Back on the Priority List: The Beverly Hills Bike Plan!

City Council pictured in 2013.Among the ignominious developments over the last year in Beverly Hills, surely the one of greatest interest to bicycle riders was City Council’s decision not to include a bicycle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. But on its heels came another decision that would have escaped notice if we hadn’t reported that the city had intended to step away entirely from an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. But we called it out, councilmember Lili Bosse took up the cause, and City Council agreed to make it a priority. Again.

The Backstory

Update to a bike plan? You mean Beverly Hills has a bike plan? Yes, we do, and it’s called the Bicycle Master Plan. It was written in 1977 and re-adopted in 2010 verbatim during our General Plan update. And yes indeed it remains in effect! But you’d be excused for not noticing: no city official dares mention it, and no planning or transportation policy has ever referred to it. Indeed it seems like city hall would want to simply wish the bike plan away.

Inconveniently, however, it has been identified for a much-needed update since 2011 when the near-forty-year-old plan was marked by City Council as an official B-level priority (for the 2012-13 fiscal year).

But ever since, our city has been (quietly) walking back any intent to update the bike plan. First any reference to the plan itself was deleted in 2013. Then in the subsequent year, Community Development Director Susan Healy Keene and Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz rephrased the item’s description to take emphasis off bike facilities generally and instead prioritize the small bike-share system intended to roll out in 2016 rollout.

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan

This iteration of the city priorities failed to include any reference to the plan itself outside of the title. It’s an empty container that merely suggests progress on the Council’s informal priority, a tourism-focused bike-share system.

When the plan update priority was downgraded, no announcement was made by the transportation staff. Indeed the title of the priority item itself (‘Citywide Bike Plan’) didn’t even change to reflect the new emphasis on bike-share.

We were only alerted to the new, diminished concern for cycling safety when the Traffic and Parking Commission declined in the fall to recommend the priority item to Council. Then, when we listened closely to the meeting tape, we realized, according to Kunz, that the city has no intent at all to update the bike plan. So we took it as fait accomplis that Council wouldn’t renew the city’s only bike-related priority item when re-setting priorities in December.

But then after we reported on it in November, councilmember Lili Bosse contacted us by email. “I completely agree with you,” she said. “I was planning on putting the update of our bike master plan ON our priority list!”

Street Safety Needs to be a New Priority

Fast forward to mid-December. Holiday season. Not too many eyes were on city hall. But that’s when City Council met to select priorities for the next fiscal year. In past years, the bike plan update item never made it past the B-level. (We can’t over the past six years the Traffic and Parking Commission ever discussing it.) Would it disappear entirely now?

We made one last plea for bike safety in Beverly Hills by regaling city executives and staff who attended this priorities-setting exercise with our analysis of BHPD traffic data. We noted for example that crash injuries in Beverly Hills the previous calendar year (2014) were 6% higher than average over the prior seven years. And we noted that police enforcement during that time declined precipitously. How precipitously? Look at the citations for red-light runners, among the most dangerous traffic scofflaws out there.

Chart of Signal citations between 2008-2014

Data from Beverly Hills Police Department monthly reports to Traffic and Parking Commission.

No wonder injuries are on the rise: signal violations are so pervasive, and go unpunished in Beverly Hills so frequently, that there is in effect no sanction for running a red light. Even in front of a motor cop.

Of course unprotected riders will always fare worst. Again, look at the data. In 2014, the number of rider injuries (48) was not only 37% higher than the baseline year of 2008; it  actually outpaced the 7-year average by 30% too. Moreover, rider injuries in 2014 represented 12% of all crash injuries. But if riders constitute less than 1% of road traffic in Beverly Hills, that would suggest an injury rate of greater than 12X that of auto-occupants. Even worse: the proportion of rider injuries (as a share of all injuries) actually increased by one-fifth larger than in 2008.

The trends suggest we’re making negative progress toward safer streets overall and for riders in particular. Not only is that bad policy; it contravenes our own city plans.**

City Council Agrees to Make Multimodal Mobility a Priority

Ultimately City Council agreed. Or more precisely  Lili Bosse, John Mirisch and Dr. Willie Brien agreed to make multimodal mobility and a bike plan update a priority. Here’s the priority item:

Bike plan update priority item.The councilmembers that did not support making multimodal a priority were Nancy Krasne and Mayor Julian Gold. The former likes to say she “loves the cyclists.” Yet she’s not stepped up to makes streets safe for riding in the way that riders say we need in order to feel safe. She’s been a staunch opponent of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, for example. And Mayor Gold has never evidenced concern for riders, nor for street safety in general. This physician appears unimpressed at the negative trend in collision injuries.

What’s interesting about Dr. Willie Brien is that he was not expected to support this priority item. He’s on record for supporting our small 50-bike bike-share system, but he’s not previously indicated any concern for multimodal mobility or street safety generally. Coincidentally, perhaps, he’s leaving town for a new gig in Texas and might not fear north-side NIMBY blowback. That might have made all the difference.

The other big step taken by the city was to prioritize complete streets improvements for South Santa Monica Boulevard. From the official priorities list:

priority-LSMThis is significant for a couple of reasons. During construction, curb parking will be eliminated from one side of this boulevard. Could that be a step toward incorporating bicycle lanes here to make this corridor a bicycle boulevard of some kind? Councilmember Krasne has long pointed to the south boulevard to accommodate bicycle riders, but with curb parking on both sides there was never an opportunity.

And second, this priority item is the very first time the term ‘complete streets’ has ever been used in a city document to our knowledge. Those words never even pass the lips of any of our transportation officials (let alone make it into print). So this is a significant step forward for multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

And it’s a step forward for safety too: a Los Angeles Times analysis of traffic fatalities and injuries showed that several South Santa Monica intersections are far more dangerous than they should be (even controlling for other factors like traffic volume). Making South Santa Monica ‘complete’ would be a real gesture of acknowledgment that we have a street safety problem.

Looking Ahead: Now What?

New priorities will only find action in the next fiscal year (after June). So it could be the Spring of 2017 perhaps before we movement on progressive mobility policies in Beverly Hills (especially with Community Development Director Keene at the helm, and we don’t have much faith in our transportation staffers either). How far behind the curve is Beverly Hills transportation when it comes to multimodal mobility? Our department is still crowing about meeting priorities from 2013!

From the city website: Transportation responds to priorities from 2012

Our transportation staffers fist-bump over years-old programs that met city priorities back in 2012.

There’s more we can do in the meantime. We’re urging the city to protect riders on the North Santa Monica corridor during the long construction period. But our year-long campaign to date has had little to show for it from the city. We’re also keeping an eye on bike-share implementation this spring. Care to get involved? We need your help!

*The 1977 Bicycle Master Plan was simply readopted – verbatim – as part of the state-required General Plan more than three decades after it had been originally adopted. Surely that’s a form of professional planner malpractice, right?

**Beverly Hills plans urge us to drive less and ride more. That’s the official policy statement of the city. For example, the General Plan’s Circulation Element (2010) calls on the city to create “realistic” alternatives to driving, like “taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking,” says the text. The Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls for “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” The plan’s goal? To “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community.” The plan concludes, “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available then people will bicycle more.” If only someone informed our policymakers that we’re supposed to embrace the 21st century multimodal mobility future!

