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 CityWho 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 a health crisis on our hands! Our sedentary lifestyles kill us slowly, public health professionals tell us. Chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes prey on our vulnerable communities. It’s the calorie-rich diet, the over-consumption of entertainment, and the disinclination to actively perambulate, doctors say, that increases body fat while reducing our ability to efficiently metabolize food. Add in the stress of daily living and you’ve got many attenuated lives. They call it a public health crisis.

Per the city’s press release, the ‘Love Your Body’ workshop at the Spa Montage comes to the rescue!

Learn to live a heart healthy lifestyle with fitness and wellness tips from experts who in their own unique way will inspire Beverly Hills to get moving every day….The 20,000 square foot urban oasis is the largest spa in Los Angeles with 17 treatments rooms, a co-ed mineral pool area, a state- of-the-art fitness center and spacious men’s and women’s relaxation areas.

The workshop will feature “cold-pressed juices and healthy treats provided by Montage Beverly Hills” as well as advice from “experts who in their own unique way will inspire” us to burn off the calories. (Helpfully the city press release urges us at the August 13th event to “learn more about Spa Montage’s Fit and Refresh Package” while we work our mind…if not our body.)

But the target market for this ‘Love Your Body’ workshop is not some needy Southland or Central Valley community; nor is it the low-income apartment dwellers of Mid-City, Mar Vista or Culver City, hard-up against too much fast food. Those might be places where public health interventions might be needed, but that’s not the clientele bid by the city’s marketing campaign.

No, the ‘Love Your Body’ workshop targets one specific needy community, and it’s right here at home: the haute bourgeoisie. They tend to recede into the long blocks of the north side so they may not be on the radar. But nevertheless we have to acknowledge that they need help. They live in environments where hazards like plush sofas predominate; where large entertainment systems beg a sit-down; where large residential lots remote from town discourage active mobility. Yes, we have our own expanding waistlines and phlegmatic metabolism issues right here in Beverly Hills!

And while their sedentary lifestyle may seem counter-intuitive given the terrain (the haute precincts of Beverly Hills are hilly), they are burdened with additional life stresses. Like motoring on congested streets and then having to hunt for curbside parking (when your fellow bourgeois have snapped up all of the handicapped spots using bogus placards). Or being tempted nightly by the omnipresence of valet parking. Who would want to walk to a parking structure anyway?

Physical activity like cycling is a proven pathway to fitness. Yet while Beverly Hills embraces the notion of Healthy City, City Hall refuses to take any step to actually encourage active mobility by making our streets safe for those who choose to walk and bike. Transportation officials turn a blind eye and deaf ear to explicit calls to, say, add a bike lane to our major streets. We’ve been asking for continental crosswalks, too, but to no avail; we’ll stick with the faded non-thermoplastic stripes.

For city leaders, it’s simply easier to gin up a hashtag (#BHHealthyCity) and promote a luxe hotel via this bogus ‘complimentary healthy workshop’ (whatever that means) rather than create the conditions that are conducive to active recreation and active transportation.

This August 13th event won’t get us to better health outcomes, but it will dull the day’s sharp edge, one honed by too much time in too much traffic without much opportunity to move one’s body like nature intended.

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 few blocks to the drug store:

Rite aid promomotion adNow Rite Aid is not a big-box retailer but a neighborhood drug store; people who shop there often leave with a single item or a few in a small bag. It’s the perfect bike errand! Yet this ad plays to our default behavior of reaching for the car keys, even though it might be more of a hassle to drive the few blocks to a Rite Aid.

At Rite Aid, we strive to deliver the products and services that you, our valued customer, need to lead a healthier, happier life.

Well, if we’re to get beyond our record levels of obesity and diabetes we’ll have to forgo our auto-dominated, sedentary lifestyles. But keeping us locked in the default mode is good for business. It probably moves the blood-sugar analyzers and blood pressure monitors. And they offer fatter margins than do prescription drugs. (That’s why the pharmacy is at the ass-end of the store, right?)

Rite Aid specialitiesWould encouraging walking or cycling to the store nibble at the bottom line? Perhaps. Maybe it is it simply another case of blinkered vision. Not recognizing the changing nature of urban mobility. Or maybe it is path dependency by another corporate chain no more in tune with the local population that, say, General Motors or Ford?

Will Recommended Bike Facilities Ever See Beverly Hills Pavement?

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 the incorporation of good practices we see rolled out in neighboring cities: durable thermoplastic, continental-style (aka ‘zebra’) crosswalks, and of course bicycle lanes that help position riders for safe transit though. Here in Beverly Hills our markings fade quickly because we won’t use thermoplastic (for reasons unknown) while we’ve just begun to use the new crosswalks. And our bike lanes are few.

Bicycle Lane Extensions

Bicycle Lane Extensions exampleMarked extensions to bicycle lanes running through intersections help riders get across intersections that can span 10 lanes or more and reduce uncertainty and ambiguity by providing a marked path. Per the NCUTC’s committee recommendation report, they “denote the expected path for bicyclists and advise motorists that bicyclists are likely to use the intended path.” Thus it’s a facility that serves both riders and drivers. Even better, the NUCTC recommendation suggest coloring them green!

Now we know what you’re thinking: What use is a lane extension when Beverly Hills has so few bike lanes, and those that we have only span a few blocks? We’ll suggest here putting this cart before the horse if only because we have several particularly hazardous intersections that would benefit from immediate help. And extension markings might be the thing. Consider the Wilshire-San Vicente intersection for example. What a mess it is!

Wilshire-San Vicente aerial view

The issue here is that San Vicente is very wide (it once accommodated streetcars) and is divided by a median. And Wilshire is a race course. Both make traversing this intersection a high-stress endeavor. But City of Los Angeles is already upgrading their side of San Vicente with bicycle lanes. Hopefully Beverly Hills lanes will come soon. Lane extensions are the next step.

