City Council Punts: Bike Lanes Deferred Again [Recap]

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz presents findings to Council.

When City Council last considered bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in March, the question of whether to expand the blacktop incrementally to accommodate lanes became bogged down in a broader discussion about costs. Then this December 2nd meeting mostly focused on traffic mitigation. So again Council has kicked the bike lanes can further down the road. Yet Council and staff nevertheless appear to be on the same page: no bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Let’s recap the meeting and look ahead to the next steps.

[Update: scroll down for more information about our just-announced strategy session on December 22nd.]

We had ample reason to suspect that “the fix” was in even prior to the December meeting. As we detailed then, the 12/2 staff report recommended that City Council not expand the boulevard even an inch beyond its most narrow section at 60-ft. That would effectively preclude bicycle lanes for the foreseeable future. (Read more about the project.)

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn't offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state's 3 foot passing law).

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping this section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions because the state’s 3 foot passing law would afford #2 lane travelers only 8 feet for their cage-of-steel.

As Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz explained in his presentation (and illustrated in the staff report), much of the boulevard is 63 feet wide with one section between Wilshire and Canon that is only 60 feet. The latter is the choke point.

The 63’ section has room for 4.5 foot bicycle lanes on both sides… the 60’ section is narrower and cannot accommodate a bike lane on both sides without reducing lane width and impacting traffic…. Our analysis showed that the 63’ would provide adequate space for all vehicles, including 3 feet of clearance for bicycles, but the 60’ as it is striped now would provide sufficient space in the westbound direction but it would be limited space and tight [for bicycles]. -Aaron Kunz (emphasis added)

Did you get that? “Without reducing lane width and impacting traffic.” That precondition is simply presented as a given. But it is not set in concrete; in fact transportation advocates argue that narrow travel lanes actually benefit all road users as it slows motor traffic. Here it would allow the inclusion of a standard-width bicycle lane for cyclists too.

Given that the prospect of bicycle lanes is the single most politically-combustible aspect of the project (even more than cost) we expected at this meeting a robust discussion on the merits of lanes, plus some acknowledgment that a public process had already been conducted and that the vast majority of the 200+ comments to date are supportive of lanes. (It’s worth noting that the Blue Ribbon Committee formed for the purpose last September actually recommended a wider boulevard with bicycle lanes too.)

But we heard none of that today. First off, we were surprised but not shocked: the city’s decision not to include bicycle lanes was essentially footnoted on page three of the staff report:

SM BLVD existing width text blurb That’s not a good sign as it seems a predetermined decision. Likewise, when the issue was teed up at this meeting by Community Development Director Susan Healey Keene, the conclusion about boulevard width was presented as a matter-of-fact. (Note that the staff report too is silent on the Blue Ribbon’s recommendations.)

Why? The question of whether to include bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard appears to be mooted: the two-member ad hoc committee (comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien) “agreed to proceed with the project designed at the existing road width” as Aaron noted. That was decided in July, well before the public could fully discuss the available options today.

Perhaps our ad hoc members heard from one particular community that evidently does matter to them: north-side homeowner association representatives and its members. They swing a lot of weight (and campaign contributions) and evidently they don’t care for multimodal transit. They also like to sue.

Public Comment

Though the agenda item was carefully focused on mitigation measures, supporters did have something to say. Speaking on behalf of the lanes option was Josh Paget, board member on the neighboring Mid City West Community Council and co-chair of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Streetscape committee. He said:

We are your neighbors… and we have drafted a resolution in support of bicycle lanes, and the board has voted to encourage BH to adopt bike lanes… We hope that you do that as a benefit not only to benefit your community, but also to members of our community who frequent Beverly Hills. – Josh Paget

He also noted that his board has endorsed both a neighborhood greenways proposal and Melrose complete streets project, the latter “complete with bike lanes because we believe it benefits our community.”

Allison Regin speakingNext up, Allison Regan told the Council that Santa Monica is a “vital link connecting current or proposed lanes” in adjacent cities. She said:

As you know, biking as an alternative mode of transport – and as a preferred mode for tourists – is growing in popularity… [and] it is well documented that bicyclists bring dollars to cities with dedicated bike infrastructure. I encourage you to rethink the widening of Santa Monica, particularly when it would not encroach on usable park space to do so. The preference – the ideal – would be to create an entirely separate bike path along the boulevard, and you could do so by expanding the usable park space…[and] installing a separate bike path in the park. – Allison Regan

LACBC's Eric BruinsThen LACBC‘s Eric Bruins laid out the case for restriping more narrow lanes in order to slow traffic and to accommodate lanes on the boulevard. He referred to his LACBC letter to Council to observe, “Your consultants and staff are not using the best engineering standards for city lane design. They find that 60 feet wide does not accommodate bike lanes.” But it does if you use current NACTO standards, he added. Then he asked, “What are the aspirations here? Are we just trying to rebuild it? Or aspire to a healthier, safe and more sustainable community? We ask that bike lanes be carried forth into design [phase] so that we can preserve that option.”

Then the closer while holding up an image of a boulevard hit-and-run victim:

More important, this is Paul Livingston. He was hit a block from here on SM in 2011. He is among the many injured transported to Cedars Sinai because that street is currently inhospitable [to riders]. The Council can change that if we use the current best standards and do what’s possible in the right-of-way by striping bike lanes to make that street available to all people to use it. – Eric Bruins

Resident Kory Klem also spoke in favor of multimodal mobility and he came loaded with data:

More Angelenos are biking each year, with 8% growth in the past year alone. This number includes both Beverly Hills residents and the folks passing through our amazing community. LA has added 120 miles of bike lanes to support this growth. On streets with new dedicated lanes since 2011, the number of cyclists has doubled. New York’s protected bike lanes have led to a 45% reduction in all injury related accidents. We’re flanked immediately to the east and west by some of the best, contiguous bike lanes in Los Angeles. Please, let’s connect them.

Kory noted the breadth of public support for lanes, including boulevard churches like Good Shepherd and All Saints. “They are 100% for bike lines even at the cost of widening [the boulevard].” He then reminded Council:

You hired a consultant and they recommended widening and accommodating bike lanes… You then appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee and I watched them invert their support and evolve their thinking to actually recommend widening and bike lanes… So I implore you yet once again, please do the right thing, not only for today, but for generations to come…. The only people who should be opposed [the churches] are actually in support. – Kory Klem

Blue Ribbon Committee chair Barry Pressman, in a letter read into the record, said he reiterated the committee’s support; not only for expansion but also for striped bike lanes.

The Blue Ribbon Committee came to these conclusions after extensive investigation, public comment and deliberation… The present status is dangerous or potentially dangerous for drivers and cyclists alike. – Dr. Barry Pressman

 

Discussion

Ad hoc committee member and councilman Willie Brien confined his remarks mostly to traffic mitigation. (That is, only how the Santa Monica Boulevard project might inconvenience motorists during construction). But on boulevard expansion and bike lanes he elided. He has previously stated diehard opposition, and facing the issue again today  called this “a very early step” in the process. “There are no simple solutions to this problem… Nothing is off the table but we do need to move forward.”

But Brien did talk briefly about mobility beyond reconstruction, however, which is a welcome nod to an overdue discussion (the city’s bike plan dates to 1977):

We plan to come back and discuss specifically bike lanes and bike routes in the city. We hear the advocates, and all of us support bike safety to the fullest, and we’re going to look at those lanes and routes. – Dr. Willie Brien

Councilmember Nancy Krasne for her part said of Santa Monica Boulevard, “I don’t see a bike lane there – that is my preference.” But she evidently has a soft spot for folks who travel without a steel cage to protect them. “I worry about the safety of the bikers foremost,” she said, adding later, “I want my bicyclists as safe as my children.” (Yes, do it for the kids!)

When it comes to project prescriptions, however, she wasn’t entertaining bike lanes. “I always hear, ‘This is how we’ve always done it, so we’re going to stripe SM Blvd [for lanes].’ But I think that is a very foolish option.” (Never mind that that’s not how we’ve always done it in Beverly Hills.) She then again floated her proposal:

Let’s remove parking on Little Santa Monica and use it for local traffic and cyclists… As much as I hate giving up parking, if we could put up bollards to get Century City traffic off [it] and use it for local traffic and for bicycles, we will have a safer, better community… My concern is a healthier, safer and more sustainable community.

For what it’s worth, we agree. But that’s a non-starter. She can’t seriously believe that local businesses will give up street parking when they ordinarily fight tooth and nail for any single additional space they can squeeze out of the public realm.

Her opposition to lanes? It makes zero sense: a parade of riders has called bike lanes essential to a safer corridor. And despite studies available to her that attest otherwise, she maintains that state-approved bicycle lanes put riders in harm’s way. (Consult the state’s manual if you’re curious.) You can’t argue with facts if you simply don’t engage them.

As time in this study session ran short, Vice Mayor Julian Gold, councilmember John Mirisch and Mayor Bosse each made no substantive comments. Note that the Mayor didn’t speak from the dais in favor of, or against, bike lanes in this meeting, nor did she address it in March.

Next Steps

It’s been a long slog since the city took control of the corridor (in 2006) and initiated studies in early 2010, as Aaron Kunz himself noted in his own presentation. Moreover, there’s been a public process to collect input too. So it would be a shame to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard for generations to come without meeting the spirit of the state’s Complete Streets Act of 2008, which requires localities to plan for multimodal mobility by making travel safe for all road users, or reflecting the needs of users who spoke up about how they might be made to feel safer traveling the boulevard.

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

So we’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t remind Council that there is a solution to the loss-of-park problem: a no-net-loss proposal that would expand the green space by a foot on two eastern segments of the boulevard while taking away two feet along a single segment between Wilshire and Canon.

It would make the finished boulevard a uniform 62 feet wide – sufficient for 5′ bike lanes, according to this illustration courtesy of Eric Bruins.

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

Santa Monica at 62 feet restriped for bicycle lanes is possible!

Call this a win-win! Bike lane proponents get the safe travel infrastructure we need; park proponents suffer no loss of green space; and motorists will have to slow down because tomorrow’s travel lanes would be marginally more narrow.

City Council will next consider the question on January 6th. We hope then our councilmembers will choose to make the Beverly Hills segment of this key regional corridor bike-friendly. Join us in a strategy session at the Beverly Hills Public Library on December 22nd at 7pm. (For more information and to RSVP, check here.) We’ll talk plans and politics and organize to get our Council behind a compromise that will afford non-motor travelers sufficient space on the blacktop while meeting the demands of north-side residents for no loss of green space.

Council Slaps Back: No Bike Lanes for SM Blvd [Recap]

Beverly Hills City Council Disses Road Safety, Slaps Riders in Santa Monica Boulevard Session

A split Beverly Hills City Council last night dismissed the safety concerns of over two hundred riders (and twenty who showed up in person) to blithely wave off any prospect for class II bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Those of us who hoped that the corridor would close the regional backbone network gap, or perhaps illustrate the current thinking in complete streets principles, will be sorely disappointed. Living up to our reputation for insularity and parochial thinking, a majority on our City Council last night affirmed our city’s disregard for connectivity and road safety by ruling out bike lanes.

Despite strong institutional support from our neighboring cities and endorsements from UCLA’s department of transportation and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, three of our five councilmembers put an end to bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. The larger project will come back to Council on April 1st to discuss the ballooning projected costs, but consider the lanes dead, dead, dead.

What Happened?

There clearly wasn’t sentiment on the Council to move forward with bike lanes for the corridor. The three clear ‘no’ votes statements preclude including them. [Clarification: Council deferred action on the item to April 1st to resolve questions about the cost and public safety implications of the project, but in their statements clearly dismissed the prospect of striping a bike lane on the corridor.]

One councilmember, Dr. Julian Gold, essentially filibustered during his segment of the discussion with his litany of rhetorical “questions” which he helpfully labeled for us a “laundry list” (as if the point would escape us). Count him out.

Councilmember Nancy Krasne rehearsed her own naive assumptions about riders’ needs, and she nursed her misconceptions about road safety and bike facilities. Here we can’t blame her: evidently our own transportation officials and consultants made absolutely no effort to reach Council with the news that complete streets is the future. Still, her part of the discussion clouded the issue rather than crystallized it. Count her out.

Willie Brien

Councilmember Willie Brien

Even the Blue-Ribbon Committee process and products came in for a drubbing by councilmember Willie Brien, who actually appointed three committee members (of 15 todal, including yours truly). The former Mayor couldn’t help but return to  old business to settle the score. “I believed at the outset that the committee should have had councilmembers on it,” he said  (recalling his vote last fall to reserve control over project design to City Hall officials). Kindly he added just after dismissing the committee’s recommendations: “I do appreciate the committee’s work.”