Developer’s Rash Tree-Felling Highlights Hazards for Riders (Editorial)

Courier cover November 27th 2015The Beverly Hills Courier, the perennial champion of anti-Metro hyperbole, has rotated its turret toward toxic contamination on Santa Monica Boulevard parcels 12 & 13. Riders know this land for the chain-link fencing and dense tree cover that casts in deep shadow pavement hazards east of Beverly. Well the shadow is no more: the landowner clear-cut the trees on a Saturday morning. But were the required permits secured? Did the city fail to ensure that soil contamination wasn’t disturbed? The incident raises questions not only about City Hall transparency but rider safety on the corridor too.

The Courier has been all over City Hall like a cheap suit since it broke this story in late November: landowner and developer Lyn Konheim felled 196 trees on two parcels without a necessary Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) permit. It’s not the trees per se; the issue goes beyond arbor ardor to instead implicate some violation of the state’s toxic substance control regulations. You see, the land is contaminated with arsenic and major work would disturb the soil. So, is clear-cutting significant enough to warrant a DTSC permit, or does it fall under that threshold as the tree-cutter claims?

Complicating the issue is that a deputy city manager for Beverly Hills apparently sent the landowner a letter, the Courier reports, in which he asked about clearing the site of trees for boulevard construction purposes. And it seems that when the landowner talked with the city about clearing that land, the city didn’t raise an objection – despite the contamination and the required mitigation measures not being in place. (The work was done in short order on a Saturday morning using a regular city contractor.)

DTSC was brought into the discussion but says it understood that the trees would not be removed but merely trimmed; the landowner says they weren’t removed but only reduced to a stump. The city says that in any case it was the landowners responsibility to get it right with DTSC.

(Finger-pointing all around. Notably the city’s webpage set up after the flare-up shares none of the information that could shed light on how the three parties communicated.)

Local residents don’t see it that way. The City knew full well that the parcels are under the control of DTSC yet it allowed the work to proceed, they say. But as often happens in a crisis, Beverly Hills City Hall communicates in measured statements and careful phrasing as the community seethes. As the Courier put it, “The city is closing ranks.”

Perhaps because the Courier has rapped City Hall every week since its story first appeared. In front-page articles, supplemental sidebars and even a handy ‘toxic timeline’ the paper drove home a question central to any decent conspiracy: What did City Hall know, and when did it know it? It’s the kind of muckraking reportage that rarely surfaces in either of our two weekly papers (except perhaps for the Courier publisher’s favored causes, like Bel Aire over-building or BH foot-dragging on the long-awaited dog park).

To its credit, the Courier’s reportage has kindled a latent dietrologia in Beverly Hills that has managed to organize disparate individual gripes into some kind of dyspeptic community chorus. It’s the vox populi calling for policymakers to be put in the stocks.

We are on board with that! Beverly Hills needs some focused public opprobrium. Rare is the policy change that excites the senses (much less garners public scorn or even earns a wagging finger in our local papers). And it’s worse in the land use arena, where plan-busting projects that stink of some kind of ex-parte arrangement rarely elicit political blowback. And that’s just how the establishment likes it.

In fact every two weeks developers and their lobbyists prostrate themselves before the Planning Commission so that commissioners may bless a height greater than what’s allowed by the code; or to approve setbacks smaller than are required; or to permit new uses for longer hours that would seem to stretch to a breaking point any existing conditional use permit. That’s money in the bank!

In fact, so often do our deciders simply rubber-stamp deviations from the General Plan that Councilmember John Mirisch once memorably asked our principal planner during a City Council session: “Is staff a victim of Stockholm syndrome?” We think that a wonderful analogy: the division charged with regulating development instead allies with its captor, the developers, on their mission to reduce to mediocrity our commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods.

This tree-felling imbroglio, however, has struck a chord with the always-vocal north-side homeowners and the condo-dwellers immediately adjacent to these parcels. They’ve lashed out on the Courier’s letters page against all manner of City Hall sleights. We gladly joined-in with our own laundry list of gripes in a letter published December 11th (from which we’ll excerpt very briefly):

Communication is a two-way street, of course, and we-the-people have to make an effort to keep ourselves informed. But when City Hall makes it such a challenge to participate, the inevitable outcome is declining attendance at city meetings; depressed turnout at the polls; and most dangerous, less attention to the people’s business from outside City Hall.

This poses a threat to City Hall legitimacy over the longer term…. Should popular perception shift from everyday questions about City Hall competence to concerns about policymaker integrity, it will be a long climb back to gain the people’s trust. Or has it already slipped away?

 

 Abdicating the Pubic Trust on Safe Streets

From our perspective, trust in city government has eroded most significantly when it comes to City Hall’s responsibility to keep everyone safe on the road. Indeed our policymakers seem simply unconcerned with riders’ safety. And that’s where parcels 12 and 13 catch our attention.

Landowner Lyn Konheim claimed some concern that the trees in question were structurally deficient, and that imminent injury might occur were a tree branch to fall. And that did in fact occur. So the trees were felled. From Konheim’s letter to the Courier (12/4/15):

Recently, a car traveling eastbound on Santa Monica was hit by a falling tree. Fortunately, the driver was not injured. After that occurred, we hired an arborist who evaluated the trees and concluded that the majority of them needed to come down for safety reasons.

That’s fine for a landowner in a pickle to retroactively rationalize the felling of 196 trees for one fallen tree branch. But where has City Hall been when it comes to evaluating the dangers to riders and motorists from falling trees on Santa Monica Boulevard?

The imminent structural failure of the many trees overhanging that boulevard – which actually stand in the city’s right-of-way just behind the fence, not incidentally – should have triggered alarms for city officials. Where were they? It had to take an errant falling branch to spur action?

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one reflect the dangers of riding Santa Monica Boulevard. Here it is heavily shaded with detail teased out in Photoshop.

This only underscores for us the hazards that we riders face every day on Santa Monica Boulevard. From tire-catching grates and potholes to pavement heaves that wouldn’t look out of place on a ski slope, treacherous conditions make the eastern segment a particularly dangerous ride for those on a bicycle.

Worse, such hazards were long shaded by the heavy tree cover, which definitely obstructed rider visibility. Where the pavement is actually most hazardous, speeding traffic and riders are forced together as the roadway narrows.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Pavement heaves and moguls are obscured by shadow and sometimes camouflaged by debris. The city never sweeps this segment of Santa Monica Boulevard!

None of this has elicited any concern from City Hall or the transportation officials who bear responsibility to maintain streets in a safe condition. Neither Community Development Department director Susan Healy Keene nor Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, has ever taken any action to address our stated concerns about boulevard conditions.

Until, of course, a tree branch fell on a motorist’s vehicle. That limb might have injured or killed a bicycle rider. But whatever. Like street safety generally, City Hall prefers to deal with liability later rather than take a proactive measure sooner in order to reduce the potential harm.

Here’s the thing: if it had been a rider who was killed or injured, City Hall might not be in a pickle at all. Those trees would still be standing. And the Courier would be as reticent as ever to bring up street safety as a problem. And no community posse would be marauding with torches calling for officials’ heads. After all it was only a bicycle rider. Her injury or death simply wouldn’t be worthy of much comment at all.

‘Police and Community Together.’ At the Coffee Shop!

BHPD logoPerhaps nowhere is it better to be a cop than here in Beverly Hills. With compensation packages for officers reaching $200k annually (plus a generous pension), easy shifts and a comfortable retirement, can it get any better than rolling the beat then finding yourself in a cozy booth at a local South Beverly Drive restaurant for a break? ‘Police and Community Together.’ That’s their motto!