What about the Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection? This perennial LOS-level F juncture needs all the help it can get. But unfortunately it’s in City of Beverly Hills which appears in no hurry to improve it. We’ve suggested the need for immediate improvements but hear from city transportation officials that it might not happen anytime soon – perhaps not until phase II of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction.

Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection

The Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection is a hazard to everybody’s health. Marked guidance for cyclists would be a good first step for safer transit.

Looking ahead, though, bicycle lane extensions might be just the ticket because today’s traffic flow clearly compromises the safety of riders. The only caveat: can extensions can be striped if there is no existing adjacent bike lane? Proposed lanes for Santa Monica Blvd have run into political headwinds.

The Bicycle Box

Oh the venerable bicycle box! Currently considered an ‘experimental’ design by our state’s MUTCD, the bike box serves a simple but useful purpose:

Similar to a recessed or advanced stop line, a bicycle box creates a reserved space in front of one or more travel lanes, but outside of pedestrian crosswalks, for bicyclists to wait for a green signal ahead of queuing motorists.

Bicycle box diagram

The bicycle box is shown at low-center in the diagram.

The virtue of the bicycle box is that improves the visibility of cyclists by putting them ahead of motor traffic. It also gives riders a head start on turns if there is no dedicated bicycle signal (which is most every intersection in the region).

Among the benefits (as cited by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) are that groups riding together clear an intersection more quickly and minimize impediments to traffic; that the box helps to prevent ‘right hook’ conflict with right-turning vehicles; and that it keeps riders from breathing exhaust while queued and contributes to the rider’s perception of safety. All good reasons for Catrans to officially adopt the Bicycle Box. Both City of Davis and Santa Monica have been granted permission from Caltrans to ‘experiment’ with it.

We hope that NCTUCD follows the NACTO’s Urban Design Bikeway Guide recommendation and adopts this traffic control device so that local agencies like Caltrans might include it in the local toolkit.

Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box

Among the most diminutive of traffic control devices is the Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box, “a waiting area for bicyclists to queue to turn left at an intersection by first proceeding to a position to queue at the [far] right side of the intersection,” according to the NCTUCD’s technical committee’s recommendation. More:

In locations where conventional left turns are prohibited or where bicyclists’ merging to a conventional left-turn would be inconvenient, a two-stage left turn can be utilized… The distance traveled for a two-stage left turn is longer…but a two-stage left turn may nonetheless save time if the merge to the conventional left-turn position is blocked by traffic congestion.

Many larger intersections appear suitable for this treatment because riders may feel uncomfortable crossing two or three lanes of fast and aggressive traffic to reach a left-turn lane. At intersections like Westwood Boulevard at Santa Monica, for example, the two-stage box might be what’s best. Behold this beauty!Santa Monica-Westwood Boulevard intersection

Two Stage Turn Queuing box diagramAt such locations, the two-stage turn queuing box would allow the rider to stay right in order to navigate a left turn through the intersection. By simply progressing to the far side and waiting for the green light (as depicted in the diagram at right), she crosses no passing traffic. So heading southbound to turn left (east), the rider takes her place in the queue box on Santa Monica (bottom left in the diagram) and waits for the eastbound green. No need to cross busy Westwood Boulevard traffic!

These three traffic control devices are no-brainers and we wait for inclusion in California’s MUTCD. But there are other ‘experimental’  treatments used in California and they await approval for statewide deployment. Among those of interest are City of Long Beach’s buffered bike lanes, green shared lane markings, and bike signals; and San Francisco MTA’s red-colored pavement for transit-only lanes. The Federal Highways Administration enumerates experimental control devices across the country with 16 currently active evaluations of all kinds underway here.

We hope that all of these facilities are simply the beginning of an effort to re-engineer our streets to make them safe for bicycling. Like the Vision Zero initiative argues, streets must be forgiving of human error; it’s  simply good enough to just move traffic. Looking ahead, we will see that we’ve lived through dark times when it comes to managing multimodal traffic. Caltrans and local transit agencies have for far too long done too little to keep riders safe.

What We Can Do Today About Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard pavementBeverly 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 been years since the city talked RFP. Even after selecting a consultant, we’ve dithered on the reconstruction project – and also deferred any improvements.

Wrench in the street

Debris like busted pliers await crosstown riders.

In the meantime the safety of road users hangs in the balance. Riding Santa Monica on a bicycle is an exercise in fright. That’s why so many riders addressed City Council begging for a class II bicycle lane there. We must swerve to avoid storm drains, potholes, pavement heaves and all kinds of debris (yes, even broken slip-jaw pliers) as impatient motorists squeeze by us. That’s why hundreds of riders contacted the Blue Ribbon Committee and Council with written comments.

Yet city inaction has only allowed the boulevard to deteriorate. In fact, the last director of Public Works simply said the city would make no repairs prior to reconstruction. Better Bike has spoken many times with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, about Santa Monica Boulevard hazards (most recently a week ago) but it’s clear no action is forthcoming.

How wrong that is! The city could undertake an interim repair program, and we could start today. We’ve got open contracts for ongoing street maintenance for example; and we’re in the midst of budget planning for next fiscal year, so we could sweeten the pot right now for major repairs.

But what will it take for the city to make that effort? Here is one indication: despite residents’ safety concerns up in hilly Trousdale, the city addressed traffic hazards there only after two police officers were killed in successive crashes. Then, after the fact, City Manager Jeff Kolin snapped into action by calling a hasty meeting of the (somnambulent) Traffic and Parking Commission. And Council embraced a ‘vision zero’ program where the objective is zero <em>construction-related</em>  deaths. (We can’t recall another example of a building construction death anyway.)