Indeed Dr. Brien restated his flat-out opposition to boulevard expansion, which is a precondition for adding lanes. “I said from the beginning I would not support the widening of Santa Monica Boulevard – I said that five years ago – and I haven’t changed my mind.” That’s notwithstanding the 250 public comments by a large margin in favor of lanes; the 50+ folks who turned out to call for them; and even the Blue-Ribbon’s own recommendations to include them. “If you want to look for bike lanes, look to Carmelita,” he added. Count him out.

Julian Gold

Councilmember Julian Gold

For his part, Dr. Gold called bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard a potential “bridge to nowhere.”

That is a reference to neighbor cities’ existing lanes which today don’t reach our city boundary. But it’s also a term used by northside lane opponents in the Blue-Ribbon meetings. Coordinated messaging perhaps?

Until those lanes meet our boundary, Dr. Gold said, “the rest of the discussions about bike lanes are moot.” But this is a red herring: both LA and WeHo have assured the committee, and City Hall too, that they will meet our lanes. Indeed both cities (unlike Beverly Hills) are busy working on mobility plans and implementation programs.

But City Council had these assurances long before Dr. Gold expressed his concern at this meeting. This one of his fusillade of “questions,” evidently orchestrated to bog down this process, seemed particularly disingenuous.

Crocodile Tears or a Real Concern for Road Safety?

The unfunny irony is that two of these three councilmembers who turned their back on multimodal mobility have the gall to say that they embrace cycling. They cry crocodile tears over the risks that riders bear when riding Beverly Hills streets even as they fail to lift a finger to reduce risk on a corridor like Santa Monica. “I worry about the safety of the bikers,” Dr. Brien said. But he evidenced no genuine concern for safety in his remarks.

Dr. Gold never even expressed a fig leaf of concern, though. It simply didn’t merit a remark. “I’d like a better understanding of widening versus not widening on the costs,” he said as he opened his remarks. And speaking of costs, what about the damage that riders do? “I understand the three feet [for safety] rule [sic], but what happens when a biker swerves and hits you?” Finally someone states the concern on everybody’s mind: How do we keep those reckless riders from running into the cars, then encouraging those motorists to flee the scene, and then finally checking themselves into the hospital for, say, a broken pelvis? Oh the costs to society of these bikers!

For her part, Nancy Krasne was all about the public welfare. Or so she said. “I have to think of the safety of the cyclists first,” she assured the crowd in Council chambers. Then she offered another take on the rationale she communicated to us before the meeting. “It’s so dangerous on Santa Monica Boulevard but I couldn’t forgive myself for approving a bike lane there that would put riders in danger.”

Nancy Krasne

Councilmember Nancy Krasne

Nancy Krasne might have been the swing vote on the Council. With two multimodal mobility supporters on one side of the dais and two likely ‘no’ votes on the other, she could have delivered the Council’s approval of the Blue-Ribbon recommendations.  But it was not to be.

“I don’t like being maneuvered by a consultant,” she said (signaling displeasure with the design options before Council). Then the curtain came down: “Taking away parkland is just wrong.” With that statement, any vote to support bike lanes was headed for defeat. But it wasn’t just the swing vote: the project at this point is plagued. Unexplained ballooning costs riled the Council and critics and bad feelings prevailed in the chamber.

What’s behind the swing ‘no’ vote? Here councilmember Krasne offered a window into her thinking. As if channeling Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, she asked why we needed lanes at all on this corridor. “Because West Hollywood and Los Angeles put bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard?” The potential regional connection mattered little. “They didn’t ask us, and that was a mistake.” We’re not playing ball, she suggested. Nobody puts baby in a corner! But then there was a quid-pro-quo: “When Los Angeles allows us to purchase the orange grove property, then I’ll really consider this.” That’s thinking about “the safety of the cyclists”!

She continued to flesh out her opposition. People need to learn how to ride a bicycle, she said. (Forget that our city chooses not to even create a ride-safe webpage to school us.) Riders need to get licensed, she said. (Forget that there is no longer a licensing program in California anywhere.) Riders can simply find another place to ride, she said. (Forget that northside homeowners have vetoed any other route on the northside.

Then there was this reasoning: bike lanes create blind spots. “I don’t want them beside me where I can’t see them,” she said. But she did give her OK for cyclists to take the lane, which is the kind of support you want to take to court when the Beverly Hills police erroneously writes you a ticket for taking the lane.

John Mirisch

Mayor John Mirisch

Mayor John Mirisch was more concerned with road safety. It must be a priority, he said, echoing his past support for bike facilities and complete streets. Studies show the bike lane does improve safety, he noted and called it “common sense.”

He even raised the possibility of a painted green bike lane in the city’s future. To which Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz replied, “The challenges include filming” – a reference to the City of LA’s backtrack on its painted Spring Street lane downtown. But our mayor is is a veteran of the production side of the film industry, and he swatted away that concern. “That’s a little far-fetched.” (Music to the ears of high-visibility lane proponents.)

The Mayor has seen what the future of mobility looks like in Northern Europe and he subscribes to the “safety in numbers” thesis. “Certain people say [a class II bike lane] is less safe, that it may attract more bikes, but that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “It’s safer for them, and if it encourages them to use their bikes more, that’s good.”

Lili Bosse

Vice-Mayor Lili Bosse

Also supporting multimodal mobility (if only implicitly) was Vice-Mayor Lili Bosse, who in this meeting effectively ran defense for lane proponents. He called into question some critics’ complaints by, for example, asking about the difference between the proposed boulevard expansion plan before them and the one from a decade ago. The latter would have added a third traffic lane, staff said, which then engendered northside opposition that lives on today.

Vice-Mayor Bosse also wanted to clarify the “confusion” as to whether expansion, a median and striped bike lanes would hamper emergency response. Police and fire officials told the Blue-Ribbon committee they these improvements wouldn’t impede access. Yet critics still beat that drum. She asked that it be clarified on April 1st.

Vice-Mayor Bosse also revisited the “bridge to nowhere” claim. She asked, Have neighbor cities committed to meeting our new lanes with extensions to their existing lanes? (Yes they did.) Always one for details, she then drilled down to a short quote in the Council packet that has Police Department Sargent Mader on record as opposing bike lanes. That was  a turn that blind-sided lane proponents. Critics called it an official department statement of opposition to bike lanes. But we asked Sgt. Mader in meeting #4 about it, and he replied that he personally would advise against striping a bike lane given the boulevard’s current profile. Current profile is a 12.5 foot right lane, which couldn’t legally accommodate a striped lane anyway.

We hope staff can clear that point up for Council in April, even though lane opponents would likely continue to sow “confusion” about the department’s stance.

Councilmember Bosse didn’t get too far out on the bike lane question itself because it was abundantly clear that a split Council had already tanked the recommendation. Instead she focused her questions on the shortcomings of the process. In the process she affirmed for us that she’s one diligent councilmember.

There Exists Plenty of Cause for Council Complaint

Councilmembers raised no shortage of red herrings tonight, but some concerns were warranted. City Council learned just yesterday, for example, that the cost estimate for the project has mysteriously increased from $17 million to $35 million. That’s double what the consultants told the Blue-Ribbon committee just last month. The surprise revelation not only negatively framed this discussion, it emboldened project critics who from the beginning questioned fuzzy Community Development Department cost estimates. Staff played right into their hands and that criticism carried over into this Council discussion.

Staff support to City Council has been abysmal throughout this process. The Blue-Ribbon committee process at the beginning seemed pro-forma. (Eventually it improved.)

Tonight project consultant Psomas was kept on the defensive as critics on and off the dais questioned its recommendation to expand the boulevard. “How do these lane widths add up?” Councilmember Brien asked. It took three go-arounds before he got his answer. Council also wondered why process documentation seemed to be rife with contradictory facts and assertions. “Where is our transportation staff to counter this misinformation?” councilmember Julian Gold wanted to know. For all of the hullabaloo about the process,  bicycle lanes nevertheless dominated this discussion just as it had in the Blue-Ribbon committee.

We know the lanes concept tanked; with that spoiler out of the way, let’s get on to the public comments!

Haters Gonna Hate

The ballooning estimate put critics in a sour mood, and they were few but vocal. Given four or five minutes at the mic (“representatives” of civic organizations, like homeowners associations, were entitled to the additional time, the Mayor said) these  northside usual suspects lined up to hate on Santa Monica Boulevard expansion and bike lanes.

Thomas White

Thomas White

Council chamber fixture Thomas White (Municipal League – a homeowners organization) railed against the recommendation with a list of coordinated complaints about the process itself: insufficient notification (indeed every household in the city was notified), too few mics (everyone at committee meetings got to speak, by his own account), and poor meeting stewardship (alone in this complaint we think; Chair Pressman did a fine job with a thankless task).

Marilyn Gallup (homeowner association rep) is another usual suspect. She took issue with the way riders (“tons of them”) seemingly take over Santa Monica Boulevard. Riding as many as five abreast “like a posse,” as she said; that somehow suggested to her that a 3-foot bike lane would mean nothing to cyclists. (Never mind that bike lanes are a 5-foot minimum. Why quibble over an additional 66% two-thirds in width?) Plus, the corridor is already “so impacted” by traffic that the Council shouldn’t even think of putting a bike lane there, she said.

Robert Tanenbaum

Robert Tanenbaum

Leadoff batter(er) in this hater inning was heavy-hitter NIMBY Robert Tanenbaum, Former Mayor and Beverly Hills North Homeowner Association President. He’s captain of the dyspeptic no-to-everything bench, it seems. This slugger swung for the fences (as he did at Blue-Ribbon meeting #3) with a free-association litany of grievances about the Blue-Ribbon process. He also railed against project costs and, it seemed to us, anything and everything.

In no particular order, Tanenbaum lambasted staff for “misstated material facts” (he’s a former attorney turned pulp-fiction legal-genre author, you know) and questioned project graphics that made the corridor look like “the slums of Beverly Hills.” (Don’t go hating on Beverly Hills, people!) He might not have liked the before pictures, but the consultant’s post-reconstruction visualizations curried no favor with him either. He facetiously called those pictures a bike lane “nirvana.” Catch the full show beginning at about 2:12 on the videotape, as they used to say.

Some bike lane opponents took a more nuanced tack against widening the boulevard. Their arguments were some version of I support cycling but put the lane anywhere else. Restating the previously-mentioned “impacted boulevard” argument, Beverly Hills North Homeowner Association Vice President Victor Bardak said that including bike lanes on Santa Monica would create a “dangerous situation” because traffic there is already bumper-to-bumper. “Bike lanes are great – they’re environmentally sound,” just put them somewhere else, he said.

Joe Safir helpfully called out the “risk of litigation” connected to a bike lane. Evidently he’s not aware that the state DOT approval of the class II bike lane protects local governments from liability for implementing facilities that pass the state’s muster. (Psomas never mentioned liability and neither did our city attorney pipe up to disabuse Council of the misinformation.)

Dr. Aronberg (who served with your Better Bike representative on the Blue-Ribbon Committee) imputed opposition to lanes from churches along SM Blvd (as a few others did). Those representatives remained unnamed, however, and no representative addressed Council in person or in correspondence. Why not?  “The churches have been tactful and diplomatic,” Aronberg said, overlooking the appearance before our committee by Church of the Good Shepherd Reverend Wilbers. He explicitly supported both boulevard expansion and bike lanes for everyone’s safety.

Miles Berman took a broad shot at bike lanes. In lieu of, say, picayune gripes like how bike lanes create a blind spot for motorists (really!), he questioned the “need to protect cyclists when there isn’t any evidence [of harm].” He continued, “Creating a space for them will only bring more bicycles – and create more interactions with cars – and [generate] more accidents.” You can’t fault Mr. Berman entirely: neither our staff nor our consultant ever mentioned to Council the incidence of bike-involved injury collisions in Beverly Hills.

Supporters Gonna Support

Civil City BadgeHolding the line against nay-saying NIMBYs was BH-resident bike attorney Jim Pocras, who’s handled over 500 bike cases. “I’m offended: our consultants spent hundreds of hours so we can have people come up here and say [of the recommendations] ‘Ignore it – it’s garbage.’ I spoke at three Blue-Ribbon meetings, I gave studies, and it’s clear that bike lanes reduce accidents.” (Not that any council member gestured to his experience with safety and litigation.) Referring to the Human Relations Commission’s effort to get road users to play nice, he added, “They said ‘Civil City.’ There’s bicycles & vehicles – so why shouldn’t [riders] have a bike lane?”

