Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills Could Soon Be Bicycle Safe.” That’s a real headline, not an April Fool’s day prank or The Onion having a laugh on you. That accurate (if optimistic) take on a recent Beverly Hills study session says it plain: City Council actually kept alive a chance that we’ll one day see bicycle lanes striped on Santa Monica Boulevard. WestsideToday.com has our respect for publishing a detailed recap and the best of the coverage among three local papers that we recap here.

Westside Today

Westside Today‘s Jennifer Eden set the bar high with a 692-word story that front-loaded the real news from the on January 6th study session: City Council decided to keep bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard on the table. Even better, she put our ‘Greenway’ proposal into a complete streets context (a concept heretofore unknown in Beverly Hills):

Advocating a “complete street” concept, Elliot’s Beverly Hills Greenway campaign calls for a 62-foot-wide street encompassing safe bicycle lanes, similar to those in Mid-City and Santa Monica.

“Where safety is concerned, there is always an alternative,” Elliot said, explaining that the Greenway proposal offers no net loss of parkland and could be a perfect solution for the boulevard. City Council listened to almost two-hours of speakers on the issue, the majority who supported a shared road to accommodate all users. – Westside Today, January 9th

That was our expressed intent as we presented the Greenway to Council. (We being Eric Bruins, Kory Klem and other multimodal advocates.) Eden then moved on to the focus of the agenda item, construction mitigation.

After a detailed review of the traffic impact analysis and lane closure alternatives, the Santa Monica Blvd. Ad-Hoc Committee recommended the Alternative 4 lane closure option be adopted.This alternative utilizes a combination of lane closure alternatives that “balances minimizing traffic impacts and providing opportunities to expedite construction in order to reduce the overall schedule and cost associated with reconstruction of the boulevard,” according to the City. “A range from four traffic lanes to three/two traffic lanes depending on activity.”

She then sketched out the next likely steps in this $27M project:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also recommended that staff: return to Council with a draft construction mitigation plan developed in consultation with the Traffic & Parking Commission five months after commencement of project design; consider landscaped medians in project design and return to City Council at 50 percent of project design – proposed modifications to bus stops, street lighting, and other changes to the existing roadway would be forwarded at this time; and conduct public outreach.

Done. In tone and substance her story is accurate and balanced. And it focused on the policy aspects of the Council’s action. We expect that from the New York Times and Streetsblog Los Angeles, but a news organization serving our neighbors to the east pleasantly surprised us.

Beverly Hills Weekly

Over at hometown favorite Beverly Hills Weekly, the headline summed up the relevant news (at least in our view): “Life in the Bike Lane: Santa Monica Blvd. Bike Lanes Remain on the Table Following Study Session Meeting.” In the story, staff writer Mina Riazi succinctly explained our Greenway proposal right at the top.

The County Bicycle Coalition and several local advocates presented a “Beverly Hills Greenway” proposal, which envisions a 62-foot wide boulevard that fits two 5 foot-wide bike lanes and exacts no cost to the adjacent park.

Then starting with a quote from yours truly, she focused on the participatory aspect of the process.

“I think if we had not shown up in the numbers that we did and sent the voluminous comments that we did, [the lanes opportunity] would have quietly disappeared. To me, that was the big win. The second big win was just the process that City Council very patiently listened for more than two hours to us talk about what we need to feel safe on the Boulevard. Mayor Lili Bosse said, ‘We can get there.’ When there’s a will to find a compromise I think we will find a compromise. There’s some good will on the city side to make this happen.”

Riazi then stated our key concern.

Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember Willie Brien, members of the Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee, acknowledged that the bike lane issue has not been the main focus of their meetings so far. Instead, the Council has mainly concentrated on traffic congestion issues associated with the project. Santa Monica Boulevard’s current minimum width of 60 feet is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes.