This is all good. Our officers’ enthusiasm for java means that there’s often an officer nearby when you need one. Nearby as in within arm’s reach. As we found this morning (December 14, 2015) on South Beverly Drive. Heck, it seemed like we could hardly avoid an officer!

Police enjoying Urth coffee

By 7:30 am a pair of traffic cops had already found their table at Urth Cafe.

Police enjoying a coffee at Brooklyn Bagels

And just across the street at Brooklyn bagels, another clutch of three officers were enjoying the coffee there too.

And then just a few minutes later, we saw yet another Beverly Hills finest stop in at Peets for a coffee to go. By 8:30 those first Urth regulars were departing; but they paused for a moment to chat with two incoming officers also looking for quality coffee and delicious baked goods. And they too found it at Urth! Nice work if you can get it.

Sunday December 13, 2015 4pm

Police enjoying an afternoon break at Urth Cafe

Urth cafe is not just for breakfast. As the clouds rolled in, Beverly Hills’s finest stopped in for a bite to eat between afternoon radio calls, presumably.

Friday December 11, 2015 8:30am

Police enjoying a coffee at Peets

Who can argue with the appeal of Peets? More precisely, who can argue with a couple of bike cops who take a fancy to the place? Yes, not infrequently do we come across a table (even two) of Beverly Hills’s finest taking a break from the hard streets at Peets (even the detectives). Need to report a crime? Don’t dial 911! Just drop into Peets!


What could feel more secure than having a few BHPD officers sitting right at the next table? Imagine it: a one second police response time! At least that’s the situation often on South Beverly Drive where the finest of Beverly Hills make a frequent appearance. We’ll be checking in on these thirsty officers from time to time to let you know which establishments they’re favoring at the moment. That’s a review more reliable than Yelp! Have you seen a BHPD coffee break in your Beverly Hills neighborhood? Got an image to share? Let us know!

Top Secret: Beverly Hills City Council Holds a Priority-Setting Session

City Council group shot 2013You would think it is top-secret: the city calendars a priority-setting exercise to craft policy-making for the coming fiscal year yet no press release promotes it. The website hardly mentions it. And our crackerjack communications team conducts zero outreach for an ostensibly stakeholder-driven process. Why not invite stakeholders? Do policy-makers & staff want the warm coffee and Costco cookies all for themselves?

We will break the silence simply by asking you to mark your calendar for Tuesday, December 15th at 2:30 PM when this year’s priority-setting exercise will get underway at Beverly Hills City Hall. We’ll be there (as we were last year) with our own talking points and an admonition for policymakers: it is your responsibility to make streets safe for all road users. Let’s make it a priority!

What is the ‘Priorities-Setting Exercise’?

Every December City of Beverly Hills establishes priorities for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July. Set by City Council, the priorities act as a road map for department managers and city commissions by suggesting work plans, objectives, and the allocation of resources. For City Council, too, these priorities are a reminder of which efforts are the most important to see through to completion.

City priorities are short-handed in a matrix. It identifies the program or initiative; the responsible department; and the estimated completion date (take the latter with a pinch of salt). Each priority receives a letter grade to indicate its relative priority. Here is an example from the latest (FY 2015-16) priority matrix highlighting the ‘B’ priority assigned to bike-friendly efforts. (See all of this year’s priorities.)

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan‘A’ level flags an initiative for completion (or significant progress) in the fiscal year; ‘B’ level indicates programs expected to be completed within 2-5 years; and ‘C’ level priorities are expected to bump-up eventually. As items are completed the lower-priority items bubble-up.

But it doesn’t always work that way. The ‘citywide bike plan’ priority, for example, first appeared as a ‘B’ in FY 2012-13. But it never escaped that second tier; it never bubbled-up to an A-level. And in the two most recent priorities matrices, the description of that item changed. Where it once read, “Prepare a comprehensive Plan to create bicycle paths throughout the City,” more recently the emphasis shifted away from the plan update to something more nebulous. “Continue to develop acceptable enhancements to bike mobility throughout the City,” it read in FY 2013. In FY 2014 the priority appended, “including bike sharing.”

Is Bike-Friendly a Priority In Beverly Hills?

Exactly how much of a priority is anything remotely supportive of the bike-friendly city in Beverly Hills? Not much of a priority. For example, there has been no bike-friendly “enhancement” anywhere in the city since aside from a few bike lane block segments that were installed back in mid-2013. With that the city simply called it ‘job done.’

The bike-sharing item was tacked to reflect the Council’s interest in a boutique-sized, tourist-focused system that is expected to debut in 2016. (To our knowledge, none of the many riders in touch with city staff asked for bike-share here.)

And of course the single most significant “enhancement” was sidestepped entirely this past July when City Council turned its back on hundreds of riders who called for bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard for greater safety. Many earlier suggestions for alternative bike routes and safety signage have simply been ignored.

Shouldn’t safe, multimodal mobility be a priority? We think so, and we told Council during the priority-setting exercise last December. We highlighted BHPD data that showed 36 bicycle riders were injured on city streets over the previous calendar year (2013). That is 10% of all crash injuries despite riders having made up fewer than 1% of road users in that (or any) year. There has been no decline in rider injuries over time either: that year, injured riders reached a near-seven-year peak.

Had preventing crash injuries been a city priority, we wouldn’t see enforcement nosedive in most categories as that year progressed.

Enforcement citation trendlines for 2013

Chart by Better Bike from BHPD data.

That changed ‘bike plan’ priority pictured above – the one that essentially removes any reference to the bike plan update – was reflected in the late news that the city won’t be updating our Bicycle Master Plan after all. It dates to 1977. The update had been a ‘B’ priority that simply fell off the priorities matrix.

Why Haven’t I Ever Heard of the ‘Priorities-Setting Exercise’?

A priorities-setting exercise should balance stakeholder demands and policymaker aspirations against the city’s finite resources. But here only stakeholders get the short shrift. We’re simply not invited to participate: no press release has announced the event since a press release back in 2008. No mention has ever been made in the city’s In Focus magazine, which is delivered direct to city households. And it’s not promoted on the city website as an outreach initiative; it’s calendared just like any other Council meeting. On a Tuesday afternoon. With only 72 hours notice.

With zero outreach to the community, Is it any wonder few, if anyone, from the public bothers to attend? Yet engaging stakeholders is identified as an ‘A’ priority in this year’s priority matrix.

Community Visioning priority in FY2015-16 matrixSo much for reaching out to “citizens not usually heard from”! In that 2008 press release – issued after-the-fact of the priorities exercise, by the way – then-City Manager Rod Wood was honest in his assessment of where the public fits into the priorities-setting. Nowhere.

Priorities setting exercise Press Release 2008For any member of the public who is interested to attend this year’s exercise, we encourage you to set aside Tuesday 12/15 at 2:30 PM. We’d love to be able to introduce you to this bit of local governance theater, but unfortunately there exists no record of past  priorities-setting exercises: no minutes, synopses or video.

Celebrating Geography Awareness Week, We Look at Some Bike Maps

Existing and Planned lanes leading to Beverly Hills map

Beverly Hills has no plans to meet most of these proposed and existing bike lanes.

To mark the close of Geography Awareness Week (which began Monday) we’re offering a few maps that highlight the varying commitment of local governments to ensuring safe, multimodal mobility.* Each highlights bike lanes and designated bike routes that we know make riding more safe, but also tend to increase the appeal of cycling as a mode of transportation. Let’s start with Beverly Hills as a reference point.

