While we wait for word about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, we’re wondering if there’s any effort to make Beverly Hills as a whole more bike-friendly. One sensible first step is to update our 1970s-era Bicycle Master Plan. It needs a refresher. And since the 2010 General Plan process left that bike plan behind, City Hall has talked about revisiting it. Yet we’ve seen no action. Before we embark on bike-share or install bike lanes, why don’t we properly plan for citywide bike routes like it says in that old plan?
The city knows that our Bicycle Master Plan is out-of-date. It dates from the great bicycle renaissance of the 1970s. Despite the four decades that have passed, it says all the right things about making our community bike-friendly: we should connecting the parks to neighborhoods and make sure that kids can bike to school. It proposed a citywide bike route network to integrate cycling into the city’s transportation system. It’s a great foundation to build upon.
Nearly five years ago, the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission created the ‘bicycle ad hoc committee‘ to begin that update. The committee was to collect material, meet with the community, and make recommendations to the commission. But aside from a few early meetings (in 2010-2011) there’s been precious little action on that update, and little has been heard from the committee otherwise over the past couple of years.
So we visited the Traffic and Parking Commission’s website to check on the plan update and to learn more about the committee’s work to make cycling safe in Beverly Hills. Spoiler alert: the committee, and this commission generally, is not doing very much to make cycling more safe.
For one thing, the content on the committee’s webpage is stale and insubstantial. The most recent posted documents date back to 2013. Likewise the referenced City Council priorities date to the 2013-14 fiscal year (which closed last June).
In the continued effort to meet the FY12/13 and FY13/14 City Council Priorities for a Citywide Bike Plan, in November 2012 the Beverly Hills City Council approved the development and implementation of pilot bikeways on Burton Way and North Crescent Drive, and a bicycle rack program.
The pilot bikeways referenced on the ad-hoc committee’s webpage were installed back in 2013. As for more recent developments, there is no mention of the ongoing discussion about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes. The page is silent on the city’s study of a bike-share system too. The webpage seems not to have been updated in more than a year. Stale!
As for substance, the page doesn’t note the changed roster of ad-hoc committee members. All three members then serving on the committee (in 2013) are no longer Traffic and Parking commissioners. Which is unfortunate, because two of them – Alan Grushcow, Chair of the ad-hoc, and Jeffrey Levine – were responsive to riders’ concerns where the entire commission isn’t. Even worse, this past January Alan Grushcow passed away, but he is still listed as the committee’s leader.
The remainder of the webpage serves as the city’s bicycle rack program request form (where one can request that a free rack be installed at a sidewalk location like in front of a shop, say). The form duplicates material on the Transportation Division’s ‘bicycles’ webpage.
Changed Priorities, Missed Opportunities
With an update of that 1977 Bicycle Master Plan, our city would have an opportunity to rethink how we want to move ourselves around Beverly Hills in the future. Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) tells us to bicycle more and drive less, for example, in order to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Our General Plan’s circulation element (2010) envisions ‘multimodal mobility’ for tomorrow’s Beverly Hills. But there the progress stops, short of an update of that old bike plan.
If we were to take a cue from the 1977 plan, we’d think about a citywide bike route network to safely connect neighborhoods, parks and schools. Here’s how extensive that proposed network was (or ‘is’ because the plan is technically in force):
There are many good suggestions in that plan that can be simply carried over into a new bike plan. Like a southside crosstown bike route on Gregory Way, for example. That’s pictured on the map above. When City Council considered nearby Charleville for the route it was rejected as a nonstarter. Yet the need for crosstown travel between parks and our high school keeps the old bike plan’s vision relevant 35 years later.
Perhaps it’s the City Council that needs to re-think its vision. Turns out that changed City Council priorities will keep the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan from getting the facelift it so desperately needs. Back in 2013 Council identified as a B-level priority the creation of a new bike plan.
The next year Council had other concerns, however. The firm commitment to a new plan was degraded into vague language about “acceptable enhancements.”
We presume that means politically-acceptable enhancements. Whatever the intent, the term “enhancements” itself is puzzling because there’s not much implemented to actually ‘enhance.’ Does it mean additional identified bike routes; marked bike lanes or sharrows; safety signage; or new policies to promote multimodal mobility? What about an updated and more informative website at least? These are opportunity areas for City Council if it made safer streets for cycling a priority.
The good news is that we sometimes hear councilmembers say they support cycling. our Mayor Bosse hails progress-to-date. A few on Council even seem open to including a bicycle lane on tomorrow’s North Santa Monica Boulevard. And we’re expecting a feasibility study for bike-share this spring.
The not so good news is that stalled progress on the 1977 bike plan update doesn’t suggest any real commitment to bike safety in Beverly Hills. And the downgraded B-priority for bike planning generally only formalizes that lack of resolve.
We can’t say it’s not for lack of awareness. We’ve attended many City Council and Traffic and Parking Commission meetings to highlight the language in our own plans to campaign for safer streets. We even spoke up at the latest priorities meeting last fall to advocate for this plan update. But progress comes slow to Beverly Hills (when it comes at all) and if it never arrives, we can likely trace it not to the language in our plans or the words emanating from the Council dais, but to the shortage of political will to do the hard work of making streets safe to ride.