Celebrating Geography Awareness We Look at Bike Maps

Existing and Planned lanes leading to Beverly Hills map

Beverly Hills has no plans to meet most of these proposed and existing bike lanes.

To mark the close of Geography Awareness Week (which began Monday) we’re offering a few maps that highlight the varying commitment of local governments to ensuring safe, multimodal mobility.* Each highlights bike lanes and designated bike routes that we know make riding more safe, but also tend to increase the appeal of cycling as a mode of transportation. Let’s start with Beverly Hills as a reference point.

Under a ‘pilot program‘ a couple of years ago, the city striped class II bicycle lanes along several blocks of North Crescent Drive and a few blocks of Burton Way. The city also installed several blocks of shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) south of Burton. But City Council stopped way short of what bike advocates asked for: instead of the five rider-recommended signed and/or protected routes, staff recommended just one of them – and then added a second one which politically was the easiest lift of them all.

Of course, the pilot, by definition, is a temporary program, so the city allowed the paint to fade on these installed lanes and sharrows. And sometimes it simply installed sharrows incorrectly but took months to rectify it.

Here is our map of the two final routes (note that the city produces no bike routes map on its own).

Pilot routes map illustration

Not quite the citywide bicycle network envisioned in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan!

MUTCD bicycle signs 2014That is the extent of the city’s bike route network! Just two routes – and neither of them highly trafficked or even a key business district street. The irony is that these improvements made little difference in terms of increased safety for riders.

It gets worse. Beverly Hills has hung no share-the-road or may-use-full-lane sign (right); or created a publicity program to remind motorists to look out for riders; nor has it sponsored a bike safety class (or even created a website) for rider safety education. Perhaps that’s why riders flout stop signs, as our policymakers like to remind us when they turn their back on bike-friendly improvements.

Yet other cities do continue to invest in multimodal mobility, and it  does make a difference: streets feel safer to ride and that leads to greater enthusiasm for cycling. These cities reap the benefits. Let’s have a look!

Santa Monica Takes the Lead

City of Santa Monica offers the most pointed contrast. The city has rolled out bike lanes and sharrows like its multimodal transportation policies depends on them. (It does.) Look at this bike map! Beverly Hills riders can only dream of this kind of citywide network.

Santa Monica bike map illustrationNot only does Santa Monica walk the talk, it codified it too in the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – which actually identifies as a policy goal the generation of no new motor trips in the downtown area. To reach that goal, it has been first out of the gate with a bike station, a 500-bike bike-share program, and of course these miles of bicycle lanes and routes. Bravo!

Culver City

Not all cities can have Santa Monica’s mojo. Our neighbor Culver City is a bit slow out of the blocks like Beverly Hills, and it too didn’t immediately embrace bike lanes. But Culver City is a very different city than either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in that it hardly revolves around its downtown; instead it serves as a crossroads for key arteries like Culver, Washington, Robertson, Jefferson, and Venice boulevards.

Aside from City of LA’s bicycle lane on the north edge, Culver City is not yet well-served by protected facilities like a bicycle lane. But the map suggests that it is beginning to roll out routes along the corridors.

Culver city bike map (2010)

Culver City’s incipient network will prioritize the key through routes.

With so much pass-through traffic, and now an Expo Line station too, policymakers have gotten the message. Former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells really got it, and she positioned the city to make positive changes to embrace multimodal mobility. That’s another key difference compared to Beverly Hills. The city adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011.

West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is not only farther along in its bike planning than Beverly Hills or Culver City, it takes the whole concept of multimodal mobility more seriously. City Council some years back formed a bicycle task force to make recommendations about which corridors to prioritize for facilities. And more recently the city undertook a process to update its new mobility plan. So we’re seeing an elaboration of new bike facilities and the beginning of a true citywide network of protected lanes and designated routes.West Hollywood bike map

Burbank and Glendale

Hard up against the Verdugo Mountains, the cities of Burbank and Glendale are well on their way to creating their own citywide bike route networks. Burbank adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011 and appears to be laying the foundation for a citywide network.

Burbank bike mapBut Glendale got the earlier start. In the mid-2000s the city partnered with the LACBC to undertake their Safe and Healthy Streets Plan (2009). Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under its PLACE Program (Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments) the plan anticipated a city where “residents live safer, healthier lives by walking and riding a bicycle for both transportation and recreation.” (Read the Action Plan for more information.)

