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

Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari

The infamous Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari as ‘captured’ by Adam Bornstein.

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 some stops signs in his eye-catching coach. And only then you’ll read about it if it’s captured on video. But get it on tape and you may well hear officials proclaim their “outrage” at such bad behavior. Here’s the new Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti’s statement from his press conference:

The City of Beverly Hills is outraged about recent incidents of reckless driving on our streets. The Police Department has zero tolerance for unsafe driving, which seriously endangers the lives and property of others. Regardless of who you are, who you know or where you are from. The Beverly Hills Police Department has a reputation of applying the law equally. – Dominick Rivetti, BHPD Chief

Now, as far as we recall, this is the first reckless driving press release (let alone a companion standalone press conference) to address the problem.

Yet this department statement packs no fewer than four disingenuous assertions into its first paragraph alone. The first is the “outrage.” Our police department rarely exhibits much concern about reckless driving or the toll taken by crash injuries. Every month, for example, the department dispatches a supervisor to brief the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission on police department performance. But faced with crash figures that won’t decline, everyone seems to collectively shrug. As the numbers are perfunctorily recited there is no outrage nor even a glimmer of curiosity about why crashes happen. Not even the occasional traffic fatality merits “outrage.” It’s business as usual for the commissioners and the cops.

Second, the police department appears to have a very high tolerance indeed for unsafe driving. Stand at any major corner in Beverly Hills and watch as drivers run the red light. It happens at every single change of the traffic signal. We bet that every pedestrian has a story about nearly being struck in a crosswalk as a car (or three)  plow through well after the red.

After a few near-death experiences of our own we communicated to City Council actual “outrage” about the dangers we face as pedestrians. But we never even received a response. Here’s an excerpt:

While walking home with an armful of groceries tonight at 6:10 I was nearly struck by an westbound driver running the red light at the Wilshire-Canon intersection. I was midway across the curb lane at this signalized intersection, having stepped off the north curb well into my green signal. Suddenly a driver passed though and swerved into the #1 lane to avoid me. I’d earlier discussed with councilmember Krasne the hazards at this very intersection after a similar close call. In both cases, it occurred on a weekday at about 6pm and the near-miss margin was about a foot or so. (Read more)

And third, Beverly Hills is all about who you know and where you are from. Read our local newspapers; they’re all about mapping the social networks that prop up the husbanding of privilege by the boldface names in our small town. Moreover, whatever your problem you are more likely to garner officials’ attention if you live north of Santa Monica Boulevard and come to them with a #NorthOfSantaMonica problem.

And last, I don’t think that Beverly Hills Police Department can seriously claim a reputation for an equitable application of the law. While the cops recently took flak for detaining in handcuffs an African-American man for six hours because, as a spokesman said, “he fit the description” of a suspect, things have improved. But Throughout the 1990s the department faced lawsuits over pretext stops of African-American and Latino drivers. One was a state senator; others were lower-profile. To settled one suit the city established a Human Relations Commission to receive complaints. As always, “The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience” as the spokesman says.

Reckless Driving Gets a Pass

It seems like reckless driving and excessive speeding simply get a pass in Beverly Hills. It is viewed by policymakers, police officials and the media alike as akin to the air that we breathe: so ordinary as to demand no particular comment. You won’t find a word about it (or street safety more broadly) in either of our two local weekly papers. It’s as if we simply gave up the fight for safe streets!

For example, when the Traffic and Parking Commission receives each month the most recent crash injury and citation stats from BHPD, no commissioner follows up with a comment on, or question about, the continuing toll taken by crashes. None asks, How are crash injuries trending? Where are we relative to last year? Are we making progress?

Fatalities in Beverly Hills highlighted in a table of crash injuries January to August 2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

This year to date, our small city where 35-mph and 25-mph speed limits is the rule witnessed no fewer than two auto-occupant crash deaths (one each in May and June) and in August a pedestrian lost his life in a fatal hit-and-run on Crescent (just a block from City Hall). But no commissioner has asked what can be done to mitigate the harm of 435 crash injuries or the 146 (!) hit-and-runs logged by police in 2014. Instead this commission (as always) is more focused on parking permits and tour buses.

Table of cyclist injuries in Beverly Hills 2008-2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)You’ll never hear the Traffic and Parking Commissioner Chair Lester Friedman ask about the 48 injured cyclists who last year filed a police report, or wonder whether the number of cyclist injuries is on the increase. (It is.)

It is not that nobody is talking about it. We’ve appeared before the commission several times to draw attention to the magnitude of the harm. We’ve even aggregated seven years of BHPD data and analyzed the trends because no city staffer ever has. But nobody has come calling for the analysis.

Call it willful disinterest: neither City Hall nor the media seem much interested in this story unless a Qatari is behind the wheel. While cities around Beverly Hills make ‘safe streets’ a rhetorical objective if not a policy pivot, here in Beverly Hills the silence about the harm inflicted by reckless drivers is deafening.

Faded crosswalks at Wilshire and SM Blvd in 2015

It is not only reckless driving that gets a pass. Degraded facilities like these faded crosswalks at Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard only increase the danger for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. This is one of the region’s worst intersections for safety, according to the Los Angles Times. Yet the city is in no hurry to repair it.

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Los Angeles intersectionToday 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 all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)

We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.

This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.

Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).

“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.

Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.

Our Reply to Mr. Feldman

To the Editor:

In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.

Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.

We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners  150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.

As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.

And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?

I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.

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

Ambassadors program logo

Don’t ya love the fancy logo?

“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 which the City is renowned,” according to the program’s webpage. The program’s ‘ambassadors,’ “serving residents, merchants and visitors,” as they do, “are instantly recognizable in their green shirts, black pants and black hats.” This welcome wagon of sorts will greet visitors in the central business district for 22 out of 24 hours every day. Nothing but nothing goes near 24 in Beverly Hills. So who is this program targeting exactly? Not tourists and shoppers.

Positive change not spare change flyerFramed as a “safety and hospitality” initiative, this program is presented as an extension of our ‘Positive Change, Not Spare Change’ program, which discourages panhandling by cautioning people not to give money to panhandlers, which may include homeless individuals.

Like that other program, the ‘ambassador’s program offers a social services twist too. “Ambassadors will work in partnership with the City’s Human Services department, police and other departments to address aggressive panhandling and connect individuals with social service needs to the City’s Changing Lives and Sharing Places (CLASP) Homeless Outreach Team,” the program announcement says. (All of the city’s homeless services are outsourced to non-city organizations, by the way.)

AmbassadorsBut unlike social services, the ‘ambassadors’ program is more about enforcement. It is run by an organization called Block by Block, which is a subsidiary of an industrial hospitality conglomerate (SMS Holdings). It puts “teams of great personalities selected and trained to meet your city’s specific needs.” The ambassadors are the “eyes and ears” of law enforcement, the company says.

In fact our neighbor West Hollywood also contracts Block by Block for CBD security. As WeHo stated in a 2012 enumeration of public safety accomplishments: “The purpose of the Security Ambassadors is to reduce actual crime and unwanted behavior as well as provide a positive perception of safety.” The “Security Ambassadors,” it said, “act as an extra set of eyes and ears for the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department.”

Block by Block: safety with a smile!As Block by Block likes to point out, these ambassadors are not your father’s cops. They work with smiles!