Under a ‘pilot program‘ a couple of years ago, the city striped class II bicycle lanes along several blocks of North Crescent Drive and a few blocks of Burton Way. The city also installed several blocks of shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) south of Burton. But City Council stopped way short of what bike advocates asked for: instead of the five rider-recommended signed and/or protected routes, staff recommended just one of them – and then added a second one which politically was the easiest lift of them all.

Of course, the pilot, by definition, is a temporary program, so the city allowed the paint to fade on these installed lanes and sharrows. And sometimes it simply installed sharrows incorrectly but took months to rectify it.

Here is our map of the two final routes (note that the city produces no bike routes map on its own).

Pilot routes map illustration

Not quite the citywide bicycle network envisioned in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan!

MUTCD bicycle signs 2014That is the extent of the city’s bike route network! Just two routes – and neither of them highly trafficked or even a key business district street. The irony is that these improvements made little difference in terms of increased safety for riders.

It gets worse. Beverly Hills has hung no share-the-road or may-use-full-lane sign (right); or created a publicity program to remind motorists to look out for riders; nor has it sponsored a bike safety class (or even created a website) for rider safety education. Perhaps that’s why riders flout stop signs, as our policymakers like to remind us when they turn their back on bike-friendly improvements.

Yet other cities do continue to invest in multimodal mobility, and it  does make a difference: streets feel safer to ride and that leads to greater enthusiasm for cycling. These cities reap the benefits. Let’s have a look!

Santa Monica Takes the Lead

City of Santa Monica offers the most pointed contrast. The city has rolled out bike lanes and sharrows like its multimodal transportation policies depends on them. (It does.) Look at this bike map! Beverly Hills riders can only dream of this kind of citywide network.

Santa Monica bike map illustrationNot only does Santa Monica walk the talk, it codified it too in the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – which actually identifies as a policy goal the generation of no new motor trips in the downtown area. To reach that goal, it has been first out of the gate with a bike station, a 500-bike bike-share program, and of course these miles of bicycle lanes and routes. Bravo!

Culver City

Not all cities can have Santa Monica’s mojo. Our neighbor Culver City is a bit slow out of the blocks like Beverly Hills, and it too didn’t immediately embrace bike lanes. But Culver City is a very different city than either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in that it hardly revolves around its downtown; instead it serves as a crossroads for key arteries like Culver, Washington, Robertson, Jefferson, and Venice boulevards.

Aside from City of LA’s bicycle lane on the north edge, Culver City is not yet well-served by protected facilities like a bicycle lane. But the map suggests that it is beginning to roll out routes along the corridors.

Culver city bike map (2010)

Culver City’s incipient network will prioritize the key through routes.

With so much pass-through traffic, and now an Expo Line station too, policymakers have gotten the message. Former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells really got it, and she positioned the city to make positive changes to embrace multimodal mobility. That’s another key difference compared to Beverly Hills. The city adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011.

West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is not only farther along in its bike planning than Beverly Hills or Culver City, it takes the whole concept of multimodal mobility more seriously. City Council some years back formed a bicycle task force to make recommendations about which corridors to prioritize for facilities. And more recently the city undertook a process to update its new mobility plan. So we’re seeing an elaboration of new bike facilities and the beginning of a true citywide network of protected lanes and designated routes.West Hollywood bike map

Burbank and Glendale

Hard up against the Verdugo Mountains, the cities of Burbank and Glendale are well on their way to creating their own citywide bike route networks. Burbank adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011 and appears to be laying the foundation for a citywide network.

Burbank bike mapBut Glendale got the earlier start. In the mid-2000s the city partnered with the LACBC to undertake their Safe and Healthy Streets Plan (2009). Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under its PLACE Program (Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments) the plan anticipated a city where “residents live safer, healthier lives by walking and riding a bicycle for both transportation and recreation.” (Read the Action Plan for more information.)

The plan puts at its center the complete streets vision of transportation “that meets the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and people of all ages and abilities,” says the plan. (“As well as motor vehicles.”) That philosophy is borne out by its rapidly-expanding citywide network of bicycle routes.Glendale bike map

Given the challenging topography of the City, Glendale is making rapid strides toward knitting together the whole!

So What Does This Comparison Say About Beverly Hills?

Beverly Hills is dead last in the installation of bicycle facilities and it pulls up the rear when it comes to intent to make our streets safer to ride. That’s because Beverly Hills policymakers continue to grasp at auto-era solutions to our post-auto era problems.

Consider congestion. Today, crosstown boulevards handle nearly 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday; and our major intersections can’t handle the capacity we throw at it (most are level-of-service ‘F’). It strains our streets and will only get worse as more intensive development comes tomorrow.

Consider multimodal opportunities. We’re a compact city for the most part. With excellent transit connections. Of course that suggests we shift more trips to transit and bicycles. Yet policymakers stubbornly resist. Our Bicycle Master Plan dates from 1977 and there is no intent to update it. Our transportation officials are largely unacquainted with the new, multimodal thinking, and staff declined to recommend to City Council that we include bicycle lanes when the city reconstructs Santa Monica Boulevard next year. So we won’t be including them.

Consider the potential of the bike-friendly business district. Our small business task force seemed unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bicycle-friendly business district’ when it issued its findings to City Council. No surprise: our city still demands (now discredited) excessive, code-required off-street parking. We simply prey a developer will come along to dig down deep – in the ground and in the pocket – when building anew so we’d get a few additional parking spaces. Spaces that will never satisfy demand, which only increases with our continuing policies that facilitate reliance on the auto.

Beverly Hills has all of the advantages. Our city of 35,000 is the smallest in population and the second-smallest by land area (after Culver City) among the cities we’ve reviewed here.  Off the hills we’re a compact city, and we are not grappling with a challenging periphery (as does Glendale) or a non-grid center city (like Culver City).

And we’ve got the money: Beverly Hills households have the highest median income of all these cities. Led by our ‘golden’ business triangle, we ring up more retail sales than any other city (fully one-third more than runner-up Santa Monica). If we didn’t dump $5 million every year into marketing, why we could have the gold-standard facilities instead of grubbing a few bucks from clean-air grants for fewer than 30 bicycle racks. We clearly have the resources to invest in multimodal mobility but we simply choose not to make the investment.

*City of Los Angeles is the region’s big gorilla, of course, but here we look at smaller cities (populations under 200,000).

Update to the 1977 Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan is No Longer a Priority

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, discusses the non-priority bicycle master plan update.

Every year, City Council establishes policy and program priorities. And for the past four fiscal years, the long-overdue update of our Bicycle Master Plan was one of them. The plan dates to 1977. Yet even as other transportation priorities have moved forward, the city has taken no step toward revisiting a forty-year-old plan that’s still on the books. At the November 5th Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we learned why from transportation chief Aaron Kunz: the plan update is not really a city priority after all.

Everyone agrees that our Bicycle Master Plan is irrelevant to the challenges of 21st century mobility. For one thing, the plan can’t tap into today’s thinking about solutions to transportation problems. It dates to the era of discos and the long-forgotten national bicentennial. That was four decades ago!

And for another thing, this plan is completely ignored by City Hall. Our old bike plan says all the right things about bike route networks to connect schools and parks and all that; in fact it illustrates the enhanced multimodal objectives of our General Plan and Sustainable City Plan. But city officials are simply resistant to making the city safe to ride. So the plan goes unmentioned, and its vision unacknowledged by City Council and committees. As if it simply doesn’t exist.