What we need, however, is a <em>zero collision death</em> policy to encourage our transportation officials to look at the state of our roads and to create mobility policies that will keep us safe. For example, the city notched a pedestrian death just a couple of months ago. Indeed this death, and the prospect of serious injuries, hardly encourages our policymakers take notice of road conditions <em>seemingly designed to harm.</em>

Santa Monica Boulevard is a good example. Last year, City Council heard a harrowing story from Paul Livingston, who was hit from behind near City Hall and the driver fled. He spent weeks in a coma and rehabilitated his shattered hip, but it was business as usual for the city. Even the police closed the case with a cursory investigation until riders crowded into Council chambers urging a real investigation. Finally the driver was identified and charged – a case that’s ongoing years later.

Yet this past March, three of five councilmembers dissed bike lanes as possibly unsafe, even as a score of riders showed up to urge them. City Council may yet deprive bicycle riders of class II lanes on Santa Monica, but we should still press them for whatever the city can do to make Santa Monica Boulevard safer today.

Let’s Start With Santa Monica Boulevard: Fix the Blacktop!

First we can fix the blacktop. Riders are reminded every day that Santa Monica Boulevard is simply not fit for purpose. Broken asphalt, potholes, and moguls hit us right in the bum, and even worse are the grates, cracks, and pavement grooves that threaten to dismount the rider.  We urge our transportation officials Susan Healey Keene, Aaron and transportation planner Martha Eros to take a look.

We walked the southern side of the street from Crescent Drive to Doheney. Here’s what we saw. (These images (and more) will be included in an upcoming safety advisory to City Hall.)

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Beverly Hills municipal code instructs riders to ride “as near the curb as possible” (section 5-5-8) but doesn’t take into account the busted blacktop we find there.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Potholes (‘irregularities’ in the parlance) best measured with a yardstick will unsettle cargo and perhaps bust a spoke. Those in shadow await the rider with an unwelcome surprise.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Deep grooves are just perfect for snagging a tire to topple a rider.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Pavement heaves like this wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in our city, yet here they remain an obstacle for riders. Often they are obscured by shadow or camouflaged by debris (the city never sweeps this segment of Santa Monica Boulevard).

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one not only reflect the outright dysfunction of the drainage system (a key reason for reconstructing the corridor) but show just how far the condition of the boulevard has deteriorated.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

This closeup reminds us how easily one of these storm drains can pinch a street tire and topple a rider. It is representative of unsafe grates all along the corridor.

That’s but a few of the hazards on just one-quarter of the Santa Monica Boulevard curb lane. If we can take an hour to take that walk as a freebie, surely our transportation officials, who together represent a half-million bucks in staff costs annually, can take it too.

Next Step: Remove the Fence that Corrals Riders to the Blacktop

The 50,000 drivers that traverse Santa Monica Boulevard on any given weekday might have wondered about the strip of land on the south side of the Boulevard. The city has been in talks forever to purchase it. But environmental contamination and unwilling sellers complicate that deal. So the land sits fallow, surrounded by a tall chain link fence.

While drivers may not even notice the fence, it is cause for concern among riders because it presses right up to the curb for long stretches between City Hall and Doheney. The tight space (especially west of Beverly Blvd) leaves little margin for rider error. In fact it’s so close to the curb that it could for example snag a cruiser bike handlebar, or catch overhanging cargo strapped to a rear bike rack. Or a rider could find herself pinned between the car of a careless driver and a fencepost.

The fence presses right up to the curb. For the fallen rider there is no escape. And overhanging trees cast a shadow over the edge of the roadway to reduce rider visibility.

The fence presses right up to the curb. For the fallen rider there is no escape. And overhanging trees cast a shadow over the edge of the roadway to reduce rider visibility.

Should a rider fall, this fence will also block any escape from fast-moving traffic in this shadow-covered part of the corridor. Today she is fenced-out from any refuge. Alternately, without a fence the rider could retreat into the grassy area beyond to be buffered from further injury. Because of this fence, too, an injured rider must make a long circuitous walk around these parcels to reach nearby households for help. There is simply no means of escape for the rider along this forlorn and dangerous stretch of blacktop.

Prune the Trees for Greater Visibility

Riders on this south-side stretch of eastern Santa Monica Boulevard would also benefit from greater visibility. The problem is that overhanging trees block the sun (as see in the shadows in images above). So drivers, accustomed to the bright sun, might simply not see a rider in the deep shadows. Worse, at speed the driver may not even see a fallen rider. And with so few eyes on this part of the corridor, and those fenced-in parcels, no pedestrian will come to the assistance of a fallen rider. There is no emergency phone. Given the prevailing spirit of community in Beverly Hills, how many drivers would stop to help a fallen rider?

Improve the Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard Intersection

While the city dithers on reconstructing Santa Monica, other opportunities to bump-up the safety are overlooked too. For example, an intersection like Santa Monica at Beverly Boulevard needs repair (and rethinking). This T-juncture is heavily trafficked and bus lines ply it regularly. But pity the poor pedestrian or rider who must cross on faded crosswalks or navigate glass and other debris. She is an afterthought at an intersection that is wholly given over to motor traffic.

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard pedestrian island

No welcome for walkers! This intersection doesn’t say much for a city ranked 7th for walkability in California by WalkScore.

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard crosswalk

Markings on the north side are also faded because the city chooses not to use more durable thermoplastic.

Pity the rider especially. Approaching eastbound on Santa Monica, for example, she’s pinched in a narrow lane between motor traffic on the left and the curb fence on the right.

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard buses allow little room for riders

Keep too far to the right (like the BH municipal code requires) and you’re luncheon meat sandwiched between the traffic and the curb.

And if she “keeps to the right” (per the Beverly Hills municipal code requirement) she is inevitably trapped as motor traffic turns at speed onto Beverly Boulevard.

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard puts motor traffic before bike travelers.

The long right-turn lane (not a pocket) allows turning traffic to continue at speed. That makes a left merge into the #2 lane a hazard indeed.

