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

Ciclavia 2014-10-5 map

CicLAvia route for October 2014: Bringing it to the Eastside!

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!

Ciclavia at Echo Park terminus

Embarking from the western terminus at the southern tip of Echo Park, the route followed Glendale Boulevard southeast. Once the the route of the city’s first subway line before ducking underground near Beverly, today Glendale took CicLAvia to 2nd street and through the tunnel westward. Notably, City of Los Angeles put the tunnel on a ‘road diet': now it’s two traffic lanes with buffered bicycle lanes! The tunnel was a high point of festivities on Sunday: not only having it to ourselves, but enjoying that interminable echo too!

CicLavia October 2014 2nd street rotary

After exiting the 2nd street tunnel, Downtown welcomed CicLAvia with a rotary hub at Broadway, where the two routes converged into a chaotic swirl with a dance tent at the center. From this hub, spurs ventured north into Chinatown and south to Broadway and 9th street.

Ciclavia on Broadway spur 2

The south Broadway spur was a highlight for the historic department store architecture and legendary theater corridor – the foundation of a ‘bring back Broadway’ initiative by the city. A few years hence we’ll marvel that we collectively ever let Broadway decline so. But the corridor is still a hard sell to many Angelenos, who can see how far we’ve yet to go to realize the Broadway renaissance. CicLAVia allows us to contemplate this great wide way studded with icons like the Los Angeles and Palace theaters, and all without the headache-inducting buzz of everyday Broadway traffic.

CicLAvia at Chinatown's Gate

Through the Chinatown gate the northern Broadway spur reached, taking riders deep into the heart of the city’s second actual Chinatown. This neighborhood, once Anglo, received the displaced once construction began on Union Station southeast on Alamdeda. That was the locale of the original, long-gone Chinese-majority settlement.

Ciclavia on Chinatown spur

Today’s Chinatown (along the Broadway spine) is notable for its distinct vernacular. Here programmatic architecture provides a backdrop for CicLAvia’s northern hub. But change is coming fast to Chinatown, so get a good luck before it’s gone.

CicLAvia over the LA River Bridge

Crossing the 4th Street Bridge (1930) by any means necessary! There is no finer way to appreciate the transition from Downtown to the Eastside than traversing one of the dozen or so historic spans.

Ciclavia Mariach panorama

Once over the bridge, Ciclovians coursed through Boyle Heights streets. Unlike past years, today’s route approached iconic Mariachi Plaza from the south. And what a hub it was! Packed with folks who converged from all over the city to enjoy the many restaurants that line the plaza.

Ciclavia Mariachi Plaza booths

Vendor booths and information kiosks marked the Mariachi Plaza hub, with the adjacent Gazebo providing color and nearby Libros Schmibros providing the literary culture.

While Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo continues to catch hell for sinking #Fig4all in Highland Park, Jose Huizar reminds Ciclovians that he's behind multimodal mobility!

Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar reminds Ciclovians that he’s behind multimodal mobility while City Council colleague Gil Cedillo remains in the advocates’ doghouse for sinking #Fig4all in Highland Park. For shame, Cedillo!

Metro Moves You mascot at CicLAvia

‘Metro moves you’ indeed! Metro is a major sponsor of CicLAvia, and like every event makes this street party accessible without resorting to motor transportation. Three cheers for the Metro mascot! Hey guy, drop by a Beverly Hills City Council meeting for some of our lovin,’ won’t you?

CicLAvia on Caesar Chavez

Here we are, snaking our way down Caesar Chavez toward East Los Angeles. Hungry for a taco? You wouldn’t have been disappointed: there are dozens of options in this most colorful and tasty neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Once one of the city’s earliest suburbs, home to Jews and Protestant gentry alike, today it’s Latino dominate. The bonus? Unlike Westside CicLAvia routes, this eastern variant is more about good food than ever.

The Car of the futureThat 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 finally you’ve pedaled away belly-filled with tacos. That’s a might-fine recipe for a successful CicLAvia, and once again the good folks at CicLAvia HQ delivered!

In exactly four short years (tomorrow marks the anniversary of the first event), CicLAvia has made its mark on the culture and calendar of the larger region. Consider supporting CicLAvia and/or volunteering for the next event on December 7th. Mark your calendar!

A Campaign Ad That Transit Buffs Can Appreciate

Bobby Shriver PE flyer versoAmid 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.

Though Metro’s Expo Line is not expected to reach the beach by 2015, well in advance of that historic re-linkage of the beach city to Downtown Los Angeles the city embarked on a general plan update. And the updated plan envisions “no net new evening peak period vehicle trips” (see the executive summary). The new Land Use and Circulation Element in effect calls for policies that it is anticipated will redistribute travel from automobile trips to those on other modes.