“The Plan is How Old?!”

Five years ago, fresh off a close call with a motorist on Beverly Drive, we phoned Aaron Kunz to ask why the city has on its books a bike plan that appeared to be thirty-five years old. That is, decades out of date. Kunz, our city’s Deputy Director for Transportation, not only acknowledged it was long in the tooth; but noted that it had been re-adopted by City Council just a few months earlier during the General Plan update, and without any substantive change.

Incredible! Is there legal precedent for adopting a thirty-five year old plan? California law requires circulation plans to be based on solid data and updated regularly. Turns out that when re-adopted in 2010, our Bicycle Master Plan was demoted; today it’s merely an item in an appendix. It isn’t even included in the circulation element; instead it’s an appendage to the open space element. In other words, the Beverly Hills General Plan doesn’t regard cycling as a matter of transportation.

As if to put a fine point on the bike plan’s irrelevance, when asked the city couldn’t even find a legible copy of the plan’s maps. (We were shown photocopies.)

But Kunz noted that an update to the bike plan was in the works, and that the Traffic and Parking commission had formed a Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose. So we waited. And waited. The committee never did embark on an update. (Today that committee is practically moribund.) Seeing no action, we brought the old plan to the attention of the commission; we apprized City Council; and we spoke to transportation staff. A transportation planner said that when the time came, we’d have a few minutes at the mic to comment.

Arnstein's ladder of participation

Degrees of participation from Arnstein’s ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ (1969)

We went to planning school. That’s pro-forma participation, not substantive participation; it makes no difference to the outcome. It’s low on the public participation ladder.

City Council Makes the Plan Update a Priority

The only thing we can show for our efforts is that City Council made the update of the old Bicycle Master Plan update a priority. That was back in fiscal year 2012-13. It was a second-tier (‘B’ level) priority, mind you, but still. It was in the queue for action. In fact, it was targeted for completion in 2014.

City Council priorities 2012-13 excerpt bike planBut the Bicycle Master Plan from 1977 wasn’t updated. So the city put it on the next fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2013-14 excerpt

That completion date too slipped. So the city tacked it onto the next 2014-15 fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2014-15 excerpt

But a funny thing happened between that year and the next (2014-15) fiscal year: the priority item’s emphasis shifted. No longer was it “prepare a comprehensive plan to create bicycle paths”; now the action item was to “develop acceptable enhancements to bike mobility.” That’s a bit of sleight-of-hand! Think about the change in intent. From development of a citywide “plan” to simply implementing “acceptable enhancements.” And what does acceptable mean, exactly? And of course there were also the missed deadlines.

The bike plan update priority item remains on the current fiscal year (2015-16) list, albeit with a new bike-share measure tacked on:

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike planThe bike-share add-on represents the Council’s interest in rolling out a system in 2016. We’ve previously called it out for being boutique-sized (just 50 bikes) but we’ll take progress where we can get it.

On the plan update, however, there is no progress. It seems that while the priority remained on the list year after year, there never was a credible gesture made toward updating the plan. Eventually – and quietly – City Council evidently took the update off the table. Admittedly, we never noticed the change in emphasis.

Why No Progress?

So the lack of progress until now has been a mystery. But in this November’s Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we gained some insight. And it’s two reasons. First, Traffic and Parking commissioners don’t much care about rider safety. And second, we learned that the bike plan update wasn’t a priority after all.

On rider safety, it’s clear that there’s not sufficient regard for rider safety in Beverly Hills. But to be fair, the city holds in low regard the safety of all road users. Traffic and Parking commissioners every month receive a police tally of crash injuries, yet appear incurious as to why those injuries don’t ever decrease.

But riders feel the brunt of city indifference: over the past seven years, the number of injured riders has increased by 60%. Witness the trend.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)

Rider injuries are up 59% from 2008 through last year. (Chart generated by Better Bike from BHPD data.)

Yet Traffic and Parking commissioners never ask why; or wonder what can be done to reduce the harm. For their part, the police never flagged the increase (the city doesn’t evidently chart crash trends). As in the recent meeting, when the rate of crash injuries is mentioned at all, it is simply noted and accepted as a fact of life. (Then again, no member of the commission ever asks why our city leads the state in road injuries among small-sized cities generally.)

As for the bike plan update, Traffic and Parking Commission Chair Lester Friedman himself noted in the November 5th meeting that as a Council-identified priority it’s not gone anywhere even as other transportation priorities have moved forward. “The only ‘B’ priority [remaining] is the citywide bike plan,” he said. Was there finally an opportunity to advance it? No chance at all. “We have 3 A priorities already [underway], so the likelihood of us getting a 4th priority [going] is slim and none,” he said. “And the reality is we’ll have our hands full with Santa Monica Blvd. mitigation… I mean I’ll hear what [fellow commissioners] say, but I don’t see where we got any room on this one.”

Fellow commissioners Jeff Seidel, Jake Manaster, Jeff Levine and Andy Licht agreed: it wasn’t in the commission’s interest to make it an A-level priority.

Then it got interesting. Commissioner Seidel asked if work would later be accelerated in order to meet the target date on the existing ‘bike plan’ priority item. (The estimated completion date for is indicated as June 2016.) Transportation deputy Kunz replied, “I don’t know if we changed the date on that….” He then elaborated: “Our thought on it is that that’s really [about] bike-sharing… unless it’s raised to an A priority we would not focus on that outside of bike-sharing.”

Listen for yourself to the 4-minute meeting audio:


Turns out that the bike plan update has been off-the-table all along. The Community Development Department hasn’t been thinking about it since FY 2014-15 (as suggested by the priority item description’s change in emphasis). Good to know!

Many Good Ideas Die a Quiet Death in Beverly Hills

The tacit tanking of the long-overdue update to our 1977 bike plan reflects the city’s M.O. when it comes to making multimodal improvements: any suggestion to make Beverly Hills bike-friendly, for example, will be quietly sidestepped; it goes away, not to be spoken of again. Only a decidedly non-team Beverly Hills player (like Better Bike!) would dare bring it back up in a commission meeting, say, or at City Council.

You remember how Council effectively killed bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard this past July, right? City Council didn’t explicitly vote ‘no’ to deny the lanes but instead just let the question expire by simply not moving it forward at a crucial decision point. (Read more.)

That’s the way city officials have handled the forty-year-old Bicycle Master Plan too. During the General Plan update back in 2010, officials didn’t simply ditch the outdated document much less update it. Instead they tucked it away as an obscure appendix never to be heard from again. Much like dispatching a red-headed stepchild to live in the woodshed: out of sight, out of mind.

Another Bike Count Behind Us

bike count 2015 clipboard

Counting riders & pedestrians on South Santa Monica Boulevard

Every two years the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition conducts a count of pedestrians & bicyclists. All across the county, volunteers stand on a street corner for a couple of hours with a clipboard to manually count those who walk and ride. Sounds inefficient, right? It is! But automated counters register only vehicles; they don’t measure multimodal trips. So intrepid volunteers take the reins! The objective: to document how people actually use streets and then use the data to inform policies that maximize safety and efficiency for all road users.

There is a certain meditative calm that comes with being in one spot for two hours with only the responsibility to observe one’s surroundings. Patterns emerge among pedestrians as crowds form at crosswalks and queue at the bus stops before periodically moving on with the light change or the next bus. One witnesses a kind of urban Brownian Motion of prosaic daily doings.