Based on the West Hollywood and Santa Monica experience with Block by Block ambassadors, our own Human Relations Commission (which oversees homelessness-related social services contracting) approved the Block by Block engagement back in February as an extension of the ‘Positive Change’ program.  Human Relations agenda excerpt Feb 2015

Make no mistake, though. Though appended to the ‘Positive Change’ program, Block by Block patrol comes not recommended by social services professionals but rather was engaged at the behest of the business community.

Panhandling: A Threat to Public Order?

Is panhandling (or the homelessness for that matter) really that much of a threat to public order in Beverly Hills that we need 22/7 private security to address it? To hear the city tell it, yes. “Aggressive panhandling” is a problem that’s getting worse, City Hall says, perhaps coincident with an overall increase in homelessness – up 17% in just two years according to a press release in June. But while that figure may apply across the greater Westside,  the same Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count showed that homelessness in City of Beverly Hills is largely unchanged from two years ago.

If there was a significant threat to public order, we’d probably already have heard about it. And we haven’t. (For what it’s worth, in our own experience, panhandlers have been entirely, well, professional.) So we looked back at a year of BHPD advisories and press releases and saw no mention of a crime that was even remotely connected with someone from the homelessness community. And we saw no incidents of reported “aggressive panhandling.”

But if you listen closely to business sector representatives in the city meetings that precipitated the inauguration of this half-million dollar per year program, you’ll have heard about panhandling and the homeless as not being so much a threat to order as a threat to the bottom line. (“Disrupted commerce” is the city’s rationale for this program.) While business representatives talked of customers getting shaken down for change, it seemed instead that they were instead ware of daily reminders that 99% of society doesn’t shop Rodeo Drive. We think that it’s the bumming of change that bums out our business community.

Ambassador zone map

Ambassador zone map with shaded area indicating area outside of business triangle.

Tellingly, only business triangle representatives complained of the “aggressive panhandling” problem in city meetings and through the Chamber of Commerce. Yet panhandlers evidently work city-wide. And we have numerous other business districts, including the adjacent South Beverly area. Yet the ambassador program is limited to the triangle (though with an interesting appendage).

If the scale of the patrol zone and the language of ‘deployment’ makes the ambassador program seem more about urban policing and less about “quality-of-life,” say, then you’ve gotten the point. Though Beverly Hills may put a smile on it, this program is all about policing, not social services or ‘ambassador’ greetings. The city’s June press release for example notes that “ambassadors can witness and serve as victim in court proceedings” when victims of “aggressive panhandling are unwilling to go through the process of filling out a police report.”

Our View

Those who allegedly panhandle “aggressively” are a part of the broader panhandler community: they float in at the start of the day and recede like the tide as commercial activity winds down. In that they have much in common with the suits-and-ties folks who flexed their political muscle to get City Council to pony up for ‘ambassadors.’ Like the hoteliers and restauranteurs, our city’s panhandlers simply see economic opportunity here in Beverly Hills and they’re taking advantage. Let’s call them entrepreneurs!

* Enabling the ‘ambassador’ bicycle patrols required a lightening-fast change in the municipal code, which was accomplished. Previously, only official public safety officers were permitted to ride on sidewalks in commercial areas.

Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders

You’re riding westbound on North Santa Monica Boulevard. You’ve made it though the dreaded SM-Wilshire intersection and you’re waiting to pick up the bicycle lane in Century City. You’re in the right-hand lane with a line of cars queued behind you waiting to pass. But you’re in a substandard-width lane up against a solid wall of K-rail to your right and speeding vehicular traffic to the left. You’re desperate for relief but far from the promised land: your own patch of blacktop granted by a bicycle lane. It’s a gantlet with no escape for the remainder of this corridor while you’re in Beverly Hills.

Santa Monica Blvd at Hilton construction: no mitigation for riders!

Santa Monica Blvd during construction: the gantlet that offers no refuge for riders!

This is a dangerous situation for anyone who chooses to ride a bicycle across the Westside. But especially so for less-experienced riders. It shouldn’t exist because there is a  toolbox full of traffic safety mitigation measures that can be deployed to protect bicycle riders in this very situation. These include ‘may take full lane’ signage; detour routes; temporary lanes or paths.

None of these find a place in City of Beverly Hills. Indeed the city has taken no action to make passage safe for riders while this major  Waldorf Hotel project is underway. Not only will these conditions endure for the remainder of construction; they will be the norm through 2017 once the city begins to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard.

Yet the cyclist-specific mitigation measures in temporary traffic control (TTC) zones are there for the taking. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices should be the first place our transportation officials turn for help. Why doesn’t the city stipulate such measures to make multimodal access safe? Because no law requires Beverly Hills to mandate those measures. In this city, riders are an afterthought. And the insult added to the inevitable injuries is that our own city plans call for encouraging, not discouraging, people to ride a bicycle.

The State’s Commitment to Safe, Multimodal Access

The state’s department of transportation is actually sensitive to such concerns. Caltrans has internalized ‘complete streets’ principles* since at least 2009 and includes them safety in state roadways planning and construction guidance. Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 (newly revised) calls on both state and local agencies to ensure our safety “beginning early in system planning and continuing through project delivery and maintenance and operations.” The deputy directive continues:

Caltrans views all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in California and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system…. The intent of this directive is to ensure that travelers of all ages and abilities can move safely and efficiently along and across a network of ‘complete streets.’ – Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 *

In the directive, the agency reminds local agencies that they “have the duty to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all” and goes on to outline specific responsibilities:

  • …establish processes to identify and address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users early and continuously throughout planning and project development activities;
  • …ensure regular maintenance and operations activities meet the safety and mobility needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in construction and maintenance work zones…;
  • Implement current design standards that meet the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in design, construction and maintenance work zones….; and
  • Provide guidance on project design, operation, and maintenance of work zones to safely accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.

The Federal Government’s Commitment

The federal highway association is also quite clear on its own responsibility to make streets safe during construction. “Bicyclists and pedestrians, including those with disabilities, should be provided with access and reasonably safe passage through the TTC zone,” the FHWA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices says (in section 6B Fundamental Principles of Temporary Traffic Control). The standard according to FHWA:

The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel…through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. – FHWA

To that end, FHWA too urges specific measures for temporary traffic control zones. The objective? To guide “in a clear and positive manner” we riders as we approach, and traverse, construction zones. Here are some of the recommended measures:

  • A travel route that replicates the most desirable characteristics of a wide paved shoulder or bikeway through or around the TTC zone is desirable for bicyclists.
  • If the TTC zone interrupts the continuity of an existing bikeway system, signs directing bicyclists through or around the zone and back to the bikeway is desirable.
  • Unless a separate bike path through or around the TTC zone is provided, adequate roadway lane width to allow bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side through or around the TTC zone is desirable. (6D.101CA Bicycle Considerations)
  • When the roadway width is inadequate for allowing bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side, warning signs should be used to advise motorists of the presence of bicyclists in the travel way lanes
  • The use of highly-visible florescent green signage is allowed in temporary traffic control zones.

The MUTCD reminds the officials who manage construction zones: “The most important duty of these individuals should be to check that all TTC devices of the project are consistent with the TTC plan and are effective for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and workers.”

But Beverly Hills Drops the Ball on Safety for Riders

Despite the state and federal departments of transportation guidance, our city routinely #FAILS riders because our transportation officials turn away from their responsibilities.

