California’s Vulnerable Road Users Protection Act

Aside

California Bicycle Coalition is spearheading the Vulnerable Road Users Protection Act (AB 2398) in California. The bill would put real sanctions to negligent road behavior. How necessary is this new protection for those who bike, walk, run or skateboard our streets?  Bike safety advocate Ted Rogers says that vehicular homicide is the only form of murder for which perpetrators are regularly excused. We agree: support Calbike’s push for AB 2398 today!

Sunday: CicLAVia Transforms Mid-City With ‘Iconic Wilshire’

Featured

The CicLAvia – Iconic Wilshire Boulevard route will connect One Wilshire in Downtown Los Angeles to Fairfax Avenue along Miracle Mile. These two anchor hubs will feature pedestrian zones with performers, activities sponsored by several fantastic museums, programming by some of our community partners, food trucks and more. Additional hubs along the route include MacArthur Park, Koreatown and Mid-Wilshire.Join thousands of riders and walkers for this year’s first CicLAvia on April 6th from 9-4 p.m. Bookended by Fairfax to the West and Downtown to the east [map], this closed-street festival will, for a day, liberate our most significant public space for a slow-roll and walk though the historic Wilshire corridor (we recapped it in 2012). It’s free of charge! So take a walking tour of Mid-City art galleries; look at the variety of rides on display; and grab something from a food truck. CicLAvia is be the biggest spectacle since Lindsay Lohan’s return engagements at the Beverly Hills courthouse last year. Don’t miss it! Pick up the SM Spoke feeder ride at around 9am as it passes though Beverly Hills [route map].

Check out this video from reader Maxwell Vann, who nicely captured the spirit and diversity of the event:

Time for Beverly Hills to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy!

bike chattanooga bike share map

One of Chattanooga’s steps forward: a bike share system!

Chattanooga, Tennessee beat Beverly Hills in the broadband arena a few years ago with citywide 1gigabit-per-second Internet. Back then nobody paid much attention: Chattanooga is hardly on the minds of many Angelenos. But our own city dithered on broadband, which left Time Warner with a broadband monopoly. Now Chattanooga leaps ahead with a real complete streets policy to make travel safer for all road users. Yet our our “world class” city can’t seem to entertain a discussion about street safety or plan effectively for multimodal mobility. What gives?

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, streets “designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities” are termed ‘complete.’ In practice, the Coalition says,

Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations. – National Complete Streets Coalition

Safe streets and access for all road users regardless of mode of travel: what a radical prescription for mobility! The equity-in-access proposition is no stranger to transportation planners or the public alike; we’ve all heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It mandates nationwide disabled access to public and private facilities. But for the rest of us on public streets we’re left to fend for ourselves. And these streets are often dangerous by design.

ADA rampDespite its limited scope, the ADA reach is broad; it has required the only real improvements to the public right-of-way in Beverly Hills that we’ve seen in years: those ubiquitous studded sidewalk ramps (at right) that make crossing streets less hazardous for the visually-impaired.

The rest of us mostly get worn-out crosswalks, poorly-marked intersections and boulevards made for speed.

Complete streets features on Montana in Santa MonicaWe can do much more. Other cities install highly-visible zebra crosswalks using thermoplastic; they make their streets complete with bicycle lanes, signage and even flashing crossing signals (Santa Monica has incorporated all of these measures on Montana, at right).

Beverly Hills we are still marking crosswalks in the old ‘transverse’ style with ordinary paint. These crosswalks are not only less-visible to motorists; they fade with use too. Faded crosswalks? Can that really pass safety muster? It’s as if our transportation officials cared little for our safety. No wonder state collision figures show that we are one of the most dangerous little cities in California!

Our Problem: Zero Official Interest in Street Safety

Santa Monica Boulevard road conditionsWe at Better Bike simply haven’t been able to get our transportation folks to consider safety upgrades for bike facilities or crosswalks. But it’s not for lack of trying; we’ve repeatedly communicated our concerns to transportation officials. Yet key intersections and corridors (like Santa Monica at left) remain hazardous to walk or to bike.