Bennett RossResident Bennett Ross reiterated the state’s 3-foot safe passing law and argued (as others did) that riders will be there, sharing the blacktop and possibly taking the right lane on this boulevard, so why not “provide a space for them to ride”? As for bemoaning the sacrifice of a 3-6 foot strip of park at the curb, he said, “Not a lot of people use it – it’s rare to see more residents than homeless people. The green space is in our backyards.”

Other residents stepping up to the mic included: Attorney Jennifer Hughes, who asked for “points for brevity” as she supported lanes in remarks 1/15th as long as Mr. Tanenbaum’s; marketing maven and walking advocate Ellen Lutwak, who issued an impassioned plea as she held up her arm, saying, “This scar is from a bike accident”; and tech guy Kory Klem who’s been glued to the Blue-Ribbon process from the start. Tonight he punctured a  critic’s claim that a gamed process produced an early Blue-Ribbon Committee “straw poll” that went against bike lanes. Thanks for keeping the haters honest, Kory.

Danielle SalomonThe home-field home run in our opinion was scored by Danielle Salomon. She attended Blue-Ribbon meeting #3 with her tween daughter, Nina, who practically begged sympathy from the committee (but succeeded in wringing only rudeness from an audience NIMBY). This meeting went late for Nina, so tonight Danielle took her place.

I’m a resident, homeowner and I live north of Santa Monica. I fully support the recommendations of the Blue-Ribbon Committee. I was there, but here I heard objections. And I’m confused about where that’s coming from. Psomas cited five studies, and we see from Marin County and New York City that bike lanes are safer. What are the objections? I want to see the evidence that Santa Monica is unsafe to ride [with lanes].

Addressing the claim from Councilmember Krasne that bike lanes create “blind spots” for motorists, Danielle had her retort:

The bike lane is not a blind spot; it’s a lane. If [as a motorist] you’re passing a bicycle, if you need to merge into that lane, then look over your shoulder. The bike lane is not a blind spot.

For good measure, Danielle said, “The future is bike lanes, complete streets and Ciclavia” as she advised Council to “think about what the future of transportation will look like over the next several decades.” Bravo!

Back-benchers from out-of-town were familiar faces too. The venerable Kent Strumpell recommended Council “prepare your city for the future.” Yes, he supports the Blue-Ribbon recommendations. “Nobody wants to give up park space, but 3 feet is a small price to pay for safety.” And funnyman Wes High talked seriously about his work with LA Bike Trains, which arranges for safe, cross-town rides. He himself rides Santa Monica Boulevard regularly between Santa Monica and Silver Lake, and “countless times people have passed me within inches,” he said.

Samuel Spencer talked about what we don’t hear very often: the price riders have to pay for safe passage on two wheels. The toll is roughly 20% in additional time and energy to get from Westwood to Beverly Hills, he said. “I looked up google’s recommended bicycle route from Westwood to here, and compared to [riding] Santa Monica it will cost me one-half of an extra mile. That’s a 20% penalty because I choose not to ride Santa Monica Boulevard.”

Institutional support came from Jeff Jacobberger, former chair of the Mid City West Neighborhood Council (which also supports a bike lane ). He is current chair of the appointed Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Thanks for the bike lane on Burton Way – I feel very safe there,” he told Council, and added that’s all riders want that kind of facility on Santa Monica Boulevard too.

Michael King, UCLAUCLA DOT representative Michael King expressed his department’s support, pointing out to a skeptical Dr. Gold that it wasn’t his own opinion he was offering. Unlike some crazy bike anarchist packing the Beverly Hills meeting, as we imagine Gold thought, he was instead communicating his executive director’s determination. Zing!

Lastly, outgoing Public Works commissioner Stephen Weinglass talked about riding around Beverly Hills and how he chooses for safe bike travel. And some he wouldn’t take, he said, including Santa Monica. But it was OK with him: he’ll simply avoid it.

But then Weinglass asked about the city’s return on bike investments. “I ride Burton Way; what is the return on that bike lane?” Huh? Well for one thing, we just don’t know; how would we even measure it? And for another, we’re not asking for ROI for crosswalks, limit lines and double-yellow stripes. So why bike lanes?

The short answer is that we don’t hope for much return. We have no faith in our own transportation division’s bike count figures in any case. And as we said when the lanes were installed under the Pilot bike route program, Burton was already wide enough to safely share with vehicles anyway. Adding a lane seemed a way for the city to claim an easy win rather than materially affect rider safety.

It’s worth noting that even the modesty of the Pilot program hasn’t stopped councilman Gold from questioning when the Pilot will end (implying that the existing lanes could be ripped out with its demise). Let’s rip out sidewalks too.

Who’s Missing in Action?

But there are a few other civic-minded folks who couldn’t make it tonight.  Two members of our Traffic and Parking Commission sat on the Blue-Ribbon; neither came tonight to support the committee’s recommendations, and one of them didn’t even bother to attend the final (4th) committee meeting. The former Rec and Parks chairman Robert Anderson, who sat on the Blue-Ribbon too, didn’t attend or evidently comment (although he supported bike lanes). And neither did the new Rec and Parks chairman. This is the commission that would have the most stake in “losing parkland,” as critics say, but where were they?

Also not attending was either of the two Traffic and Parking commissioners who sit on our bike plan update committee. Evidently they didn’t provide written comments either. Contacted but not available were our school board superintendent, who is a cyclist; and the Health and Safety Chair, who otherwise supports our efforts.

Where’s Waldo?

Jeff KolinMost conspicuously missing from the entire debate over the past four years we’ve tracked it is City Manager Jeff Kolin. We’d be well-off if we had a dollar for every city staffer who said by way of some kind of assurance, “He’s a cyclist!” But his efforts to date plus two bucks will buy a cup of coffee. Mr. Kolin has been missing in action.

Recall that our Council had included an update of our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan and citywide bike paths as ‘B’ priority items in the fiscal year 2012-13 priorities:

Council priorities 2012-13 excerptWhere is the accomplishment on this priority? There isn’t any; it’s been four years since the bike plan committee even talked about updating that plan. And there’s been no movement to expand our few segments of bike routes. If the embarrassing bike rack installation program is any indication, that plan update will be long in coming.

We can’t help think that our City Manager the cyclist is not even trying. Or perhaps he’s obstructing. One never knows: despite the good efforts of the Sunshine Task Force, City Hall too often is a black box still.

[Update: Not only did Councilmember Krasne interrupt our two-minute statement to Council, but our letter of support for bike lanes never even made it into the Council’s meeting packet. So much for public participation. But we thank Ted Rogers of BikinginLA for his open letter to Council and his follow-up swat how that Council has turned its back.]

SM Blvd Blue-Ribbon #4 [recap]

Blue-ribbon committee meetingBy a vote of 9-2 last night, the Beverly Hills Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee will recommend to City Council that tomorrow’s corridor should include a striped class II bicycle lane. In a fourth meeting marked by comity and good humor, resident appointees agreed that separating riders from motor traffic would facilitate flow and create safer conditions for those who choose to ride.

The Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee was tasked in this fourth meeting with deliberating on six decisions. And in successive votes, all within thirty minutes, the committee chose to incrementally expand the blacktop to 66’ and include both a landscaped median and bicycle lanes. We choose not to recommend curbside trees and bus turnouts. We split on bus shelters.

Boulevard Expansion

Clearly the sticking point for this committee was the politically-charged issue of whether the city should expand Santa Monica to 66 feet curb-to-curb. Today the boulevard varies from 60’ to 63’ (with an irregular curb). Supporters saw in expansion the added width necessary to accommodate all of the proposed design ‘enhancements,’ including a median and bicycle lanes. But opponents saw a land grab at the expense of Beverly Gardens Park – an “encroachment” in their view.

“Widening effectively destroys the park,” said committee member and planning commissioner Craig Corman. “That’s very distasteful to most residents and politically it’s difficult.” Committee member and former mayor Ed Brown agreed. And committee member (and Rec & Parks Chair) Robert Anderson was also opposed to widening. “Though I’m OK with bicyclists,” he said, “and it is very dangerous on Santa Monica Boulevard – you take your life in your hands – I want to keep the roadway the same width.”

Anderson also said that riders could take one of the other crosstown streets (Carmelita is often mentioned). Riders may not stop at signs but the police aren’t enforcing anyway, he said.

The discussion then focused on safety, but from different perspectives. Corman thought that widening Santa Monica Boulevard to put bike traffic “side-by-side” with motor traffic “means traffic problems –it’s a safety issue for cyclists [because] you’re encouraging them [there], but you wouldn’t put a bike lane on the 405 freeway.” He added, “It’s effectively adding a third lane of traffic.”

Corman then suggested that the city acquire by eminent domain parcels 12 & 13 on the south side of Santa Monica (near Doheny) in order to create an off-street bike route for that eastern segment. It could then transition to an on-street lane on South Santa Monica from Crescent to the western city boundary at Moreno. “Widen the #1 lane and make #2 a bike lane,” he said. Reducing vehicular traffic from two to one would probably be a non-starter, though. And as Brown said, parking on both sides of the street make liberating additional width for a bike lane impractical.

With few options to North Santa Monica practical for bike travel (Carmelita has its detractors) the discussion turned on how to accommodate riders on Santa Monica North, and a wider boulevard seemed the only clear answer.

Committee Barry Bernstein spoke up first. “I’m for widening – it’s a safer route for bicyclists and they’ll ride there whether lanes exist or not. West Hollywood already has the lanes, and it’s practical going west [from WeHo] if we have them too.” About park impact Bernstein added, “I love Beverly Gardens Park and I walk it. But in 40 years I haven’t seen that many people [using it]. So if we can give safety to the bicyclists….”

Former Mayor Brown changed his mind. “I think we should give the maximum space we can and maybe cut into the park. If cyclists are going on that street there will be safer if there is more room. I want to move traffic, and [more] bicyclists are coming. They have the right and we have to give them the maximum space.” He added that additional room for turning motorists might improve flow too.

Chair Pressman agreed. “I’m for widening to 66 feet. At 60’ wide we’ve only repaved the boulevard. We can easily afford the additional 6 feet if we’re also enhancing [with landscaping] the median….This is an opportunity to change the nature of the boulevard…to turn blight into a major plus. It’s an historic opportunity to do something different.”

But safety was also paramount. Chair Pressman had requested data concerning the safety effect of separate bicycle lanes. Studies were provided both by the consultants and by LACBC’s Eric Bruins, who corresponded with Pressman between meetings and communicated relevant findings in a fact sheet for the committee. One finding was that on-street bike lanes reduce ‘friction’ and facilitate traffic flow (a project priority for this committee) even as lanes also reduced bike-involved collision injuries.  Safety was increased for all road users, Eric said.

Dr. Pressman said getting behind a wider boulevard would not be “for the cyclists” but would be a prudent decision for road safety. “We have to make it appropriate for [riders] because they will be there – and they’re there already,” he said. “I came in [to this process] thinking, How can we have cyclists on this boulevard? But the law says than can be here and if the boulevard is wider they’ll be safer.”

Mr. Brown agreed. “I will change my vote to go with widening.”

Committee member Lillian Raffel said, “I agree with Chair Pressman – I’ve walked this park for 40 years, on a daily basis, but most people don’t use it.” She added, “I have to drive Santa Monica and [today] people have to get out of the way of of the bicyclists. In order to facilitate traffic, I think, we have to widen the boulevard.”

Opponents weighed in. “My inclination is against widening – it’s not fair, it’s breaking faith with the residents who live there,” committee member Aronberg said. “And the wider the street the more noise there is.”

Member Kathy Reims said that the aesthetic and practical objectives of the project could be achieved without widening the boulevard. “Is it necessary?” she asked. Chair Pressman replied that the committee’s priority was traffic flow. “If cyclists are out there riding the boulevard it will be tight.” But Kathy was concerned about the process. She also observed what she thought was a “clear deference to the bike lane” proposal. “It’s implied that it has to be done,” she said. Moreover, would 66’ be hard-and-fast? “What if in 40 more years we’re saying we need to take however many more feet?”

Weighing heavily on the committee’s decision was Psomas’s recommendation to rebuild the corridor at the 66’ width for practical reasons: money and time. It would be more cost-effective (and take less time) to work wider and finish wider, Psomas said, than to work within a narrower corridor or later have to return to a post-construction 60’ curb-to-curb width. Cost-savings and mitigation benefits argued for a wider corridor, they said.