That includes the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission, which enjoys a remit to “act as an advisory agency to the council in all matters which relate to parking and traffic.” Not so for traffic mitigation for multimodal users! We recently reminded the Traffic and Parking Commission about the toolbox of available mitigation measures, but our commissioners seemed unconcerned. Over several meetings they discussed Santa Monica Boulevard mitigation and yet didn’t acknowledge the need for rider safety.

For a taste of how staff regard riders’ needs, simply scroll down to the exchange with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation.

Frying Pan into the Fire!

Santa Monica Boulevard riders are about to go from the frying pan into the fire! For if you think negotiating this corridor with substandard-width lanes and potholes and sewer grates is a hassle today, just wait until construction vehicles begin to use the eastbound #2 lane to access a new project staging area on the now-vacant T-1 zone properties at 9900 North Santa Monica Boulevard (southwest of Wilshire & Santa Monica). Here it is on a map:

9900 Wilshire Boulevard T1 zone map

Space for nearly 100 construction vehicles accessed via three SM Blvd curb cuts and not one safety sign for riders to be seen!

Beverly Hills just amended regulations to allow at that location access for staging and construction “without limitation,” including the “parking of delivery and heavy construction vehicles.” And for a period of five years no less. So expect to share the right-hand eastbound lane with heavy-haulers and the up to 91 construction-related vehicles that can use the lot at any one time. Helpfully, “easy ingress and egress” is provided via the same right-hand lane that riders share with trucks, buses and about 50,000 vehicles every day.

The obvious question: How would the city ensure that these construction-related vehicles don’t increase the danger to riders? Turns out it was a question never asked. The benefits to the city were clearly spelled out: less disruption of the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s parking and overall operations; improved construction efficiency; and minimized visibility of construction worker activity around the immediate work area. To our reading that’s a substantial benefit (including cost-savings) to the developer.

What’s in it for rider safety? Nothing. You see it was up to Community Development Department director Susan Healy-Keene to attach appropriate ‘conditions’ to the Development Plan Review permit. But there is none: “buffers and landscaping” will insulate the area from adverse impacts. And while pedestrian concerns are accommodated, there is not a single mention of how this heavy traffic will affect those who ride a bicycle. But that’s no oversight: the agreement discusses landscaping, lighting, portable restrooms and even a prohibition on food trucks. Riders come away empty handed.

But in Beverly Hills one always wants to hold out hope! The final condition of the 9900 Wilshire Development Plan Review document states:

The Director of Community Development reserves the power and right to impose additional conditions and/or restrictions upon this approval if the Director of Community Development or his/her designee determines that the site is being operated in a manner that causes a traffic, safety, noise, dust, light, or any other impact that interferes with the quiet enjoyment of nearby properties and that the existing conditions of approval are inadequate to halt the interference. – Development Plan Review condition #17

We’ll hold our breath. Healy-Keene has proven herself to be no friend of multimodal transportation. Her Community Development Department worked against bicycle lanes for Santa Monica and has shown no concern for an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. So we’re not surprised that the development plan review process here didn’t take into account our needs.

Playing Rope-a-Dope With Safety Advocates?

It’s difficult to square the federal and state policy guidance with the near-total abdication of responsibility for rider safety along this corridor and elsewhere in the city. Surely someone has stepped up to ask why we can’t do better. Behold the following exchange that unfolded over nearly six months about making this corridor safe during construction.

Since January we repeatedly brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, the dangerous situation adjacent to the Waldorf project. But he’s given us the runaround time and again. Back in January we first inquired.

I anticipate that Council gave the OK to the text amendment for the 9900 Wilshire T-zone. On that assumption, I’m wondering if your department has any plan to facilitate safe bike travel across Santa Monica Boulevard eastbound for the duration of the construction period. This is a particular concern given the routing of truck traffic as described in the staff report… [yet] there is no mention of cyclists who today use North SM as a crosstown route. There are three curb cuts proposed for NSM and both ingress and egress is planned to/from that corridor. — To Aaron via email on January 7, 2015

To that we did suggest as an option detouring riders from North Santa Monica to the southern roadway (as mentioned in FHWA guidance) provided the right-hand lane on that other corridor is designated as an alternate route and marked with sharrows and/or appropriate signage. Aaron’s response:

I will follow up with the project’s traffic engineer (they contracted with Fehr & Peers). We have discussed signage for bicyclists and that using South SM Blvd. is the best solution. — Aaron in reply on January 9, 2015

Seeing no change, we followed up three weeks later.

Can I follow up with you on this T-zone safety issue to find out what arrangements the city will put in place for cyclists? — To Aaron via email on January 29, 2015

From Aaron in response:

Yes, of course. Fehr & Peers is making the arrangements (they were retained by the developer). We’re waiting to hear back from them. I just inquired about the status. — Aaron in reply on January 29, 2015

Dropping the ball, we then picked it up some months later:

Re: traffic mitigation measures for cyclists now that construction at SM/Wilshire has started, it’s more dangerous than ever for riders. And the restriped intersection (the striped triangle WB) affords no place for riders to queue. Perhaps the city cam [sic] post appropriate safety signage (“may use full lane” is MUTCD approved) on NSM in both directions – as LA did in Century city EB during construction there. — To Aaron via email [date N/A]

He replied:

I’m following up on the status of signage impacts related to the current construction project. — Aaron in reply on June 2, 2015

We asked to clarify:

Do you mean adding signage to the passage between Wilshire & Moreno on NSM? Signage and sharrows might be appropriate and perhaps beginning east of the intersection with appropriate markings through it. It’s a key regional corridor; the more conspicuous the guidance the better. — To Aaron via email on June 6, 2015

Always a prompt responder, Aaron then replied:

I will follow up with development services about the signage for the Waldorf Astoria construction. I recall Fehr & Peers recommended signage that would advise cyclists using alternative routes for construction, with the primary option being South Santa Monica for the section between Wilshire and Moreno. — Aaron in reply on June 8, 2015

We followed up to note that there are measures available besides hanging a sign:

Both the Hilton [now Waldorf] and the SMB projects suggest the same safety concerns and indeed are likely to present very similar (if not the same) mitigation challenges. Beyond signage, there are measures like sharrows and even temporary segregated bike lanes that should be in the toolbox. From the riders’ perspective, the absolute worst thing is being thrown into with angry drivers on streets without protections or refuge. — To Aaron via email on June 8, 2015

For good measure we added, “It probably goes without saying that the more folks we can encourage into the saddle – like our plans recommend – the less congestion we have to accommodate. Has there been any discussion of messaging to that effect? Isn’t it an opportune time to get people on a bicycle?” But we heard nothing back.

We then followed up a couple of weeks later (approaching six months after we first raised the traffic mitigation issue):

Re: Hilton mitigation, you had mentioned signage and possibly an alt route for the Hilton construction. As I mentioned to TPC in my correspondence, there are a number of measures that can be taken beyond simply directing riders to an alternate route. What would the next steps be, and when might they be taken? — To Aaron via email on June 24, 2015

He replied:

Our building department is evaluating your suggestions for bicycles during construction of the Waldorf. We’re also checking on applicable signage. Am hoping to get an update within the next couple of weeks. — Aaron in reply on June 25, 2015

Sensing we’re getting nowhere with the promised ‘update’ that never arrives, we focused in on the problem:

As far as I’m aware today cyclists have full access to the SM Blvd construction corridor west of Wilshire. Yet there is no shoulder, and the right lane in either direction adjacent to the Hilton property is of substandard width. You suggest it remain without signage to alert motorists to the lawful presence of cyclists for a few more weeks? Why can’t the appropriate signage be posted *today* on this key regional corridor? — To Aaron via email on June 26, 2015

No response came back. We followed up.

