You’re riding westbound on North Santa Monica Boulevard. You’ve made it though the dreaded SM-Wilshire intersection and you’re waiting to pick up the bicycle lane in Century City. You’re in the right-hand lane with a line of cars queued behind you waiting to pass. But you’re in a substandard-width lane up against a solid wall of K-rail to your right and speeding vehicular traffic to the left. You’re desperate for relief but far from the promised land: your own patch of blacktop granted by a bicycle lane. It’s a gantlet with no escape for the remainder of this corridor while you’re in Beverly Hills.
This is a dangerous situation for anyone who chooses to ride a bicycle across the Westside. But especially so for less-experienced riders. It shouldn’t exist because there is a toolbox full of traffic safety mitigation measures that can be deployed to protect bicycle riders in this very situation. These include ‘may take full lane’ signage; detour routes; temporary lanes or paths.
None of these find a place in City of Beverly Hills. Indeed the city has taken no action to make passage safe for riders while this major Waldorf Hotel project is underway. Not only will these conditions endure for the remainder of construction; they will be the norm through 2017 once the city begins to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard.
Yet the cyclist-specific mitigation measures in temporary traffic control (TTC) zones are there for the taking. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices should be the first place our transportation officials turn for help. Why doesn’t the city stipulate such measures to make multimodal access safe? Because no law requires Beverly Hills to mandate those measures. In this city, riders are an afterthought. And the insult added to the inevitable injuries is that our own city plans call for encouraging, not discouraging, people to ride a bicycle.
The State’s Commitment to Safe, Multimodal Access
The state’s department of transportation is actually sensitive to such concerns. Caltrans has internalized ‘complete streets’ principles* since at least 2009 and includes them safety in state roadways planning and construction guidance. Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 (newly revised) calls on both state and local agencies to ensure our safety “beginning early in system planning and continuing through project delivery and maintenance and operations.” The deputy directive continues:
Caltrans views all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in California and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system…. The intent of this directive is to ensure that travelers of all ages and abilities can move safely and efficiently along and across a network of ‘complete streets.’ – Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 *
In the directive, the agency reminds local agencies that they “have the duty to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all” and goes on to outline specific responsibilities:
- …establish processes to identify and address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users early and continuously throughout planning and project development activities;
- …ensure regular maintenance and operations activities meet the safety and mobility needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in construction and maintenance work zones…;
- Implement current design standards that meet the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in design, construction and maintenance work zones….; and
- Provide guidance on project design, operation, and maintenance of work zones to safely accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.
The Federal Government’s Commitment
The federal highway association is also quite clear on its own responsibility to make streets safe during construction. “Bicyclists and pedestrians, including those with disabilities, should be provided with access and reasonably safe passage through the TTC zone,” the FHWA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices says (in section 6B Fundamental Principles of Temporary Traffic Control). The standard according to FHWA:
The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel…through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. – FHWA
To that end, FHWA too urges specific measures for temporary traffic control zones. The objective? To guide “in a clear and positive manner” we riders as we approach, and traverse, construction zones. Here are some of the recommended measures:
- A travel route that replicates the most desirable characteristics of a wide paved shoulder or bikeway through or around the TTC zone is desirable for bicyclists.
- If the TTC zone interrupts the continuity of an existing bikeway system, signs directing bicyclists through or around the zone and back to the bikeway is desirable.
- Unless a separate bike path through or around the TTC zone is provided, adequate roadway lane width to allow bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side through or around the TTC zone is desirable. (6D.101CA Bicycle Considerations)
- When the roadway width is inadequate for allowing bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side, warning signs should be used to advise motorists of the presence of bicyclists in the travel way lanes
- The use of highly-visible florescent green signage is allowed in temporary traffic control zones.
The MUTCD reminds the officials who manage construction zones: “The most important duty of these individuals should be to check that all TTC devices of the project are consistent with the TTC plan and are effective for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and workers.”
But Beverly Hills Drops the Ball on Safety for Riders
Despite the state and federal departments of transportation guidance, our city routinely #FAILS riders because our transportation officials turn away from their responsibilities.
That includes the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission, which enjoys a remit to “act as an advisory agency to the council in all matters which relate to parking and traffic.” Not so for traffic mitigation for multimodal users! We recently reminded the Traffic and Parking Commission about the toolbox of available mitigation measures, but our commissioners seemed unconcerned. Over several meetings they discussed Santa Monica Boulevard mitigation and yet didn’t acknowledge the need for rider safety.