And that may have tipped the balance: the final vote was 7-4 in favor of expansion. Yays: Anderson, Bernstein, Brown, Eliot, Pressman, Raffel, and Wolfe. Nays: Aronberg, Corman, Licht and Reims.

Bicycle Lanes

Throughout the first three meetings, the on-street bicycle lanes design option (or ‘enhancement’ if you like) dominated the committee’s attention. And at times it was contentious. But in meeting #4 the issue yielded to the boulevard expansion decision. And  once that decision was made, the vote to approve class II lanes went quickly.

Chair Pressman played a key role in framing the issue by focusing on regional connectivity. “I don’t believe that Beverly Hills can be a city unto itself,” he said. He referred to the support offered by both Los Angeles and West Hollywood and in particular their offers to meet our lanes at the city boundaries if we build them. Speaking hypothetically, he asked, “Now we have a boulevard, it’s wider, so do we stripe it?”

But Dr. Pressman hedged. Some on the committee worried that if we striped our lanes but those cities might not close the gaps, that we’d have our own ‘bridge to nowhere.’ Dr. Pressman wondered too. “Show me the money,” he said, and suggested that we wait for those cities to stripe the last few blocks in the gap on their side of the boundary. “I recommend we delay [striping].”

Rec & Parks Chair Anderson agreed: “Hold off.” But Bernstein disagreed: “If we stripe it, it’s incentive for [those cities]. If we stripe to our boundaries, we’ll be putting up ‘the money’ (so to speak).

Then consensus emerged and in five minutes it was decided. Mr. Brown said “Stripe it now – they’ll charge more later.” (Oddly, Psomas’s Sean Vargas said it wouldn’t make a cost difference.) Traffic & Parking Chair Andy Licht too weighed in on the side of a bike lane. “I was opposed to widening, but if we’re making it wider….” Then Mr. Anderson changed his mind. “I’ll go along with striping.” And Kathy Reims agreed.

Planning commissioner Corman applauded the turnout by bike lane advocates but raised a caveat: not many who spoke or wrote in were residents. He also noted that striped lanes won’t temper motorist misbehavior. But still he gave the nod to striping lanes.

Pressman said, “I’m speaking against myself here, but an American Journal of Public Health study found that bicycle lanes on a major street with no parked cars had half the risk [of injury]. And eventually we’ll stripe these [anyway].” Still he voted against immediate action.

Our own talking points were succinct:

  • The public clearly supports it
  • Bicycle lanes are safer
  • Federal guidelines advise against 16-foot lanes
  • Lanes are efficient: they remove bicycles from the vehicular travel lanes

The final vote was 9-2 in favor of recommending striped class II bicycle lanes if the boulevard is to be expanded. Yays: Anderson, Aronberg, Bernstein, Brown, Corman, Eliot, Licht, , Reims and Wolfe. Nays: Pressman and Raffel.

Landscaped Medians, North-Side Trees & Bus Shelters

The landscaped median was always clearly favored; the only hang-up was emergency vehicle access. So this meeting opened with public safety heavyweights from the BHPD and BHFD representing the departments. Their position: a landscaped median if designed properly would not impede emergency vehicle access. Despite some concern from committee members, their bottom line was that emergency vehicles will find the quickest way to get where they’re going, and that medians shouldn’t negatively affect response times.

That effectively put to rest the question of whether a planted median between center turn lanes is workable. The committee found that the aesthetic benefits and the additional greenspace outweighed the concerns. The vote to recommend a landscaped median was unanimous.

North-side trees were a different matter. Trees were introduced to the committee prior to the 4th meeting with a packet of diagrams showing a site plan for nearly 200 trees planted just off the north curb:

Santa Monica trees site planUnlike the median, the committee had concerns about the trees, including cost and what effect our recommendation might have on current park planning efforts. Did the committee had enough information to make a solid recommendation? We decided that we did not. And Mr. Anderson thought that it was a matter for his Rec & Parks Commission to decide anyway. Ms. Raffel agreed: “Is it our job to say? They’ll have their own ideas.”

Mr. Corman wondered if curbside trees presented a safety issue. “I’ve seen cars take down lampposts on Santa Monica Boulevard,” he said, and trees were a more formidable, immovable object. “But we shouldn’t exclude trees,” Dr. Aronberg said. Member Jeff Wolfe then clarified that a vote not to recommend was not a vote to exclude trees from a final design. The committee then unanimously voted not to recommend the trees.

SM Blvd tour: bus stop bench

Bus shelters provoked more discussion. Today there are no shelters on the boulevard, which is served by four bus lines. In some places, the best that we do for transit riders is a bench, pad and sign (at right).

Yet many employees arrive by bus and the committee as a whole indicated support for mass transit.

But some members were unsure about whether shelters were advisable or even necessary. Dr. Pressman was practical. “We’re trying to make this a complete street,” he said. “I recommend we suggest modern, no-ad shelters with electronic [arrival] information.” (That was one of the very few times ‘complete streets’ was mentioned by any committee member…other than yours truly.)

Then Mr. Bernstein staked out his ideological terrain. “I’m a humane person and I think we should provide shelters.” But Mr. Anderson said “it would detract from the park” and said that Rec & Parks Commission should handle the issue anyway. Ms. Raffel worried about homeless people colonizing them (in fairness as happens on occasion with another park facility). Ms. Reims protested that she’s humane but doesn’t support bus shelters.

The final vote on bus shelters: a split committee 5-5 (with 1 abstention). Yays: Bernstein Eliot, Licht Pressman & Wolfe. Nays: Anderson, Aronberg, Brown, Corman, and Reims Abstaining: Raffel. With that vote the meeting was adjourned.

Our Take

Unlike earlier meetings, tonight the bicycle lane issue didn’t dominate the discussion. Once we recommended to expand Santa Monica Boulevard, concerns about rider safety and traffic flow guided the discussion. And despite our trepidation going into the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee process, the committee in the end came to consensus about the city’s obligation to ensure the safety of bicycle riders.

For a city that’s taken only halting steps to become bike-friendly, the committee’s elevation of road safety in the context of a $16 million road project is a milestone. Where consternation from some committee members and the public had earlier framed bicycle lanes as a ‘giveaway’ to cyclists, tonight the committee acknowledged bicycle riders as a fact of life and recommended an appropriate engineering solution to a transportation problem.

Most gratifying was that we saw early opponents of boulevard expansion and bike lanes come around to a new perspective.

Politics are a challenge. City officials generally fear  expansion talk for the backlash it might generate. It’s like a third rail of Beverly Hills politics. But is it really? In the end, neither of our local newspapers editorialized against expansion. And few members of the public even came out to our meetings to oppose it. In fact, those committee members who grumbled most simply didn’t attend tonight.

So where does the fear of backlash come from? A decade or more ago, significant opposition greeted a proposal to add a third vehicle lane. That’s not something we’d support then or now. But we’re still living with the fallout, and it has hampered mobility planning. Tonight, however, another vehicle lane was not on the committee’s plate.

Bicycle lanes, too, were viewed with considerable suspicion at the outset of this process. Numerous committee members spoke against them, and in fact some suggested that riders should simply ride somewhere else. An earlier straw poll found only minority support for considering bicycle lanes. But no committee member told us to get lost tonight. And by a big majority the committee is recommending class II lanes (if we expand the boulevard).

Blue-ribbon committee

From left to right: Ed Brown, Mark Elliot, Charles Aronberg, Jeffrey Wolfe, Barry Pressman, Robert Anderson, Barry Bernstein, Lillian Raffel and Craig Corman. Not pictured: Howard Fisher, Lester Friedman, Russ Levi, Andy Licht, Kathy Reims, and Marc Saleh. Photo courtesy The Courier.

The committee’s work bodes well for making Beverly Hills generally more bike-friendly. And that’s a step that want to see our city take as it enters it’s second century (2014 is our centennial year). But how to proceed on that goal? In our next post we’ll suggest some next steps to build on this committee’s support for rider safety and regional connectivity. In the meantime let’s celebrate; this is a big win for transportation advocates and for Beverly Hills too.

Thanks Go To….

There is a long list of folks who helped get us this far. We’d like to thank the 45 speakers who spoke before the committee and the over 150 members of the public who took the time to write in. We value public participation and we tip our hat to City Council for creating the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee process.

We’d especially like to thank the bike lane supporters. They outnumbered the opponents by 3 to 1 in spoken remarks and 9 to 1 in written comments. We’ll be taking your thoughts to City Council in February!

Eric, David and Catherine

Eric, David and Catherine ready for a cold ride home!

And of course we’d like to acknowledge the stalwarts who attended one or more meetings: Danielle Salomon and her 11-year old daughter Nina – who made the biggest impression on us among all of the speakers; longtime advocate (and library bike corral donor) Barbara Linder; attorney and early Better Bike reader Jennifer Hughes; local business owner and LACBC board member Greg Laemmle, who with his wife Nancy Tishkoff Laemmle often work behind the scenes to promote cycling; walk-bike champion Ellen Lutwak; two-wheeled troublemakers Wes High, Joel Krajewsky, Eric Weinstein, Katherine, and David (pictured); Mel Raab and Kevin Burton, two riders who know their way around a reasoned argument; and anti-gridlock advocate David Murphy.

In particular we want to thank Kory Klem (@koryklem) for his organizing expertise and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition policy director Eric Bruins for biking over in a three-piece suit to talk about safety studies, and LACBC communications director Carol Feucht for getting the word out. On that note we’ll thank bloggers Rick Risemberg (@bicyclefixation) and Ted Rogers (@bikinginLA) and Streetsblog (@streetsblogla) too.

Institutionally, we thank Father Tom at Church of the Good Shepherd for getting behind bike lanes early; West Hollywood’s long-range planner Melissa Antol and WeHo Transportation Commissioners Lindsey Horvath & David Eichman for promoting regional connectivity; and Josh Kurpies from Assemblyman Bloom’s office for turning out to plug multimodal mobility.

The committee might have brushed aside our best arguments for bicycle lanes, but when local officials and boldface names got behind it the committee noticed. Read our letter to West Hollywood thanking City Council for their city’s support.

And not least we’d like to thank Vice-mayor Lili Bosse for appointing a bike representative to the committee. Without a voice, rider needs and street safety simply would not have been considered. Thanks go to our Council too. Were no Blue-Ribbon Committee formed (by a vote of 3-2, it’s worth noting), our commissions would have handled this largely out of the view of the general public. (Our commissions receive very few visitors.)

Now, I know we’re overlooking somebody, so do accept our apologies. We’ll see you in February when City Council hears the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project issue. Until then, stay tuned for the next chapter in the slow march to bike-friendly streets in Beverly Hills!

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #3 [recap]

West Hollywood's long-range planner, Melissa Antol

West Hollywood’s long-range planner, Melissa Antol, addresses the Blue-Ribbon committee.

With the last of three Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee meetings now behind us, we can recap our work to date, take stock of the public outreach process, and finally look ahead to the next step for this 15-member Council-appointed body. And we will start with the last, because the next step will look much like the past steps. January 22nd we’ll continue our deliberation on width, features and boulevard enhancements. And still on the table – spoiler alert – bicycle lanes! Don’t count ‘em out yet.

Recall that the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee was created by Beverly Hills City Council to review and evaluate options for tomorrow’s boulevard. We’ll be making recommendations to Council concerning features and enhancements to be included when Santa Monica is reconstructed in 2015. The public outreach process was to conclude this week, but so many questions remained unanswered (among them questions of cost, boulevard expansion and bicycle lanes) that the committee voted to simply continue the meeting.

The good side of continuing the meeting: more opportunity to talk about features that could make for a better boulevard. (Scroll down to the public comments.) The bad: no talk about what tomorrow’s boulevard should actually look like.

panorama view

The committee holds forth in the City Hall’s Municipal Gallery (photos by Kory Klem).

Indeed this committee has it’s work cut out for it, yet we’re going into our fourth meeting with precious little decided. Three meetings on now, the only only design feature supported unambiguously by the committee is some sort of a median. But even that issue was muddied…once public safety folks came into the picture. Is a median feasible? Yes, they say, with some caveats: narrower is better; landscaped may be OK some areas but impede emergency vehicles in others. Until we nail down those particulars, though, we can’t make any specific median recommendations.

Then there’s the Class II (on-street) bicycle lanes: should we include them? This question too is unresolved. In fact, three meetings on our little jury is still out as to whether we should recommend expanding the blacktop from its current 60-63 foot width to a uniform 66 feet or so to accommodate the lanes. That’s a political decision that the Council will have to make, but it was the committee’s charge to help them get there.

