City of Beverly Hills just released a request for proposals (RFP) for the reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard. It’s a big project that will reconfigure this most important and symbolic thoroughfare, and the RFP will guide contractors that bid on the project. It gives guidance about specific requirements but also communicates conceptually how we expect a new corridor to function. We’ve taken a look at the RFP to see what it suggests about our city’s interest in expanding mobility options on this heavily-traveled corridor, and we’re not heartened: it neither includes ‘complete streets’ principles nor suggests a strong commitment to on-street bicycle lanes.
The backstory: Last Spring, the City of Beverly Hills Department of Public Works presented to City Council an RFP draft for review. We found that RFP wanting in two key areas: it neither referenced the state’s ‘complete streets’ policy guidance nor did it reflect an expectation that tomorrow’s post-reconstruction corridor would accommodate pedestrians and cyclists better we do today. We expressed our concerns to Council in both written comments and verbally in Council study session.
At the urging of now Vice-Mayor John Mirisch, Council sent it back and told staff to include the necessary language in order to communicate to bidders that Beverly Hills supports a ‘complete streets’ approach to the new boulevard.
Better Bike has been calling for Class II (on-street) bicycle lanes in each direction on Santa Monica since 2010. We urged the city to incorporate ‘complete streets’ principles in the redesign. And during planning discussions about the western gateway (near Wilshire) we reminded policymakers time and again that Santa Monica Boulevard has a distinguished history as a multimodal transportation corridor and that any development on the corridor should reflect future opportunities in that regard.
Our recommendations often fall on deaf ears, though. The western gateway will likely produce a re-zone that will undoubtedly sprout undistinguished office buildings atop subterranean garages with hardly a nod to greater bike or ped accessibility. And of course Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction may well proceed without bicycle lanes. (Last spring’s draft RFP downplayed bicycle lanes and the current RFP is not much better.)
Why Focus on an RFP?
We’ll have only one bite at this apple and we want to get multimodal mobility right on this important Santa Monica corridor. That begins with the RFP because that document communicates the city’s key concerns.
Putting bicycle lanes on this key crosstown corridor should be a priority because everybody agrees that it is dangerous to ride the section in Beverly Hills. Both West Hollywood and City of Los Angeles have included bicycle lanes in their redesign of Santa Monica Boulevard. Both cities are expanding their bicycle amenities and laying down more miles of lanes. A bicycle-friendly corridor in Beverly Hills will signal our city’s commitment to multimodal mobility.
But the converse is also true: a refashioned Santa Monica Boulevard that merely replicates the dangerous intersections and motorist-first priorities of the current corridor will show how little city policymakers care about road safety and regional mobility. Will our policymakers opt for a landscaped median over safe passage for cyclists?
Bicycle lanes hardly present an engineering challenge. The boulevard varies in width and some sections are clearly wide enough for 5-foot bicycle lanes. In other sections the curb-to-curb width might not accommodate bi-directional lanes and may need to be expanded. But the City already owns two additional feet of right-of-way beyond the curb, and, as currently striped, today’s vehicular travel lanes are wider than state law mandates anyway. We have the opportunity to exercise some design flexibility. We should ask bidders to explore it.
It’s Not the Engineering, Stupid!
The challenge is political. Last spring’s draft RFP seemed to put the nail in the coffin for bicycle lanes. It noted “minimal opportunities” to widen the roadway and highlighted community opposition to expansion. For good measure it said that “current City Council direction is that that roadway will not be expanded beyond the existing northern curb face.”
When we spoke to Council back then, we reminded Council and staff that there never was any such formal Council direction not to expand the roadway. We said that past community opposition focused on a proposed additional vehicle travel lane (not bicycle lanes). And most important, we highlighted the importance of including explicit ‘complete streets’ language in the final RFP. With input from the Council, staff went back to work. In the meantime, the project was delayed.
Last month, the city released a revised RFP to bidders that shows some improvement. Bidders aren’t now told that “the roadway is not anticipated to be widened” and the RFP omits this statement: “Current City Council direction is that that roadway will not be expanded beyond the existing northern curb face.”