The plan puts at its center the complete streets vision of transportation “that meets the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and people of all ages and abilities,” says the plan. (“As well as motor vehicles.”) That philosophy is borne out by its rapidly-expanding citywide network of bicycle routes.Glendale bike map

Given the challenging topography of the City, Glendale is making rapid strides toward knitting together the whole!

So What Does This Comparison Say About Beverly Hills?

Beverly Hills is dead last in the installation of bicycle facilities and it pulls up the rear when it comes to intent to make our streets safer to ride. That’s because Beverly Hills policymakers continue to grasp at auto-era solutions to our post-auto era problems.

Consider congestion. Today, crosstown boulevards handle nearly 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday; and our major intersections can’t handle the capacity we throw at it (most are level-of-service ‘F’). It strains our streets and will only get worse as more intensive development comes tomorrow.

Consider multimodal opportunities. We’re a compact city for the most part. With excellent transit connections. Of course that suggests we shift more trips to transit and bicycles. Yet policymakers stubbornly resist. Our Bicycle Master Plan dates from 1977 and there is no intent to update it. Our transportation officials are largely unacquainted with the new, multimodal thinking, and staff declined to recommend to City Council that we include bicycle lanes when the city reconstructs Santa Monica Boulevard next year. So we won’t be including them.

Consider the potential of the bike-friendly business district. Our small business task force seemed unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bicycle-friendly business district’ when it issued its findings to City Council. No surprise: our city still demands (now discredited) excessive, code-required off-street parking. We simply prey a developer will come along to dig down deep – in the ground and in the pocket – when building anew so we’d get a few additional parking spaces. Spaces that will never satisfy demand, which only increases with our continuing policies that facilitate reliance on the auto.

Beverly Hills has all of the advantages. Our city of 35,000 is the smallest in population and the second-smallest by land area (after Culver City) among the cities we’ve reviewed here.  Off the hills we’re a compact city, and we are not grappling with a challenging periphery (as does Glendale) or a non-grid center city (like Culver City).

And we’ve got the money: Beverly Hills households have the highest median income of all these cities. Led by our ‘golden’ business triangle, we ring up more retail sales than any other city (fully one-third more than runner-up Santa Monica). If we didn’t dump $5 million every year into marketing, why we could have the gold-standard facilities instead of grubbing a few bucks from clean-air grants for fewer than 30 bicycle racks. We clearly have the resources to invest in multimodal mobility but we simply choose not to make the investment.

*City of Los Angeles is the region’s big gorilla, of course, but here we look at smaller cities (populations under 200,000).

Update to the 1977 Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan is No Longer a Priority

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, discusses the non-priority bicycle master plan update.

Every year, City Council establishes policy and program priorities. And for the past four fiscal years, the long-overdue update of our Bicycle Master Plan was one of them. The plan dates to 1977. Yet even as other transportation priorities have moved forward, the city has taken no step toward revisiting a forty-year-old plan that’s still on the books. At the November 5th Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we learned why from transportation chief Aaron Kunz: the plan update is not really a city priority after all.

Everyone agrees that our Bicycle Master Plan is irrelevant to the challenges of 21st century mobility. For one thing, the plan can’t tap into today’s thinking about solutions to transportation problems. It dates to the era of discos and the long-forgotten national bicentennial. That was four decades ago!

And for another thing, this plan is completely ignored by City Hall. Our old bike plan says all the right things about bike route networks to connect schools and parks and all that; in fact it illustrates the enhanced multimodal objectives of our General Plan and Sustainable City Plan. But city officials are simply resistant to making the city safe to ride. So the plan goes unmentioned, and its vision unacknowledged by City Council and committees. As if it simply doesn’t exist.

“The Plan is How Old?!”

Five years ago, fresh off a close call with a motorist on Beverly Drive, we phoned Aaron Kunz to ask why the city has on its books a bike plan that appeared to be thirty-five years old. That is, decades out of date. Kunz, our city’s Deputy Director for Transportation, not only acknowledged it was long in the tooth; but noted that it had been re-adopted by City Council just a few months earlier during the General Plan update, and without any substantive change.

Incredible! Is there legal precedent for adopting a thirty-five year old plan? California law requires circulation plans to be based on solid data and updated regularly. Turns out that when re-adopted in 2010, our Bicycle Master Plan was demoted; today it’s merely an item in an appendix. It isn’t even included in the circulation element; instead it’s an appendage to the open space element. In other words, the Beverly Hills General Plan doesn’t regard cycling as a matter of transportation.

