Back in 2014 Beverly Hills City Council disappointed riders, active transportation boosters and safe-street advocates when it could not summon just three votes to incorporate bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite hundreds of written comments and scores of speakers, all calling for lanes to increase rider safety on the city’s busiest transit corridor, councilmembers John Mirisch and Lili Bosse then could only hope in vain for a third vote to stripe a bicycle lane. Lanes seemed to be off the table for Santa Monica Boulevard. But hold on!
On Tuesday, June 20th, riders and safe-streets advocates will see bicycle lanes come back to City Council. And this time it looks more promising! Not only do we have a new City Council with three likely votes in support; two of those councilmembers (Mayor Lili Bosse and Mirisch) are safe-streets supporters while but newly-elected councilmember Robert Wunderlich not only supports bicycle lanes but asks why they can’t perhaps be separated from the vehicular flow. Will Council recommend high-visibility treatment or even find a way to include a protected bicycle lane? Read the staff report. It’s especially important for city residents to speak up! Live here? Drop our City Council a note!
The Backstory: How We Almost Lost Our Lanes
When the proposal comes back to Council on Tuesday, the question we are most interested in answering is, Will Vice-Mayor Gold and newly-seated councilmember Lester Friedman (who served on our Traffic and Parking Commission) support bicycle lanes?
When City Council in 2014 refused to include bicycle lanes as part of a ground-up reconstruction of the boulevard, then-Mayor Gold (now the Vice-Mayor), along with councilmembers Nancy Krasne and Willie Brien, merely upheld the city’s longstanding resistance to bicycle infrastructure by giving it the thumbs-down.
Vice-Mayor Julian Gold, a physician, has likely seen more than his share of injured riders; some have undoubtedly turned up at Cedars Sinai in his care. Willie Brien, also a physician, surely has had to reset some riders’ broken bones at Cedars. Why wouldn’t they support bicycle lanes to keep riders out of the vehicular traffic flow?
Then-councilmember Nancy Krasne claimed, “I love the bikers!,” yet showed no inclination to stripe a bike lane. Instead she riders “organ donors” for choosing to ride on Santa Monica Boulevard. Even though riders told her we needed bicycle lanes to keep us safe in traffic.
Together those three councilmembers weren’t willing to consider bicycle lanes. But cities all around us were installing them. Places to which they travel overseas have them. What is it about Beverly Hills that we can’t implement a traffic control device that actually does keep riders safe? It’s not like lanes would come at the expense of a travel lane (i.e., a road diet) or curbside parking (there is none on this part of the corridor).
Moreover, City Council back in 2013 supported a very limited pilot program that installed a few blocks of bicycle lanes and sharrows, which generated no known negative reports from residents. Today it is a non-issue. So why the opposition to bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard?
We asked Deputy Director of Transportation Aaron Kunz back in 2010 about that opposition. He cited the very negative reception many years ago to a state DOT proposal to add an additional vehicular traffic lane to Santa Monica Boulevard. Two new travel lanes to make six total. Of course neighbors would rebel; the vision recalled an earlier D.O.A. plan for the Beverly Hills freeway.
Yet a 5-foot wide bicycle lane can hardly be compared to a 12-foot traffic lane (not to mention the usage it would induce). And of course bicycle travel is both silent and non-polluting.
We Have a Plan!
When City Council turned thumbs down to the bicycle lane in 2014, it was because community members cried, “not one blade of grass” from Beverly Gardens Park for a bicycle lane. That resonate with a City Council disinclined to look elsewhere for mobility best practices.
The following January, lane supporters had a counter-argument. Under our ‘Greenway’ proposal, the city could include bicycle lanes on the boulevard with no net loss of parkland if it were only incrementally wider (but on average no wider than it is today).
The Greenway we proposed would at least reserve a right-of-way wide enough should the city ever want to stripe bicycle lanes. Alternately, if we didn’t allow room today, we would be stuck with a major regional corridor too narrow to ever include them. Our proposal convinced no northside residents (who would have suffered no negative effect from bicycle lanes) but it did convince City Council.