Now, good cycling practice suggests a merge left into the #2 lane to continue east on Santa Monica. But the priority on motoring makes moving left, through the right turn lane, a clear hazard:  fast-moving traffic whizzes by facilitated by  the long right turn lane (it is not a turn pocket). Riders are failed by an intersection designed only for motor travelers. There is nothing here that would reduce the consequences of human error. Europeans by contrast accommodate that inevitable error by building safer facilities.

Reopen Civic Center Drive for Through Travel

There is another problem with this intersection too: in the effort to hasten motor traffic flow, engineers have cut off the only viable alternative to Santa Monica for two-wheeled travelers. The route that holds that potential is Civic Center Drive, which parallels Santa Monica south of the (now fenced) old railroad right-of-way. This aptly-named street links the Civic Center with Doheney and could deliver eastbound riders to West Hollywood safely…were it not interrupted by Beverly Boulevard!

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard aerial viewOn the west side side, Civic Center simply merges onto Beverly; to the east of Beverly it terminates in a lonely and useless cul-de-sac. But Beverly wasn’t always a barrier to through-travelers. Before officials engineered this intersection strictly for motor traffic, Civic Center drive continued straight through. So let’s revisit that option if only to give bike lane opponents an alternative they can point to for our safe travel.

We’ve heard much from city officials and neighborhood folks that riders should “find an alternative” to Santa Monica Boulevard. Overlooking for the moment that 50,000 drivers on an average every weekday choose this route because it’s the most direct crosstown connection, our transportation officials could help us find an alternative by opening Civic Center Drive to through travel.

Re-Engineer the Santa Monica Boulevard-Wilshire Intersection

The most egregious safety hazard in our opinion is the Santa Monica Boulevard-Wilshire Boulevard intersection. This is another #fail in a boulevard engineered for motor traffic only.

Santa Monica Boulevard turn lanes existingThe problem is the ambiguity associated with dual right-hand (westbound) turn lanes from Santa Monica onto Wilshire (at right). Of these dual turn lanes, the left one is an optional turn. Ordinarily, recommended practice suggests the rider merge left into that optional lane in order to proceed straight on Santa Monica. But on a corridor with the traffic volume of Santa Monica that alone is a challenge.

But this intersection introduces another hazard: that optional turn lane’s signal is an arrow which stays green for a turn well after the straight-ahead signal turns red. So the rider who does merge left yet fails to make the light can find herself stopped at the limit line while traffic in her own lane impatiently passes by at speed to turn. If she’s followed the recommended practice of merging left, this intersection puts her in danger.

But also consider the fate of riders who follow the Beverly Hills municipal code  to “keep right.” Should the westbound rider hug the curb as the dual turn lanes reach the intersection? No: he will find himself by the fountain waiting to cross Wilshire but with no means to safely cross it. Because on the left he’s trapped by those dual turn lanes, and the fast-moving traffic – always turning at speed on any green signal – offers no opportunity to continue on. But there no escape there because Wilshire provides no crosswalk to the Hilton side.

The situation is no hypothetical: we counted riders for LACBC’s bike count last year and saw rider after rider find himself in that turn-lane trap. Some turned west on Wilshire but then found no crosswalk. And there exists no left-turn on Wilshire until Whittier. Some others inevitably took a risk and scampered across Wilshire in the moment after the turn arrows went red. But that’s not only illegal it’s quite unsafe. Yet it can only be the expected behavior when an intersection fails riders like this one.

Were this intersection engineered for safe transit, no rider would not find himself in the turn-lane trap. No rider would be stuck at the limit line in an optional-turn lane waiting to get struck by turning traffic. And it demands action. Today. Should City Council phase in Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction over a period of years, we’re told, work on this intersection wouldn’t commence until phase II. And when would that be?

What the City Should Do for Santa Monica-Wilshire

Fortunately FHWA (the national DOT) has design guidance for this situation. One option is to simply leave it to riders to figure out how to navigate the twin turn lanes. Yes, that’s what FHWA puts forth as an option. But that’s a bad choice because rider safety education is scant and besides, Beverly Hills has lifted no finger to apprize riders of how to ride safely. That’s why vision zero gets it right: we’re better off designing our facilities to account for rider inexperience and even bad judgment (just like the Swedes do).

Santa Monica Boulevard shared-lane option diagramAnother option is to put a striped bicycle lane between the turn lanes (illustrated at right by the FWHA). This option at least properly guides riders to the intersection. But it would offer little protection as drivers in turn lanes continue to take advantage of the green turn signal, passing the rider at speed on both sides. Were the arrows signal and through-signals to turn red together, however, it’s another story (especially when paired with a bike box).

But the best option is to eliminate the dual lanes entirely to fit a bicycle lane to the left of a single turn lane (as shown by FHWA below). The advantages are twofold: a clearly-marked, dedicated lane would reduce ambiguity for riders unsure of how to pass through today’s intersection; and the elimination of the second (optional) turn lane reduces the opportunity for conflict. The intersection could then retain today’s signal timing.

Santa Monica Boulevard turn lanes best remedy diagramAn added benefit of eliminating the lane is that additional space is made available for the bicycle lane. (Alternately, with an incrementally wider boulevard, as under consideration, we could have our cake and eat it too: dual turn lanes and a dedicated bicycle lane at the intersection.)

Act Now!

What’s critical is that the city address these safety issues now. The issues enumerated here are all known and evident hazards. We need only to recognize them. So let’s include repair of the entire corridor’s blacktop, as well as the re-engineering of its intersections, during the first phase of reconstruction.