Leveraging public investment in transit and infrastructure is the key, Shriver’s flyer suggests. By concentrating new development near transit hubs, as well as providing incentives to walk, ride and/or use transit, we can find our way toward a post-auto transportation future.

Of course the larger region enjoyed that kind of transit access a century ago, and candidate Shriver’s campaign flyer summons that history with a map of the extensive Pacific Electric lines inter-city travelers once took for granted:

Bobby Shriver PE flyer frontSlowly but surely, Metro, with the support of the voters, is retracing some of the original PE rights-of-way (like Expo Line, which sticks closely to the old Santa Monica Air Line) in an effort to again offer travelers transportation alternatives. Shriver juxtaposes the legacy of interurban rail travel with today’s present program to “rebuild our infrastructure!” by foregrounding the role of public investment in the recreation of a great transit system. As a County Supervisor, too, he’d be in a position to approve further investment to make county-wide rail access a reality.

Now, this is no endorsement. Let’s wait to see if his opponent Sheila Kuehl steps up to herald that bygone era of convenient, affordable rail access, perhaps with her own tribute to the Pacific Electric. Is there a more suitable tip-of-the-hat to our region’s once-greatness that reminding us that we once had a jewel of a public transit system?Pacific Electric Railway in Southern California map 1912

Gran Fondo Italia Comes to Beverly Hills on 9/28

Gran Fondo Italia BH logoThe 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 a great Italian atmosphere,” according to correspondence with city officials. “The spirit and passion of Italy, iconic Italian brands and products, and incredible destinations are all part of the experience with Gran Fondo Italia events,” their promo materials say. And the pitch to riders: “Grab your cycling friends and line up behind the Lexus lead car and police escort for a fantastic start to a beautiful ride through the Santa Monica mountains and back to the finish at Beverly Hills City Hall.”

But we need remind nobody that non-paying riders in Beverly Hills enjoy no lead car or police escort through our city. We’re subject to regular motorist harassment (as if we’ve got no right to the road) but no cop comes to our aid. Though we’re threatened by reckless drivers, speeders and red-light runners every day, there is no traffic cop on the beat as enforcement has decreased over the past five years, according to our analysis of BHPD data.

Santa Monica Blvd pavement irregularitiesIn fact, dangerous conditions greet riders every day especially along this big event’s main course – a few blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard between City Hall and Wilshire. For this key regional connector has languished over the past decade as the city has simply refused to repair it. Yet the Gran Fondo riders who brave only a few blocks of the rutted corridor won’t feel the full Beverly Hills welcome. That said, we will not be surprised to see some spot repairs made on the event section (that is, only where our event guests will see it).

It’s All About the Marketing

But then it’s all about the marketing anyway, as the Chamber’s letter to Council supporting the event says:

The event will provide an opportunity for local merchants to participate in the event and related activities. Attendees of the event will be able to easily dine at our restaurants and walk around and shop while in Beverly Hills. In addition, the event could be a nice occasion to bring the residential community and the business community together.

Yes, why not use cycling to bring residents and businesses together? Why not encourage two-wheeled travel to shops and restaurants? Great questions. But in the past, the Chamber has not been very receptive to notions of bike-friendly business districts. (We received an icy reception when we met with a Chamber official a few years ago.) Indeed the Chamber is actually driven by larger members anyway – hotels, restaurants, and banks for example – and so is not particularly representative of the smaller shops who would find support in a ‘shop local’ program. (The Chamber even once ran its own until it folded that tent when City Hall money ran out).

Of course City Hall is on board. “We are thrilled to host the Gran Fondo Italia and it is a great way to help promote our Centennial year internationally,” said Mayor Lili Bosse in an event press release. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the bike friendly activities in our city and build on our Healthy City Initiative, both for our community and for cyclists visiting from around the world.”

Should Local Bike Clubs Support a Marketing Event?

Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills organizers have reached out to local clubs for a little bit of promo love. “Dear Cycling Club: Help get the word out!” an email pleads. “The Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills is Sunday September 28. Please post the event on your website calendar. And feel free to use the image links (below) in your messaging.”

Gran Fondo Italia promo

Pasadena Athletic Association Club President Wesley Reutimann brought it to our attention and copied us on his reply to event organizers:

Thank you for reaching out to our club. As President of PAA cycling, a 350 member bike club, I am unable to promote this event or any other in the City of Beverly Hills as long as its elected leaders and City staff do not take the safety of ALL road users seriously. Over the past few years, the City of Beverly Hills has repeatedly failed to support local efforts to improve the safety of its streets.

At the same time, neighboring LA, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica have made significant investments to protect vulnerable road users like bicyclists (e.g., bike lanes on Santa Monica Blvd). Until the City can address these issues (e.g., existing bike lane gap on Santa Monica Blvd), I will be compelled to take my business elsewhere, as well as encourage that of our entire membership to do so as well. Please feel free to relay my message to your contacts in the City.