Just so this doesn’t slip from the to-do list, I hope you’ll hear back from Fehr & Peers shortly about mitigation measures to make SM Blvd / Hilton transit safe for riders for the duration of construction. I had a look back at my emails and see we’ve been discussing this problem (for cyclists) since January – coming up on six months – and asking F&P was the next step then. Can you give me an idea of when you might have something to share — To Aaron via email on July 1, 2015

After than it’s just crickets until we try again. We call that approach to safety problem-solving ‘rope-a-dope.’

What Does This Portend for North Santa Monica Reconstruction?

We’ve asked time and again how the city and its consultants would mitigate the safety impacts arising from construction-related detours, lane closings and narrowed lanes on the reconstruction project but again came away empty-handed. (We brought it to the attention of City Council as recently as yesterday.)

Then just last month came this statement from Aaron Kunz:

For the NSMB reconstruction project we have instructed the consultant team to include mitigation/signage for cyclists in the traffic mitigation plan. Right now we’re working on the requirements that will be included in the construction bidding process and a public outreach program. — Aaron in reply on June 2

Well we’ll see if that ever comes to fruition. You can be we’ll be on hand to raise the issue in community meetings about mitigation, but we can’t force our officials to meet their safety responsibilities. Nevertheless we’ll be following up. And following up. And following up.

*The Complete Street according to Caltrans: “A transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists appropriate to the function and context of the facility.”

NIMBYs Whiffed on Bike Lanes But Killed the Dog Park

Roxbury dog park visualization

This year northside Beverly Hills residents swung for the fences but whiffed when they tried to kill bicycle lanes for North Santa Monica (Council kept lanes on the table). But two years ago, the southwest NIMBYs scored a base by killing off a preliminary proposal for an off-leash dog run for Roxbury Park. And it took only a bunt: just five dog park opponents persuaded City Council to nix the whole idea… even though it came recommended by staff, was endorsed unanimously by the parks commission and was supported by local dog-keepers.

The Backstory

The city had been looking to create a dog park for years. Dogs need outdoor recreation, of course, and every morning dogs of all stripes make the trek to one or another city park. But no Beverly Hills park is a place to run a dog: like every inch of the city, our parks are no-go for off-leash activity; a substantial fine awaits those who flout the law. But an off-leash dog area would give our furry friends a place to roam.

Nearby cities already provide dog parks. Moreover, they provide this amenity for Beverly Hills residents too. Popular dog park destinations for our pooches include Brentwood, Culver City, West Hollywood, and Rancho Park. But none is within walking distance. That makes a dog park a no-brainer, right? City Council even elevated the dog park search to an ‘A’ level priority this year:

City Council dog park priority ABut back in 2012 parks staff had already evaluated local options and recommended a dog park for Roxbury. It is the best choice of the options, staff said. Conveniently, the park’s unused croquet court (below) is not close to any park-adjacent apartments and is buffered from homes to the north by Olympic Boulevard. And like the adjacent unused putting green, this forlorn field cries out for re-purposing.

Roxbury croquet court todayNext, the Recreation and Parks Commission evaluated the Roxbury Park option and the commissioners unanimously agreed. The commission then sent it on to City Council.

But what do dog-keepers think about the idea? Generally, residents support creating an off-leash area by a 4:1 margin, but is Roxbury the right place? When staff held a meeting at Roxbury Park to present it, dog park supporters outnumbered opponents. But when the proposal came back to Council, however, some opponents spoke against it. The theme: Hey, we love dogs but don’t put a dog park in my backyard. Classic NIMBY!

Yet NIMBYs adhered to the usual playbook. They raised parking, public safety, noise and property values concerns. One homeowner worried about new people making our park “a destination.” That would take up precious parking spaces and, as another speaker cautioned, tax our limited police patrols.

Ken Goldman, Southwest Homeowners Association president, said he polled his association and “100% of responses were opposed.” Beverly/Roxbury Homeowners Association president Steve Dahlerbruch chimed in. “We polled our homeowners association and we got the overwhelming response, ‘We don’t want it in our area.'” For good measure Mr. Dahlerbruch added, “I live on Olympic and every day dog owners leave (crap) on my lawn.”

That’s the nimby cry: “We don’t want it in our area.” “Not in my backyard.” And of course the property values argument: “I want to preserve the residential nature of this community,” said homeowner Rochelle Ginsburg. “I will protect what I value.” How many such speakers did it take to put the kibosh on the Roxbury dog park idea? Just five.

But this area of the park is in nobody’s backyard. Nevertheless, after hearing from them our City Council simply nixed the proposal. And ever since, this unused croquet court has withered on the vine (n fact, the entire northern tier of this park is typically underused except by dog walkers).

For just twenty-thousand bucks we could have a dog park (according to staff estimates). Let’s put that in perspective: West Hollywood’s City Council is committed to building its second dog park and is poised to budget $750k for it as part of the West Hollywood Park phase II renovation.

In the meanwhile here in Beverly Hills, the a dog park  option – at a site located in the industrial section of the city, near Maple Drive – inches forward. But slowly: City Council gave the OK to test the environmentally contaminated parcel last summer, but no report has yet come forward. (Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year, marking three-plus years of talking about a dog park.)
We ask you: would you rather take your dog out to play in a lovely park only a short walk from your home, or drive to run your pooch on an environmentally-remediated parcel to run your dog?

Friends of Roxbury Dog Park

In the weeks leading up to last weekend’s dog-friendly Woofstock event, a campaign coalesced to bring the Roxbury proposal back to City Council. Friends of Roxbury Park agree with staff and the Rec and Parks Commission that Roxbury is the best option for the city’s first dog park. But it need not be the only one: dogs need outdoor recreation whether they reside in the north, southwest or southeast part of the city. A few months ago, at a preliminary meeting for the redesign of La Cienega Park, we suggested the city include a dog area.

Roxbury dog park visualization

Roxbury Park’s croquet court repurposed as an off-leash dog area (illustration courtesy Friends of Roxbury Dog Park)

Letting just five NIMBYs nix a good idea like a dog park for Roxbury should feel like a thorn in the paw for every dog and dog-keeper. Just as we can’t let a few negative voices tank bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, we shouldn’t let a few NIMBYs and homeowner association despots dictate the use of a city park either.

Update: We’re not sure whether it was NIMBYs or simply City Hall politics, but the Recreation and Parks Commission put the final nail in the coffin of the Roxbury dog park concept on June 1st. Oddly, every one of the five members opposed it; two years ago, however, the entire commission supported the idea. Might have our two new Council liaisons for the dog park – Gold and Brien – let their disagreement be known?

File Under ‘Crap Facilities’: Dangerous Crescent Dr. Sharrows [Updated]

City of Beverly Hills was warned many months ago about this improper placement of sharrows on Crescent Drive:

Crescent Drive sharrows placement

Is this any way to make our streets safer for those who choose to ride a bicycle?

As explicated in this graphic, these sharrows guide northbound Crescent riders into the left-hand lane, which allows motor traffic to pass on the right. After the South Santa Monica intersection, however, riders are then guided back to the right-hand lane which requires a merge back into faster-flowing traffic. This remains an eye-catching road engineering #FAIL six months after we notified the city about it.

