Santa Monica Blvd Recap & Update

Recently we spoke with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, about Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction and what to next expect in the process. Recall that back in March, the Council majority seemed unwilling to concede an extra foot of width to accommodate them. But the ballooning cost estimate stalled the project, and the Council deferred action pending more information about costs and traffic mitigation.

Santa Monica Boulevard: Quick Recap of the Timeline

The reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard has proved to be a much greater challenge than expected when the project was put on the city’s agenda in September of 2010. Back then, construction was anticipated to begin mid-2013. But that timeline began to slide in early 2012 when, prior to distribution, the draft project RFP  was referred back to staff because it specified no ‘complete streets’ measures as part of the project.

(The inclusion of complete streets principles is entirely discretionary, yet, as we recommended to the city, would be forward-looking. In 2009, a new state law directed localities to include complete streets principles in plans and policies by 2011. The intent was to ensure that making streets ‘complete’ or safe for all users would guide local transportation planning and infrastructure construction. But Beverly Hills got under the wire with a general plan update in 2010, and of course our city has passed no local complete streets ordinance to mandate such safety measures.)

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape.

As a result of our own inattention, complete streets treatments (like continental crosswalks and traffic calming measures such as curb extensions) are rare in Beverly Hills anywhere outside of the polished diamond of the business triangle.

When the draft RFP came up for Council review, then-Mayor John Mirisch argued that complete streets principles should frame expectations for this key transportation project and Council agreed. But even with that revised RFP, the project contract wasn’t signed until a full year later.

What should tomorrow’s corridor look like? City Council in the fall of 2013 appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee to consider conceptual design options. The committee’s work concluded in January of 2014. Between the Blue Ribbon and City Council meeting in March of this year, over 200 members of the public commented in support of bicycle lanes…public input which the Council majority seemingly opposed to lanes simply waved away. Since then, the entire project has been (figuratively) parked.

What’s next?

Backbone Bike NetworkWhile city staff & consultants prepare traffic mitigation options and revised cost estimates, Council is pondering the politics of boulevard widening and the prudence of dual-phasing the project with the western segment coming later. As we earlier observed, the problem for riders is that the lanes option could slip away unless we keep our focus on the project as a larger piece of the regional bicycle backbone network (right); and that much-needed safety improvements to the Santa Monica-Wilshire intersection may be deferred indefinitely.

On September 23rd the project comes back to City Council. Will Council then address the bicycle lanes question? Aaron Kunz from Beverly Hills was not committal; he described the agenda item it as more of a discussion about cost and traffic mitigation. But the traffic mitigation issue is directly related to the bicycle lanes question: if Council decides to unduly limit the width of tomorrow’s boulevard (to 63 feet or less, for example) it will forever preclude bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.

In effect, Council could decide the lanes question simply by choosing a specific mitigation option that boxes out the possibility, without ever directly addressing the merits of a bicycle lane.

We’ll know more about the contours of the Council’s discussion when the staff report is released the Friday before.

BH Chamber GAC logoBefore that Council meeting, however, the Beverly Hills Chamber has scheduled an August 21st government affairs committee meeting to discuss the bike lanes option. As presented in the announcement, the Chamber will receive pro & con positions on the lanes, with high-profile NIMBYs like Robert and Bob Tanenbaum and Thomas White speaking out against them. You are urged to attend. More information can be found in our earlier post.

Don’t you can email members of City Council to remind them that you ride in and around Beverly Hills and that safe passage along this corridor is not discretionary – it is an obligation for the city to provide. Use our handy contacts cheat sheet and remind city officials that bike riders matter too.

Beverly Hills Chamber Addresses SM Blvd Bike Lanes

BH Chamber GAC logoThe Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee is inviting for a discussion debate representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the pro-bike community, and northside neighbors opposed to lanes for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Scheduled for August 21st at 8am, the GAC meeting will also fold in a discussion of this fall’s ballot propositions. But the sparks will likely come from the pro and con views on the bicycle lanes. We hope you can make it! Scroll for details.

Because proposed lanes would negatively affect no businesses, and because park ‘preservation’ is not generally on the Chamber’s agenda, we’re wondering why the Chamber would make this issue part of its government affairs meeting. After all, the Chamber is not taking sides on the issue, according to Andy Sywak, Director of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Chamber.

We’re presuming that lane opponents in City Hall called on the Chamber to help marshal influential business opposition to lanes before Council hears the issue again in September (update: likely 9/23). We recall that a similar preemptive statement was included in the Beverly Hills Municipal Club’s newsletter just prior to this issue going back to Council in July (where nothing substantive was decided). That same newsletter promoted the Muni League’s membership meeting, which seemed to give the City Hall imprimatur to the League’s anti-bike lane viewpoint (at least we thought it did).