As if to put a fine point on the bike plan’s irrelevance, when asked the city couldn’t even find a legible copy of the plan’s maps. (We were shown photocopies.)

But Kunz noted that an update to the bike plan was in the works, and that the Traffic and Parking commission had formed a Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose. So we waited. And waited. The committee never did embark on an update. (Today that committee is practically moribund.) Seeing no action, we brought the old plan to the attention of the commission; we apprized City Council; and we spoke to transportation staff. A transportation planner said that when the time came, we’d have a few minutes at the mic to comment.

Arnstein's ladder of participation

Degrees of participation from Arnstein’s ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ (1969)

We went to planning school. That’s pro-forma participation, not substantive participation; it makes no difference to the outcome. It’s low on the public participation ladder.

City Council Makes the Plan Update a Priority

The only thing we can show for our efforts is that City Council made the update of the old Bicycle Master Plan update a priority. That was back in fiscal year 2012-13. It was a second-tier (‘B’ level) priority, mind you, but still. It was in the queue for action. In fact, it was targeted for completion in 2014.

City Council priorities 2012-13 excerpt bike planBut the Bicycle Master Plan from 1977 wasn’t updated. So the city put it on the next fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2013-14 excerpt

That completion date too slipped. So the city tacked it onto the next 2014-15 fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2014-15 excerpt

But a funny thing happened between that year and the next (2014-15) fiscal year: the priority item’s emphasis shifted. No longer was it “prepare a comprehensive plan to create bicycle paths”; now the action item was to “develop acceptable enhancements to bike mobility.” That’s a bit of sleight-of-hand! Think about the change in intent. From development of a citywide “plan” to simply implementing “acceptable enhancements.” And what does acceptable mean, exactly? And of course there were also the missed deadlines.

The bike plan update priority item remains on the current fiscal year (2015-16) list, albeit with a new bike-share measure tacked on:

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike planThe bike-share add-on represents the Council’s interest in rolling out a system in 2016. We’ve previously called it out for being boutique-sized (just 50 bikes) but we’ll take progress where we can get it.

On the plan update, however, there is no progress. It seems that while the priority remained on the list year after year, there never was a credible gesture made toward updating the plan. Eventually – and quietly – City Council evidently took the update off the table. Admittedly, we never noticed the change in emphasis.

Why No Progress?

So the lack of progress until now has been a mystery. But in this November’s Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we gained some insight. And it’s two reasons. First, Traffic and Parking commissioners don’t much care about rider safety. And second, we learned that the bike plan update wasn’t a priority after all.

On rider safety, it’s clear that there’s not sufficient regard for rider safety in Beverly Hills. But to be fair, the city holds in low regard the safety of all road users. Traffic and Parking commissioners every month receive a police tally of crash injuries, yet appear incurious as to why those injuries don’t ever decrease.

But riders feel the brunt of city indifference: over the past seven years, the number of injured riders has increased by 60%. Witness the trend.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)

Rider injuries are up 59% from 2008 through last year. (Chart generated by Better Bike from BHPD data.)

Yet Traffic and Parking commissioners never ask why; or wonder what can be done to reduce the harm. For their part, the police never flagged the increase (the city doesn’t evidently chart crash trends). As in the recent meeting, when the rate of crash injuries is mentioned at all, it is simply noted and accepted as a fact of life. (Then again, no member of the commission ever asks why our city leads the state in road injuries among small-sized cities generally.)

As for the bike plan update, Traffic and Parking Commission Chair Lester Friedman himself noted in the November 5th meeting that as a Council-identified priority it’s not gone anywhere even as other transportation priorities have moved forward. “The only ‘B’ priority [remaining] is the citywide bike plan,” he said. Was there finally an opportunity to advance it? No chance at all. “We have 3 A priorities already [underway], so the likelihood of us getting a 4th priority [going] is slim and none,” he said. “And the reality is we’ll have our hands full with Santa Monica Blvd. mitigation… I mean I’ll hear what [fellow commissioners] say, but I don’t see where we got any room on this one.”

Fellow commissioners Jeff Seidel, Jake Manaster, Jeff Levine and Andy Licht agreed: it wasn’t in the commission’s interest to make it an A-level priority.

