On today’s Beverly Hills City Council study session (2:30 p.m.) agenda was item #5: Review Proposed Pilot Bicycle Routes. In many other cities, that could suggest another step in bike improvements implementation. In Beverly Hills, it barely scratches the surface of bike planning. Indeed it is the first time that City Council has substantively discussed improvements in open session, and we were very interested to know where the Council would come down on the agendized proposal as well as bike planning in general.
But this afternoon we never got that far. See, the study session agenda is often a bit overloaded, and as a closed session item begged attention we could finally hear only from two of five councilmembers. And there wasn’t much time to flesh out the key issues.
Now that would seem to be an anticlimax; we’ve been bending the city’s ear for two years about bike routes. And cyclists have been meeting with Transportation officials since Summer of 2011. So seeing the item slip off the agenda (to be continued another day) could have been very disappointing. But as we argued in an editorial posted earlier today, we’re not sure that proceeding right now is the best course of action anyway. From our perspective, leaving the issue dangling (are we mixing metaphors or simply succumbing to prurience?) without direction from City Council – much less a firm mandate – might be a positive step.
First up was Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, who gave a brief overview of the Bike Route Pilot process to date. We’ve been somewhat critical of that process (heck, very critical) but we will give him his due for presenting to Council this issue with a neutral valence.
Aaron mentioned an item of keen interest to cyclists – possible bi-directional Santa Monica Boulevard bike lanes – and noted that Council has indicated interest in including them as part of that corridors reconstruction. But the bad news is that it looks like we’ll be waiting another 18 months or so to find out if lanes are even included in the design as the project won’t even be undertaken until after our centennial anniversary. It looks like we’ll wait a while longer, too, on other elements to make Beverly Hills more bike-friendly: bike racks and that long-awaited Bike Master Plan update. In the meantime, how about some help for the busted blacktop?
Next, Mayor Brien tossed it to the public. This is where it usually gets interesting because non-cycling stakeholders bring a completely different perspective. Often a windshield-framed perspective (as did the majority of our Traffic & Parking Committee). But as we’ve seen, some stakeholders who turn out express views framed by the picture window.
The first commenter lived off Carmelita, of one of the Commission-recommended bike routes. (“Off” because no dwellings actually front on it.) She offered several specific complaints: insufficient notice (“day before”); the impracticality of designating this particular route (“…twenty-two cross streets, 22 alleyways and 48 driveways”); and a not-previously voiced objection to sharrows (the shared-lane marking) as an “ugly tattoo” on the street and one unfamiliar to drivers.
We’ll claim the publisher’s prerogative here and comment briefly. Sharrows are an accepted state Department of Transportation marking and are being applied across the region (which Aaron confirmed), so there’s no legitimate basis to object to the marking itself. But on her first two points we can find some common cause: we have repeatedly complained about day-before notice to cyclists for our meetings with city officials; and second, yes Carmelita IS an inconvenience to cyclists given all those stops. Plus, we agreed with the commenter when she added, “I do believe we need bike routes.” Just not near her home, she said. On that we don’t necessarily agree.
The second speaker announced himself a longtime resident and surgeon who has seen the results of car-bike collisions up close in the trauma center, but then went on to decry the proposed bike routes. “We don’t have to be like big cities,” he said – an argument that does find purchase in Beverly Hills. But he went on to note a recent Nissan car commercial and then made some ‘refer madness’ type arguments about the impropriety of bike routes. (Honestly we couldn’t follow it and the meeting audio isn’t yet posted. We’ll update ASAP.)
Third up was Eric Weinstein, Santa Monica resident, licensed cycling instructor and LACBC member, who expressed support for the pilot routes and Carmelita in particular. He made the argument that cycling is transportation, which we feel is the best argument for leaning on transportation planners to uphold their responsibility to create streets friendly to all road users.
Fourth up: Yours truly noted our concerns with the process and highlighted the planning no-no that put bike route selection wholly outside of the city’s transportation planning. And we noted that the process proceeded without reference to safety data or even the existing Bike Master Plan. Needless to say (but we said it) the proposal was generated without regard for a real network concept. [Transcription to follow.]