Bike Lane Issue Background

Recall that this past winter, the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee, which was appointed by City Council to advise on boulevard design options, gave the thumbs-up to incremental boulevard expansion.  The committee (to which the Mayor appointed yours truly to represent the pro-bike interests) also OK’d a striped bicycle lane as part of the corridor’s reconstruction. And that really rubbed neighborhood NIMBYs the wrong way. And they gave Council an earful in March.

Since then there hasn’t been much action on Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction. As of that last March meeting, there has been no Council decision on final boulevard width or the question of bicycle lanes. The project has fallen way behind schedule as faulty cost estimates from staff, and intimations of less-than-good faith from Council, bedeviled its progress. In fact, reconstruction hasn’t even gotten off the design table yet. (Read more about the process on our own project page because the city’s project page hasn’t been updated since March!)

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t yet be surprised. Council in September  could very well provide direction to our consultants to plan a boulevard too narrow in width to include bicycle lanes. So instead of joining existing lanes in West Hollywood and Century City, we’d be the ‘biking black hole’ of the Westside. The upcoming Council meeting in mid-September may well decide the issue. (Read more about the project itself in the city’s presentation.)

Squeezing out lanes appears to be the opponents’ strategy. And they already count as a success the defeat of Metro tunneling for the Westside extension a generation ago. They also helped to put the kibosh on once-proposed Beverly Hills freeway. Now they are gunning for multimodal mobility even though our own city’s Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls on us to bike more. Moreover, our own Bicycle Master Plan (1977!) envisions Santa Monica Boulevard as a key bike corridor.

But you’ll hear nothing in support of bicycle lanes from our transportation division officials. They’ve come out against striping bike lanes for tomorrow’s SM Blvd. And our advisory Traffic and Parking Commission seems too busy with tour buses and parking permits to actually discuss the safety implications of a major regional connector without lanes. Indeed when a Council majority essentially waved away the comments of more than 200 lane proponents and leaned against giving bike lanes the nod in March, there was no voice internal to City Hall that could remind councilmembers that our neighboring cities do support multimodal mobility.

See You on August 21st

Meeting details: Chamber at 9400 S. Santa Monica Blvd. 2nd Floor. Note that the Chamber requests registration (which appears to be no-cost once you proceed through the process). And two hours of free parking is provided, but you’ll wisely ride in and avoid that hassle. For further information contact Andy Sywak, Director of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Chamber. The Chamber’s GAC meeting won’t be definitive by any means, but we’ll at least have a chance to make our case and sense the wind currents before the next Council meeting.Chamber GAC meeting notice

City Disses Cycling, Promotes Sham ‘Heart Healthy’ Event

Beverly Hills Healthy CityWho in Beverly Hills City Hall thinks that marketing a local luxe hotel and medical practice will lead to better community health outcomes? Perhaps only a city that turns its back on cycling for fun, fitness, and recreation could embrace the ‘Love Your Body’ workshop promoted in this city press release. It’s part of a new initiative, ‘Beverly Hills Healthy City,’ which prompts us to get moving. Literally! The Mayor, Lili Bosse, leads a popular Monday morning walk. Now we’re all for active mobility, but we don’t think a workshop offering “inspirational personal wellness solutions” is the best means to healthy ends.

But then who are we to quibble about a ‘heart healthy’ workshop like ‘Love Your Body’? We have a health crisis on our hands! Our sedentary lifestyles kill us slowly, public health professionals tell us. Chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes prey on our vulnerable communities. It’s the calorie-rich diet, the over-consumption of entertainment, and the disinclination to actively perambulate, doctors say, that increases body fat while reducing our ability to efficiently metabolize food. Add in the stress of daily living and you’ve got many attenuated lives. They call it a public health crisis.

Per the city’s press release, the ‘Love Your Body’ workshop at the Spa Montage comes to the rescue!

Learn to live a heart healthy lifestyle with fitness and wellness tips from experts who in their own unique way will inspire Beverly Hills to get moving every day….The 20,000 square foot urban oasis is the largest spa in Los Angeles with 17 treatments rooms, a co-ed mineral pool area, a state- of-the-art fitness center and spacious men’s and women’s relaxation areas.

The workshop will feature “cold-pressed juices and healthy treats provided by Montage Beverly Hills” as well as advice from “experts who in their own unique way will inspire” us to burn off the calories. (Helpfully the city press release urges us at the August 13th event to “learn more about Spa Montage’s Fit and Refresh Package” while we work our mind…if not our body.)