Then it got interesting. Commissioner Seidel asked if work would later be accelerated in order to meet the target date on the existing ‘bike plan’ priority item. (The estimated completion date for is indicated as June 2016.) Transportation deputy Kunz replied, “I don’t know if we changed the date on that….” He then elaborated: “Our thought on it is that that’s really [about] bike-sharing… unless it’s raised to an A priority we would not focus on that outside of bike-sharing.”

Listen for yourself to the 4-minute meeting audio:

Turns out that the bike plan update has been off-the-table all along. The Community Development Department hasn’t been thinking about it since FY 2014-15 (as suggested by the priority item description’s change in emphasis). Good to know!

Many Good Ideas Die a Quiet Death in Beverly Hills

The tacit tanking of the long-overdue update to our 1977 bike plan reflects the city’s M.O. when it comes to making multimodal improvements: any suggestion to make Beverly Hills bike-friendly, for example, will be quietly sidestepped; it goes away, not to be spoken of again. Only a decidedly non-team Beverly Hills player (like Better Bike!) would dare bring it back up in a commission meeting, say, or at City Council.

You remember how Council effectively killed bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard this past July, right? City Council didn’t explicitly vote ‘no’ to deny the lanes but instead just let the question expire by simply not moving it forward at a crucial decision point. (Read more.)

That’s the way city officials have handled the forty-year-old Bicycle Master Plan too. During the General Plan update back in 2010, officials didn’t simply ditch the outdated document much less update it. Instead they tucked it away as an obscure appendix never to be heard from again. Much like dispatching a red-headed stepchild to live in the woodshed: out of sight, out of mind.

Another Bike Count Behind Us

bike count 2015 clipboard

Counting riders & pedestrians on South Santa Monica Boulevard

Every two years the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition conducts a count of pedestrians & bicyclists. All across the county, volunteers stand on a street corner for a couple of hours with a clipboard to manually count those who walk and ride. Sounds inefficient, right? It is! But automated counters register only vehicles; they don’t measure multimodal trips. So intrepid volunteers take the reins! The objective: to document how people actually use streets and then use the data to inform policies that maximize safety and efficiency for all road users.

There is a certain meditative calm that comes with being in one spot for two hours with only the responsibility to observe one’s surroundings. Patterns emerge among pedestrians as crowds form at crosswalks and queue at the bus stops before periodically moving on with the light change or the next bus. One witnesses a kind of urban Brownian Motion of prosaic daily doings.

Of course in our region it is the traffic that predominates. Signals dam and release the vehicular flow; motorists queue up in the turn lanes; and driveways, like tributaries, feed boulevards and drain the congestion away. A river seems like an apt analogy for the ebb and flow of cars, trucks and buses on city streets. Compared to the vehicular flow, bicycle riders are a relative trickle in Los Angeles.


But what also comes to the fore is the obvious inefficiencies of surface transportation. The single-occupancy gas-guzzling vehicles that clog our boulevards and the environmental impacts generally that come with our over-reliance on motor transportation.

To get a better handle on the non-motor flow, I volunteered for the 2015 LACBC bicycle and pedestrian count. I observed at three locales: South Santa Monica here in Beverly Hills; Olympic and Alvarado (near Koreatown); and Wilshire and Westholm in Westwood. The contrasts among these places could not be greater.

South Santa Monica Boulevard: The ‘Gateway’ to Beverly Hills

West of Wilshire this two-block stretch of single-story commercial structures appears tailor-made for a bike-friendly business district. Not only is it well-located between Century City and the business triangle in Beverly Hills, it is within walking distance of not one but three large developments underway. And already it is undergoing a transformation from sleepy shops to art galleries and retail destinations.

South Santa Monica Blvd shops

Small shops and art galleries make this two-block stretch of South Santa Monica Boulevard perfect for a bike-friendly business district.

The city wants more hospitality uses like cafes, too, but that is currently proscribed by code-required parking minimums. But that is a great opportunity too: refashioning this two-block long district’s boulevard for safe bicycle travel would take the pressure off parking demand. And if we put this segment on a ‘road diet’ we would reduce motor traffic volume and liberate available space for class II bike lanes. No longer would policymakers look to larger structures with underground parking garages to bring new off-street parking to the corridor.

bicycle-master-plan-SM-detailOf course, a bike-friendly boulevard in a business district would allow for increased foot traffic without the accompanying vehicular traffic (and congestion). That’s no just our idea; this corridor is indicated as as a potential bike-friendly route in our city’s 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. The map below shows the proposed bike-friendly routes (this one is highlighted in red, at right).