We want to see Beverly Hills do the right thing by making Santa Monica Boulevard accessible to all road users. That’s the promise of ‘complete streets’ after all: to make travel safe whether you walk, ride a bicycle or drive a car. That’s why evolving federal and state transportation policy embraces design principles already implemented by transportation engineers in Europe. Let’s put the safety of pedestrians and riders before the convenience of drivers. That’s what we should do if we’re ever to consider streets as a significant public space (rather than simply a conduit for motor traffic).

Safe, Multimodal Streets are Already in our Plans

It’s not just a matter of safety. Our own sustainable city plan says we need to encourage cycling. Our Bicycle Master Plan calls for a citywide network of bike routes. Even our General Plan’s circulation element envisions a multimodal mobility future for Beverly Hills. It’s just that our policymakers and city officials don’t evidently agree. They’re still wedded to an old way of thinking about the city as a small town.

Jeff Kolin, Beverly Hills City Manager and himself a rider, has been silent on the safety aspects of Santa Monica boulevard. He’s not spoken up to recommend any interim fixes, for example, and certainly noted to Council none of the issues we identify here. Ask him yourself why he’s so reticent. Find his number in our handy City Hall cheat sheet.

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 democratic system of representation” in the United States (each of the five Supervisors represents two million county constituents), plays a key role in setting Metro priorities.

(Moreover, the courts have recently lifted the veil on longtime malfeasance and perhaps criminal activities in the Sheriff’s office under Lee Baca. If our representatives on the Board aren’t asking the right questions, then we won’t be able to ensure that county law enforcement itself respects the law.)

The candidates’ responses to the questionnaire are particularly helpful to informed voters looking beyond feel-good websites, glossy campaign mailers, and those damned robocalls. In fact, none of those communications says much at at all about mobility problems or policy. Thankfully LACBC has done much of the work for us!

Concerned about bicycle facilities? Wondering how each candidate feels about dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School? We’ve digested their answers to the policy questions over at our 2014 campaign page in an at-a-glance matrix to make comparisons across the candidates easy. But we encourage you to review what candidates had to say in full. So visit LACBC’s Bike the Vote: Resources for June 3rd Los Angeles County elections page for the full Monty, or download our handy full-text matrix. On to the policy questions!

Policy Specific Responses

Q2: In 2012, the County of Los Angeles adopted a Bicycle Master Plan proposing 831 miles of new bikeways due to be completed by 2032. What would you do to ensure that implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan projects continues during your term? How many miles of new bicycle facilities will you commit to implementing each year in your district?

Candidates Kuehl, Duran and Shriver each committed to the identified benchmark, which is a relatively conservative position.Front-runners don’t need to go out on a limb. Melendez was a bit more vague about their commitment and pledging “as many new paths and restroom facilities as necessary.” Candidates Fay And Ulich upped the ante: Fay wants to see 100 miles per year implemented while Ulich wants to complete the plan’s target mileage by 2020 (or “as many miles as is possible every year”).

Q3: Do you support adopting the Model Design Manual for Living Streets produced by the County Department of Public Health but not yet adopted by Public Works?

Candidates Fay, Melendez, Ulich and Kuehl all pledged to support adoption by the county of the Model Design Manual for Living Streets. But Kuehl added a key caveat – one that may be a deal-breaker to road diet and bicycle lane proponents: “so long as it didn’t reduce the total number of lanes available to vehicles.” But there is a contradiction here: the manual adopts as a guiding philosophy the shifting of travel to other modes. The ‘living streets’ approach sees “mobility is a means, not an end.”

It emphasizes place over throughput, for example, with traffic calming one option to create inviting environments. It also encourages “healthy lifestyles” by prioritizing walking, bicycling, and transit in part through streets designed for all modes. By changing how we plan for mobility, we could prompt people “to drive less” the manual says. (From chapter 2 ‘Vision, Goals, Policies, and Benchmarks’ and chapter 3, ‘Street Networks and Classifications.’)

Candidates Duran and Shriver, however, did not substantively address the question about adoption of the Model Design Manual. (Perhaps they weren’t sufficiently familiar to comment.)

Q4: Would you support the implementation of protected bikeways, and can you suggest any areas in your district where such facilities should be built?

All of the candidates support protected bikeways (what’s not to like about the modifier ‘protected’?). But Kuehl again added, “so long as it doesn’t reduce the total number of lanes available to cars.” We would file that response under ‘motorists come first on public streets.’ And Melendez didn’t offer a blanket thumbs-up. Instead he focused his response on identifying specific areas like Griffith Park, Sepulveda and Cahuenga passes and segments of Pacific Coast Highway. (Credit where it’s due: he was the only respondent to actually suggest any.)

Of course the right answer is “Yes! Wherever we put a class II bicycle lane is an opportunity to make that lane a ‘protected’ or separate facility.”

Q5: Do you support allocating at least 3% of transit capital budgets to first & last mile improvements for each new line?

Funding is key, right? Nailing down a dedicated proportion of transit funding for bike-ped projects is crucial. How do the candidates respond? Here Duran, Melendez, Shriver and Ulich are unequivocal: all support 3% or more in dedicated funding. Fay and Kuehl hedge. “I support ensuring Metro does include alternate transportation facilities in their planning process,” said Fay, while Kuehl refrains from nailing down a number (“I would support allocating money to the First & Last Mile Strategic Plan.”)

Seems like Metro is already out front of candidate Melendez with their draft First Last Mile Strategic Plan Guidelines. And in that draft plan, Metro helpfully notes “numerous competing demands on public funds throughout the county.” All the more reason to dedicate a fixed percentage, right?

Q6: Do you support dedicated funding for a countywide Safe Routes to School program?

This is a giveaway. Five candidates are unequivocal: they support the goal and Metro’s countywide Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan (in progress). Shriver is a less committal as far as the plan goes. “I support a coordinated County effort to win more Safe Routes to School funding,” he says. Ulich gives the nod to the money (“I will absolutely dedicate funding to the Safe Routes to School program”) but leaves open her view on the plan.