And finally she put some wind in our sails by reaching out to the only councilmember who has been an explicit supporter of complete streets for Beverly Hills, John Mirisch. “I won’t vote in favor of any project where we don’t have dedicated bike lanes because I think it would be a grave mistake,” he tells Riazi. It was gratifying to hear him say it in study session and important to see them in print.Beverly Hills Weekly story

Beverly Hills Courier

And then there’s the Beverly Hills Courier, which brings its own journalism stylings to issues like Metro tunneling and now our bootstrap effort to get Beverly Hills to make streets safe for everybody. The story, “Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Traffic Mitigation Turns into Bike Lanes at City Council,” by Victoria Talbot, sets the tone early.

Cyclists hijacked a City Council study session Tuesday that was scheduled to consider traffic mitigations for the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project, and focusing [sic] the entire meeting on the subject of bike lanes instead. – Courier January 9, 2015

She goes on to claim that we “ambushed City Hall” and suggests that we checkmated the opposition with some shrewd tactical move to commandeer this meeting.

The legion of cyclists came charged with fervor and reciting phrases about complete streets, carbon emissions and progressive mobility and booing any residents who came to disagree. Bike lanes were not on the agenda; the opposition, prominent in former meetings, did not know they should be present in force.

Now we can disagree about how to characterize an audience’s reaction, but we should be able to agree that local democracy works when one shows up to advocate for their interest. And Talbot’s “not on the agenda” take? Here’s what the agenda says:

North Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project Construction Mitigation Item First Agendized December 2, 2014 Forwards Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee recommendations and seeks direction to proceed with project design. –  Study session agenda item #1 January 6, 2015

We came to chambers to talk about project design. As for boulevard width, that’s on the agenda too. Per the staff report, the recommendation behind the agenda item perversely argues that the state’s new safe-passing law actually recommended that the city mix riders and motor traffic in Santa Monica Boulevard’s #2 lane. This corridor carries 54k vehicles every day; mixing modes is the perfect opportunity for Beverly Hills to bolster our dubious distinction of racking up more crash injuries than nearly any other small city in the state. That recommendation comes in the 2nd paragraph:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also reviewed the implications of the “Three Feet for Safety Act” that went into effect in September 2014 in the State of California and requires vehicles to provide 3-feet clearance for bicycles. Attachment 3 provides detail of this act in relation to the lane widths of Santa Monica Boulevard. After this review, the Ad-Hoc Committee recommended that the project be designed with the existing roadway width.When we put forth the Greenway proposal to Council the week before the study session, we stated very clearly our concern that the city’s hands would be tied if the city simply reconstructed the corridor we have today without room for bicycle lanes. That’s why we presented an alternative design concept. We were speaking precisely what was on the agenda.

Curiously Talbot writes that we also “monopolized the Study Session, deferring all other City business including an item on Bike Sharing….” Must be another strong-arming of legislators by the all-powerful ‘bicycle lobby‘! If only.

We’d like to remind all Courier reporters that the Mayor directs City Council meetings. And Mayor Bosse seemed firmly in control of the proceedings. In fact, we’re grateful to Mayor Bosse for allowing for full discussion of the ad hoc committee’s recommendation.

We noted other areas of disagreement in a letter to the editor, including how this Greenway proposal came together. To be clear, this proposal was formalized and named the week prior to the study session. But the underlying concept – state-approved narrow travel lanes and a narrowed boulevard profile for example – were presented to the Blue Ribbon Committee by LACBC’s Eric Bruins last fall.

There is no such thing as bad publicity, they say, so let’s tip our hat to Talbot’s succinct summary of our proposal:

To achieve the bike lane, the Beverly Hills Greenway proposal would widen the 60-foot stretch to 62-feet and reduce the 63-foot stretch to 62-feet…removing two feet from the parklands on the narrow portion and then adding back one foot on the wider portion of the road.

Well said!

There is an irony to Talbot’s story, though. She wants to take us to task for hijacking the discussion, but she herself gives short shrift to what she says was the real agenda issue: traffic mitigation. “City Council did decide on the recommended option for traffic mitigation when construction begins,” she reports. “The traffic mitigation will include a range from four to two or three traffic lanes, depending on the construction activity.” And that’s all she wrote.Bevery Hills Courier story

One thought on “Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

  1. A nice way to usher in the new year – but I’d prefer a safer street over a public meeting any day!

Comments are closed.