But as I saw from two hours of observation, this route today is best recommended only to intrepid riders. The volume of motor traffic on the two travel lanes (in each direction), coupled with curbside parking, make South Santa Monica not only a squeeze for riders, but somewhat hazardous given the prevailing speeds.

PSA: riders are fully within our rights under state law to use the entire right-hand lane though this corridor, and would be well-advised to do so!

What about the South Santa Monica Boulevard riders? I found just ten or eleven riders on average in any given hour  traversed these two blocks by bicycle. Those findings didn’t vary much from weekday mornings and afternoons to Saturday midday (I conducted three counts here). Not only did the total show fewer riders than I expected (this is an important crosstown route after all), but it may reflect something less than a robust cycling culture in our city. Or perhaps crosstown riders are not very familiar with this north Santa Monica Boulevard alternative route. (Of course it’s not signed as such.)

More telling is that few women riders made the journey past my count point. Just 10% of all riders were female! (The proportion of female riders is cited to reflect the prevailing perception of relative safety on a given route.) Perhaps it is explained by the character of those who I did see: sport cyclists, commuters or otherwise evidently experienced riders were most of them. Many, if not most, wore spandex and greater than two-thirds used a helmet. Just 15% on average used a sidewalk.

Olympic Between Alvarado and Westlake: Gateway to Central America

More immigrants from Central America have landed at Alvarado and Wilshire than anywhere else in the United States. And as a result it’s been utterly transformed over the past four decades: gone is the old-school aesthetic of high-rise apartments and romanticized Spanish Revival detailing. Even the pastoral layout of MacArthur Park seems out of place today. What I see today is a neighborhood shaped by the informal economy that is itself powered by the hard-knock practicality of immigrants.

I counted pedestrians and riders a few blocks south of Wilshire at Olympic and Alvarado, where the foot traffic thins a bit and the weathered storefronts reflect a long decline in urban investment in this section of Los Angeles. Here the fast-food restaurant is an institution while most businesses struggle to simply attract the occasional visitor.

Olympic at Alvarado

Making a dash across eight lanes of busy Olympic Boulevard near Alvarado.

I set up my stool at McDonalds and watched the flow of people pass by. They shuffled past as many as six to a family. Disheveled itinerants with time on their hands came and went (but never for long) as they always returned to the Golden Arches. Here they too have set up a kind of shop, the homeless, aimless, panhandlers, hustlers, and more.

This is clearly a pedestrian neighborhood (much of the motor traffic seems to be pass-through.) In fact I counted nearly 250 pedestrians – nearly  50% more than in Beverly Hills on a Saturday prior. (That’s even though South Santa Monica services a hotel and there is a Starbucks on the corner. Too, this is a corridor of service retailers. But still relatively little foot traffic.)

Despite more pedestrians, the mode share of cycling was surprisingly on par with that of Beverly Hills: 13% of non-motor travelers used a bike. That’s because there were more riders on Olympic too – fully 50% more than on South Santa Monica. That works out to an average of about 17 riders passing on Olympic per hour (compared to 11 on South Santa Monica).

But the big difference was the character of the riders on Olympic: 3/4 of riders used the sidewalk and fewer than 15% of them donned a helmet. (And no rider wore spandex!) More surprising was that just 1 female rider passed my station in a two hour period. Clearly this is a very different rider profile than found on the Westside! Here cycling is everyday transportation, not a pastime.

Wilshire Boulevard Through Condo Canyon: Gateway to Westwood

Wilshire Boulevard in WestwoodI counted at Wilshire and Westholm in Condo Canyon country. Here there is no commercial development so there is nothing to attract the destination rider. Except lots of apartments. Despite the density, there were very few people on the streets: not even 90 pedestrians in a two-hour stretch and just two riders passed my count line. Two! One per hour on one of the busiest boulevards for motor traffic in the region.

Few walk here because this environment is not engineered for walking. There are sidewalks, yes, but the predominant features are the driveway, port cochere, and the valet attendant. Here the auto reigns.

Missionaries on a Saturday morning mission in Condo Canyon.

Missionaries on a Saturday morning mission in Condo Canyon.

Of the relatively few walkers I saw, a few were missionary evangelists evidently seeking converts in the long shadows of Condo Canyon. But getting past the doorman on this stretch of un-neighborly Los Angeles is a formidable challenge.

Why do so very few riders take Wilshire? After all, the cycling mode share was just 2.2% the midday period during which I counted. Consider that Westwood is only blocks away and UCLA is just a 10-minute ride. That 2.2% pales compared to the 13% mode share on Olympic and South Santa Monica.