[Update: After yet another round of emails, the city finally fixed this in late February (see the image at bottom) but without so much as a thanks to the citizens’ brigade for repeatedly reminding transportation officials of their responsibility to make our streets safely passable.]

Crescent Drive is a well-traveled N/S street that finds northbound motorists rushing to make the stoplights at North and South Santa Monica boulevards. So putting riders literally in the middle of this scrum is at best a mistake and, more likely, is a result of professional incompetence or ignorance.

While the misplacement of a sharrow marking may seem trivial to a driver, this state-approved traffic control device is important to riders as it offers official guidance as to where to ride. It is intended to make roads safer for those who ride a bicycle, not put them in harm’s way.

What is a Sharrow?

According to the state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), sharrows can be used to:

Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way; and encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists…. (MUTCD Section 9C.07 Shared Lane Marking)

sharrow markingAccording to the manual, the marking “shall only be used on a roadway which has on-street parallel parking.” But Crescent northbound here has no parallel parking, of course. And even if it did, the MUTCD offers this bit of specific guidance: Where used to direct riders to a lane adjacent to a traffic lane, it should be only to the left of a right-turn-only lane. (Section 4D.104 Bicycle Signals).

As the manual suggests, it is better to use no sharrows at all than to implement unsafe sharrows.

We’ve Tried and Tried to Get This Fixed

I first contacted the Beverly Hills Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz in early June after noticing the unsafe sharrows placement:

Sharrows on Crescent (south of little SM) make an ill-advised jog around a non-turn lane as I recall (not the best practice).

Then I suggested that our city fix it. After seeing no action, though, I followed up in early August:

I’ve been puzzled by the hazardous placement of n/b Crescent sharrows. I wonder if the city has a plan to fix it?

Kunz acknowledged the problem and said a fix was in the works. But no fix came. So I followed up again in early October:

Can you remind me if the city will be fixing the sharrow alignment problem on Crescent at SM South? (We spoke about it in early August.)

Kunz replied, “I will check on the status of moving the sharrow as we discussed and get a date.” Hearing nothing back about it (of course) I then followed up a third time in late October:

I’m wondering if you’ve been able to nail down the date?

Aaron replied, “The moving of the sharrow will be a priority but unfortunately I do not have a date yet.” Optimistically I said I would look forward to having the problem corrected.

But evidently I was too optimistic! Here we are approaching February and there is no fix yet. Where in the transportation planner’s handbook does it say that a mistake like this can go unaddressed despite highlighting the problem and following up three times? It cries out for a lawsuit!

[As noted in the update, the city finally got around to fixing it. And all it took was a little paint]Crescent Drive sharrows fixed

Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logoSecretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, appointed by President Obama in 2013, is continuing the efforts predecessor Raymond LaHood to make street safety the Department’s priority. “In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured,” Foxx says in a recent post. To reverse the trend he’s announced his Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in conjunction with last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Will Beverly Hills take the challenge?

Recently US DOT has upped its game on street safety. Where the department in the past focused less on health and welfare and more on moving people and freight, in recent years leaders have stressed the human toll taken on our roadways by errant drivers. Specifically, the department has focused on non-motor traveler safety through its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety initiative, as well by issuing safety-focused bulletins, surveys, and advisories.

Just recently, for example, Secretary Foxx noted that in the past decade the number of people killed on our roads has declined by a quarter. In the past five years alone, however, the number killed while walking or riding has increased 15%.

To underscore that disproportionately high representation of cyclists among road injuries and deaths, US DOT has undertaken public education and outreach efforts (like its Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to highlight safety and pointed to deficiencies in the designs of the roads themselves that likely contribute to the problem. To that end, the agency offers evaluation tools to help professionals diagnose built environment.

Secretary Foxx’s “Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” falls squarely into the department’s recent safety efforts to set priorities for local transportation officials. These officials have a professional responsibility to provide for the safety of those who walk and ride a bicycle, but as the challenge suggests, they’ve not always met the charge.

“As a former mayor, I know that our nation’s mayors with their ground-level view and community-specific resources offer us an effective way to get that done,” Secretary Foxx says. “The Challenge will showcase best local practices to improve safety, share tools for local leaders to take action, and promote partnerships to advance pedestrian and bicycle safety.” The initiatives identified in the Secretary’s challenge include:

  • Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles in the design of roadways to make streets safe and convenient for all road users;
  • Incorporate “on-road bike networks” during routine street resurfacing and deploy safety innovations appropriate to context;
  • Revisit and improve safety laws and regulations and collect non-motor traveler data; and,
  • Educate road users and enforce against bad behavior.

It is all part of the US DOT’s mission, which is to provide Americans with “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.” Now, ranking safety as job #2 may not be our preference, but it is a leap beyond the department’s priorities during the automobile era.

Has Beverly Hills Met the ‘Mayors’ Challenge’ for Safer People and Safer Streets?

Let’s look at the ‘challenge’ provisions one-by-one. Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles? Yes we can! In Beverly Hills today, none of our city plans or mobility policy statements includes a reference to ‘complete streets‘ (or even reflects the spirit of the principles). Traffic-calming for example? Outside of the business triangle you won’t find a single complete streets improvement implemented to slow or calm traffic. In fact our policy is to speed traffic through. As for other ‘complete streets’ measures like curb extensions, continental crosswalks, pedestrian refuges and narrowed travel lanes? Beverly Hills uses none of them. Yet these sensible measures moderate traffic flow and reduce the incidence – and severity – of collisions (according to US DOT).

Incorporate “on-road bike networks.” Here we have a golden opportunity with the imminent reconstruction of North Santa Monica Boulevard. That boulevard should be the spine of a future bike route system (it connects schools and parks) but the city has resisted including bicycle lanes (necessary to separate bikes and cars) as part of the massive project. Advocates have put forward a plan, however. As for ‘networks,’ we’re invited by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan to identify and create a network of streets safe for riding. We’ve not updated that plan (though it remains in effect); and we’ve taken no step to think holistically about how two-wheeled travelers can safely access our streets.

Improve local safety laws and collect non-motor traveler data. Yes and yes. Beverly Hills has local ordinances concerning cyclists on the books that are out-of-date. For example, city law requires riders to always ride to the right without acknowledging that conditions may preclude it (hence the state law’s “when practicable” stipulation). And our municipal code makes bike registration mandatory even though such bike licensing laws have been declared unenforceable. Other areas of the code like that governing bike parking need a facelift too.

As for data, the city’s budget says that the Community Development department has the responsibility for annual “traffic engineering studies, speed surveys, traffic volume counts and compile accident data at the City’s 500 intersections and crosswalks.” Does the city do collect that data? No it doesn’t. Our Traffic and Parking Commission does receive a monthly BHPD citation and crash data report, but commissioners ask few questions; staff simply files away those reports. And we wish the city compiled crash data by intersection. We’ve asked BHPD for that kind of data and their system can’t generate such reports.

And that last of the four initiatives – educate and enforce road user behavior – would be welcome here too because there is no safety education. We’ve begged our transportation officials to post a simple safety tips page on the city’s website, but in five years they haven’t done it. (We’ve even offered to compose it gratis but we found no taker in City Hall.) Basic tips to help drivers and riders learn our rights and responsibilities in order to safely share the road would seem to be the minimum envisioned by Foxx’s challenge to Mayors.