Our streets can be made safer if the private-sector steps in, however. Curb extensions make crossing streets quicker and safer in the business triangle. State-of-the-art continental crosswalk markings (aka zebra crosswalks) better safeguard pedestrians from speeding or careless motorists there. And traffic control innovations like pedestrian scrambles (where all motor traffic is momentarily halted) heretofore unknown to Beverly Hills find favor there. In fact, outside of the privately-funded improvements for the business triangle, our neighborhoods see no complete streets TLC at all.

Curb extensions diagram via FHWA

Diagram courtesy FWHA’s best practices guide.

For contrast look at these two intersections. The one on the left is Beverly Boulevard at Santa Monica, which languishes from inattention. On the right, the privately bankrolled business triangle feels safer to walk.

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape. Zebra stripes, painted curbs and a teaspoon of maintenance make all the difference for pedestrian safey.

Surely our transportation planner knows better than to leave our streets and crosswalks unimproved in this day and age. The information is out there, after all. We know that the zebra crosswalk, for example, is twice as visible to motorists at a distance, and thats both day and night according to an FHWA study. Where motorists zip through the intersection of Beverly and Santa Monica boulevards as if there were no crosswalk at all, the zebra might remind them that people do walk in Beverly Hills. Zebra crosswalks are that much more visible than are ordinary transverse-striped crosswalks when placed mid-block too.

West Hollywood has striped several crosswalks with rainbows (a thematic gesture) to raise awareness of crossing pedestrians. Santa Monica likewise is putting zebra crosswalks all over town (a nice complement to their new bike lanes, right). Los Angeles started with fifty zebra crosswalks two years ago and now the city is aiming for twenty thousand.  That’s because they do important safety work. At only $10k installed, after all, they’re a bargain compared to the damage arising from a single vehicle-pedestrian collision.

Our transportation officials Susan Healey Keene, Community Development Director, and Aaron Kunz, our Deputy Director for Transportation, need only visit nearby cities to see these innovations in place. And it won’t even take them out of their way: they live in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, respectively, so they’ve seen multimodal mobility planning up close. They just don’t do it here. As riders and pedestrians we can read about the virtues of multimodal mobility in our city’s plans; we just can’t experience at home.

These upgrades, by the way, are often funded by Measure R, the 2008 voter-approved transportation tax. That’s a pot of free money for safety. So why isn’t Beverly Hills using it to improve our streets?

One Solution: Adopt a Complete Streets Policy

What Beverly Hills lacks (in addition to a comprehensive mobility vision) is a policy that specifies how our streets can be made safe and accessible. Complete streets, recall, mandates that all means of public conveyance should not only be designed for safety but also to allow everyone to access them. So what does complete streets look like when implemented? Pretty much what we see in more advanced cities. Consider this intersection organized for equitable access and striped for safer transit:

Complete streets intersection

An example ‘complete streets’ intersection: bicycle lane, shaded crosswalks, and well-marked pavement.

It has the key elements that make this intersection safer to navigate. Note that the rider-on-a-bicycle is not considered a vehicle for planning purposes; instead the non-motorized road user is accommodated with a class II bicycle lane – a facility that acknowledges riders need protections that motorists in steel boxes don’t. Often that means a separate lane for non-motor travel.

Planning Commission Gateway field trip

Even our Planning Commissioners on a field visit to Wilshire & Santa Monica boulevards can’t make it all the way across on the white hand signal.

When it comes to adopting a complete streets policy, unfortunately, each state and city is on its own. California did its part with a 2008 complete streets law; but localities are a mixed-bunch today. And Beverly Hills itself has taken no step forward. How far behind the state-of-the-art are we? Consider the sorry state of two key intersections: Wilshire-Santa Monica and Beverly-Olympic. These are not only hazardous for riders to navigate; they’re not very safe for motorists or pedestrians too.