Not only haven’t we found agreement on the safety aspects or even the utility of bicycle lanes, we’ve yet to crack multimodal mobility as a planning matter. We’ll look to a continuation of this meeting until January 22nd to begin to answer those questions.

Is the Process the Problem?

What’s holding us up? Maybe it’s the process. The Blue-Ribbon Committee process was vaguely-structured from the beginning. The agenda is light on action items. That leaves the Chair, Dr. Barry Pressman, the task of nailing down the committee on decisive answers to some of the above questions. But we’re still grappling with the basics.

And our consultant Psomas has played a less-than-directive role in the committee’s discussions. Instead Sean Vargas and Michael Meyer frame the issues and responded to our inquiries. (Our city staff have played almost no role in this process. It’s not clear they have the mobility know-how, and besides that’s what the consultant contracted to do.)

On the bright side, the discussions have brought some good arguments to the foreground. We’ve heard from more than 40 public speakers and received over 150 written public comments. Speakers praised bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard by nearly two-to-one with only 10 saying ‘no’ to the lanes. Written comments were even more decidedly in favor of bicycle lanes: between the 1st and third meetings, about 90% explicitly supported bicycle lanes, according to the city’s interpretation and tally.

And bicycle lanes, for example, are still on the table (as is every other enhancement except the no-change option, which we have rejected).

But overwhelming sentiment is not the same as persuasion. Persuasion is where the rubber meets the road in politics. And it’s not clear that the committee on balance has been swayed. Heck, it’s not even evident that the extensive verbal and written comments substantively inform the committee’s deliberation.

Need proof? There remains much speculation across the committee about the value or effectiveness of lanes even about aspects of the issue that have already been addressed. Call it the public participation paradox: No amount of public input will convince an official or representative who has already put a stake in the ground. More good reasoning might even tap in the stake. Folks who don’t want bicycle lanes on Santa Monica mostly say they want to see riders ride somewhere else, but none can agree where.

Though bicycle lanes have dominated the discussion across the three meetings (to the consternation of some committee members), the committee has bogged down in other questions too. Should right-turn radii be large to avoid slowing traffic? (Engineering standards will dictate.) How to redesign the Beverly Blvd. intersection? (Ditto.) Use bus turnouts to keep traffic flowing? (Metro doesn’t like them.) And on the matter of bicycle lanes, does a lane improve or impede vehicle flow? (Avoids impeding flow where lanes are ‘substandard’ width by taking riders out of the traffic flow.) Does the lane reduce accidents? (It may reduce the risk of injuries by 30% or much more for all road users, studies and anecdotal evidence suggest.)

New ‘Recommended’ Expanded Boulevard Alternative Also Sows Confusion

Then there was an unexpected surprise: the city unveiled a ‘recommended’ design alternative that would expand the blacktop to a total curb-to-curb with of 66-feet (sufficient for a 16-foot-wide right lane to separate riders) but then not stripe a bicycle lane there. Both pro- and anti-lane camps found something to dislike.

12 foot versus 16 foot lanes

aside traffic, but might invite a passing car to squeeze by.

But diehard opponents no more like “park incursion” (as they call it) today without a bicycle lane than they did a decade ago when the city talked about putting in a whole new travel lane. In one important way that conflict set the table for today’s bicycle lane discussion, and subtracting bicycle lanes from the mix isn’t especially mollifying.

Member of the public Robert K. Tanenbaum called it “re-litigating” an argument already settled. But he wasn’t living in the last. “You will be hearing from our Association on this,” Tanenbaum promised. “We had a mayor running for re-election [then], and running in favor of [expansion], and it was a focal-point issue in the election.” As if to make his political threat more clear, he added, “We haven’t met on it but we will.”

(Mr. Tanenbaum is eager to shut down discussion on the expansion option, but he is a proponent of town-hall open-type discussions when the issues suit him. Like public pension reform, say. And he also recognizes that we’re in a different era – a perspective he seems not to apply to mobility issues. He was all for open debate when speaking to Rudy Cole on BHTV last August:

Give the people a choice…We need to have open forums where we have the kind of transparency and open discussion that deals with what these issue are, how they impact our residents, and how they impact our future….We’re no longer the small community that we were…. The only way we can make intelligent choices is to have as much information as we can. – R. Tanenbaum 8/16/2012

Riders, too, can’t find common cause in an expanded blacktop without the benefit of a bicycle lane. As LACBC Policy Director Eric Bruins reminded the committee, Federal guidelines advise against it. Any lane wide enough for two cars to share will invite sharing it. And if we know anything from our time in Beverly Hills, many a driver will take advantage as a shortcut to the next turn when traffic backs up.

We questioned why a professional transportation consultant would recommend expanding the right lane to 16-feet but then not stripe it for separate cyclist travel. The answer: the Wilshire-Beverly intersection is a challenge to stripe properly. (No kidding! It is dangerous especially without a lane.) And also the hotel projects at the western end don’t leave much room for a lane, Psomas said. That’s because the city let the applicants maximize their buildable area without a proper transportation land dedication.*

The Public Sees and Winning Issue in Bicycle Lanes

What does the wider public say? Twenty-five speakers addressed the committee and 18 explicitly supported bicycle lanes. (Six said ‘no’ to the lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard.)

  • Barbara Linder: “This renovation will be the most cost-effective and efficient change to show that we’re ready to joining the rest of the world – we could take a leadership role in greening Los Angeles on this very visible thoroughfare.”
  • Ben Neiro: “I work as a courier and I’m on my bike all day. ‘d like to see us have an opportunity to create a big bicycle backbone, but you guys are fumbling the ball. Sixteen foot lanes but not include a bicycle lane? It could be a game-changer for the Westside.”
  • Eric Bruins: “We’re working with the Westside Council of Governments on bike-sharing, and we [in the COG] have identified Santa Monica as a top-5 corridor for bike-friendly amenities….Bicycle lanes present a 30% collision reduction factor it’s also about perceived safety – it’s clarity and it’s predictability [for motorists and riders].
  • Grace K. “Bike lanes may make it more safe, but I have my concerns. I’m not in favor of lanes. My question is, what is our city’s liability for the lanes?”
  • Joshua Paggett: “I bike to BH to church several times a week but it is tough getting here by bicycle. I’m in favor [of lanes]. I direct a film festival on urban planning, and multimodal transportation projects generate an overwhelmingly positive response.”
  • Scott Epstein: “Folks say our #1 priority is safety, but then act like what they’re recommending is safe for cyclists. People will bike and will do so in larger numbers…Grasp this golden opportunity and everybody wins.”
  • David Feuer: “A separated cycle track will make you and your family feel more comfortable, but if it’s not in your proposals I’d endorse a bicycle lane. Every cyclist on the road is not some else who’s clogging your traffic lane or competing for parking.”
  • Melissa Antol: “I work for West Hollywood as their long-range mobility planning manager. My job is to make sure we provide a balanced transportation network….It’s not about moving traffic but about moving people….We’re looking to make a connection with you, if you want to learn more.”
  • Jennifer Hughes: “I’ve lived and worked here for 13 years. I’m a recreational rider and I live a mile from work but I’m terrified to ride it…I feel much safer with a lane. And as a driver I feel safer with a bike lane too.”
  • Phil Brown: “As for bike lanes, complete streets is neighborhood scale: 15 mph. That’s not a 40mph major street that is Santa Monica Boulevard. To mix a family-attracting bike lane in that situation is unsafe.”
  • David Eichman: “In West Hollywood we’re working to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. I urge you to reconsider: Beverly Hills is a missing link. [Lanes] would be great for those who use Santa Monica as a commuter route…Think of the future: reconsider putting bike lanes on the boulevard.”
  • Danielle Salmon: I wholeheartedly support bike lanes. I’m a bike commuter. I’ve been hit by a car; my friends have been hit. Now UCLA gives incentives to bike-commute, and it makes sense. Why not? It’ a workout. I’m alive and refreshed, not tired and frustrated. From a public health perspective, everything cycling is a positive.” (At which point she was rudely interrupted by a committee member – a fine welcome from the committee.)
  • Nina Salmon: “My name is Nina and this is my mom. I want to say we need bike lanes on Santa Monica because I know people who have been hit…..”
  • Bennett Ross: “It’s short-sighted to NOT do bike lanes. It’s state of the art; WeHo and LA did have taken the lead [on SM] and we look like Luddites….[that’s] not in keeping with the kind of city that we want to be.”
  • Victor Bardek: “I’m the VP of the Beverly Hills North Homeowner’s Association. SM Blvd is heavily traveled – 50k vehicles a day – and daily I see frustrated drivers back up there, making abrupt right turns. You’re adding another layer of problem – drivers, joggers, and now bikers. If motorists slow down for them [in a lane] it will create more accidents. I believe in a bike lane [just] put it on Carmelita.”
  • Jim Pokras, Attorney: “Bike lanes reduce accidents and lead to a 30% reduction in injuries and a 50% reduction in fatalities. For safety, for common sense, how will you vote against it?”
  • Cal Oremer: “I’d like to patronize businesses here in Beverly Hills but I don’t feel comfortable doing so on a bicycle. I don’t feel safe when the lanes come to an end [in West LA].”
  • Victor: “I want to thank the city for the Crescent bike lanes and Burton Way [lanes] pilot [program]. Lanes would be great for regional connectivity for this street – and to make it safe for commuters and receationalists [sic].”
  • William Brenner: “[No on lanes.] Beverly Hills separated itself from LA to have its own unique identity. We have to do what’s safe for Beverly Hills.”
  • Joe Safir:”I’m a longtime resident. There’s a reason why there are no bicycle lanes on freeways: safety. Arterials are intended to increase traffic flow. If we need lanes, don’t stripe [them in the] traffic lanes; set up a 5-foot parallel alley to accommodate bikers more safely.”

Consensus is as Elusive as an Oily Cat

Chair Pressman asked for a straw poll to learn how the committee was feeling about bicycle lanes, medians and the rest, but he had hardly gotten his thought out before committee member Russ Levi said, “We’ve spent a lot of time on bike lanes, so let’s get on to other issues.” Member Howard Fisher seconded with some irritation. “Are we going to keep re-voting on the bike issue?” Pressman said he wanted some kind of ‘fair’ vote on the alternatives. “It’s not going to be fair,” Fisher barked. “We’ve had no real discussion about bike lanes.”

Though the committee said OK to a few minutes of discussion on the lanes, the members were difficult to corral on any issue. Member Kathy Reims was interested in learning about the cost of landscaping. She wasn’t sure, however, that our city needed to follow any other city’s mobility example. Another member thought expanding the blacktop “unfair” to churchgoers and Robert Anderson thought riders should simply ride on any other street. Of cyclists, he said, “None of the people yield and they don’t ride single-file.”

(For the record, the Complete Streets Act (2008) compels California localities to enact policies and plans to make streets safe for all road users. And cyclists must stop and yield but don’t have to ride single-file on any street that is not wide enough to share, as you can read on our ‘laws’ page. As for the churchgoers, the Good Shepherd pastor appeared at the prior meeting and supported both expansion and bicycle lanes.)

Member Lillian Raffel for her part was interested in talking about the new recommended alternative. But the discussion did not get very far. So Chair Pressman looked for some bottom lines for a direction ahead:

Speaking as a member of the committee, the councilmembers I’ve talked to have said to seriously consider bike lanes, but we can’t do it without widening. We need to decide as a group whether to support that. We’ve been told it will be easier to reconstruct it [if it’s made wider]. Why widen it without bike lanes? I’d like data: will lanes impede or improve traffic flow? That will help me make up my mind. To have the option is OK, but I want to know if Los Angeles and West Hollywood will commit [to extending their lanes]. I wouldn’t want to preclude lanes [on SM], but I don’t want a bridge to nowhere. I ride my bike a lot for recreation, but on Santa Monica it scares me. If we can connect to [other lanes] we should. But our #1 goal is traffic flow. – Dr. Barry Pressman, Chair

Where to go from here? “We have recommendations that we could make,” member Jeff Wolfe said. “But what would be we voting on?”  Pressman framed it as a one-two decision: whether to widen and if so, whether to stripe a lane. But he wants to see studies and know the other cities’ plans.

The Chair suggested we adjourn to January 22nd. Then we will have a final discussion about bus turnouts and shelters; bicycle lanes; and those damn medians. Should they be landscaped or not? “Tonight we got no answers at all.”

Stay tuned!