And as concerns enforcement, our drivers continue to be regular scofflaws. Yet citations in nearly every category have declined over the years. Witness the downward trend in citations over the last few years (even as red light cameras remain remarkably prolific in catching speeders):

Citation trends 2008-2013 graph

Even within a given year (2013 for example) there is a pronounced slack-off at the beginning and end:

Citation trends 2013

Heck, drivers run red lights all day every day at nearly every signaled intersection in the city. At least write these scofflaws a ticket!

Let’s Hope Our Mayor Takes the US DOT’s Challenge

In March a new Mayor takes over in Beverly Hills: Dr. Julian Gold will have the helm for a full year. That’s enough time to prod our incoming city manager to do more than simply warm the chair; he or she should be directed to immediately implement the Secretary’s suggestions right away. Maybe then we’ll do something about this shameful lack of progress on reducing collisions (see the chart below). Another mark of distinction is that Beverly Hill’s relatively high incidence of crash injuries keeps us tops among smaller cities in California in the crash injury rate category.

All collisions 2008-2013 graph

Crash injuries in all categories show remarkable resilience in the face of state and federal safety education programs and law enforcement initiatives. Call it a Beverly Hills achievement!

Either our transportation officials aren’t cognizant of current best street safety practices, or they view it as simply unimportant. So let’s hope that the next Mayor takes the Foxx challenge. We’ll check back in with Mayor Gold after he attends the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets this coming March. What will he proposes in the way of safety policies for Beverly Hills? Our own municipal neighbors take these steps now to make their streets safe; why can’t we do it here?

Update: Beverly Hills has indeed signed on. But beyond simply becoming signatory to this campaign, we’re wondering what steps will our city take to “improve safety for bicycle riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities over the next year” (per the ‘challenge’). Has our city identified any goals, objectives or strategies? We’ve asked, and we’ll let you know.

Update #2: We asked the city what steps will it take to “improve safety for bicycle riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities over the next year” (per the Secretary’s challenge). “Has our city identified any goals, objectives or strategies?” Here’s the response we received:

Thank you for your email re. bicycles and pedestrian improvements for the City. With the support from City Council for bicycle systems in the City, staff has submitted applications for local (Metro Call-for-Projects) and state (Advance Transportation Pedestrian Improvements) grant funds for bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects. Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements. – Martha Eros City of Beverly Hills Transportation Planner

If you have any suggestions about how our city can be more bike-friendly, why not give a call to Martha (310-285-2542) or Deputy Director Aaron Kunz (310-285-1128?

Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills Could Soon Be Bicycle Safe.” That’s a real headline, not an April Fool’s day prank or The Onion having a laugh on you. That accurate (if optimistic) take on a recent Beverly Hills study session says it plain: City Council actually kept alive a chance that we’ll one day see bicycle lanes striped on Santa Monica Boulevard. has our respect for publishing a detailed recap and the best of the coverage among three local papers that we recap here.

Westside Today

Westside Today‘s Jennifer Eden set the bar high with a 692-word story that front-loaded the real news from the on January 6th study session: City Council decided to keep bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard on the table. Even better, she put our ‘Greenway’ proposal into a complete streets context (a concept heretofore unknown in Beverly Hills):

Advocating a “complete street” concept, Elliot’s Beverly Hills Greenway campaign calls for a 62-foot-wide street encompassing safe bicycle lanes, similar to those in Mid-City and Santa Monica.

“Where safety is concerned, there is always an alternative,” Elliot said, explaining that the Greenway proposal offers no net loss of parkland and could be a perfect solution for the boulevard. City Council listened to almost two-hours of speakers on the issue, the majority who supported a shared road to accommodate all users. – Westside Today, January 9th

That was our expressed intent as we presented the Greenway to Council. (We being Eric Bruins, Kory Klem and other multimodal advocates.) Eden then moved on to the focus of the agenda item, construction mitigation.

After a detailed review of the traffic impact analysis and lane closure alternatives, the Santa Monica Blvd. Ad-Hoc Committee recommended the Alternative 4 lane closure option be adopted.This alternative utilizes a combination of lane closure alternatives that “balances minimizing traffic impacts and providing opportunities to expedite construction in order to reduce the overall schedule and cost associated with reconstruction of the boulevard,” according to the City. “A range from four traffic lanes to three/two traffic lanes depending on activity.”

She then sketched out the next likely steps in this $27M project:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also recommended that staff: return to Council with a draft construction mitigation plan developed in consultation with the Traffic & Parking Commission five months after commencement of project design; consider landscaped medians in project design and return to City Council at 50 percent of project design – proposed modifications to bus stops, street lighting, and other changes to the existing roadway would be forwarded at this time; and conduct public outreach.

Done. In tone and substance her story is accurate and balanced. And it focused on the policy aspects of the Council’s action. We expect that from the New York Times and Streetsblog Los Angeles, but a news organization serving our neighbors to the east pleasantly surprised us.

Beverly Hills Weekly

Over at hometown favorite Beverly Hills Weekly, the headline summed up the relevant news (at least in our view): “Life in the Bike Lane: Santa Monica Blvd. Bike Lanes Remain on the Table Following Study Session Meeting.” In the story, staff writer Mina Riazi succinctly explained our Greenway proposal right at the top.

The County Bicycle Coalition and several local advocates presented a “Beverly Hills Greenway” proposal, which envisions a 62-foot wide boulevard that fits two 5 foot-wide bike lanes and exacts no cost to the adjacent park.

Then starting with a quote from yours truly, she focused on the participatory aspect of the process.

“I think if we had not shown up in the numbers that we did and sent the voluminous comments that we did, [the lanes opportunity] would have quietly disappeared. To me, that was the big win. The second big win was just the process that City Council very patiently listened for more than two hours to us talk about what we need to feel safe on the Boulevard. Mayor Lili Bosse said, ‘We can get there.’ When there’s a will to find a compromise I think we will find a compromise. There’s some good will on the city side to make this happen.”

Riazi then stated our key concern.

Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember Willie Brien, members of the Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee, acknowledged that the bike lane issue has not been the main focus of their meetings so far. Instead, the Council has mainly concentrated on traffic congestion issues associated with the project. Santa Monica Boulevard’s current minimum width of 60 feet is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes.

And finally she put some wind in our sails by reaching out to the only councilmember who has been an explicit supporter of complete streets for Beverly Hills, John Mirisch. “I won’t vote in favor of any project where we don’t have dedicated bike lanes because I think it would be a grave mistake,” he tells Riazi. It was gratifying to hear him say it in study session and important to see them in print.Beverly Hills Weekly story

Beverly Hills Courier

And then there’s the Beverly Hills Courier, which brings its own journalism stylings to issues like Metro tunneling and now our bootstrap effort to get Beverly Hills to make streets safe for everybody. The story, “Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Traffic Mitigation Turns into Bike Lanes at City Council,” by Victoria Talbot, sets the tone early.

Cyclists hijacked a City Council study session Tuesday that was scheduled to consider traffic mitigations for the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project, and focusing [sic] the entire meeting on the subject of bike lanes instead. – Courier January 9, 2015

She goes on to claim that we “ambushed City Hall” and suggests that we checkmated the opposition with some shrewd tactical move to commandeer this meeting.

The legion of cyclists came charged with fervor and reciting phrases about complete streets, carbon emissions and progressive mobility and booing any residents who came to disagree. Bike lanes were not on the agenda; the opposition, prominent in former meetings, did not know they should be present in force.