Q7: Do you support dedicating at least 12% of any future sales tax measures for walking and biking?

This is where we separate the doers and talkers! The question notes that Metro allocates only 1% of funding bike-ped facilities and the three voter-approved sales tax measures dedicate exactly zero percent of the hike for bike-ped needs. Would the candidates do better? Better as in a 12% dedication?

Melendez and Ulich (notably not the front-runners) both are unequivocal supporters at the 12% level. Candidates Duran, Fay and Kuehl won’t go that far, however, and none would identify a percentage. (One senses that they’re backing out of the room at the question.) But Shriver does identify MoveLA’s 4% proposal as a feasible level of dedicated considering. As the question points out, 19% of all trips are made on foot or by bike but of those killed on county streets, double that proportion (39%) were people walking or biking.

Q8: Will you provide annual transit passes to all County employees and provide secure bicycle parking for both employees and visitors at County buildings?

The question gets at the inequity of policy and public- and private-sector practices that accord reduced-price parking or tax benefits to those who drive, while just recently eliminating a federal benefit for using alternate forms of transit. The pass seems like good policy and the parking a token giveaway for the less-than-one-percent who bike commute. How do they respond?

Five candidates are on board with both free or discounted transit passes for county employees AND give the nod to secure bike parking. Here Duran is the odd man out. “I do not know if I would support providing an annual transit passes unless we could adequately safeguard against fraudulent misuse of the passes.” Instead Duran suggests “creative solutions” and/or “additional incentives” to encourage other modes of transit to work at county facilities.

Responses: General Impressions

Here we summarize their responses to two more general questions (abbreviated here): Share a memory involving a bicycle that has had a lasting effect on you; and what else you would like to say to Los Angeles County’s millions of bicyclists?

Bobby Shriver

Bobby Shriver

Share a memory.

Bobby Shriver said in his response that he was recently thrilled to participate in his first CicLAvia. “I felt like I was seeing those neighborhoods for the first time through a new lens and it was invigorating,” he said. “Community is important and the road belongs to all of us.”

John Duran

John Duran

John Duran, a veteran of the annual Aids Life Cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in his response replied (in part) “I am an avid cyclist in excellent shape and can bring my experiences on a bike to the county hall of administration.” (That would indeed be a change!).

Doug Fay

Doug Fay

Other candidates reached back to childhood, where many of us first cemented our love of the bike. Doug Fay in his response recalled his summer of ’79. “My adventurous friend Darell Slotton and I decided we were going to ride our 10 speed bicycles from Venice Beach up the Pacific Coast Highway to the Ventura County Line and back. Wearing t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, we left early and made it home before dark.” (Don’t try it today without body armor, fellas.)

Sheila Kuehl

Sheila Kuehl

Sheila Kuehl recalled in her response a very different neighborhood milieu, though. “When I was about ten, my little sister and I were playing outside of our house near the Coliseum…Some neighborhood kids came up to us and took off with my little sister’s tricycle,” she said. “I couldn’t let them get away with that so I pedaled furiously after them, like a posse after a bandit, caught up and grabbed it back. I felt like a real big sister and thought of that Schwinn as a horse for a hero.”

Rudy Melendez reached back even further in his response. “My earliest memory riding a bike is of my dad jogging behind me having taking the training wheels off my bike I think he wanted to be sure I was going to be okay riding without them.”

Pam Conley Ulich

Pamela Conley Ulich

Likewise candidate Pamela Conley Ulich recalled in her response a similar experience. Only she was in the parent’s shoes. “I will never forget that day when we took off our daughter’s training wheels, 10 or so years ago at our local elementary school parking lot on an early Sunday morning,” the candidate said, and “she fell within seconds the first time she tried to bike…” Once her daughter got the hang of it, however, “she became both independent and in control of her destiny.”

Some riders may empathize with a childhood spill, but Candidate Rudy Melendez’s story of theft and injury recalls more recent painful memories for many, we bet. “I remember very clearly when my bmx bike was stolen and when my beach cruiser was stolen when my 1st fixie was stolen and when my 2nd fixie was stolen,” he said. “But the one memory that may have the most lasting effect is the time I was side swiped by a hit & run driver along the miracle mile on Wilshire….” (Amen.)

Every candidate can relate to riding a bike as a child, or experiencing the good feelings that attend to riding as an adult, and even the occasional trauma. But if elected, can these candidates channel their concerns into support for policies that encourage cycling? Will they take the necessary decisions to make it safer for riders countywide? Let’s turn to their responses to policy questions 2-8 on the LACBC questionnaire.

What would you say to Los Angeles County’s millions of bicyclists?

John Duran waxed poetic. “There is a natural high that occurs when my heart is beating in rhythm with my legs on the open road.” And Rudy Melendez offered practical advice. “If you don’t already own a bike consider getting one because I believe you will find that It will improve your health & lifestyle.”

Sheila Kuehl and two other candidates took the opportunity to stroke LACBC. “We have to drastically reduce our dependence on cars,” Kuehl said, “and it will take leadership, such as yours, to achieve our goals.” Doug Fay too acknowledged the organization. “If elected I will work with others including you, to make bicycle and pedestrian facility maintenance and enhancement a top priority.” Pam Conley Ulich agreed. “By partnering with you, we can create a bike friendly society, reduce our carbon footprint, and live a healthy lifestyle – a win, win, win.”

Bobby Shriver was the most specific in his closing remarks, however:

As County Supervisor, I will use my influence to encourage the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney and the DMV to take a proactive approach to cyclist safety. I will encourage the Sheriff to enforce the 3 foot passing rule and I will encourage the District Attorney to aggressively prosecute hit-and-runs on bicyclists. In addition, the DMV must be encouraged to better incorporate how the CA Vehicle Code pertains to bicyclists in its driver education curriculum.