Of course in our region it is the traffic that predominates. Signals dam and release the vehicular flow; motorists queue up in the turn lanes; and driveways, like tributaries, feed boulevards and drain the congestion away. A river seems like an apt analogy for the ebb and flow of cars, trucks and buses on city streets. Compared to the vehicular flow, bicycle riders are a relative trickle in Los Angeles.

 

But what also comes to the fore is the obvious inefficiencies of surface transportation. The single-occupancy gas-guzzling vehicles that clog our boulevards and the environmental impacts generally that come with our over-reliance on motor transportation.

To get a better handle on the non-motor flow, I volunteered for the 2015 LACBC bicycle and pedestrian count. I observed at three locales: South Santa Monica here in Beverly Hills; Olympic and Alvarado (near Koreatown); and Wilshire and Westholm in Westwood. The contrasts among these places could not be greater.

South Santa Monica Boulevard: The ‘Gateway’ to Beverly Hills

West of Wilshire this two-block stretch of single-story commercial structures appears tailor-made for a bike-friendly business district. Not only is it well-located between Century City and the business triangle in Beverly Hills, it is within walking distance of not one but three large developments underway. And already it is undergoing a transformation from sleepy shops to art galleries and retail destinations.

South Santa Monica Blvd shops

Small shops and art galleries make this two-block stretch of South Santa Monica Boulevard perfect for a bike-friendly business district.

The city wants more hospitality uses like cafes, too, but that is currently proscribed by code-required parking minimums. But that is a great opportunity too: refashioning this two-block long district’s boulevard for safe bicycle travel would take the pressure off parking demand. And if we put this segment on a ‘road diet’ we would reduce motor traffic volume and liberate available space for class II bike lanes. No longer would policymakers look to larger structures with underground parking garages to bring new off-street parking to the corridor.

bicycle-master-plan-SM-detailOf course, a bike-friendly boulevard in a business district would allow for increased foot traffic without the accompanying vehicular traffic (and congestion). That’s no just our idea; this corridor is indicated as as a potential bike-friendly route in our city’s 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. The map below shows the proposed bike-friendly routes (this one is highlighted in red, at right).

But as I saw from two hours of observation, this route today is best recommended only to intrepid riders. The volume of motor traffic on the two travel lanes (in each direction), coupled with curbside parking, make South Santa Monica not only a squeeze for riders, but somewhat hazardous given the prevailing speeds.

PSA: riders are fully within our rights under state law to use the entire right-hand lane though this corridor, and would be well-advised to do so!

What about the South Santa Monica Boulevard riders? I found just ten or eleven riders on average in any given hour  traversed these two blocks by bicycle. Those findings didn’t vary much from weekday mornings and afternoons to Saturday midday (I conducted three counts here). Not only did the total show fewer riders than I expected (this is an important crosstown route after all), but it may reflect something less than a robust cycling culture in our city. Or perhaps crosstown riders are not very familiar with this north Santa Monica Boulevard alternative route. (Of course it’s not signed as such.)

More telling is that few women riders made the journey past my count point. Just 10% of all riders were female! (The proportion of female riders is cited to reflect the prevailing perception of relative safety on a given route.) Perhaps it is explained by the character of those who I did see: sport cyclists, commuters or otherwise evidently experienced riders were most of them. Many, if not most, wore spandex and greater than two-thirds used a helmet. Just 15% on average used a sidewalk.

Olympic Between Alvarado and Westlake: Gateway to Central America

More immigrants from Central America have landed at Alvarado and Wilshire than anywhere else in the United States. And as a result it’s been utterly transformed over the past four decades: gone is the old-school aesthetic of high-rise apartments and romanticized Spanish Revival detailing. Even the pastoral layout of MacArthur Park seems out of place today. What I see today is a neighborhood shaped by the informal economy that is itself powered by the hard-knock practicality of immigrants.

I counted pedestrians and riders a few blocks south of Wilshire at Olympic and Alvarado, where the foot traffic thins a bit and the weathered storefronts reflect a long decline in urban investment in this section of Los Angeles. Here the fast-food restaurant is an institution while most businesses struggle to simply attract the occasional visitor.

Olympic at Alvarado

Making a dash across eight lanes of busy Olympic Boulevard near Alvarado.

I set up my stool at McDonalds and watched the flow of people pass by. They shuffled past as many as six to a family. Disheveled itinerants with time on their hands came and went (but never for long) as they always returned to the Golden Arches. Here they too have set up a kind of shop, the homeless, aimless, panhandlers, hustlers, and more.

This is clearly a pedestrian neighborhood (much of the motor traffic seems to be pass-through.) In fact I counted nearly 250 pedestrians – nearly  50% more than in Beverly Hills on a Saturday prior. (That’s even though South Santa Monica services a hotel and there is a Starbucks on the corner. Too, this is a corridor of service retailers. But still relatively little foot traffic.)

Despite more pedestrians, the mode share of cycling was surprisingly on par with that of Beverly Hills: 13% of non-motor travelers used a bike. That’s because there were more riders on Olympic too – fully 50% more than on South Santa Monica. That works out to an average of about 17 riders passing on Olympic per hour (compared to 11 on South Santa Monica).

But the big difference was the character of the riders on Olympic: 3/4 of riders used the sidewalk and fewer than 15% of them donned a helmet. (And no rider wore spandex!) More surprising was that just 1 female rider passed my station in a two hour period. Clearly this is a very different rider profile than found on the Westside! Here cycling is everyday transportation, not a pastime.

Wilshire Boulevard Through Condo Canyon: Gateway to Westwood

Wilshire Boulevard in WestwoodI counted at Wilshire and Westholm in Condo Canyon country. Here there is no commercial development so there is nothing to attract the destination rider. Except lots of apartments. Despite the density, there were very few people on the streets: not even 90 pedestrians in a two-hour stretch and just two riders passed my count line. Two! One per hour on one of the busiest boulevards for motor traffic in the region.

Few walk here because this environment is not engineered for walking. There are sidewalks, yes, but the predominant features are the driveway, port cochere, and the valet attendant. Here the auto reigns.

Missionaries on a Saturday morning mission in Condo Canyon.

Missionaries on a Saturday morning mission in Condo Canyon.

Of the relatively few walkers I saw, a few were missionary evangelists evidently seeking converts in the long shadows of Condo Canyon. But getting past the doorman on this stretch of un-neighborly Los Angeles is a formidable challenge.

Why do so very few riders take Wilshire? After all, the cycling mode share was just 2.2% the midday period during which I counted. Consider that Westwood is only blocks away and UCLA is just a 10-minute ride. That 2.2% pales compared to the 13% mode share on Olympic and South Santa Monica.

But ride Wilshire and you’ll understand why so few want to: it’s downright hazardous to your health!

To the east (toward Beverly Hills) is a gantlet; that no-man’s land between the country clubs is a corridor without a decent sidewalk and no shoulder for refuge. Only the fearless rider defends her right to use the entire right-hand lane when motorists pass by at high speeds too close for comfort.

The curb in Condo Canyon moves in and out with land dedications from a prior era.

The curb in Condo Canyon moves in and out with land dedications from a prior era.