Now we can disagree about how to characterize an audience’s reaction, but we should be able to agree that local democracy works when one shows up to advocate for their interest. And Talbot’s “not on the agenda” take? Here’s what the agenda says:

North Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project Construction Mitigation Item First Agendized December 2, 2014 Forwards Santa Monica Boulevard Ad-Hoc Committee recommendations and seeks direction to proceed with project design. –  Study session agenda item #1 January 6, 2015

We came to chambers to talk about project design. As for boulevard width, that’s on the agenda too. Per the staff report, the recommendation behind the agenda item perversely argues that the state’s new safe-passing law actually recommended that the city mix riders and motor traffic in Santa Monica Boulevard’s #2 lane. This corridor carries 54k vehicles every day; mixing modes is the perfect opportunity for Beverly Hills to bolster our dubious distinction of racking up more crash injuries than nearly any other small city in the state. That recommendation comes in the 2nd paragraph:

The Ad-Hoc Committee also reviewed the implications of the “Three Feet for Safety Act” that went into effect in September 2014 in the State of California and requires vehicles to provide 3-feet clearance for bicycles. Attachment 3 provides detail of this act in relation to the lane widths of Santa Monica Boulevard. After this review, the Ad-Hoc Committee recommended that the project be designed with the existing roadway width.When we put forth the Greenway proposal to Council the week before the study session, we stated very clearly our concern that the city’s hands would be tied if the city simply reconstructed the corridor we have today without room for bicycle lanes. That’s why we presented an alternative design concept. We were speaking precisely what was on the agenda.

Curiously Talbot writes that we also “monopolized the Study Session, deferring all other City business including an item on Bike Sharing….” Must be another strong-arming of legislators by the all-powerful ‘bicycle lobby‘! If only.

We’d like to remind all Courier reporters that the Mayor directs City Council meetings. And Mayor Bosse seemed firmly in control of the proceedings. In fact, we’re grateful to Mayor Bosse for allowing for full discussion of the ad hoc committee’s recommendation.

We noted other areas of disagreement in a letter to the editor, including how this Greenway proposal came together. To be clear, this proposal was formalized and named the week prior to the study session. But the underlying concept – state-approved narrow travel lanes and a narrowed boulevard profile for example – were presented to the Blue Ribbon Committee by LACBC’s Eric Bruins last fall.

There is no such thing as bad publicity, they say, so let’s tip our hat to Talbot’s succinct summary of our proposal:

To achieve the bike lane, the Beverly Hills Greenway proposal would widen the 60-foot stretch to 62-feet and reduce the 63-foot stretch to 62-feet…removing two feet from the parklands on the narrow portion and then adding back one foot on the wider portion of the road.

Well said!

There is an irony to Talbot’s story, though. She wants to take us to task for hijacking the discussion, but she herself gives short shrift to what she says was the real agenda issue: traffic mitigation. “City Council did decide on the recommended option for traffic mitigation when construction begins,” she reports. “The traffic mitigation will include a range from four to two or three traffic lanes, depending on the construction activity.” And that’s all she wrote.Bevery Hills Courier story

LA Councilman’s Hostility Toward Complete Streets Sounds Familiar

Cedillo's diagonal parkingNortheast Los Angeles neighborhoods can seem a long way from Beverly Hills, but a scrum over bicycle lanes there suggests that we have at least one thing in common: elected officials standing in the way of a worthy safe-streets effort. Our City Council may block bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. In Highland Park, LA councilman Gil Cedillo is tanking a plan to make Figueroa (that community’s main street) ‘complete.’ Where we differ: silence greets our Council’s opposition; in NELA Cedillo has stirred a revolt among bike advocates.

The Highland Park story may sound familiar to those of us who advocate for bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills: much-needed improvements that would make a street safe for non-motor travelers simply hits the chopping block when elected representatives decide to buck city policy, wave aside community sentiment, and fly in the face of common sense just to put the brakes on the installation of bicycle lanes.

In Highland Park, Cedillo single-handedly shut down ‘complete street‘ improvements for North Figueroa Street, even though that project is included in the city’s bike plan (2011) year-one implementation program. A thousand people participated in the drafting of that plan; bike advocates have weighed in on implementation priorities; and riders have repeatedly turned out to public meetings to support bicycle lanes on busy Figueroa. But Cedillo says he knows best how to serve his constituents.

Or does he? Gil Cedillo stated his support for the Figueroa Street project when he was running for LA City Council, only to turn his back once in office. The about-face on this much-heralded ‘Figueroa for All’ (Fig4All) project sparked heated debate about politics trumping public safety.  Consequently, a vocal contingent of transportation advocates has turned up the heat on ‘Road Kill Gill’ (as he’s known on twitter). There’s even a website dedicated to reviving the moribund Fig4All project.

Fig4All Is Worth the Fight

‘Figueroa for All’ would remake North Figueroa as part of a broader basket of complete street improvements (40 miles of them overall) that are already earmarked for implementation in year one under the city’s bike plan. The project is described succinctly in the environmental impact report:

From the SR-110 ramps to Pasadena Avenue, though the existing lane configuration could be retained with bare minimum widths to allow for bike lanes, the proposed project would remove one southbound lane to allow for buffered bike lanes. From Pasadena Avenue to York Boulevard, the two southbound lanes would be reduced to a single southbound lane, still allowing for buffered bike lanes. From York Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard, both northbound and southbound lanes would be reduced from two to one, allowing for standard bike lanes. – Figueroa Streetscape Project Draft EIR (emphasis added)

A planned ‘road diet’ right though the heart of Highland Park between Pasadena and York would reduce the number of travel lanes on Figueroa to calm traffic and provide sufficient room for bicycle lanes on this regional corridor. (Some segments would even include ‘buffered’ lanes to provide an additional safety margin for riders.) For pedestrians, enhancements like curb extensions would shorten crosswalks on this busy street too.

Highland Park zero vehicles mapIndeed there is good reason to remake Figueroa for the safety of riders and pedestrians. Households in the community are less-likely to own a car. Household income is lower than more advantaged neighborhoods in the city, making auto ownership a luxury; and a higher incidence of immigrant households also depresses ownership. But as important, the community has been well-served by rail: Highland Park sits aside the Gold Line (just off Figueroa on Marmion Way) and long before that was a stop on the Pacific Electric.

But to be a walker in Highland Park is to understand that Cedillo’s pedestrian constituents are poorly-served by faded crosswalks, which put us in harm’s way as drivers speed through town on the way to Downtown. The prevailing speed makes this corridor a good candidate for bike lanes too. But there is another reason to make Figueroa safe for cycling: there is an influx of younger folks and they are less likely to drive than generations before them.

The changing nature of mobility and demand for transportation alternatives are reflected in the city’s bike plan. It puts the emphasis on safe multimodal mobility:Great Streets bike network table

A ‘Figueroa for All’ would seem to be a win for everyone then. Upgraded intersections and calmer traffic would make it safer for pedestrians; bicycle lanes would be safer for riders and less-stressful for drivers; and for business owners in commercially-depressed Highland Park, any uplift in transom traffic generated by local shoppers arriving via bicycle, say, could only help bootstrap the nascent commercial revival.

And it would benefit brick-and-mortar shops like the Flying Pigeon (“beautiful bikes for everyday life”). Owner Josef Bray-Ali champions the project, and not only because his shop may pick up some new business; a ‘complete Figueroa would be good for greater Northeast Los Angeles.