Bravo! Wes has been witness all along to our city’s resistance to safer streets for cyclists, and he’s lent his effort to secure bike lanes for Santa Monica. So he has a right to gripe.

And he’s right: Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and Culver City have each pressed ahead with bike-friendly measures while Beverly Hills has slapped down only a few block segments of sharrows and lanes and called it done. That’s par for the course for Beverly Hills: we talk a good game in our plans – for example, about multimodal mobility in our General Plan and we even encourage cycling in our Sustainable City Plan – but we seem to not be able to muster the interest to make cycling safe for folks who might want to bike to the cafe or store.

Heck, we’ve even got a Bicycle Master Plan that dates to 1977 (and it’s still legally in effect, contrary to what our transportation officials think) and it calls for all the right things: a citywide bikeway network; a designated bike route on Santa Monica Boulevard; and safe connections between schools and parks.

Yet city leadership won’t follow our own guiding policies. Most recently, City Council slapped back at the over 200 riders who spoke up in support of class II bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. A majority of councilmembers essentially disparaged supporters and waved away their comments in support. One, Nancy Krasne, questioned whether lanes were even safe (despite evidence that they are more safe than streets without them). Read more about the SM Blvd project on our dedicated page.

We feel that city support for Gran Fondo Italia should be seen as a rebuke to anyone who calls for safer streets for cycling in Beverly Hills. Because really it’s the principle of the thing: why take unearned rewards by coat-tailing on an ersatz Euro sport ride event when policymakers can’t make a simple effort to create welcoming, complete streets?

So we appreciate Wes and his club for speaking up. “Cyclists have a lot of purchasing power,” he says, “and we shouldn’t be shy to wield it and encourage others to do so too.”

Has your club been on the receiving end of the organizer’s outreach? Has it declined to support the Fondo? Let us know. We hope you stand with Wes! (Update: Ted Rogers over at BikinginLA chimed in too: “While I’m normally willing to back any event that promotes bicycling, it just doesn’t make sense to support a bike event in a city that doesn’t support us.”)

Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too

strava logoReader 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 Hall and then turn right to reach 3rd). Riding Beverly Hills to Venice? Try Beverwil south to National, then west to Overland and south again to Venice.

But you don’t need to take our word for it with Strava’s app-generated data. One look at the heatmap (filtered for bike data) shows that many riders take these recommended routes.

Strava Beverly Hills heatmap

Of course the most popular routes are through streets like Santa Monica, Wilshire, Olympic boulevards and Burton Way. But secondary streets get a lot of use too, and using Strava data could be a transformational tool for city transportation officials when identifying safe bike routes as our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan recommends.

Remember that when City Council a year ago approved limited  bike lanes and sharrows under a pilot project, they didn’t heed the advice of riders, who identified Beverly Drive, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Wilshire alternatives Charleville Drive and Gregory Way as the best routes for bike-friendly treatments. We also suggested that Elevado (rather than the staff-recommended Carmelita) offers good crosstown connectivity. These recommendations are supported by the Strava data.

Backbone missing piece map

Beverly Hills is the missing link in our regional bike route network.

Not to mention the need for class II bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was a proposal upon which a Council majority has frowned. Yet our Beverly Hills segment of this regional corridor begs for officials to close the gap in the Westside’s ‘backbone’ bikeway network.

More About the Heatmap

The Strava system uses a mobile app to track runners and riders via global positioning system (GPS) satellites. The GPS  “pulses” triangulate rider location (each pinpoints a user in space and time) and that data is then collected by Strava and aggregated to map the individual rider’s route as well as route popularity more generally. Strava at HQ maps the data points and out pops a heatmap of ride frequency.

Of course it’s not quite that simple. We asked Strava’s GIS lead, Brian Riordan, how the heatmap is generated. The data for the heatmap is displayed dynamically on demand. So that each time the map is resized, the ride data is redrawn and “re-normalized” at the scale of the regenerated map. Instead of merely moving the same data around in the browser, it is re-plotted to show subtleties in the relative popularity of displayed routes.

Strava map redraws according to zoomWe can see this from the screen capture at right (cropped to show only Beverly Hills). We begin with a broader view including West Los Angeles. When we zoom into BH, changing scale, differences emerge in the relative popularity of the secondary routes. We see it in the subtle color changes on these routes.

There are some caveats to the Strava heatmap, however. It’s not a real-time metric; the data is current only through October. And there is little the user can do to dice-and-slice this data: the heatmap only allows limited color tweaking and no capacity exists for the user to fiddle with thresholds to dynamically distinguish more heavily-traveled secondary routes from less-traveled secondary routes. Is the ratio of rides on Santa Monica relative to Carmelita only 2:1, or do SM trips greatly outnumber Carmelita trips by as much as 10:1? We don’t know. Likewise with Elevado and Carmelita: they visually they rank more or less the same, but is one more frequently ridden? A threshold slider might help us dynamically tease out the difference.