But the target market for this ‘Love Your Body’ workshop is not some needy Southland or Central Valley community; nor is it the low-income apartment dwellers of Mid-City, Mar Vista or Culver City, hard-up against too much fast food. Those might be places where public health interventions might be needed, but that’s not the clientele bid by the city’s marketing campaign.

No, the ‘Love Your Body’ workshop targets one specific needy community, and it’s right here at home: the haute bourgeoisie. They tend to recede into the long blocks of the north side so they may not be on the radar. But nevertheless we have to acknowledge that they need help. They live in environments where hazards like plush sofas predominate; where large entertainment systems beg a sit-down; where large residential lots remote from town discourage active mobility. Yes, we have our own expanding waistlines and phlegmatic metabolism issues right here in Beverly Hills!

And while their sedentary lifestyle may seem counter-intuitive given the terrain (the haute precincts of Beverly Hills are hilly), they are burdened with additional life stresses. Like motoring on congested streets and then having to hunt for curbside parking (when your fellow bourgeois have snapped up all of the handicapped spots using bogus placards). Or being tempted nightly by the omnipresence of valet parking. Who would want to walk to a parking structure anyway?

Physical activity like cycling is a proven pathway to fitness. Yet while Beverly Hills embraces the notion of Healthy City, City Hall refuses to take any step to actually encourage active mobility by making our streets safe for those who choose to walk and bike. Transportation officials turn a blind eye and deaf ear to explicit calls to, say, add a bike lane to our major streets. We’ve been asking for continental crosswalks, too, but to no avail; we’ll stick with the faded non-thermoplastic stripes.

For city leaders, it’s simply easier to gin up a hashtag (#BHHealthyCity) and promote a luxe hotel via this bogus ‘complimentary healthy workshop’ (whatever that means) rather than create the conditions that are conducive to active recreation and active transportation.

This August 13th event won’t get us to better health outcomes, but it will dull the day’s sharp edge, one honed by too much time in too much traffic without much opportunity to move one’s body like nature intended.

Cities are Lowering Speed Limits!

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City of Beverly Hills may be inclined to speed traffic through our city, but others are reducing speed limits to safeguard walkers and riders. Two years ago, City of Portland reduced the limit to 20mph on streets adjacent to greenways. City of New York’s Mayor De Blasio signed a new law to reduce the default limit to 25mph. Santa Monica too is looking to lower limits. When it comes to street safety, we’ll be alone in cheering-on speeders.

The Wrong Signal to Send

It’s bad enough that drugstore chains like Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS long have turned their back on the community. As in literally turning their back on the public sphere by building impenetrable facades at the sidewalk but facing entrances toward a parking lot. Yet many communities have gotten wise to that kind of defacement and today demand sidewalk entrances and real windows. Regardless, the chains, often headquartered out of the cities and off the coasts, maintain a suburban-style mindset. That mindset pushes back against public health efforts to get folks moving under their own power. For example, behold another misguided Rite Aid newspaper promotion that goes out of its way to encourage people to drive instead of walk a … Continue reading

Will Recommended Bike Facilities Ever See Beverly Hills Pavement?

Bicycle Lane Extensions example

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is recommending several new bike facilities for adoption by the Federal Highways Administration. Those identified here are easily-implemented pavement markings that would better safeguard riders negotiating hazardous Beverly Hills intersections. Adoption by NCUTCD would lend support for in-state inclusion in our state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is required before local transportation agencies deploy a traffic control treatment. Let’s take a look at a few that were recently recommended. Of the dozen or so new facilities recently recommended by National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee, there are three that could help riders navigate Beverly Hills intersections not upgraded over the past half-century. By ‘upgrade’ we mean … Continue reading

Who’s Paying to Play with Gil Cedillo?

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The challenge of making North Figueroa safe for road users became more formidable when Councilman Gil Cedillo tanked bike lanes there as already planned (and funded). Why? For backstory we looked at election contributions in 2013 to see who pays-to-play with Cedillo. The answer? Real estate firms and unions. What about North Fig locals and transportation advocates? More contributions came from Beverly Hills than all three of Cedillo district’s Northeast Los Angeles zip codes.

Proof that Law Enforcement Needs Pro-Bike Training

Laura Weintraub video headshot

Have you been involved in an injury collision only to find that the responding officer didn’t take your story seriously? Or that the report understated your account and you don’t recognize the basic facts of the crash? Or perhaps the officer let the offending motorist off without a citation because, well, you assume the risk of injury when you ride? Ventura County police reservist Laura Weintraub embodies the misconceptions that often make it difficult for us to get a fair shake from public safety. Laura Weintraub is not only a lifestyle blogger and body stylist (left) she’s also evidently an avowed foe of those who choose to bike. In her video ‘cup holder commentary bicyclist edition,’ she tours the suburban … Continue reading