To the west, Wilshire is also a speeder’s domain as hills and relatively few cross streets beg a heavy foot. Moreover, ill-advised land dedications (once required of property owners by the City of Los Angeles) have the effect of moving the curb into the roadway and back out. Rutted pavement and debris-littered drain pans force riders into the traffic flow. Cars constantly pull in and out of the driveways. And this nightmare only gets worse as one approaches the 405 because the sidewalks are impassable.

Rutted blacktop on Wilshire in Condo CanyonIronically even after two hours of standing near the curb, I didn’t appreciate the hazards facing riders until I rode it myself. Cycling doesn’t get much more hazardous than it does here.

Epilogue

Planners and policymakers are well-advised to stand and observe for a couple of hours in any location to get a feel for the street. Few do; they take a few pictures and move on. But by moving on so quickly they give short shrift to the patterns in the environment that beg attention. For pedestrian, vehicular and bicycle flows suggest the fixes that will get us to a better urban future. No planning degree required.

For example, South Santa Monica has the bones of a true bicycle boulevard. Yet it’s nowhere near bike-friendly today. Reducing the overall demand for vehicular travel should be an objective, rather than speed pass-through traffic (which is city policy). Reduced vehicular traffic would have the ancillary benefit of taking pressure off the nearby level-of-service (LOS) grade ‘F’ intersection at Wilshire. And of course the reduced traffic volume would improve safety for all road users on this corridor too.

Reducing traffic by, say, putting a street on a ‘road diet’ is a long-term fix, sure, but failing to recognize the mobility problem won’t ever prompt Beverly Hills to adopt better transportation policies. Planners and policymakers should get in the saddle, too, if they want to appreciate the mobility barriers that today’s city presents to people who walk and ride. How will we ever get more folks riding a bicycle if we don’t make our streets more conducive to safe travel?

Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What?

MayorChallengeSignUpEarlier this year, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged American localities to make travel safer for bicycle riders and pedestrians. In March he invited US mayors to sign on, and Beverly Hills accepted the challenge back in February. But we’ve heard nothing from City Hall about it since then. Is our city doing anything to meet the Mayors’ Challenge for bike-friendly streets?

Back in 2010, then-Secretary of USDOT Ray LaHood issued a policy statement called Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations to support the creation of “convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities” on streets to encourage bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages to get out from behind the wheel. Crucially, the emphasis was placed on ensuring safe access to streets for people of all ages and abilities regardless of mode choice. Here is the policy statement section of the document (in full):

The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

The statement departs from age-old USDOT guidance in one important way: it explicitly references alternatives to the automobile. “Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate…people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.”

Moreover, it encourages local transportation agencies to “plan, fund, and implement improvements…including linkages to transit” that go beyond “minimum requirements.” In spirit it affirms non-motor transportation as an “integral element” of the transportation system. From a department of transportation perspective, that is practically heresy!

Then the statement concludes:

While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.

The policy was a springboard for the department’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative launched in the fall of 2014. The goal: to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety across the country. The initiative was the centerpiece of the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets in DC in March. Read the executive summary.

Mayors’ Challenge

Just as the Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation reminds local agencies of their responsibility to ensure safe access to roadways, USDOT Secretary Foxx’s ‘Mayors’ Challenge’ prods localities and their local agencies to actually commit to taking concrete (pun intended) steps to make streets safe for walking and cycling. Launched on January 22nd, it is a “call to action.” Localities would undertake one or more of the “challenge activities” organized around some aspect of enhanced multimodal mobility:

  • Employ ‘complete streets’ principles in design
  • Identify barriers to access that make streets less safe
  • Gather and track data on biking and walking
  • Deploy contextual street designs that go beyond minimum standards
  • Create and complete pedestrian and bicycle networks
  • Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road use behavior

Secretary Foxx would seem to have his work cut out for him in Beverly Hills with his Mayors’ Challenge!

Beverly Hills: ‘Challenged’ Indeed When It Comes to Safe Streets

Beverly Hills was among the first cluster of localities to sign on to the challenge in February. And oddly we find our city in the company of leading bicycle-friendly places like Davis and San Francisco, as well as bike-friendly tony precincts like Santa Barbara and Menlo Park.

Mayors' Challenge cities listWhat do we have in common with them when it comes to mobility? Beverly Hills has not taken any step to make our city more bike-friendly. And frankly our policymakers don’t appear inclined to enact any policy or create any program to support multimodal mobility any time soon.

Indeed we fought tooth-and-nail to keep bicycle lanes off of North Santa Monica Boulevard despite overwhelming support from the public and policy guidance from USDOT (no less) that recommends lanes there. Have a look at the city’s own project renderings for tomorrow’s corridor. You won’t see a bicycle lane or continental crosswalk or any other safe-street facility depicted.

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (east of Canon Drive)

Before and after views of North Santa Monica Boulevard. After $35 million spent, this corridor will be no more supportive of multimodal mobility than when it was constructed nearly 100 years ago.

The dearth of ‘complete streets’ principles is by design; you won’t find mention of the term in any city document nor will it pass the lips of any official here. (That is, with the notable exception of John Mirisch who, alone on the City Council dais, has consistently supported safe and complete streets.)

Now that former Mayor Lili Bosse signed us up, will we accept the ‘challenge’? We asked transportation planner Martha Eros how our city will proceed on the Mayor’s Challenge. “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements,” she said. We followed up for specifics. “Thank you for your patience,” Martha replied. “I have asked for an update on next steps re. the Mayor’s Challenge and will provide information when received.” There was no follow-up.

This week we made a media inquiry of Beverly Hills City Hall. “Has the city undertaken any of the measures suggested by the challenge?” we asked. “Or taken a step that might reflect the spirit of the challenge, such as addressing the barriers that make streets safe for all road users?” But we received no response.

Clearly the city has not taken the challenge as seriously as have other cities. A search for relevant documents on the city’s website, for example, turned up no documents.

Search returns for Mayor's Challenge on Beverly Hills website

Update: Better Bike received this reply from Public Information Manager Therese Kosterman:

When Councilmember Bosse was mayor, she had a highly successful Walk with the Mayor program that attracted hundreds of participants and highlighted the importance of walking as a part of the complete streets approach to local transportation. In addition the bike share program was approved under her leadership and is still moving forward, even after her term as mayor ended.

We’ll look forward to a complete streets initiative put forth by current mayor Dr. Julian Gold to meet the terms of the challenge.

But Santa Monica Does Take The Challenge Seriously…

Contrast our rhetoric-rich but commitment-phobic approach with that taken by the City of Santa Monica. City Council unanimously supported participation in the Mayors’ Challenge this summer. “We are vitally interested in safe streets,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said. “We want to further to emphasize our commitment to bicycle and pedestrian safety.” Councilmember Pam O’Connor agreed:

We are not backing down from what we want to do with pedestrian & bike safety and multimodal mobility. We need to be aggressive with the goals of vision zero – [that is] no tolerance for any loss of life…and to make our streets work for people of all ages.” – Santa Monica Councilmember Pam O’Connor

It’s fine to talk about embracing the challenge, but tangible action requires resources. Here Santa Monica City Council ponied up by backing Councilmember Gleam Davis’s suggestion for a fully-funded program coordinator. “It’s important that we not only affirm the ideas but make a budgetary commitment in staffing,” she said. And it was done!

The Mayors’ Challenge throws down the gauntlet to participating localities. And some, like Santa Monica, have indeed taken up the challenge. But in other cities, as our own experience suggests, local transportation officials and policymakers too often stand in the way. USDOT Secretary Foxx said as much: “While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.” Amen.

