A Dozen Reasons to Support Bicycle Lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard pavement irregularitiesBeverly Hills will reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard in 2015. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to include bicycle lanes on a corridor that long turned its back on non-motorists. Rider safety is a best reason to support bicycle lanes, but there are many others too. Here we offer a dozen more reasons as the Blue-Ribbon Committee kicks-off deliberations about the appropriate design for tomorrow’s Santa Monica boulevard.
Imagine riders having to dodge potholes and storm grates; having impatient motorists following to closely; waiting for the collision impact as riders negotiate for space on a street used by 50,000 cars every day on average. These problems and others diminish the enthusiasm of riders who would travel one of our city’s most important thoroughfares. It need not be like this when the city reconstructs the boulevard in 2015. Why incorporate bicycle lanes? Read on!

Bicycle Lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard: Twelve Good Reasons

  • Existing lanes in West Hollywood and Century City demand connection. Santa Monica Boulevard is a key piece of the regional bicycle ‘backbone’ network of bike-friendly streets. Cities all around Beverly Hills are planning for growth in cycling and so should we. Let’s start with a dedicated place on the blacktop for cyclists. We might well find that every road user in the city will benefit.
  • Santa Monica Boulevard is the Westside’s most direct link to key destinations like UCLA and job centers in West LA, Hollywood and beyond so let’s make it convenient to ride. Yesterday, streetcars made it the most heavily-traveled crosstown artery. And today it remains many riders’ favored route. It should be a safe, low-stress corridor to ride.
  • Santa Monica Boulevard links key Beverly Hills community institutions like Civic Center and Annenberg with schools and parks so let’s create the system of bikeways recommended in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. And the first steps has already been taken: bicycle lanes have been installed on North Crescent and Burton Way.
  • Santa Monica Boulevard should be the linchpin of that future citywide bicycle network. Let’s make it the spine from which our other bike-friendly routes will branch as pictured in the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan map.
  • It’s time to update our 1977-era Bicycle Master Plan and the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project should be the excuse we need to stop talking about it and actually do it. Will the Santa Monica Boulevard discussion spur our Traffic and Parking Commission to finally get in gear? Two T&P members sit on the blue-ribbon but have shown scant interest. Yet Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Los Angeles have all committed expand their bike facilities. We should follow their lead with a real bike plan and now’s our chance.
  • A few feet of grass on the north-side of Santa Monica can find a higher and better use as an on-boulevard bicycle lane than a rag-tag forlorn strip. After all, we’re talking about only a few feet! Paul Livingston will tell you that a separate, dedicated bicycle lane would have saved him a broken pelvis when he was rear-ended on Santa Monica Boulevard near City Hall. Let’s trade off this unloved strip for rider safety.
  • Federal money is available to create bicycle lanes. No fewer than ten federal programs and an array of state programs like Safe Routes to School and AQMD fund such improvements. But Beverly Hills has chosen not to take it. (The AQMD funds we did tap bought us just a few bicycle racks.) Maybe the real no-brainer reason to include bicycle lanes on Santa Monica is because the federal and state governments will pay us to include them.
  • We should honor Santa Monica Boulevard’s long history as a streetcar corridor with a Rails-to-Trails project to create a shared bike & ped path. Where neither Los Angeles nor West Hollywood has recognized their segment’s Pacific Electric history, we can distinguish our section of Santa Monica with a Rails-to-Trails facility at little cost as part of this massive reconstruction project.
  • Beverly Hills should support cycling as a positive individual health choice by creating facilities that encourage it. Sure we can pass the time behind the wheel and stuck in traffic by fiddling with our phone. And as we do we see riders whiz by at their own peril. We must make travel by means other than the motorcar a safe choice and on a corridor like Santa Monica, bicycle lanes are the best option. Our city’s transportation infrastructure investments should facilitate active mobility, not discourage it.
  • Beverly Hills should support cycling as a positive community health choice by nudging us toward active transportation. It’s not enough to pay lip service; our city has to take steps to make cycling the default mobility choice for local travel. Bicycle lanes are a signal that there is a place for us on city streets. And once riders take to the streets in greater numbers, more will follow as our community chooses more healthful means of travel.
  • The community that cycles together stays together to let’s get more folks in the saddle. In Northern Europe, much of society coheres society around a set of values that benefit everyone: creating streets that are safe for pedestrians and riders to travel; and embracing new ways of consuming like buying locally that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cycling appears to be a nexus where these values come together. If we can get more of Beverly Hills riding to coffee and the market we’ll be following the European example, and bicycle lanes are the most obvious measure. After all, we love to visit Europe. Why do we leave their lifestyle behind to separately gets behind the wheel here at home?
  • We must rethink mobility because we can’t continue as we’re going. Today Santa Monica Boulevard is clogged with an average of 50,000 cars daily. The Wilshire intersection is one of the least-functional anywhere. Indeed it is designed for danger. With many more developments coming to our western gateway, we can’t afford not to embrace practical measures to relieve congestion. We can begin with dedicated bicycle lanes that make new riders feel more safe.

If that is not enough to persuade the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee to recommend bicycle lanes to City Council, let’s round it up to a baker’s dozen with an indisputably good reason: Our own city policies already call on us to drive less and ride more and they point the way toward a 21st century multimodal mobility future when active transportation will be a practical choice.

Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) for example envisions an energy-efficient community where residents can “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible.” Among the plan’s policy goals: “Reduce traffic congestion while improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” And it recommends we “reduce traffic-related emissions through investments in the City and the implementation of land-use and other strategies that reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.”

Our General Plan is the guiding policy document for the city. The Circulation Element within the General Plan envisions a future where driving is not the only safe means of mobility:

Achieving a balanced transportation and land use pattern requires cohesive transportation and land use planning. Functional traffic patterns can only be achieved in connection with well planned development where alternatives to the driving are realistic options (taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking).

The Circulation Element goes on to identify these policy objectives:

Prepare a citywide bicycle master plan to determine desired improvements to the City’s bicycle network, including exploring opportunities where dedication may be required to connect regional pathways. Gather input from the community and provide bicycle education as part of the Bicycle Master Plan update. (Cir 8.1)

Require new development projects on existing and potential bicycle routes to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian access to and through the project, through designated pathways. (Cir 8.8)

We’ve been advocating for programs and investments to realize such policy goals since 2010. And the inclusion of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard has always been our focus. But opponents of bicycle lanes bemoan the 3-5 feet of grass needed to fully incorporate bicycle lanes into the boulevard’s redesign. We hope we’ve suggested why rider safety and a multimodal mobility future make that tradeoff worthwhile.

Do you have any advice for Santa Monica Blue-Ribbon Committee as it discusses appropriate transportation improvements and design options for the corridor? Visit the city’s project page and let the committee know! Or contact us with your bike lane related questions. (Disclosure: Mark Elliot from Better Bike sits on the committee.)