We brought significant support to Council chambers in January of 2015. And it wasn’t just riders asking for bicycle lanes. Even officials from the neighboring cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood endorsed lanes to enhance regional connectivity. The Good Shepherd Church right on the boulevard where we needed a few feet also supported bicycle lanes.
And there was precedent. Our city’s own 1977-era bicycle plan (still on the books and shown at right) envisions a citywide network of bicycle lanes. It proposes an off-street bicycle path through Beverly Gardens Park for the important crosstown Santa Monica corridor. That’s not all: our Sustainable City Plan (2009) encourages all residents to ride instead of drive. And our General Plan Circulation Element calls for measures to make riding safer.
In the end a practical argument prevailed in the blue-ribbon committee of residents tasked to choose improvements for the Santa Monica corridor. There wasn’t a lane supporter among the fifteen members (except yours truly) until the project consultant confirmed the unbelievable: under state law, riders can use the entire right-hand lane of the boulevard and motorists would have to trail behind. The blue-ribbon committee quickly came around and recommended to City Council that a bicycle lane be striped. (In 2014 that recommendation was simply ignored by City Council.)
When City Council spurned the blue-ribbon recommendations (which included bicycle lanes and a landscaped median), essentially it expressed a preference for a corridor that would look exactly as it exists today (with better blacktop). It seemed like a perfect opportunity to embrace multimodal mobility (not to mention a flagship design). But without a bicycle lane, the median, or even a bus shelter, the $20 million project would simply be more cowbell.
How We Got Our Bicycle Lanes Back…Almost!
Our Greenway proposal won the day. With no help from our transportation division (it should be remembered), bicycle lane supporters including Eric Bruins, then policy director for LACBC; resident Kory Klem; yours truly; and Rich Hirschinger convinced City Council to eke out a few extra inches of width by nibbling at the margins within the right-of-way. According to staff, there is now 4’6″ set aside for each lane (eastbound and westbound). This is substandard width for a Class II lane, according to Caltrans, the state DOT, but it is a margin of safety for riders greater than we’ve ever had on this corridor.
And we would not gotten this far if Mayor Lili Bosse had not last year pushed street safety as a city priority or this year during budget planning urged Council to vote on bicycle lanes again.
Let’s Make Santa Monica a Model Multimodal Corridor
Now that we have some breathing room on the boulevard, we need to put that margin to good use by striping bicycle lanes. At a minimum we need a conventional striped bicycle lane. At just 4’6″ wide we can expect that we’ll at least get the state-mandated minimum three feet from gutter pan to vehicular lane. Even better with a bit more width we can gain an added margin of safety (a 6-foot lane would be even safer). We will not know whether additional width is even available until the staff report is posted here.
What else can we do? We can ask City Council for a high-visibility (i.e., colored-pavement) bicycle lane. Caltrans allows for green painted lanes. The objective is to increase the visibility of the lane; highlight potential areas of car-bike conflict; and remind motorists that the priority in the lane under the law is enjoyed by riders. The color may be applied along the length of the corridor. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) says that is particularly useful “in high traffic situations or areas where traffic may encroach into the bike facility.” Santa Monica Boulevard is both high-traffic (the highest-volume corridor) and a transit corridor. Riders will also experience potential conflicts with turning vehicular traffic. How is it that we survived this long without a bicycle lane to protect us?. (Trick question: not every rider survived.)
Support Bicycle Lanes for Santa Monica!
Contact City Council by emailing our councilmembers at email@example.com. Let our councilmembers know that you support lanes. Especially important: do you live or work in Beverly Hills? Let them know that you are a resident. Please refer to our talking points 2017-6-20 if you are contacting City Council.
Join us in Council chambers this Tuesday, JUNE 20th at 7p.m.. It is item F1 on the agenda so my best guess is that it will be heard at about 7:30-7:45. More information is available in the the staff report. If you are going to speak, make sure your remarks are focused. It may help to have a look at our talking points 2017-6-20.