Chattanooga Steps Up

While Washington has yet to OK a national complete streets policy, cities like Chattanooga pick up the slack by adopting their own complete streets policy. There, City Council is set for a second reading of its complete streets ordinance intended to foster a “safe, reliable, efficient, integrated and connected multimodal transportation system that will promote access, mobility and health for all users, and will ensure that the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system are accommodated.”

That’s a mouthful. But the thrust of the new policy is that appropriate steps to make streets safe need to be taken throughout the planning, programming, design, construction and operation phases of any road project. But the reach of the city’s law is even greater than that:

The Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Economic & Community Development, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, and other relevant departments, agencies, or committees will review and modify current city standards, including but not limited to subdivision regulations, zoning codes and ordinances, to ensure that they effectively implement Complete Streets principles; and such groups shall incorporate Complete Streets principles into all future planning documents, manuals, design standards, checklists, decision – trees, rules, regulations, programs, neighborhood redevelopment projects, and other appropriate endeavors.

Moreover, the ordinance directs the city to “foster partnerships” with jurisdictions at every level to “develop facilities and accommodations that further the City’s Complete Streets policy.” It directs transportation officials to identify “current and potential future sources of funding” for complete street improvements. And this well-thought out legislation also mandates the development of performance measures and the publication of a “periodic report” to Council showing the city’s progress. Bravo!

Policy is key, of course, but standards matter too. The new Chattanooga ordinance takes the step that we’d like to see every transportation-planning jurisdiction embrace: the rejection of the outmoded AASHTO design manual in favor of the NAACTO guide when formalizing design and construction standards.

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga. Ready for the complete streets treatment!

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga after the complete streets treatment!

The new policy should greatly improve a major corridor like Broad Street downtown, which connects key destinations but today is little more than a motor vehicle thoroughfare. Add complete streets (visualized at right) and turn folks loose with the city’s bike share program, Bike Chattanooga, and you’ve got the recipe for a two-wheeled urban renaissance.

The city is banking on it. And that makes us proud; we knew Chattanooga back when it was something of a cultural backwater. No more a backwater: it’s all growed up! Now with 1 gigabit broadband, bike share, online ride-safe tips and soon a complete streets policy, this formerly-provincial city has upped its competitive game. Not bad for the 4th largest city in Tennessee! How long before the ‘Nooga becomes its own brand?

Time for a Mobility Coordinator in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills has taken none of those steps. It’s time for us to up our game. Thankfully good models for safe streets policymaking are out there…if only our policymakers would embrace the effort. Here is what complete streets could look like for Beverly Drive, by the way:

This complete street allows for a bike lane. Reverse-angle parking increases cyclist safety too.

This complete street allows for a bike lane by removing a traffic lane and reverse-angling the street parking. That increases cyclist safety by eliminating the blind spot.

Even short of adopting a complete streets ordinance, our city can take a crucial step to make streets welcoming and safe to walkers and riders: we could create a position for a non-motor mobility coordinator (as Los Angeles has done). A generic ‘transportation planner’ position doesn’t cut it; we need a specialist, someone versed in complete streets principles, bike-friendly facilities and finding the funding for them. In the past we’ve simply looked to an intern to do that important work. That won’t cut it anymore for Beverly Hills, however; we’re one of the most dangerous little cities in California.

SM Boulevard Project In Flux But Bike Lanes Are Still on the Table

City Council discussing bike lanes

Photo: Nancy Laemmle

City Council in study session today received some answers from city staff to March 4th questions about ballooning cost projections. But councilmembers unhappy about imprecision and dissatisfied with past staff candor turned the project back with even more questions. Today much remains in flux: cost projections, financing options, and traffic mitigation measures, to name a few things. Consequently there is no resolution on project scope, much less even a firm position on bicycle lanes. Given the uncertainty, that’s good news: that option remains on the table for Santa Monica Boulevard.

We’ll be updating this recap shortly, but suffice to say we may have turned a corner in the discussion. At the outset of this process, for example, the bicycle lane (a Caltrans-approved traffic control device) was dismissed as a “giveaway” to outlaw bikers. Or it was inexplicably derieded as a safety threat to riders. And to those inclined toward a parochial perspective, bicycle lanes on Santa Monica would be nothing more than an undeserved convenience for outsiders passing through our city.

