t ride if there were sharrows or not. Following that line of reasoning, Chair Steinberg questioned the demand for bike facilities. “I don’t think that there’s a huge number of bicycle riders [though] we do have a lot of cars.” Commissioner Friedman then got right to the zero-sum argument: “I’m torn on this because the majority are motorists and there are not that many cyclists,” he said. “Are we giving more to the minority and taking away from the majority?”
Reflecting on the commissioners’ concern about sharrows on Charleville, Commissioner Grushcow, who lives on the south side of town, commented:
I’m in shock. I live in the world of narrow streets and it’s families and bike riders every day, and they’re not really impeding traffic. In that area they need bike routes and a choice [of transportation]. In the beginning I had the same concerns, but I’ve worked my way through this. We, as a community, have to adjust our driving and our thinking.
He waved it off Commissioner Friedman’s suggestion that sharrows were “a new experience” for motorists. “Everyone who drives here drives in other communities and drives over sharrows in those communities. They’re out there. People will accommodate.” He added that sharrows “fits into our [Pilot] strategy, our testing, and our ability to give everyone the heads-up – that the road is a shared resource and everyone has to use it with common courtesy.” Commissioner Grushcow offered the most clear and specific support for bike-friendly improvements of the evening.
How They Voted
The Commissioners first voted not to recommend all five routes as a package and then split on the routes individually. Only commissioners Levine and Grushcow – the two commissioners who attended the community meetings with cyclists – voted to recommend all of the routes. The tally:
Burton Way and Carmelita sailed through. Burton is sufficiently wide and runs through a multifamily area. And because the boundary with City of Los Angeles is staggered on that corridor, there’s not much mileage actually in Beverly Hills (good from the city’s perspective). Hooking up with Los Angeles future improvements there is a no-brainer. (Burton passed the commission by a 5-0 vote.)
Carmelita is relatively wide curb-to-curb and low traffic volume there means sharrows are not a challenge to implement. And in light of residents concerns, it turns out that no homes actually front on the boulevard anyway. (Carmelita got the nod on a 4-1 vote.)
But at this point, Chair Julie Steinberg began to express reservations. “I’m in favor, but how many bicycles will use these routes?” she asked. Crescent Drive highlighted the commission’s split: it squeaked by on a 3-2 vote, but both Beverly and Charleville fell on a solid bloc of ‘no’ votes from the three-member commission majority.
Commissioners Levine and Grushcow cited various reasons to support all five routes, including maintaining competitive advantage relative to other cities (Levine) and the need to recognize that planning for cycling is not only timely but unavoidable (Grushcow).
Their support was a surprise because we had no clear idea where they stood on safety issues related to cycling, and frankly we at Better Bike expected the worst. But we couldn’t have been more wrong; they came out strongly for cyclists even as the other commissioners in the three-member majority – Lester Friedman, Andy Licht, and Chair Julie Steinberg – refused to recommend routes that most affect cyclists. In fact, their comments most reflected the motorist perspective and didn’t particularly express concern for the experience of cyclists on our busy streets.
The split commission suggests the work that lies ahead for cycling advocates before City Council hears the Pilot routes (likely in late-June). Note that the Council is not bound by this recommendation (though the commission plays an important advisory role). At that time we will hear finally, and without ambiguity, which way the active transportation winds blow in Beverly Hills, so we should heed the suggestion of this early breeze and prepare accordingly. Read our recap of the process that got us here! And read more about the Pilot and our analysis of the feasibility study.