Yet we don’t have a strong statement that the new Santa Monica Boulevard will be an all-inclusive mobility corridor. It’s called ‘complete streets’ (more info). We do see vague reference to something called ‘livable streets’ (whatever that is doesn’t reference the state’s complete streets policy). And worse, the RFP references ‘Class I’ bicycle lanes. That is incorrect: Class I lanes are off-road paths; Class II lanes are separate and dedicated travel lanes for cycling and are appropriate for the corridor. Additional improvements should include high-visibility paint for the lanes, ‘bike boxes‘ at intersections, appropriate signage, and even dedicated bicycle signals.
Unfortunately the conceptual design passage is completely silent on any of these possible improvements and as concerns bicycle lanes is grammatically garbled too:
The landscape and urban design efforts of Phase 1/Conceptual Design will be limited to determining if landscaped medians will be included in the roadway, transit stop amenities, signage, bicycle lanes and street lighting [sic].
The New Beverly Gardens Park ‘Enhancement’
Despite the incremental improvement, the new RFP includes an additional issue that could greatly complicate Class II lanes on Santa Monica: design dictates could be complicated by a privately-funded “enhancement” of the adjacent north-side Beverly Gardens Park.
Last spring, the RFP draft obliquely referred to a fundraising effort on behalf of the park. But today the RFP is more specific about what that could mean in terms of proscribing design opportunities:
A portion of the Beverly Gardens Restoration Projects is planned to be completed in 2013. The remainder of the restoration will be phased to follow completion of the NSMB reconstruction project.
That’s right: even before we decide on the engineering particulars (like width and placement) a privately-funded ‘enhancement’ might well preclude designs that accommodate bicycle lanes. The RFP is not specific as to where such ‘enhancements’ might affect the project but does note the impact that the effort could have on the City’s work:
If [the eastern gateway and Beverly Gardens Park enhancement] are fully implemented, the landscape/urban design efforts on this project will be limited to coordination with the two projects, proposals of landscaped medians, and providing continuity to areas not covered by the two projects (e.g., adjacent to City parking facilities).
Not only is there no guarantee that on-street bicycle lanes will be part of the reconstructed corridor, but this park ‘enhancement’ could well preclude any City initiative to make this corridor inclusive for all modes of mobility. (Perhaps not coincidentally, bidders are to provide design concepts that feature no bicycle lanes at all.)
Two other things jump out of this RFP. Web posting was called for in last spring’s RFP process, but this released RFP makes no mention of it and in fact the released RFP is nowhere to be found on the City website. (We only learned of it from a reference in another city document.) Last spring, the draft RFP also noted that “responses to all questions and additional documentation requested will be posted on the City’s website” but the released RFP has excised that passage too. Many other RFPs and bidding documents are posted but not this one. And we can’t seem to get an answer from the city as to why not.
At a moment when Beverly Hills voters go to the polls and local government transparency is a central issue in our city election, it seems like City Hall is turning away from transparency on this key project.
Our Multimodal Past
Once upon a time, Beverly Hills was the junction of two rail lines (at Canon & Santa Monica) and was a hub in the Pacific Electric Westside division. We were a truly multi-modal community where a hop on a train could take you from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, Downtown, the VA and the Santa Monica beaches. We wrote about this and even organized a ride to celebrate it.
But that history is not even mentioned in the RFP. We read in the RFP that Santa Monica Boulevard used to be designated as state route ‘Route 66’ (harking back to control of the corridor by Caltrans, our state transportation agency), and we learn that it was once considered for expansion as the future “Beverly Hills freeway.” But we don’t gain any insight into the role of rail in our community, or why preserving non-auto mobility options for this corridor tomorrow are so important to the future development of the city.
At a time when transportation advocates are urging the city to become truly multimodal in order to address our congestion issues, we instead turn away from the lessons of our own transportation past at our peril. Our own city plans talk about the need to encourage automobile alternatives but the RFP for Santa Monica Boulevard is silent on it!
The take-away from our experience with the current corridor should be not to replicate the mistakes that make it inhospitable to anyone who’s not driving, but rather to learn from the past. Consider why we rebelled against the Beverly Hills Freeway proposal: a motor-only thoroughfare has no place in tomorrow’s Beverly Hills. Our future hinges on a return to the mobility opportunities once afforded by Santa Monica Boulevard. Bicycle lanes there are a tangible first step in the right direction toward mobility for all road users, but we won’t get it right until we learn how to talk in an RFP about the future we envision.