Bike Parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills is STILL Broken

Whole Foods bike rack

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills (photo 2011). Worthy of a ‘B’ grade?

While reading a recent link-bait post over at Los Angeles Magazine, we were reminded just how unwelcoming is our local Whole Foods to those who would ride a bike. In its back-of-the-envelope comparison of “shopping experiences” at Whole foods in Mid City and Beverly Hills, the magazine nearly flunks the Mid City store. But ours gets a ‘B’ grade? For many years we’ve complained about a wheel-bender rack in a grimy corner of the Beverly Hills Whole Foods garage. But to no avail.

Honestly, a ‘B’ grade for the Beverly Hills Whole Foods store seems like a bit of grade inflation. The store is somewhat cramped. Access by riders and pedestrians is not only a hassle, it’s hazardous. Even harried motorists feel the burn when queued up for one of the spots in a relatively small garage. So why the ‘B’ grade here? Because finding parking at the 3rd and Fairfax store is even more of a hassle. You see, LA Magazine is grading the parking experience of Whole Foods, and not the shopping experience. We should have known as much from a post tagged ‘LA Driver.’

Here the magazine’s perspective is from behind the windshield: fuzzy metrics concern exclusively but driver’s convenience. So the Mid City store could only fail because, the magazine says, it is “a suburban store in an urban environment.” Whatever that means!

The parking limit is 90 minutes, but how can any of the attendants tell how long someone’s been in the lot?… Sure, if you hit this place up on a Tuesday at 11:12 a.m., it’s not bad. Most other times, just no. Tear this whole thing down, get rid of the KMart, and put the parking underground. — LA Magazine, Grading the Parking Lots of Whole Foods

Often the only answer from someone behind the windshield is to construct an even larger parking lot. Sounds like the problem is not that it’s suburban but not suburban enough for LA Driver.

Beverly Hills Gets a Pass?

Beverly Hills is also an urban location and it too is plagued by many of the same issues:  heavy traffic, small garage (chock-full most of the day), and the usual hazards to pedestrians that suggest serious public safety concerns. Even the forgotten bike parking area at the Beverly Hills store seems worse than the one at 3rd and Fairfax. Why not a ‘D’ grade for Beverly Hills too?

We think that Whole Foods should get a ‘D’ if only for the poor effort its made to make bike parking convenient and appealing.

We’ve done our part: for years we’ve urged Whole Foods to upgrade its bike parking. Have a look at the picture at the top. Taken in the fall of 2011, it shows an old-style wheel-bender rack (which secures only the front wheel in an unstable manner). There is also all kinds of detritus that gets in the way. The rest of the garage is no better; there are no other racks there.

So starting in the fall of 2013 we contacted the store numerous times. After some back-and-forth, Eliberto Gamino, the ‘Store Team Leader’ for Beverly Hills, said “We are still waiting for the outside building [renovation] project to be done. When the outside project is done we’ll be installing new bike racks on the outside.” But that job came and went and no rack was installed.

Then we chatted up Mario Inga, Parking Services Manager for the Beverly Hills store. We met with him and highlighted the dingy area (below) as well as other rack opportunities near to the store entrance. He was enthusiastic, but again no action was taken. Here’s how it looked in 2014 (with the detritus finally gone).

Whole Foods bike parking October 2014

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills in 2014. More tidy, not much more improvement. Note the wheel-bender rack.

Next we contacted corporate via Twitter (not once but twice, most recently this summer) and, while we get a sympathetic response, the talk goes quiet. And nothing is done. We even contacted city facilities manager Brenda Lavender (Beverly Hills owns the garage and the building) on the store’s behalf. Not only did we see no action, we received no response from her at all.

So four years after we first raised concerns, and after many such messages, here’s the view of the Beverly Hills Whole Foods bike parking area this month. How is this work satisfactory for a ‘B’ grade?

Whole Foods rack area

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills in October of 2015. Conditions like this communicate disregard for those who would ride a bicycle to their neighborhood market.

We didn’t just drop our demand in corporate’s lap. We penned a site diagram to help store officials communicate with HQ and the city on a makeover. Here’s an aerial and our diagram.

Whole Foods rack site diagram

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills as diagrammed by Better Bike. Room enough for a few racks and desperate for a new coat of paint and some real lighting!

What more can we do to get a couple of real bike racks installed? So it sticks in our craw that Whole Foods gets a passing grade even from ‘LA Driver.’ “There’s an hour of free parking and an overflow lot next door,” the magazine noted of Beverly Hills in its back-of-envelope comparison. Indeed there is. If you drive. Evidently that’s good enough for LA Magazine to give Whole Foods a pass.

Qataris Behaving Badly? Let’s Focus on the Homegrown ‘Sheikhs’

Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari

What’s more ridiculous than wasting ink on the now-departed Qatari sheikh who hot-rodded around Beverly Hills this August? The fact that no ink is spilled about everyday reckless driving tolerated by city policymakers and police officials. Forget Mideast sheikhs behaving badly in their Ferraris and such; we’re got a homegrown haute bourgeoisie who feel entitled to spin around at high speeds on quiet residential streets in off-the-shelf sports cars. And they garner nary a glance from the cops. For come sunset, there is no traffic enforcement in Beverly Hills. When was the last time you read in the local media about reckless driving here in Beverly Hills? You probably never have. And you wouldn’t until, say a Qatari national runs … Continue reading

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Today the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for … Continue reading

Hazardous Intersections That Need a Safety Upgrade TODAY

A couple of weeks ago we reported on a genius LA Times interactive called Walking in L.A. that mapped 817 of the “most dangerous” intersections in the county. As we noted with no surprise, several of most dangerous county intersections (and clusters) are right here in Beverly Hills. Despite the long histories of crashes, not one of them has been made more safe. City of Los Angeles several years ago acknowledged the problem, though, with a plan to stripe 53 problematic crossings for high visibility. Three years later, KPCC asks listeners, Are there others in need of a fix? First, more about the harm. “Los Angeles has a higher rate of car accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists than the rest … Continue reading

New Ambassador Program Promises Smiles. Unless You’re Homeless!

“When visitors come to Beverly Hills, they expect to be greeted by a friendly face,” said Beverly Hills in late July when announcing our new ‘ambassadors’ program. “Beverly Hills is known world-wide as a destination synonymous with luxury and impeccable service,” we said, and undoubtedly that’s true for Rodeo Drive shoppers and hotel guests alike. For them the smiles do abound. But seem a bit disheveled or chat up a passerby on the sidewalk unprovoked, and one of our twelve new ambassadors may well roll out the frown, as if to say, Don’t overstay the welcome. The half-million dollars Beverly Hills will spend this year for the new ‘Ambassador’ program is intended to “enhance the high quality of life for … Continue reading

Say Goodbye to Santa Monica Boulevard Bike Lanes [recap]

Cycling prohibited graphic

If you expected that Beverly Hills might install bicycle lanes on our segment of North Santa Monica Boulevard when reconstructing it next year, you will be sorely disappointed to know that City Council appears to have pounded the final nail into the bike lanes coffin. The decision reflects a lack of concern for the scores of speakers who supported the inclusion of bicycle lanes as a safety measure and stands as a rebuke to the hundreds more who urged our city in written comments to do the right thing by riders. [Note: this post has been edited substantially from the original to include new transcribed material from the City Council study session. We’ve also distinguished more clearly our own editorial … Continue reading