Finally, lending a synoptic perspective to the situation, Traffic & Parking Commission (and ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee) member Alan Grushcow spoke about the effort that the Commission put in – all volunteer, by the way – and praised the staff (all paid). “Beverly Hills is not San Francisco,” he said. “We’re trying to direct this [pilot] program to a diverse group, to the many people who ride. We have to keep this in perspective – the bike plan [sic] as proposed will not change much – it’s sharrows, it’s about discipline for riders and drivers. People are biking today and will bike tomorrow” so we must accommodate them.
The Mayor then tossed it to Councilmember Gold, who promptly questioned the extent to which cyclists don’t obey traffic controls. “Did we have people on the street watching bicyclists obeying stop signs?” No formal survey was done, Aaron replied. “I live near Carmelita,” the councilmember said. “In the analysis, was there a focused look at the safety aspects?” Aaron said there is some running of stop signs (to which the City Manager hastened to add that both cyclists and motorists run them), but that the proposed sharrows there should only raise awareness about sharing the road.
(We should also add that since we started badgering the city two years ago, we have seen our Transportation folks become much better acquainted with bike issues and, in particular, the measures that other cities are taking to make cycling marginally more safe. We credit the high-profile City of Los Angeles efforts with beginning to change up the game here in Beverly Hills.)
Our consultant from Fehr & Peers agreed, and said that the greater hazard for cyclists was getting ‘doored’ by drivers who open the doors of their parked car without looking. (Fatalities do occur we are reminded, and it is against state law to open the door without ensuring that there is no oncoming traffic.) “They are more likely to get doored?” the Councilman asked? (Yes.)
After some back and forth about specific route issues, he asked whether in light of Better Bike’s concerns, would the Commission agree that the process was “incomplete”? Commissioner Grushcow noted our broader perspective and concern with leading-edge cities (Santa Monica, Long Beach, West Hollywood) and said tactfully:
They did complete studies [in those cities] but we said that our geography is not West Hollywood, Culver City or Santa Monica, that our core is commercial and our streets are residential. This [pilot route] plan is a good first step – it brings some order to…not a chaotic, I’d say disorganized, world. It’s 2012 and a different world than ten or even two years ago. Bikes are taking a more prominent position….We should give it a try.
Councilmember Bosse had her turn. She said that notification is important and then seized on the number of stops on both Carmelita and Charleville. And she was clear in her thinking. “I will not support Carmelita with 21 stops and 42 feet wide – it’s dangerous. Cars and bikes don’t stop,” she said, suggesting safety concerns. She doubted that caution at every intersection would prevail. “Charleville is the same and that route is only 35′ wide. So for me, both Carmelita and Charleville are no-go.” She added, “We’re moving ahead, and bikes are the wave of the future, but we’re not there yet.”
With that the agenda item had to close, to resume in study session at an unspecified date. Of course we’ll keep you informed about Council action, and also about an effort taking shape to bring the schools into the street safety conversation. Stay tuned.
[Update: Council again continued the Pilot discussion on 7/26 to date uncertain.]
This study session was our first opportunity to understand where our City Council stood on the Pilot Bike Route proposal and cycling and bike planning more generally. But we didn’t get to find out. On the conservative end of the spectrum, Councilmember Gold’s view was expected. No surprise there. The preceding agenda item – reexamination of city policy on condominium conversions and impacts on displaced renters – somewhat presaged his position on the bike issue.
But Councilmember Bosse’s views are as yet unknown but likely nuanced. She’s served on the Planning Commission and, as we ourselves saw, she is both knowledgeable and a close reader of policy. And she’s very engaged. She’s unlikely to take a reflexive stance and her working of the issue may well suggest an unexpected alternative. Her position on both the proposed routes is provocative, though, because in Beverly Hills every intersection not signaled is a 4-way stop. There are no alternatives outside of the main arteries. She may well support bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard, taking pressure off of Carmelita as an alternative (as position we would support), but how to serve the southern side of town where bike use is already more prevalent? Inquiring minds want to know.