‘Road Kill Gil’ says he has a vision for Figueroa, and it primarily entails the installation of four blocks of angled parking in downtown Highland Park (his proposal is skewered in the illustration at the top). But that won’t make travel safe or calm traffic; nor will it spark a small-business renaissance. Instead it looks to an auto-centric past and takes Los Angeles in the wrong direction (according to the city’s stated mobility priorities).

Other reasons to oppose Cedillo’s plan: parking is the least of Highland Park’s economic challenges; and the plan runs counter to Metro’s complete streets policy, which provides money for multimodal mobility improvements. It is ironic that Cedillo wants Metro funding to implement his proposal. For Fig4All supporters, Metro grant money for ‘Road Kill Gill’ is bitter icing on a shit cake.

Look over at the Figueroa for All blog for a detailed chronology of Cedillo’s disappointments, as well as a peek inside the bureaucratic mechanism that should not allow him to single-handedly tank a worthy “shovel-ready project.” (< Remember that term? We don’t hear it too much anymore.)

Social Media Battle Heats Up!

Cedillo’s opponents have aligned against him and taken to social media to make their case. And he’s making it easy: in order to deflect attention away from his opposition to complete streets plan for Figueroa (improvements already paid for, by the way) Cedillo has staged his own ‘public participation theater’ this past summer. But he’s fooling nobody: the town hall ostensibly held to gather community input for Figueroa was instead baldly used by Cedillo to heap praise on himself and his staff.

Angry cyclists decried Cedillo’s cynical move, and leading the charge was Flying Pigeon bike shop’s owner, Josef Bray-Ali.  He has assembled a posse to support a ‘complete’ Figueroa and to support candidates who say they prioritize street safety.

Cedillo December flyerStung by the persistent criticism, Cedillo doubled down and organized several more public forums earlier this month, again to ostensibly gather public input (this time with a sharpened focus on safety). But project proponents weren’t convinced: it was just more ‘participation theater,’ they say.

Next, Cedillo upped his anti-bike rhetoric at a mid-December City Council meeting. There the city was going to rubber stamp an application for Metro grant funds (including Cedillo’s diagonal parking scheme). But Fig4All supporters and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition together alerted the cycling community:

Cedillo is now asking the full City Council to sign off on his incomplete street and spend City staff resources applying for funding for a project that will be out of date before the ink is dry on the application. We ask you to write the City Council requesting that they uphold the integrity of citywide plans and refuse to include North Figueroa in the City’s funding application unless it includes a complete street.

They spoke out in City Council and via social media ridiculed Cedillo’s proposal:

Cedillo How to sell it tweetFigueroa diagonal parking tweet

But Cedillo told City Council that he would not be “bullied” by those whom he labeled “the 1%” – presumably referring to the small share of trips made by bicycle (which understates the increasing popularity of cycling in his precinct). Cedillo’s remarks triggered even more vitriol:

Figueroa one percenter tweet

Of course the City Council deferred to Cedillo and rubber-stamped the Metro grant application.

Figueroa City Council tweet

Now Fig4All proponents pivot toward Metro and argue that the agency should not fund Cedillo’s auto-centric parking scheme with the county’s multimodal dollars. In the meantime, Cedillo’s Highland Park constituents wait for safety improvements but are practically held hostage to this elected official’s intransigence.

Cedillo purgatory tweet

Why Mention Fig4All on a Site Focused on Beverly Hills?

Front and center here is a clash of visions between advocates for ‘complete streets’ and those who call for a return to auto-centric policies – the kind that prize diagonal parking (with its attendant blind spots), say, over bicycle lanes. And the forces working against complete streets and bicycle lanes in Highland Park are active here in Beverly Hills too: they’re opposing bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg: Beverly Hills has not even begun to plan for a multmodal future. While Los Angeles has been making significant strides, our policymakers ensure that our city still relies on a Bicycle Master Plan from 1977. Though our Sustainable City Plan (2009) and the General Plan circulation element (2010) say the right things about mobility and encouraging cycling, City Council simply hasn’t heeded that policy guidance.

We can change. In conjunction with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, we’re supporting a plan to include bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard because it’s the safe choice. We hope you will sign our petition and call City Council at 310-285-1013 to remind councilmembers that they need not follow Cedillo’s bad example.Beverly Hills Greenway logo

CicLAvia October, 2014 in Pictures

With the 10th CicLAvia in Los Angeles now behind us, we take a look at last Sunday’s festivities with a few snaps. After just a few years running, the city’s premier closed-street festival has not only become institutionalized – that is, carried over with enthusiasm from the Villaraigosa to the Garcetti administration – but is reaching out to new areas like East Los Angeles. Behold the joy of closed streets from Echo Park to the Eastside! That wraps up another great CicLAvia from Aaron Paley and the good folks that bring you Southern California’s premier closed-street bike & ped festival. You’ve come for the liberated streets; you’ve stayed to see the great variety of city culture on display; and you … Continue reading

A Campaign Ad That Transit Buffs Can Appreciate

Bobby Shriver PE flyer verso

Amid the onslaught of flyers that seem to keep the Postal Service afloat every campaign season, the last theme we expected to see land in our mailbox was one harking back a century to legendary interurban rail travel. Mass transit, sure – it’s every progressive’s pet cause today. But to summon the heyday of the Pacific Electric, the gargantuan Southern California system felled by disinvestment and the convenience of the automobile? Maybe it had to come from a Santa Monica candidate for the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor. That city (unlike Beverly Hills) has taken the lead both in transit-friendly planning and in creating the infrastructure and programs to make cycling attractive, practical and safe as a mode choice. … Continue reading

Gran Fondo Italia Comes to Beverly Hills on 9/28

Gran Fondo Italia BH logo

The Gran Fondo Italia ride, an annual for-profit ‘packaged’ bike ride & marketing extravaganza, comes back to Beverly Hills with city sponsorship this September 28th. It’s the only kind of ride our city appreciates: hospitality dollars roll in while City Hall basks in ersatz Euro-gloss. Fittingly, premium riders will enjoy a dinner at the Montage Hotel and a Tuscan wine ‘goody bag.’ But those linen tablecloths and Tuscan wines won’t streets any safer for the everyday riders. If you’re concerned about safe streets in Beverly Hills, this Gran Fondo is as relevant to your commute as if it actually happened in Italy.  The Laguna Beach-based organizers behind the Fondo promise “a strong ‘Italian feeling’ with Italian sponsors, Italian foods, and … Continue reading

Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too

strava logo

Reader Brent Bigler recently forwarded our way a Strava heatmap that shows the frequency of rides through Beverly Hills. Riders use Strava’s mobile app to track rides and training performance. And the data collected by the app in the aggregate is extremely useful to riders and planners alike. Let’s take a closer look at the heatmap and talk with Strava’s data jockey to learn more about what the data mean. Everybody in Los Angeles, driver, walker and biker alike, has a favorite route to recommend. Riding Mid-City to Santa Monica? Take 3rd street, snake through the Civic Center parking structure, and you’ll pop out on Rexford Dr. near Santa Monica Boulevard. (Eastbounders take the Civic Center Drive turnoff at City … Continue reading

City Disses Cycling, Promotes Sham ‘Heart Healthy’ Event

Beverly Hills Healthy City

Who 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 … Continue reading