For a taste of how staff regard riders’ needs, simply scroll down to the exchange with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation.
Frying Pan into the Fire!
Santa Monica Boulevard riders are about to go from the frying pan into the fire! For if you think negotiating this corridor with substandard-width lanes and potholes and sewer grates is a hassle today, just wait until construction vehicles begin to use the eastbound #2 lane to access a new project staging area on the now-vacant T-1 zone properties at 9900 North Santa Monica Boulevard (southwest of Wilshire & Santa Monica). Here it is on a map:
Beverly Hills just amended regulations to allow at that location access for staging and construction “without limitation,” including the “parking of delivery and heavy construction vehicles.” And for a period of five years no less. So expect to share the right-hand eastbound lane with heavy-haulers and the up to 91 construction-related vehicles that can use the lot at any one time. Helpfully, “easy ingress and egress” is provided via the same right-hand lane that riders share with trucks, buses and about 50,000 vehicles every day.
The obvious question: How would the city ensure that these construction-related vehicles don’t increase the danger to riders? Turns out it was a question never asked. The benefits to the city were clearly spelled out: less disruption of the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s parking and overall operations; improved construction efficiency; and minimized visibility of construction worker activity around the immediate work area. To our reading that’s a substantial benefit (including cost-savings) to the developer.
What’s in it for rider safety? Nothing. You see it was up to Community Development Department director Susan Healy-Keene to attach appropriate ‘conditions’ to the Development Plan Review permit. But there is none: “buffers and landscaping” will insulate the area from adverse impacts. And while pedestrian concerns are accommodated, there is not a single mention of how this heavy traffic will affect those who ride a bicycle. But that’s no oversight: the agreement discusses landscaping, lighting, portable restrooms and even a prohibition on food trucks. Riders come away empty handed.
But in Beverly Hills one always wants to hold out hope! The final condition of the 9900 Wilshire Development Plan Review document states:
The Director of Community Development reserves the power and right to impose additional conditions and/or restrictions upon this approval if the Director of Community Development or his/her designee determines that the site is being operated in a manner that causes a traffic, safety, noise, dust, light, or any other impact that interferes with the quiet enjoyment of nearby properties and that the existing conditions of approval are inadequate to halt the interference. – Development Plan Review condition #17
We’ll hold our breath. Healy-Keene has proven herself to be no friend of multimodal transportation. Her Community Development Department worked against bicycle lanes for Santa Monica and has shown no concern for an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. So we’re not surprised that the development plan review process here didn’t take into account our needs.
Playing Rope-a-Dope With Safety Advocates?
It’s difficult to square the federal and state policy guidance with the near-total abdication of responsibility for rider safety along this corridor and elsewhere in the city. Surely someone has stepped up to ask why we can’t do better. Behold the following exchange that unfolded over nearly six months about making this corridor safe during construction.
Since January we repeatedly brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, the dangerous situation adjacent to the Waldorf project. But he’s given us the runaround time and again. Back in January we first inquired.
I anticipate that Council gave the OK to the text amendment for the 9900 Wilshire T-zone. On that assumption, I’m wondering if your department has any plan to facilitate safe bike travel across Santa Monica Boulevard eastbound for the duration of the construction period. This is a particular concern given the routing of truck traffic as described in the staff report… [yet] there is no mention of cyclists who today use North SM as a crosstown route. There are three curb cuts proposed for NSM and both ingress and egress is planned to/from that corridor. — To Aaron via email on January 7, 2015
To that we did suggest as an option detouring riders from North Santa Monica to the southern roadway (as mentioned in FHWA guidance) provided the right-hand lane on that other corridor is designated as an alternate route and marked with sharrows and/or appropriate signage. Aaron’s response:
I will follow up with the project’s traffic engineer (they contracted with Fehr & Peers). We have discussed signage for bicyclists and that using South SM Blvd. is the best solution. — Aaron in reply on January 9, 2015
Seeing no change, we followed up three weeks later.