Or, as Ulich said, “We just need the will to make it happen.” No matter who prevails, though, it will take a determined push from the dais of the Board of Supervisors to change the status quo and work towards that goal of ‘Vision Zero.‘ The LACBC’s candidate questionnaire is a great tool to ensure that you know which candidate best represents your interests.

SM Blvd Comes Back for Council Review

Santa Monica Boulevard gardens trim line

Wouldn’t you trade a few feet of ragged grass for boulevard bicycle lanes?

If you’ve been on your seat-edge waiting to find out what Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills will look like for the next half-century, you’ll wait a bit longer. Tomorrow City Council will defer a decision on the corridor’s conceptual design as it again hears about the project budget and why, low-balled by staff, it has doubled since the fall to $35m. How will the project might funded? How wide should the boulevard be? Wide enough to include bicycle lanes? We’ll know more on Tuesday.

While this ongoing saga won’t come to a close soon enough for riders who brave this key crosstown corridor, we need to focus on the project decisions that will shape Santa Monica Boulevard going forward. Should the corridor be expanded incrementally to afford class II bicycle lanes, now or in the future; and should the city reconstruct the corridor in one piece or break it up into two phases? At City Council’s Tuesday study session (2:30pm) we’ll likely get answers to these pressing questions even if we don’t see a final conceptual design for the corridor materialize until later.

Project Phasing

The staff report for Tuesday’s meeting presents a ‘recommended project funding plan’ that would have the city split the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project into two parts. The first phase would reconstruct the segment between Doheney and Wilshire boulevard on the project’s current timetable. (The timetable has slipped repeatedly over the years, though prompt council action now may yet produce a completed phase one by the end of 2015.)

The second phase would come later, however, and perhaps much later. One rationale for deferring phase two is that adjacent development projects (like the Hilton hotel) will include traffic mitigation measures; so maybe it’s better to address the western segment of the boulevard at one time when past and present ‘improvements’ can be incorporated.

Gateway site aerial view

Gateway parcels to the west of Wilshire Boulevard: a golden opportunity for active transportation found and lost.

A related rationale is that the adjacent Western Gateway area (south of the boulevard west of Wilshire) is still under discussion. That major set of projects will likely affect traffic and flow on Santa Monica boulevard. (Read more about the Western Gateway, pictured at right.)

An then there is the cost. At $35 million the project threatens to break the bank. For one thing, the city chose not to seek federal or state money for a key regional corridor reconstruction. Unfortunately that limits our options. And one option on the table it to break the reconstruction up to whittle down the upfront price today but later we would be adding to total project costs.

Punting on a full-corridor reconstruction presents a couple of challenges for multimodal mobility advocates, however. First, in downsizing today’s project, Council may well downsize our ambitions for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Should the city fail to consider how the corridor in its entirely will serve the city for decades, we will merely cement in place an auto-dominated roadway.

Consider that the default option: like the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee members who were concerned only about moving cars, there are members on our Council that feel today’s boulevard is simply good enough. But those of us who ride, or will ride, a bicycle will greatly lament that lack of forethought. Indeed we told both the committee and Council that should the corridor not incorporate bicycle lanes we’ll have missed a real opportunity to realize a future multimodal Santa Monica Boulevard. In our view, breaking up the project into phases might well lock-in a boulevard without lanes.

Second, even if we afford room for lanes on phase I (or even actually include them), phase II might not. Many things can go awry between now and whenever phase two is undertaken. A future Council might decide that multimodal mobility is an experiment that simply has failed, for example.

(And that’s not far-fetched Consider that Vice-Mayor Gold has made noises in this regard about the city’s Pilot Program, which has delivered only a few segments of class II lanes and sharrows in Beverly Hills, but evidently too much to stomach for unreconstructed, old-school auto-minded policymakers. Remember that Dr. Gold will be our next Mayor should he be reelected in March.)

And our councilmembers (or a future Council) might just allow Western Gateway developers to build right out to their property line, robbing the community of setbacks and, more important, undermining an opportunity to exact a land dedication necessary for the incorporation of class II bicycle lanes on Santa Monica.

Less tangibly, phasing the project could sap our councilmembers today of their political courage to make this key business triangle corridor multimodal. After all, why get out in front with a politically-sensitive proposal to incrementally-widen the boulevard for lanes if you’re playing small ball with a phased project? Already there exists support for a less-is-more approach to reconstruction: we’ve heard councilmembers ask about repaving the blacktop as-it-is. But that conservative approach won’t make for safe rider passage or deliver on our city’s plans for multimodal mobility.

Our third major objection to a phased project is that the first (eastern) phase would stop short of the Santa Monica/Wilshire intersection – a juncture unsafe for all road users but disproportionately hazardous to riders. Under the phasing plan it wouldn’t receive any improvements until the Hilton or adjacent project substantially nears completion, according to Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation. But Hilton mitigation won’t get us to a multimodal future either. ‘Improvements’ (like an additional turn lane) are designed to increase vehicle throughput. That’s an unfortunate legacy of adhering to a Level-of-Service approach to building for capacity rather than managing transportation demand and it will not to get folks on bicycles. (Read more about what to do with this intersection.)

At this meeting we expect Council to direct staff and our consultant Psomas to proceed with Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction in two phases. Notably, the staff report doesn’t even mention the single-phase option anymore. Phase two (from Wilshire to Moreno) would then be deferred to some indeterminate future date. That leaves the width issue.

Boulevard Width & Bicycle Lanes

Two aspects of the project have proved politically-sticky: the width of the boulevard and the inclusion of bicycle lanes. While the prospect of bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard inexplicably engenders community opposition, the proposal to incrementally widen the boulevard (as recommended by the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee) sends NIMBYs into fits of apoplexy.