But ride Wilshire and you’ll understand why so few want to: it’s downright hazardous to your health!

To the east (toward Beverly Hills) is a gantlet; that no-man’s land between the country clubs is a corridor without a decent sidewalk and no shoulder for refuge. Only the fearless rider defends her right to use the entire right-hand lane when motorists pass by at high speeds too close for comfort.

The curb in Condo Canyon moves in and out with land dedications from a prior era.

The curb in Condo Canyon moves in and out with land dedications from a prior era.

To the west, Wilshire is also a speeder’s domain as hills and relatively few cross streets beg a heavy foot. Moreover, ill-advised land dedications (once required of property owners by the City of Los Angeles) have the effect of moving the curb into the roadway and back out. Rutted pavement and debris-littered drain pans force riders into the traffic flow. Cars constantly pull in and out of the driveways. And this nightmare only gets worse as one approaches the 405 because the sidewalks are impassable.

Rutted blacktop on Wilshire in Condo CanyonIronically even after two hours of standing near the curb, I didn’t appreciate the hazards facing riders until I rode it myself. Cycling doesn’t get much more hazardous than it does here.


Planners and policymakers are well-advised to stand and observe for a couple of hours in any location to get a feel for the street. Few do; they take a few pictures and move on. But by moving on so quickly they give short shrift to the patterns in the environment that beg attention. For pedestrian, vehicular and bicycle flows suggest the fixes that will get us to a better urban future. No planning degree required.

For example, South Santa Monica has the bones of a true bicycle boulevard. Yet it’s nowhere near bike-friendly today. Reducing the overall demand for vehicular travel should be an objective, rather than speed pass-through traffic (which is city policy). Reduced vehicular traffic would have the ancillary benefit of taking pressure off the nearby level-of-service (LOS) grade ‘F’ intersection at Wilshire. And of course the reduced traffic volume would improve safety for all road users on this corridor too.

Reducing traffic by, say, putting a street on a ‘road diet’ is a long-term fix, sure, but failing to recognize the mobility problem won’t ever prompt Beverly Hills to adopt better transportation policies. Planners and policymakers should get in the saddle, too, if they want to appreciate the mobility barriers that today’s city presents to people who walk and ride. How will we ever get more folks riding a bicycle if we don’t make our streets more conducive to safe travel?

Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What?

MayorChallengeSignUpEarlier this year, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged American localities to make travel safer for bicycle riders and pedestrians. In March he invited US mayors to sign on, and Beverly Hills accepted the challenge back in February. But we’ve heard nothing from City Hall about it since then. Is our city doing anything to meet the Mayors’ Challenge for bike-friendly streets?

Back in 2010, then-Secretary of USDOT Ray LaHood issued a policy statement called Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations to support the creation of “convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities” on streets to encourage bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages to get out from behind the wheel. Crucially, the emphasis was placed on ensuring safe access to streets for people of all ages and abilities regardless of mode choice. Here is the policy statement section of the document (in full):

The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

The statement departs from age-old USDOT guidance in one important way: it explicitly references alternatives to the automobile. “Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate…people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.”

Moreover, it encourages local transportation agencies to “plan, fund, and implement improvements…including linkages to transit” that go beyond “minimum requirements.” In spirit it affirms non-motor transportation as an “integral element” of the transportation system. From a department of transportation perspective, that is practically heresy!

Then the statement concludes:

While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.

The policy was a springboard for the department’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative launched in the fall of 2014. The goal: to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety across the country. The initiative was the centerpiece of the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets in DC in March. Read the executive summary.

Mayors’ Challenge

Just as the Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation reminds local agencies of their responsibility to ensure safe access to roadways, USDOT Secretary Foxx’s ‘Mayors’ Challenge’ prods localities and their local agencies to actually commit to taking concrete (pun intended) steps to make streets safe for walking and cycling. Launched on January 22nd, it is a “call to action.” Localities would undertake one or more of the “challenge activities” organized around some aspect of enhanced multimodal mobility:

  • Employ ‘complete streets’ principles in design
  • Identify barriers to access that make streets less safe
  • Gather and track data on biking and walking
  • Deploy contextual street designs that go beyond minimum standards
  • Create and complete pedestrian and bicycle networks
  • Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road use behavior

Secretary Foxx would seem to have his work cut out for him in Beverly Hills with his Mayors’ Challenge!