Can I follow up with you on this T-zone safety issue to find out what arrangements the city will put in place for cyclists? — To Aaron via email on January 29, 2015
From Aaron in response:
Yes, of course. Fehr & Peers is making the arrangements (they were retained by the developer). We’re waiting to hear back from them. I just inquired about the status. — Aaron in reply on January 29, 2015
Dropping the ball, we then picked it up some months later:
Re: traffic mitigation measures for cyclists now that construction at SM/Wilshire has started, it’s more dangerous than ever for riders. And the restriped intersection (the striped triangle WB) affords no place for riders to queue. Perhaps the city cam [sic] post appropriate safety signage (“may use full lane” is MUTCD approved) on NSM in both directions – as LA did in Century city EB during construction there. — To Aaron via email [date N/A]
I’m following up on the status of signage impacts related to the current construction project. — Aaron in reply on June 2, 2015
We asked to clarify:
Do you mean adding signage to the passage between Wilshire & Moreno on NSM? Signage and sharrows might be appropriate and perhaps beginning east of the intersection with appropriate markings through it. It’s a key regional corridor; the more conspicuous the guidance the better. — To Aaron via email on June 6, 2015
Always a prompt responder, Aaron then replied:
I will follow up with development services about the signage for the Waldorf Astoria construction. I recall Fehr & Peers recommended signage that would advise cyclists using alternative routes for construction, with the primary option being South Santa Monica for the section between Wilshire and Moreno. — Aaron in reply on June 8, 2015
We followed up to note that there are measures available besides hanging a sign:
Both the Hilton [now Waldorf] and the SMB projects suggest the same safety concerns and indeed are likely to present very similar (if not the same) mitigation challenges. Beyond signage, there are measures like sharrows and even temporary segregated bike lanes that should be in the toolbox. From the riders’ perspective, the absolute worst thing is being thrown into with angry drivers on streets without protections or refuge. — To Aaron via email on June 8, 2015
For good measure we added, “It probably goes without saying that the more folks we can encourage into the saddle – like our plans recommend – the less congestion we have to accommodate. Has there been any discussion of messaging to that effect? Isn’t it an opportune time to get people on a bicycle?” But we heard nothing back.
We then followed up a couple of weeks later (approaching six months after we first raised the traffic mitigation issue):
Re: Hilton mitigation, you had mentioned signage and possibly an alt route for the Hilton construction. As I mentioned to TPC in my correspondence, there are a number of measures that can be taken beyond simply directing riders to an alternate route. What would the next steps be, and when might they be taken? — To Aaron via email on June 24, 2015
Our building department is evaluating your suggestions for bicycles during construction of the Waldorf. We’re also checking on applicable signage. Am hoping to get an update within the next couple of weeks. — Aaron in reply on June 25, 2015
Sensing we’re getting nowhere with the promised ‘update’ that never arrives, we focused in on the problem:
As far as I’m aware today cyclists have full access to the SM Blvd construction corridor west of Wilshire. Yet there is no shoulder, and the right lane in either direction adjacent to the Hilton property is of substandard width. You suggest it remain without signage to alert motorists to the lawful presence of cyclists for a few more weeks? Why can’t the appropriate signage be posted *today* on this key regional corridor? — To Aaron via email on June 26, 2015
No response came back. We followed up.
Just so this doesn’t slip from the to-do list, I hope you’ll hear back from Fehr & Peers shortly about mitigation measures to make SM Blvd / Hilton transit safe for riders for the duration of construction. I had a look back at my emails and see we’ve been discussing this problem (for cyclists) since January – coming up on six months – and asking F&P was the next step then. Can you give me an idea of when you might have something to share — To Aaron via email on July 1, 2015
After than it’s just crickets until we try again. We call that approach to safety problem-solving ‘rope-a-dope.’
What Does This Portend for North Santa Monica Reconstruction?
We’ve asked time and again how the city and its consultants would mitigate the safety impacts arising from construction-related detours, lane closings and narrowed lanes on the reconstruction project but again came away empty-handed. (We brought it to the attention of City Council as recently as yesterday.)
Then just last month came this statement from Aaron Kunz:
For the NSMB reconstruction project we have instructed the consultant team to include mitigation/signage for cyclists in the traffic mitigation plan. Right now we’re working on the requirements that will be included in the construction bidding process and a public outreach program. — Aaron in reply on June 2
Well we’ll see if that ever comes to fruition. You can be we’ll be on hand to raise the issue in community meetings about mitigation, but we can’t force our officials to meet their safety responsibilities. Nevertheless we’ll be following up. And following up. And following up.
*The Complete Street according to Caltrans: “A transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists appropriate to the function and context of the facility.”