Today, however, we’re hearing policymakers acknowledge the hazards that riders face and they’re beginning to talk substantively about how to accommodate those who bike city streets. Though we’re still very early in this process, at least the tone and tenor of the discussion has changed. Even hard-and-fast opponents of losing “one blade of grass” for  boulevard expansion prefaced their public remarks by expressing support for cycling and riders. (The most dyspeptic NIMBYs didn’t speak up.)

At the risk of overstating it, this new direction opens an opportunity to talk about other bike-friendly measures we can take even before we decide anything for Santa Monica Boulevard. For example we can finally begin an update of our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. That would allow policymakers some guidance when they finally set out to identify streets suitable for bicycle lanes. We’re having that debate on an ad-hoc basis now precisely because there is no bike plan to look toward.

There’s even a long-shot chance that we’ll take this opportunity to talk more broadly about road safety in our city. That’s a discussion we’re loathe to entertain despite collision data that clearly show the hazards that motorists and riders in Beverly Hills face. Let’s hope that this process prompts the Traffic and Parking Commission to address these things sooner rather than later.

Notably absent from today’s discussion was a single word from our consultant, Psomas, which has declined to recommend the inclusion of bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Psomas has done no favor for any rider navigating that corridor today and into the future. Please remember that when Psomas comes to your city asking for a million dollar mobility planning contract. Beverly Hills should have tapped Snyder!

Keeping Eyes on the Prize

That brings us to perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this reconstruction process: the bicycle lanes question has continued to dominate every meeting from Blue-Ribbon Committee to City Council. Whether any councilmember or public speaker has cursed, praised or simply acknowledged this essential traffic control device, lanes continue to be the focus. Even today, the cost discussion almost took a backseat (so to speak). Our counclmembers agree that we’ll see more riders in the future; it seems like we as a city can’t any longer dodge planning for it, they say.

That’s thanks to the persistence of multimodal mobility advocates and bicycle lane proponents throughout the process, as well as the many public speakers and institutional representatives who stepped up to the mic. You all have really changed the lanes debate from “no!” to “where?”

Thanks Are in Order

We want to acknowledge LACBC’s Eric Bruins for policy guidance today; planning consultant Ryan Snyder for providing a larger mobility context for Council’s discussion; Tish Laemmle, Eric Weinstein and Michael Scheinberg for their reasoned arguments in favor; and especially we tip the hat to the irrepressible Victor Omelczenko, who gave a command performance in how to relate to City Council with an impassioned argument for encouraging cycling.

Santa Monica Blvd Lanes Off the Table?

On Tuesday, Beverly Hills City Council will receive a Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction update at its 2:30 pm study session. The Council will likely focus on project cost and the key question of whether to expand the boulevard. Unfortunately the surprise reveal of near-doubled project costs distracted attention from issues like road safety, so at present bicycle lanes appear to be off the table. Let’s briefly review the project and look at what’s up for Council consideration on April 1st. You’ll remember that the state turned over Santa Monica Boulevard to the city about ten years ago along with a small pot of money for repairs. But this key Westside corridor was never repaired by Beverly Hills; today it is … Continue reading

Finish the Ride: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Finish the Ride group photo

“Turning tragedy into triumph” may sound a bit corny. It’s the stuff of self-help: the philosophy that synthesizes spirituality and psychology ostensibly to motivate. But self-help is not about action; inaction fuels the prolific generation of books, seminars and slogans. That’s what makes Damian Kevitt’s Finish the Ride campaign actually uplifting. It’s not just talk; he’s turned his debilitating hit-and-run crash into a movement to highlight the problem. We’d heard of the Finish the Ride campaign [flyer] well before we met the man. The story is indeed memorable: an everyday rider out on a local ride with his wife is struck, dragged onto the freeway, and subsequently left to die by a fleeting motorist. One year later he’s been fitted … Continue reading