Beverly Hills: ‘Challenged’ Indeed When It Comes to Safe Streets

Beverly Hills was among the first cluster of localities to sign on to the challenge in February. And oddly we find our city in the company of leading bicycle-friendly places like Davis and San Francisco, as well as bike-friendly tony precincts like Santa Barbara and Menlo Park.

Mayors' Challenge cities listWhat do we have in common with them when it comes to mobility? Beverly Hills has not taken any step to make our city more bike-friendly. And frankly our policymakers don’t appear inclined to enact any policy or create any program to support multimodal mobility any time soon.

Indeed we fought tooth-and-nail to keep bicycle lanes off of North Santa Monica Boulevard despite overwhelming support from the public and policy guidance from USDOT (no less) that recommends lanes there. Have a look at the city’s own project renderings for tomorrow’s corridor. You won’t see a bicycle lane or continental crosswalk or any other safe-street facility depicted.

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (east of Canon Drive)

Before and after views of North Santa Monica Boulevard. After $35 million spent, this corridor will be no more supportive of multimodal mobility than when it was constructed nearly 100 years ago.

The dearth of ‘complete streets’ principles is by design; you won’t find mention of the term in any city document nor will it pass the lips of any official here. (That is, with the notable exception of John Mirisch who, alone on the City Council dais, has consistently supported safe and complete streets.)

Now that former Mayor Lili Bosse signed us up, will we accept the ‘challenge’? We asked transportation planner Martha Eros how our city will proceed on the Mayor’s Challenge. “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements,” she said. We followed up for specifics. “Thank you for your patience,” Martha replied. “I have asked for an update on next steps re. the Mayor’s Challenge and will provide information when received.” There was no follow-up.

This week we made a media inquiry of Beverly Hills City Hall. “Has the city undertaken any of the measures suggested by the challenge?” we asked. “Or taken a step that might reflect the spirit of the challenge, such as addressing the barriers that make streets safe for all road users?” But we received no response.

Clearly the city has not taken the challenge as seriously as have other cities. A search for relevant documents on the city’s website, for example, turned up no documents.

Search returns for Mayor's Challenge on Beverly Hills website

Update: Better Bike received this reply from Public Information Manager Therese Kosterman:

When Councilmember Bosse was mayor, she had a highly successful Walk with the Mayor program that attracted hundreds of participants and highlighted the importance of walking as a part of the complete streets approach to local transportation. In addition the bike share program was approved under her leadership and is still moving forward, even after her term as mayor ended.

We’ll look forward to a complete streets initiative put forth by current mayor Dr. Julian Gold to meet the terms of the challenge.

But Santa Monica Does Take The Challenge Seriously…

Contrast our rhetoric-rich but commitment-phobic approach with that taken by the City of Santa Monica. City Council unanimously supported participation in the Mayors’ Challenge this summer. “We are vitally interested in safe streets,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said. “We want to further to emphasize our commitment to bicycle and pedestrian safety.” Councilmember Pam O’Connor agreed:

We are not backing down from what we want to do with pedestrian & bike safety and multimodal mobility. We need to be aggressive with the goals of vision zero – [that is] no tolerance for any loss of life…and to make our streets work for people of all ages.” – Santa Monica Councilmember Pam O’Connor

It’s fine to talk about embracing the challenge, but tangible action requires resources. Here Santa Monica City Council ponied up by backing Councilmember Gleam Davis’s suggestion for a fully-funded program coordinator. “It’s important that we not only affirm the ideas but make a budgetary commitment in staffing,” she said. And it was done!

The Mayors’ Challenge throws down the gauntlet to participating localities. And some, like Santa Monica, have indeed taken up the challenge. But in other cities, as our own experience suggests, local transportation officials and policymakers too often stand in the way. USDOT Secretary Foxx said as much: “While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.” Amen.

Bike Parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills is STILL Broken

Whole Foods bike rack

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills (photo 2011). Worthy of a ‘B’ grade?

While reading a recent link-bait post over at Los Angeles Magazine, we were reminded just how unwelcoming is our local Whole Foods to those who would ride a bike. In its back-of-the-envelope comparison of “shopping experiences” at Whole foods in Mid City and Beverly Hills, the magazine nearly flunks the Mid City store. But ours gets a ‘B’ grade? For many years we’ve complained about a wheel-bender rack in a grimy corner of the Beverly Hills Whole Foods garage. But to no avail.