*The hotel project on the western end of Santa Monica indeed does not leave much room for a lane because the city didn’t require a dedication for one. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to hold the line on the gateway project across Santa Monica: city planning staff appeared willing to give that away without any concrete set-aside for mobility purposes, leaving riders with no chance of bicycle lanes at all. Thankfully Council stepped in to halt the Gateway project zoning change last October!

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #2 [recap]

The public outreach process for the reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills continued with the second of three meetings of the blue-ribbon committee on December 10th. After a presentation from consultant Psomas, committee members continued our discussion about project design alternatives and which of them should be recommended to City Council in late January. Could the committee support bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard to enhance regional connectivity and rider safety? Here’s our recap.

Recall that the blue-ribbon committee was formed by City Council this fall to make recommendations to Council concerning the appropriate design for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Among the project’s goals (read more in our project profile):

  • Consider ‘complete streets’ to enhance safety and promote other modes
  • Respect the character and protect green space
  • Maintain access to the business triangle
  • Minimize construction impacts
  • Maintain vehicular flow

But the first meeting of the blue-ribbon committee in November suggested that not all committee members value alternative transportation or see Santa Monica Boulevard as a multimodal mobility corridor. So bicycle lanes remain a tough sell for committee members who may view cycling only as a recreation activity. For reference here are the options on the table:

Santa Monica conceptual design optionsCommittee Chair Barry Pressman earlier had polled committee members in his effort to prioritize traffic flow over every other project consideration. In a committee ballot, complete streets did indeed fall down the list of priorities. And in this meeting, Chair Pressman moved to eliminate bicycle lanes altogether from consideration. Again he suggested a straw poll: Should the committee even continue to consider bicycle lanes as an option?

Spoiler: after a discussion about the safety and cost aspects of adding lanes, and hearing much support for lanes from members of the public, all but five committee members chose not to consider adding bicycle lanes to the boulevard. But the good news is that five committee members did want to study lanes and succeeded in keeping the option on the table. Let’s take a closer look at how it unfolded!

December Meeting Highlights

Psomas’s Jeffrey Chess, who is marshaling process coordination and document production, introduced the priorities that were reordered by the committee at the first meeting: 1) maintain vehicular flow, 2) preserve character, and 3) maintain access to the triangle. But Chess noted that three of the priorities – traffic flow, corridor character, and construction mitigation – we largely beyond the committee’s purview anyway. Flow won’t be affected (traffic lanes will continue to be two lanes in each direction); character won’t appreciably change as the project is scoped as curb-to-curb construction; and mitigation will be considered in more detail by the Traffic and Parking Commission (two commissioners sit on this committee as well).

But Psomas did need direction on the options that were before the committee: 1) to add a median (landscaped or not); 2) whether or not to incorporate bicycle lanes; and 3) whether to include any other ‘enhancements’ like turn lanes and bus cutouts and the like. Should complete streets treatments be incorporated into the project?* Here Psomas wanted to focus on the key decision: Should the city widen the boulevard beyond today’s curb-to-curb width? And beyond that, if grass is needed to expand, would the committee see a landscaped 11’ median as a suitable tradeoff if it nets additional greened space on the corridor?**

Bicycle lanes emerged as the central concern. Iteris Consultant Michael Meyer discussed the boulevard profile and how it would change if lanes were incorporated (an additional 6’ at most of grass needed along a certain segment). Meyer also noted that riders already use the boulevard and would likely use it more after reconstruction, and would enjoy the entire right lane. The state vehicular code allows it, he said, and a new law to require three feet of room to pass (in a lane that would be 12’ wide) would in effect slow traffic to the rider’s speed. He added that bicycle lanes actually reduce the ‘friction’ among road users and might facilitate traffic flow. (In response to a committee question, Meyer said that cyclists are not obligated to meet any speed minimum.)

But the state law’s allowance of the full lane was news to most committee members. Yet even after being informed that cyclists can legally slow traffic by riding in the traffic lane, committee members still expressed concern that bicycle lanes would slow traffic. Committee members also asked about project costs (unknown with precision as cost will be dictated by project particulars) and opportunities to expand into the south-side right-of-way in lieu of the north side (the narrow right-of-way and privately owned land on the south edge make it impractical).

Other questions: whether widening would put cars closer to the sidewalk near the churches (no; a bike lane would be an additional traffic buffer); whether bicycle lanes would complicate emergency vehicle access (no, actually allow for additional room for vehicles); the opportunity of syncing traffic signals (they were just upgraded); and if the bicycle lane would impede right turns (no). Committee members also asked about the availability of data for collisions in or near the bicycle lane (“there will be safety problems”) and whether studies have compared traffic flow with and without bicycle lanes (“with a bicycle lane I move to the left, I drive slower”).

Safety matters. And data matters. In fact, in the first meeting we asked about collision data for the corridor, but to date none has been forthcoming from the city. So your Better Bike representative spoke up here to say that the BHPD collision data for 2012 shows that riders are overrepresented in injury collisions as reported to police citywide. Though we’re only a half-percent (or less) of road traffic, we account for as much as 15% of those collision injuries. (We might have misstated it: the figure for 2012 is closer to 10%.) That data is provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission every month, but neither the commission as a whole, nor the two T&P Commission representatives on this committee, Andy Licht and Lester Friedman, mentioned the disproportionate danger presented by vehicles to those who ride a bicycle in the city.

Many of their questions have already been answered as bicycle lanes have been a part of mobility planning in California for decades. Perhaps committee members haven’t observed existing bicycle lanes in operation in surrounding cities?

Nevertheless, the choice before the committee is whether to recommend no bicycle lane or path; to recommend a Class II (on-street) bicycle lane in one or both directions; or perhaps to recommend a class III bicycle path in Beverly Gardens Park. That could be in lieu of an on-street lane. “Could that be a shared pathway?” asked a committee member. “It is feasible,” said Meyer. A shared bike-ped path like the one adjacent to the Orange Line was workable. “But not west of Wilshire – there’s only space for an 8’ sidewalk there. Maybe between Doheny and Crescent. But we’ll still see hardcore cyclists on the street.”

Public Comment

Turnout was pretty good considering that the city has done little to promote these meetings beyond a one-time mailer. (Neither of our two newspapers have prefaced this process effort with a mention in the news pages, and the city has placed no advertisements….though both the Courier and the Weekly have printed our letters.) On balance, active transportation supporters greatly outnumbered those in opposition to bicycle lanes, for example. Here’s what they said:

  • “I’m a 32 year resident and physician and I drive and ride. As a Medicare card carrier, I know we lose peripheral vision. We need more light. Older people have difficulty with driving. And there are dangers associated with speeding on SM. The simple answer is to slow traffic or erect barriers because cycling is not going away. Santa Monica Boulevard was always used by cyclists and they will take over the [traffic] lane if there’s not a bike lane. They’ll still be on the road, so not adding [facilities for] active transportation will be a mistake.”
  • “My take: a bicycle path on Santa Monica Boulevard is a terrible idea. Put money into curbs, roadway drainable. Eliminate the bike path [option]. Riding a bike on Santa Monica Boulevard is like riding on the 405 freeway – it’s a bad idea.”
  • “I’m an attorney and I specialize in bike accidents. I’m also a LACBC board member. I’ll make myself accessible to the committee. First, bike lanes reduce accidents. A bike lane would make Santa Monica Boulevard safer. Second, federal funds may be available through five federal organizations. So let’s put money into bike lanes.”
  • “I’m in the real estate business and I belong to a 16-member cycling organization. A bike lane is very helpful: it lets traffic flow and doesn’t slow it down. Without one we have to come into the street here in Beverly Hills. And second it decreases accidents and deaths. Without bike lanes, drivers don’t have the patience….”
  • “I received calls from my neighbors once every 10 years when there’s a plan to cut into the park. [Potholes on] Santa Monica Boulevard should be dealt with right now by Public Works. But the park is hot-button. It’s also an economic concern. What does it cost for each of these design elements? And it’s a [right turn] safety issue: the last thing we want is a bike lane.”
  • “This looks like a grand design imposed on our little community without regard. I like bicycles and I like the environmental benefits and support it. And I feel that we should make accommodations for it. But staff is leading this committee into a conclusion…. According to them it’s ‘the bicycle committee.’”
  • “As a League-certified instructor I urge you to think of improvements to Beverly Hills. This is a chance for you to think about what the future will look like; and that future will have a lot of bikes in it! Improve Santa Monica Boulevard for the next 20-30 years. Slow traffic. Consider including bike paths. It’s a [safety] rule [of thumb]: separate bicyclists from automobiles.”
  • “I’m a 10-year resident. Los Angeles is getting denser. And we’re moving people between big cities. I bike, walk and drive this corridor. Bike lanes would improve throughput. Let’s focus on the future [of active transportation]. Embrace the future.”
  • “We’re not taking into consideration the cost of bike-car collisions. If they are .5% of the traffic but 15% of the collisions [as we noted to the committee] then putting bicycles on Santa Monica Boulevard is as logical as putting them on runways at LAX. We have to give [cyclists] other places to ride, like velodromes!”

There was also support for bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard from the office of Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who sent senior field representative Josh Kurpies to indicate his support for active transportation. “Consider that bike lanes are important: they are safer and they are more effective,” Mr. Kurpies said. “To get from east to west in Beverly Hills today, there is not that [regional] link. I hope you’ll include them as that link.” Of the consultant’s design alternative matrix he added, “I didn’t see an option for incentivizing public transportation.”

Perhaps the most influential comment came from the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, which sits just adjacent to Santa Monica Boulevard. In the past, the church has strongly opposed any changes to the park for transportation purposes. But ‘Father Tom’ Welbert suggested his church was beginning to think differently:

My assessment of giving up 6 feet of parkway in favor of a bike lane? That would provide an additional barrier for pedestrians. And it would provide extra space for emergency vehicles. Every Sunday we have two or two-and-a-half thousand to our five masses. And 4-5 times every year we have an emergency [medical] call. They block the whole traffic lane. A bike lane would allow more space to provide those services.

 

The Straw Poll: A ‘Maybe’ on Bicycle Lanes?

Public comment closed, the deliberations began. “To move us along, I’d like to get to a vote: do you prefer or oppose bike lanes?” Chair Pressman asked. His tone suggested that the Chair seemed to want to box-out bicycle lanes from committee consideration. But not everyone was ready for a vote. “Are we even prepared to vote on this?” asked committee member Licht. “I had asked for a study….”

“I suggest a different approach,” committee member Ed Brown chimed in. “Its not ‘for’ or ‘against’ the lanes; it’s about what are our highest priorities. On lanes, maybe it’s yes or maybe it’s no.” But the Chair replied, “I want to get a vote – a discussion.” Another committee member said, “Just ask, ‘Bike lanes or no?’”

“I’m working up to that” said Chair Pressman with a laugh. “Bike lanes is a tough one. We do need data, but put that aside. Any feeling that you do or don’t want bike lanes?” (At this point we asked the Chair if we’re eliminating options from committee consideration. Pressman said ‘no.’)

“If you need more information we can bring it back to you,” said consultant Meyer, but the Chair pressed on. “Let’s get back to the vote: bike lanes east-west in both directions?” Pressman called for a vote. The committee sided against consideration of bicycle lanes by a vote of 9-5. (Both Traffic and Parking Commission members Licht and Friedman voted not to consider bicycle lanes.)

Then the Chair asked about bike paths. “If we recommend paths without lanes they’re more recreational,” Pressman said. “Commuter cyclists are still on the boulevard. We’re not excluding them – we’re just not giving them their own area. What about bike paths?”

“But that is a park project!” said a committee member. “I don’t think it’s in our purview.” But Chair Pressman persisted: “Bike paths instead of bike lanes?” (It received no support.)

The straw poll was the only concrete action taken by this committee, but it’s not clear where it left us with regard to the bicycle lanes option. Support garnered five votes (among 14 members) to continue to study the bicycle lanes option, which is not insignificant. And the Chair’s effort to close out that option met with resistance. So clearly there is concern among members that traffic flow and safety would suffer without a dedicated bicycle lane. Yet expanding the boulevard gives some members pause. (And perhaps some see any kind of facility as a “giveaway” to those who ride.) At the same time, a proposal to create a bike path or shared-use bike-ped path in lieu of the on-street bicycle lanes option also found no favor.

Perhaps more discussion is in order? The collision data that Better Bike had requested in November (for example) hasn’t been provided to the committee and may not be. And written comments from the public (submitted via the city’s inferior comment web form) are delivered too late – at the start of the committee meeting — to even read them. (Not surprisingly, there was no reference made to the written comments at all.)

