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.

New York City’s Transformation

NYC bike rackOver the past decade New York City has been transformed from a hardscrabble city where motorists practically had the run of city streets (perhaps our greatest public space!) to a hardscrabble city where those of us who walk and bike have at least a fighting chance to survive. And while the playing field is not exactly level, the transformation of high-profile thoroughfares suggests the problem is recognized. With appropriate policies, better enforcement and continued infrastructure improvements, we’ll at least put non-motorists back on the scoreboard after a century+ shutout by motor traffic interests and an ongoing assist from unaccountable policymakers. Continue reading

Blue-Ribbon Winner: Public Input!

Melissa Antol speaking at Blue-Ribbon #3With the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee having wrapped in late January, our recommendations will go to Council for consideration as early as February 18th. Then we’ll know if tomorrow’s boulevard will be a replay of the last century or a break with the past. Let’s look back at the high and low points of this public outreach process as we anticipate Council’s direction. Continue reading

Small Town Advocacy in BH: Opportunities & Constraints

beverly hills city hallIf you want to advocate for a policy change in Beverly Hills,  take some comfort that we’re a small town at heart. You’ll see a councilmember at the farmers market now and again. City Hall is close by enough to touch, after all. Staffers will likely answer your phone call. What’s best is that good ideas don’t necessarily go to an early grave like they might in Los Angeles, where they’re lost in committee. Here your good idea will at least get an honest hearing in Council. So why is it that a family-friendly notion like road safety finds so little traction here? Continue reading

Measure J: We Can’t Support It

Measure J, the initiative on the Los Angeles County ballot to extend the voter approved half-cent transportation sales tax, has found support among transit advocates and some cycling advocates too. A two-thirds ‘yes’ vote on J would extend the ‘sunset’ of the 2008-era 30-year tax hike for an additional 30 years in order to generate $67 billion total for mobility investment across the county. (About $43 billion from the Measure J extension.) With Metro behind it, it’s tempting to go along because we do need transit options. But this initiative amplifies concerns that accompanied the original Measure R and is one of three tax-hike proposals on the ballot. It may not have sufficiently broad support. Already two key LA County Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich, have declined to endorse it. We join them. With 26 years yet to go on Measure R yet, we feel that leveraging a sales tax increase so far into the future for improvements not clearly specified (much less costed) begs voters take a pass. Continue reading

Wrench-in-a-Box: Getting Started in Bike Repair

Cartlandia Bike Rack for saleWhen I came across a for-sale listing on Bike Portland for a bike repair turnkey operation, I realized two things: it’s an awfully long way to go to buy out a business; and whatever the fantasy that a turnkey business offers – like a fully-contained wrench-in-a-box bike repair trailer – setting up shop in SoCal as a bike repair guy simply isn’t for me. Sure, I’ve got a few Park tools in a cabinet. Once in a while I like to turn a wrench. But a career in cycling isn’t for me. It could be a great opportunity for someone, right? Continue reading

Beverly Hills: Falling Down on Execution [editorial]

Beverly Hills Website early 2012

Beverly Hills says only Flash-based web browsers are welcome.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That tireless slogan is often uttered by policy pushers when they want to elevate political expedience above effectiveness. It’s the heads-up to recalibrate and ratchet down constituent expectations. Of course we can’t expect perfection; but too often we don’t even get the ‘good.’ For the past six months we’ve waited for Beverly Hills to refresh the city website. It’s been in the pipeline but it simply never materialized. Until now. Continue reading

Motorists: What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?

  • What-do-you-do-songWhat do you do with the mad that you feel
  • When you feel so mad you could bite?
  • When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
  • And nothing you do seems very right?

I couldn’t help but think of the classic Mr. Rogers song, What Do You Do?, while riding Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills recently. With an impatient motorist on my back wheel and angst all around me, I chanted this stanza from the Rogers ditty simply to keep myself composed. Continue reading

Who Holds Beverly Hills City Hall to Account?

Beverly Hills sealWe’re simply not getting the best from our staff. Anyone who works with City Hall on a regular basis will tell you that. Enthusiasm is low, dedication is scarce, and across departments imagination is practically non-existent. We’re not progressing like other cities: where they integrate new modes of mobility on city streets and make real strides toward sustainability, we only talk the talk. Calls for safer streets are met with an impassive shrug, and why not? Staff can wait us out. Career tenure and generous compensation offer no incentive to work smarter or harder. Where’s the management vision that will take us into the 21st century? Continue reading

Bike Wrenching: Craftwork for a Post Fix-It Nation?

wrench & bolt

The New York Times recently published an essay titled, A Nation That’s Losing Its Toolbox. The toolbox here is metaphorical: it’s not that we don’t have tools, we’ve simply lost our ability to use them. Home Depot caters to the needy homeowner with DIY classes, the piece notes, but we’ve culturally lost the will to wrench. Perhaps the shift from manufacturing to services has undermined American familiarity and facility with tools, and with the loss goes the mechanical ingenuity that long charted a course for our industrial and industrious nation.

Let’s Stop the Clock on Bike Routes in Beverly Hills [Editorial]

Stop the clock on bike routes? For two years we have urged City of Beverly Hills to move with dispatch on new bike routes because our streets are simply not sufficiently safe for cyclists. When the city finally put in place a process and identified three possible bike routes (before City Council for discussion today), we’re faced with either plowing ahead or applying the brakes. We chose the latter: we can do better. Rather than make a significant misstep, we urge Council to stop the clock and revisit the process in order to come up with a better bike route proposal.

As Beverly Hills Celebrates 100 Years, Lend Your Voice

Beverly Hills is now gearing up for an 18-month long (!) centennial celebration of “style, class and glamour” which will culminate on January 28th of 2014 – exactly 100 years to the day of the city’s founding. With retired Playboy executive Richard Rosenzweig chairing a Blue ribbon committee to gin up ideas, could we expect a ‘What Happens in Las Vegas’ style fete? Or a more sober affair characteristic of the self-congratulatory, irony-free backslapping that is our city’s stock-in-trade?

Beverly Hills Reaches Out When It Suits City Hall

e-Notice screen

We received a press release yesterday from City of Beverly Hills decrying Metro for finalizing the Purple Line Constitution station. (“Scientific Data, Alternate Routes Ignored.”) School and city officials have fought bitterly tunneling under the high school, and this release virtually promises a suit. Whatever the merit, the release raised our eyebrow because City Hall never talks policy with the public. It’s a challenge simply to get City Hall to post timely online agendas, or to make city department documents available. Ironically, in this case we indicated a preference not to receive subway notices (right). But if it suits City Hall, the saying goes, Don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Next Time it May Be You

When Traffic & Parking Commission declined to recommend safety improvements for cyclists on Beverly Drive, one of our heavily traveled streets, commissioners argued that cyclists don’t obey the law. They said that sharrows might give cyclists a “false sense of security.” They even said that sharrows might cause drivers to panic. I had this in mind when a careless Cayenne driver broadsided me right on Beverly Drive on Saturday near the Art Fair, even as I was riding legally and prudently and without the harm of sharrows. What does the commission say to that?

Bike Route Pilot Late Meeting Notice is Par for the Course

Were you seeking official notice for tomorrow’s Traffic & Parking Commission Bike Route Pilot meeting but couldn’t find it? You’re not alone: it simply wasn’t posted online. Not on the Bike Plan Committee’s documents page; nor on the Commission’s agenda page; and not even listed on the city’s web calendar. This meeting seems to have disappeared into a black hole like much of the public input given to Transportation to date.