More About Strava

More important as a caveat is the data itself. Where is it coming from? Strava is embraced as a training tool or fitness tracker and so naturally appeals to sport-minded riders. We’d like to see the app find a representative user base including commuters and recreational riders too. San Francisco-based Strava is reaching a wider audience, Brian says, given the incorporation of smartphones into exercise regimens. So Strava data will likely be more representative (and more fine grained) going forward. (Check out the Strava engineering blog to see the uses to which the app’s data can be put.)

And what about all that good data? How can we make good use of it to create safe and practical bike routes? Strava offers a ‘Metro’ product to local governments like Beverly Hills and the County of Los Angeles (as well as advocacy organizations):

Using Strava Metro, departments of transportation and city planners, as well as advocacy groups and corporations, can make informed and effective decisions when planning, maintaining, and upgrading cycling and pedestrian corridors….Strava Metro data enables DOTs and advocacy groups to perform detailed analyses and glean insights into cycling and running patterns dissected by time of day, day of week, season and local geography. – Metro website

Needless to say, there is value to digging into the aggregated data especially a regional level where scale gives us a much broader picture of routes taken. Forget route recommendations: Strava essentially crowdsources the best routes!

What Does the Heatmap Say About Beverly Hills?

Looking at the mapped data for Beverly Hills, a few things are immediately apparent:

Santa Monica Boulevard is a regional connector. We knew it was. So why not designate and improve it as such? Today it is a dangerous ride, so dangerous, in fact, that Beverly Hills councilmember Nancy Krasne called riders there “organ donors.” Of course she refused to consider a separate bike lane there, calling it “unsafe.” But we see improving safety on this defacto regional connector a no-brainer.

Crosstown routes rule. Even major crosstown boulevards like Wilshire, Santa Monica and Wilshire see frequent riders despite these corridors being intimidating for all but the more experienced road-warriors. As for secondary routes, several come to the foreground. To the north, Elevado emerges as a favored route. Why not? It connects Sunset to Santa Monica via a handy shortcut through the Hilton property (via Whittier and Merv Griffin Way). To the south, Charleville appears to be a favored alternative to Wilshire (it also connects three schools) while Gregory, wider and less congested than Charleville, is a favored alternative to Olympic.

Beverly Drive is a favorite north-south route. Not only because it’s a commercial spine, but also because it connects to Beverwill and Culver City beyond. Unfortunately, Council refused to consider Beverly Drive for bike-friendly improvements. Surprisingly, Beverly Glen and Coldwater also see riders, but we expect given the grade in the canyons that these are spandex folks.

What’s most remarkable is that none of the most frequently-chosen routes in Beverly Hills at least as displayed by the Strava heatmap have received a single bike-friendly or safety-improving treatment like a lane, sharrow, or signage (except Burton Way). And yet they’re all popular because they take riders where we need to go. Of course that’s why many of them are congested with vehicles too. The difference is that City of Beverly Hills welcomes motorists but not riders despite our own Sustainable City Plan’s emphasis on multimodal mobility.

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

The Wrong Signal to Send

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

Will Recommended Bike Facilities Ever See Beverly Hills Pavement?

Bicycle Lane Extensions example

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

What We Can Do Today About Santa Monica Boulevard

Beverly Hills City Council may have punted on Santa Monica Boulevard, but they can’t turn their back on street safety entirely. Consider what confronts road users every day on this corridor: pavement hazards and intersections seemingly engineered to fail riders. While councilmembers continue to discuss reconstruction cost, let’s talk safety. There’s much we can do to make this corridor better today: repair that blacktop and intersections like Santa Monica-Beverly Blvd and Santa Monica/Wilshire more safely accessible to riders. When the city took control of our section of the corridor from Caltrans nearly a decade ago, we received a small pot of gold to make repairs. But those funds (and monies since added) have moldered while the boulevard deteriorated. Indeed it’s … Continue reading

Sizing up the June 2014 Election Candidates for Supervisorial District 3

Heading to the polls on June 3rd to elect local leaders? If not, you should be! On the ballot are candidates for several key Los Angeles County races, including Board of Supervisors (districts 1 & 3) and Los Angeles County Sheriff. Here we want to take a brief look at the 3rd district Board of Supervisors candidates by focusing on their responses to Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s candidate questionnaire. Why take an interest in local elections? The county oversees critical public services like education, health care and law enforcement, after all, and it plays a significant role in crafting transportation policies. Anybody interested in safe cycling needs to pay attention. Perhaps most importantly because this body, called the “least … Continue reading