Honestly, a ‘B’ grade for the Beverly Hills Whole Foods store seems like a bit of grade inflation. The store is somewhat cramped. Access by riders and pedestrians is not only a hassle, it’s hazardous. Even harried motorists feel the burn when queued up for one of the spots in a relatively small garage. So why the ‘B’ grade here? Because finding parking at the 3rd and Fairfax store is even more of a hassle. You see, LA Magazine is grading the parking experience of Whole Foods, and not the shopping experience. We should have known as much from a post tagged ‘LA Driver.’

Here the magazine’s perspective is from behind the windshield: fuzzy metrics concern exclusively but driver’s convenience. So the Mid City store could only fail because, the magazine says, it is “a suburban store in an urban environment.” Whatever that means!

The parking limit is 90 minutes, but how can any of the attendants tell how long someone’s been in the lot?… Sure, if you hit this place up on a Tuesday at 11:12 a.m., it’s not bad. Most other times, just no. Tear this whole thing down, get rid of the KMart, and put the parking underground. — LA Magazine, Grading the Parking Lots of Whole Foods

Often the only answer from someone behind the windshield is to construct an even larger parking lot. Sounds like the problem is not that it’s suburban but not suburban enough for LA Driver.

Beverly Hills Gets a Pass?

Beverly Hills is also an urban location and it too is plagued by many of the same issues:  heavy traffic, small garage (chock-full most of the day), and the usual hazards to pedestrians that suggest serious public safety concerns. Even the forgotten bike parking area at the Beverly Hills store seems worse than the one at 3rd and Fairfax. Why not a ‘D’ grade for Beverly Hills too?

We think that Whole Foods should get a ‘D’ if only for the poor effort its made to make bike parking convenient and appealing.

We’ve done our part: for years we’ve urged Whole Foods to upgrade its bike parking. Have a look at the picture at the top. Taken in the fall of 2011, it shows an old-style wheel-bender rack (which secures only the front wheel in an unstable manner). There is also all kinds of detritus that gets in the way. The rest of the garage is no better; there are no other racks there.

So starting in the fall of 2013 we contacted the store numerous times. After some back-and-forth, Eliberto Gamino, the ‘Store Team Leader’ for Beverly Hills, said “We are still waiting for the outside building [renovation] project to be done. When the outside project is done we’ll be installing new bike racks on the outside.” But that job came and went and no rack was installed.

Then we chatted up Mario Inga, Parking Services Manager for the Beverly Hills store. We met with him and highlighted the dingy area (below) as well as other rack opportunities near to the store entrance. He was enthusiastic, but again no action was taken. Here’s how it looked in 2014 (with the detritus finally gone).

Whole Foods bike parking October 2014

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills in 2014. More tidy, not much more improvement. Note the wheel-bender rack.

Next we contacted corporate via Twitter (not once but twice, most recently this summer) and, while we get a sympathetic response, the talk goes quiet. And nothing is done. We even contacted city facilities manager Brenda Lavender (Beverly Hills owns the garage and the building) on the store’s behalf. Not only did we see no action, we received no response from her at all.

So four years after we first raised concerns, and after many such messages, here’s the view of the Beverly Hills Whole Foods bike parking area this month. How is this work satisfactory for a ‘B’ grade?

Whole Foods rack area

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills in October of 2015. Conditions like this communicate disregard for those who would ride a bicycle to their neighborhood market.

We didn’t just drop our demand in corporate’s lap. We penned a site diagram to help store officials communicate with HQ and the city on a makeover. Here’s an aerial and our diagram.

Whole Foods rack site diagram

Bike parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills as diagrammed by Better Bike. Room enough for a few racks and desperate for a new coat of paint and some real lighting!

What more can we do to get a couple of real bike racks installed? So it sticks in our craw that Whole Foods gets a passing grade even from ‘LA Driver.’ “There’s an hour of free parking and an overflow lot next door,” the magazine noted of Beverly Hills in its back-of-envelope comparison. Indeed there is. If you drive. Evidently that’s good enough for LA Magazine to give Whole Foods a pass.

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 … Continue reading

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

Crescent Drive sharrows thumbnail

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

Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logo

Secretary 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 … Continue reading

Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

Greenway organizers at City Council

“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. WestsideToday.com 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 … Continue reading

LA Councilman’s Hostility Toward Complete Streets Sounds Familiar

Cedillo's diagonal parking

Northeast 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 … Continue reading