The committee will next meet on Wednesday, January 8th supposedly to develop recommendations (at least according to the city’s Santa Monica Boulevard project page). But it’s not clear if we’ll receive the supporting materials we need to make a rational choice (safety studies, cost figures). Some on the committee seemed to think that making recommendations at the next meeting would be premature.

 

Our Takeaway

We would have like to see a more formal design process (like a charrette) to help committee members visualize how project options would affect the look, feel and function of tomorrow’s boulevard. That’s helpful for example in evaluating the tradeoffs involved if we don’t expand the boulevard. At the least, an illustrated view of bicycle lanes with a landscaped median might go some distance to alleviating concerns about the nominal loss of park space. (Consultants called it a “net positive” for green space.)

West Hollywood mobility planning workshopBy contrast, West Hollywood conducted full-on design workshops as part of their mobility plan update (at right). Our own city commissions get robust support from staff. Not so much for this committee. Though public input is supposedly valued, city staff don’t really facilitate incorporating it into our working process very well. For example, the Planning Commission requires public comments a full 11 days in advance so that commissioners can read and digest them. Here we’re provided written comments too late to incorporate them into our discussion.

Still we remain hopeful that our fellow committee members will benefit from a discussion about the benefits of active transportation and the importance of planning for multimodal mobility.

As we informed the committee, our existing city plans already call for such measures. Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) for example envisions an energy-efficient community where residents can “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible.” Among the plan’s policy goals:

Reduce traffic congestion while improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.

Our General Plan is the guiding policy document for the city. The Circulation Element within the General Plan envisions a future where driving is not the only safe means of mobility:

Achieving a balanced transportation and land use pattern requires cohesive transportation and land use planning. Functional traffic patterns can only be achieved in connection with well planned development where alternatives to the driving are realistic options (taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking).

The Circulation Element identifies this policy objective:

Require new development projects on existing and potential bicycle routes to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian access to and through the project, through designated pathways. (Cir 8.8)

And of course our state vehicular code allows any rider to take the whole right-hand lane when it is deemed ‘substandard’ in width (about 14’ in practice). If the Chair’s #1 concern is preserve or enhance traffic flow, then committee members would do well to consider how mixing bicycles and vehicular traffic not only compromises rider safety but also slows down traffic. Bicycle lanes emerge as the best option. Indeed Class II bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard would be a good step in the direction that we all seem to say we want for our city going forward!

 *The city enjoys total control over the design of the corridor beyond ADA requirements and Caltrans standards because we are accepting no state or federal money for this $16 million project. So complete streets treatments is entirely an option.

**Why the push to take bicycle lanes off the table? Today’s boulevard is not quite wide enough to include both a median and dual Class II lanes. Should the committee recommend that a median be included in the project design, bicycle lanes would require 3-5 feet of blacktop beyond today’s curb, land appears to be part of Beverly Gardens Park but is designated today for corridor right-of-way. The additional land needed was staked off on a boulevard tour in November.

Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon #1 [recap]

Santa Monica Boulevard Project logoThe Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee was formed by Beverly Hills City Council to provide conceptual design recommendations regarding the major reconstruction project scheduled for 2015. (Read more on our project page.) Next year City Council will choose a final design. At this introductory meeting of the commission, we discussed project goals, chose a Chair and Vice Chair, and received public comments. Here’s our recap.

The ‘blue ribbon’ committee’s purpose is deceptively straightforward: to collect public input concerning the reconstruction of the corridor; to reflect on public input in light of project scope and goals; and to evaluate design alternatives and possible project ‘enhancements.’ The committee will then make project design recommendations to City Council. (Find more information on the city’s project page or on our own more informative project page.) Fifteen residents (including yours truly) were appointed to serve.

There are competing ambitions for this project: to facilitate traffic flow; to enhance travel though our city; to increase safety for all road users; and perhaps to include an active transportation facility like segregated bicycle lanes. The fourteen members of the committee were appointed (three per councilmember) and charged with balancing the elements that may comprise this key regional corridor, including sidewalks and parkways, medians, turn lanes, crosswalks and bike or pedestrian accommodations. Ten of the fourteen appointees attended.

Project Introduction

Susan Healey Keene, Director of the Community Development Department (which recently internalized transportation planning) called this capital improvement project a “legacy project” because it will have a significant effect on the community. Sean Vargas, Project Principle for design-engineering consultant Psomas, framed the discussion; Michael Meyer represented planning subcontractor Iteris to talk details. (Both firms have experience in Beverly Hills. And as befits a city that these days contracts almost everything out, our own transportation staffers were mostly mum.)

As presented to Council in September, conceptual alternatives range from a re-do of the current boulevard (at a minimum) to an expansion with landscaped median and bicycle lanes. Here is the matrix that Psomas developed to frame the discussion:

Santa Monica conceptual design alternativesVargas described the history of the corridor and noted the six project goals that frame the committee’s work (read more in the city’s project PowerPoint):

  • Rehabilitate the infrastructure
  • Consider ‘complete streets’ to enhance safety and promote other modes
  • Respect the character and protect green space
  • Maintain access to the business triangle
  • Minimize construction impacts
  • Maintain vehicular flow

Meyer described ‘complete streets’ (the second goal) as “an important statewide policy initiative” intended to make travel “safe for all modes.” Whether driving, walking or riding, he said, equity in access and choice of mode are key principles. (That is an approach that fits with our incoming Health and Safety Commissions priority to support ‘healthy lifestyles.’) His PowerPoint presentation devoted three slides to complete streets and followed with two more slides that addressed the bicycle lanes option. “Connectivity on Santa Monica on either side is something to think about,” he said, and noted that within the existing curbs only one on-street (Class II) bicycle lane would fit.

Committee member Dr. Barry Pressman asked, “Have you considered South Santa Monica for the bicycles?” Only if it becomes “problematic” on the main corridor, he replied, but that’s not likely “unless the project scope is changed” (to include the south boulevard). “Is widening part of the potential scope here?” Dr. Pressman asked. “There’s not necessarily one size that fits all here – not one cross section” Meyer said. “The character of the corridor changes segment to segment.”

Vargas framed the choice as either keeping the existing curb width and working within it, or else planning to widen the boulevard by “about three feet” to gain flexibility. Committee member Kathy Reims said, “Councilmembers agreed that they would not agree to lesser green space.” Vargas acknowledged that  “goals will compete” and asked the committee to consider whether a greened (11-foot) median might suffice to “minimize the loss of green space” should a few feet of grass be needed.

Kathy then asked if there was any significance to the order of the project goals. “Not top to bottom, no,” Vargas replied.

Chair Selection

We then moved on to the second order of business: selection of Chair. After a secret ballot Dr. Pressman was chosen as Chair. “He introduced himself. “From what you’ve heard, how well do these concepts fit our thinking?” Then he wasted no time in getting to the point: “To get bicycle paths on this corridor, I’d like to you to look at South Santa Monica [as an alternative] at least conceptually.”

Vargas said that dual bicycle lanes on the main corridor meant that the south boulevard need not be considered. “But if we include bicycle lanes on only a part [of the north corridor], then it’s our duty to ask, Where will the bicyclist go?”

Chair Pressman next suggested that the committee prioritize the goals. “I’ll start from the bottom,” he said. “Traffic flow.” He asked committee members if that was most important and six raised hands. (Everybody agreed that rehabilitating the corridor was the point of the project and not a goal.) He then asked about maintaining character and two said that was most important. Without continuing through the rest of the list, the Chair proclaimed the committee agreed: flow was most important. Then there was some pushback. As he tried to assert “the Chair’s prerogative,” committee members called for a more formal evaluation mechanism. Each prioritized his top-three choices (to be tallied later).

Oral Comments

Public comment (from roughly 25 attendees) seemed to revolve around bicycle lanes.

  • Ron Durgin reminded the committee that bike lanes or no lanes, every travel lane is available to the cyclist. He noted that the term “vehicular flow” precluded consideration of bicycles because they are not a vehicle under state law. As a result, he supports a complete streets approach for the project design.
  • Kory Klem called for on-street lanes for Santa Monica North and described an earlier suggestion for a bike path in the park as “challenging” to execute safely.
  • Mel Raab also supported SM North bicycle lanes but suggested ‘a flex lane’ in order to “liberate” space for those who commute via Santa Monica. “I’ve put my life in my hands,” he told the committee.
  • Another community member called for keeping lanes off Santa Monica North to preserve capacity (“Bike lanes are a collector street issue,” he said).
  • Yet another suggested closing Santa Monica South to traffic to make way for bike lanes there (“A non-starter,” the Chair replied).

Chair Pressman asked Ron about a Santa Monica South bike route leading to Burton Way (eastbound, in lieu of on-SM lanes). Would cyclists “embrace” it? Durgin replied, “I think so.”

Written Comments (submitted to the committee)

  • Preserve and improve water fountains and running paths in Beverly Gardens park, perhaps including a “walking bridge” to facilitate safe crossing;
  • Consider regional traffic patterns when evaluating bike lanes and a boulevard median because cut-through traffic is already a problem north of SM and South of Wilshire;
  • Create a “bike PATH” in Beverly Gardens Park for families who want to ride and teach their children to ride but who don’t feel comfortable competing with traffic; and,
  • Support a “bicycle share lane” on Santa Monica North to link to existing lanes east/west of our city (approving of the sharrow lane on Crescent) but don’t create a planted median on the boulevard.

This first Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee meeting adjourned until the next meeting on December 10th with a final meeting on January 8th. Staff will get back to us with goals and conduct two mobile tours of the corridor.

[Update: staff provided a weighted ranking that has the ten committee members prioritizing the goals as follows: 1) maintain vehicular flow, 2) preserve character, and 3) maintain access to the triangle. (Only yours truly mentioned ‘complete streets’ as a top-three goal. As for the mobile tour, read our recap. Read the meeting meeting minutes from 11/7 as prepared by the city.]

Santa Monica Boulevard Tour #1 Recap

SM Blvd tour: Michael Meyer from Iteris

Iteris planner Michael Meyer leads the Santa Monica reconstruction project tour.

Members of the Santa Monica Boulevard ‘blue-ribbon’ committee this past Wednesday joined city staffers Aaron Kunz (Deputy Director of Transportation), Susan Healey Keene (Director of Community Development) and project consultants Michael Meyers for a mobile tour of the corridor. With the introductory meeting of the committee behind us, the tour provided a up-close look at the issues and opportunities presented by a ground-up reconstruction. Here’s our tour recap.

Santa Monica Boulevard pavement irregularitiesA capacity group of about 17 tour-takers saw first-hand last Wednesday how the formerly state-managed Santa Monica Boulevard blacktop has deteriorated since Caltrans turned it over to Beverly Hills nearly a decade ago. For bicycle riders in particular it’s been a pain in the arse: potholes, tire-trapping storm drains and hazardous intersections all conspire to make this crosstown corridor a deathtrap.

A ground-up reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard beginning in late 2014 promises to visually remake this eyesore, but to what extent will ‘complete streets‘ improvements and bike-friendly improvements like bicycle lanes make traveling safer for all road users? Reconstruction presents a once-a-century opportunity to make these long-overdue improvements (just like our plans say we should). Chief among them are continental-style crosswalks and, of course, Class II bicycle lanes – the latter to plug the existing gap between lanes in Century City and West Hollywood.

Today’s tour was an opportunity for the appointed ‘blue-ribbon’ committee to take a look at project conditions. (Full disclosure: Better Bike has been appointed by councilmember Lili Bosse and informally represents the interests of riders on the committee.) Here’s the tour route:Santa Monica Blvd project tour: the itinerary

First Stop: Eastern Gateway

Santa Monica Blvd pork chop island

This island facilitated the red car crossover from the south side to the center median of Santa Monica Boulevard at Doheny.

Our tour embarked from City Hall in an ersatz trolley car bound for the city’s eastern gateway (at Doheny Drive).

That we rode a fake trolley added an ironic grace note to this tour: the corridor was famously plied by the Pacific Electric’s legendary ‘red cars’ for decades. Reminders still exist. Near Doheny we can see where the rails crossed the eastbound lanes. And in the center of the boulevard stands an island that allowed them to transition to a median alignment into Hollywood.

That triangular island (aka the ‘pork chop’), like the adjacent fenced-off land on the boulevard’s south side, is privately-owned. Though the city has half-heartedly negotiated a purchase, it won’t come in time for this project. The boulevard will simply be reconstructed around it, according to Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation.