Today the boulevard ranges from 60-63 feet. Fittingly, one objective of the reconstruction is to rationalize the corridor at a consistent width. But how wide? The current staff report puts alternatives at 60, 63, 64 and 66 feet in width. Building to less than 64 feet would preclude bicycle lanes, according to Psomas. (Even at wider widths, though, the consultant has recommended not to stripe class II lanes. Splitting the difference, city transportation staff has long floated the idea of a single-direction bicycle lane (westbound) with an eastbound alignment never clearly specified. (Of course we can’t support that concept without more details.)

So whither Bicycle Lanes? That will depend on boulevard width. At this meeting we expect Council to revisit the bicycle lane issue only indirectly by deciding on a finished width for Santa Monica. Less than 64 feet could preclude class II lanes entirely – at least according to our consultants – while a width at or above 64′ could preserve that option.

When the issue was next heard by Council in April, any talk about boulevard width and bicycle lanes was swamped by skepticism on the dais about staff project management. (Recall that fuzzy figures offered by the Community Development Department greatly underestimated the cost.) That is, when it came time for Council to talk conceptual design, the cost issue had already derailed the discussion. With the cost discussion hopefully wrapping up at this meeting, perhaps we can get back to substantive decisions like width and eventually lanes.

Whether or not to expand the boulevard sufficiently to accommodate bicycle lanes is the key decision point at this meeting. We could see the multimodal mobility option all-but-tossed out by Council at this meeting. Or we could see width established at 64′ in order to keep the lanes option open. Bike lane supporters are encouraged to attend to remind City Council provides that we need a 64-foot minimum width in order to include bicycle lanes (or at least keep open the possibility).

Santa Monica Boulevard road conditionsWe also want to remind Council that the safety hazards built-in to the Santa Monica/Wilshire intersection must be addressed sooner, rather than later; and that regardless of project decisions at this meeting, the Santa Monica corridor needs some repair immediately to ensure safer transit for riders.

Read about the project on the city’s site or, better yet, consult Better Bike’s much more detailed SM blvd project page or project-related posts for more information.) Council didn’t vote on bicycle lanes or boulevad width.

We Have Done Our Part

We multimodal mobility advocates have already done our due diligence. We’ve attended four Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee meetings. Committee members received more than two hundred comments and the vast majority came from lane supporters. (The committee subsequently recommended that Council include bicycle lanes.) Then the Council heard an earful from lane supporters at the March 4th meeting.  Yet there three of our five councilmembers swatted away our safety concerns. Only then-Mayor Mirisch was a strong supporter of lanes; today’s Mayor Bosse appeared to lean positive too. But two out of three ain’t enough.

What should we expect from this meeting? If history is any guide, councilmembers will punt on Santa Monica Boulevard by embracing phased construction. They probably won’t allow sufficient width for bicycle lanes. And they’ll likely leave that wrong to be righted by a future council a decade or more later. You see, Beverly Hills is, fundamentally, a backward-looking city; we prize a “small town feel” yet cling tenaciously to an outmoded, auto-dominant paradigm that is more fitting for a suburb than a city in an urban region of 15 million people.

We urge today’s Council to think ahead toward a multimodal mobility future – like our own plans say we should – rather than have to remedy a  a decade later. We’ll see you there on Tuesday at 2:30 pm in Council Chambers.

Time for Beverly Hills to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy!

bike chattanooga bike share map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Problem: Zero Official Interest in Street Safety

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

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

Curb extensions diagram via FHWA

Diagram courtesy FWHA’s best practices guide.

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

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

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

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

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

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

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

One Solution: Adopt a Complete Streets Policy

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

Complete streets intersection

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

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

Planning Commission Gateway field trip

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

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

Chattanooga Steps Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga after the complete streets treatment!

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

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

Time for a Mobility Coordinator in Beverly Hills

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

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

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

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

Santa Monica Blvd Lanes Off the Table?

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

Finish the Ride: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Finish the Ride group photo

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

BH Traffic Report for 2013: Little Progress on Road Safety

Traffic report thumbnail

When we learned that Office of Traffic Safety ranked Beverly Hills worst among small cities for bike and pedestrian safety, we wanted to deep-dive the data* to understand how our city could do more to make streets safe. After digging into collision and enforcement data we come to the conclusion that city officials aren’t even trying to improve our low standing. The 36 bike-involved collision injuries reported to police last year even exceeds our 5-year annual average.  Shouldn’t we be making progress in reducing the harm? The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) findings that we’re among the most dangerous small cities in the state for walkers and pedestrians. That should be a wake-up call to civic leaders. But evidently it’s not; our … Continue reading

Beverly Hills: The Most Dangerous Little City in California

To read the Beverly Hills vision statement is to get a sense of the high regard in which civic leaders hold our city. “Beverly Hills offers the highest quality of life achievable,” we are assured. Our “world-class community” is known for “leading edge” thinking and “innovative” government. Those “alluring and distinctive hotels, retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment” make us exceptional. But Beverly Hills is exceptional in another way too: we’re the most dangerous little city in California. At least the most dangerous small city according to the state’s Office of Traffic Safety. Its collision rankings comparison tool draws on CHP Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) data. The tool was designed with a noble purpose in mind: The OTS Rankings … Continue reading

Transportation Equity on the Agenda

An Agenda for Equity brief cover

When multimodal mobility advocates call on City Hall to enforce traffic laws and to embrace complete streets (including bike lanes and other facilities), we’re pushing a transportation equity agenda. Researchers at USC have picked up on the grassroots fervor in a new policy brief titled, An Agenda for Equity: A Framework for Building a Just Transportation System in Los Angeles County (2014). The brief, published by the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), sketches out an argument for making our most significant public space accessible to all users. In An Agenda for Equity, USC researchers Manuel Pastor, Vanessa Carter and Madeline Wander provide some political and demographic context for the cumulative negative effects of auto-centered transportation policies, but doesn’t … Continue reading