But the land leftover from the old rail line offers great potential. Recently our City Council talked about a linear park (or ‘greenbelt’) for the western gateway; it would run along Santa Monica Boulevard’s south side  Here at the eastern gateway near Doheny, likewise, grassland on the south side could be a bookend for the linear park. Here’s what we think a greenbelt with a Class II lanes incorporated into it could look like.

Visualization of a bike lane and active transportation corridor on Santa Monica Boulevard

A bike lane and active transportation corridor is a perfect tribute to the Pacific Electric line!

Second Stop: Palm Drive

SM Blvd tour: Beverly and Palm

Tour-takers getting an earful of frustrated speeders at Beverly Boulevard & Palm.

The tour then proceeded west toward the Beverly Boulevard/Palm intersection. Standing at the corner, the tour group could feel road-borne hostility as it emanated from impatient motorists. (From inside the tour trolley we had a taste of what it feels like to ride: drivers buzzed close-by and honked at the trolley.) This stretch of the corridor feels more like the (once-planned) Beverly Hills Freeway than a two-lane corridor adjacent to Beverly Gardens Park.

SM Blvd tour: Beverly Gardens Park is very wide

Beverly Gardens Park already includes designated boulevard right-of-way under that grass!

This stop also illustrated just how wide is Beverly Gardens Park, and how little of the grass would actually be needed in order to incorporate dual Class II bicycle lanes on the corridor. In fact, this grassland has not necessarily been shown the love over the years. Storm drains were paved over; sidewalks were never added; and ugly utility cabinets randomly punctuated the park.

SM Blvd tour: 3-feet staked

Stakes illustrate the width necessary to provide every rider with a margin of safety through Class II bicycle lanes.

Project consultants helpfully staked off the three feet necessary for a margin-of-safety for riders that could make all of the difference (left). It might mean the difference between an anxiety-provoking journey at the bumper of a car versus some peace of mind while afforded a dedicated piece of the blacktop. Drivers benefit too when those who ride a bicycle have their own place on the street!

SM Blvd tour: poorly maintained markings

Poor intersection maintenance compromises walker and rider safety.

Beverly Hills has ignored not only riders’ needs. Witness how poorly we’ve maintained our intersections. This one at Beverly Boulevard and Palm shows the neglect: fading paint, not thermoplastic as in other cities, is the rule; and still we adhere to outdated designs long after other cities have begun to roll out safer, ‘continental-style’ zebra crosswalks.

Third Stop: Park Way

SM Blvd tour: bus stop benchOf course it’s not just riders and walkers who have been forgotten by the city. SM Blvd tour: bus stop without bench or padTransit riders also fare badly in Beverly Hills. At Canon Drive the committee could witness the disregard firsthand: for the lucky, bus stops boast a bare bench and a concrete pad. For the less-fortunate there is only a sign (at right).

From the treatment, you would think that mass transit in Beverly Hills is an afterthought. It is not. We depend on mass transit to shuttle workers in and residents out without adding unnecessarily to auto congestion. Bevery Hills bus lines map from MetroIndeed our city is served by a dozen bus lines. And no fewer than four of them traverse Santa Monica Boulevard. For too long, though, transit riders have been the poor cousins to those who choose to drive, while bicycle riders are simply orphans to our transportation officials. Hopefully this committee will see the importance of making our corridor welcoming to all users – including those who ride a bicycle.

Fourth Stop: Presbyterian & Good Shepherd Churches

SM Blvd tour: sidewalk at curb

Irregular conditions near the business triangle.

This stop illustrated some of the structural problems on this corridor: broken or nonexistent curbs, the now-you-see-it-now-it’s-gone sidewalk, and substandard handicapped ramps at the crosswalk. The chaos only highlights the advantage of a total reconstruction: planners can finally ‘rationalize’ (as planners say) these irregular features and bring our poor handicap-accessible facilities up to snuff.

Those who would oppose losing any grass at all should consider how institutional and other uses already intrude into the Beverly Gardens Park experience. (Council has even discussed putting a seasonal ice rink here!) That three-feet wide bicycle lane can easily find a home here. Indeed how narrow a 3-foot ‘take’ really is was well-illustrated by consultant Michael Meyer’s yardstick:

SM Blvd tour: 3-feet yardstick

Planner Michael Meyer’s yardstick shows just how narrow is three feet!

Also at this stop, Mr. Meyer pointed out the available space for open/green space in the center of the boulevard. (Click to animate)

SM Blvd median without landscapingTo our consultant’s credit he suggested that a landscaped median (fully 11 feet wide) could redress any potential loss of grass. We think that’s a great exchange for safety.

Wrapping Up

The tour’s final leg took the trolley to the western gateway where Santa Monica Boulevard South (aka ‘Little SM’) branches off to enter the business triangle. The tour passed through the perilous Wilshire Boulevard intersection. Given sky-high traffic volume and poor design, it is among our region’s very worst junctures. The city has simply resisted improving it even temporarily.

We didn’t stay for that part of the tour, though. Better Bike is well acquainted with the area because we bike it often. Moreover, we’ve appeared before our Planning Commission to urge that a bike and ped path be included as part of any future policy or project for the western gateway. So with the sun hanging low in the fall sky it was time to get back to the city’s only rack corral near the library, grab the bike and head home.

We can’t say that this tour was high-value but rather it gave us an opportunity to listen to committee members ask about the project. One could think that only motorists, churchgoers, joggers and tourists are stakeholders; we heard not a word about the needs of those who ride a bicycle on Santa Monica. Should the committee want a close-up view of that experience, we are happy to lead committee members on a PM rush-hour bike tour. Just ask!

Tomorrow, Sunday, at 1pm the ersatz trolley again departs. (More information here.) Show up and voice your concerns about how we can find that three feet of grass necessary to safeguard those who choose to traverse Santa Monica by bicycle – and who will ride it for generations to come.

Council Hears Santa Monica Boulevard Options [Recap]

Santa Monica Blvd. narrowsBeverly Hills City Council took a major step forward on Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction today when councilmembers agreed to create an appointed blue-ribbon committee to manage public outreach this fall. This move broadens stakeholder participation beyond the limited opportunities afforded by commission oversight and instead puts oversight of the process in stakeholders’ hands. In other developments, the Council  recognized that cyclists have a place on this key corridor and said safety was paramount. Let’s recap!

Presented to the Council in today’s study session were two decisions in the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project: the choice of one of four options for an oversight body; and direction on a palette of preliminary boulevard design options which may or may not include incrementally widening the curb-to-curb width of today’s boulevard. In an earlier post we assessed the process options and in a follow-up editorial we recommended that Council appoint a public steering committee. (TL;DR? Jump right to the Council discussion or the wrap-up summary.)

City Council heard the city’s description of the project, a proposed noticing scheme (to surrounding neighborhoods only), key stakeholder groups (businesses, nearby churches and homeowner associations but no mention of cyclists), and oversight options for design and construction.

Psomas proposal coverIn its presentation, consultant Psomas showed six design options drawn from seven originally presented in their successful bid proposal (right). The options included both scenarios: one in which the city would keep today’s curb-to-curb width; and another were the boulevard would be incrementally expanded in order to accommodate on-street bicycle lanes (and/or a landscaped median).

But the key item on the agenda was the public outreach and oversight process. What would that oversight body be? During public comment we delivered this comment to Council:

I’m here today because I value mobility options and I want tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard to be universally accessible to all road users. A signature ‘complete street’ that is safe to travel regardless of one’s mode of travel is what Beverly Hills residents deserve in 2015.

We also deserve a truly inclusive public process for the reconstruction of this key corridor… not a pro-forma succession of workshops as so often characterizes planning with a decision rendered behind closed doors. For a project of this significance, two minutes of stakeholder comment at a microphone is insufficient.

What we need is a variety of voices from the public at the table. Before Council today are four choices. Of them:

I support the the Public Steering Committee structure. Beverly Hills desperately needs a broader discussion about multimodal mobility – as called for in our city plans – and this project can be the beginning of that process. Multimodal mobility is also the appropriate context for choosing the Santa Monica Boulevard design concept.

That kind of body has worked well for West Hollywood when it was crafting mobility recommendations for City Council.

I cannot support the Multi-Commission Committee option or support sole oversight of the process by the Traffic and Parking Commission. The focus here is mobility; most of the other suggested commissions are peripheral to the project. But they do have an important place when we have that larger mobility discussion.

Nor do I support Traffic and Parking Commission oversight. This commission is focused on parking permits, taxi and tour bus regulation, not mobility generally. And in my opinion, this commission on balance enjoys the view from behind the windshield. The mobility needs of pedestrians and cyclists seems not within its remit.

And the commission supervised the Pilot bike route planning process which adhered to a pro-forma process but largely left the concerns of cyclists – communicated through five meetings with the ad-hoc bike plan update committee – off the table.

Of course commissioners bring no particular experience with road engineering that would specifically recommend it.

Aside from the Public Steering Committee, I can support the City Council/Traffic & Parking Liaison committee. It would bring needed political accountability to oversight, and we have knowledgeable members on both the Council and the Commission to guide us.

I’d like to add that there is merit in keeping both ‘major scenarios’ on the table to keep our options open. And cycling can play a key role in traffic mitigation during construction. It’s a golden opportunity to encourage cycling to our community. – Mark Elliot

 

Widen or Not to Widen?

The key design and political question facing City Council is whether the boulevard need be expanded (perhaps by three feet or more) to accommodate the full spectrum of design options as presented by the consultant. Today the current width is about 63 feet. That doesn’t include an additional 20+ feet of right-of-way that the state transferred to the city when it assumed control of the boulevard (in 2005). Most of that additional right-of-way, land currently earmarked for the transportation corridor, lies on the north side and is greenspace..

The preliminary alternatives matrix [pdf] developed by Psomas shows these options (minus the one included in its proposal that included a third travel lane):

Design conceptsKey project goals include ‘complete streets’ treatment (goal #2), protecting green space (#3) and facilitating traffic flow (#4). Note that the original project request-for-proposal in 2012 which said nothing about complete streets. Had that document guided bidders, we would recreate tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard to simply reflect the dangerous corridor that we have today.

Council Discussion

Councilmember Nancy Krasne spoke forcefully about the need to consider pedestrian and cyclist safety in the boulevard redesign. “Let’s take care of cyclists,” she said, supporting a 10-foot shared bicycle path on the greenspace as depicted in alternatives 2 and 5 (above). As if to emphasize that priority, she added, “Let’s deal super-safely with the cyclists.”

As for oversight goes, Councilmember Krasne supported the idea of a public steering committee. “I want the community totally involved,” she said. “I want as much input as I can get.”

Councilmember Julian Gold was most concerned with the construction phase impacts of the project. He indicated overall satisfaction with city staff’s proposal but suggested community-wide notice regarding the construction phase. “I’m thinking about [impacts] mitigation,” he said, clarifying, “Not [wider noticing] for the design phase.” As for the outreach process itself, Councilmember Gold was concerned that we reach key stakeholders (like churches on the corridor, he said) but otherwise was “fine” with the four commission/committee options presented by staff. For expediency he suggested that the Council itself could conduct the outreach process. “I’m not convinced that we couldn’t make it [the process] shorter if Council heard the conversation – to hear it out of the gate and then make a decision over two meetings, or maybe four meetings. I’d prefer to hear the public unfiltered” through another commission or committee, he said.

Turning to conceptual design, councilmember Gold called the safety of cyclists “high on my list” but then added, “I’m not sure what that would look like.” Of the proposed landscaped median, a feature that could possibly compete with a westbound on-street bicycle lane, he thought that a significant time delay higher cost could preclude it.

Councilmember Willie Brien indicated that his priority was not to lose greenspace. “I don’t see the need – we have the walkway and walkers and joggers pay attention to the cross streets,” he said. (But he didn’t mention cyclists; the ‘walkway’ is a crushed gravel path about 80 feet north of the curb that crosses N/S streets without curb cuts or marked crosswalks.) “I’m willing to look at all the ideas,” he said, but didn’t warm to the illustrated bike & ped path if it impeded church egress. “It’s about safety,” He said. “A south-side path we can look at.”

(City transportation division staff has long suggested a south-side, on-street eastbound bicycle lane but would locate a westbound compliment off the boulevard, perhaps on Carmelita which did not prove popular among neighbors during the Pilot process Council study session in 2012.)

As for the outreach oversight, councimember Briend said that the Traffic and Parking Commission was “best suited” but that the City Council/Traffic & Parking Commission Liaison Committee was acceptable. “As with any [stakeholder] panel you don’t get a community mix – it’s not representative,” he said, but “the Council-liaison committee in my view is a great way to go.” Echoing councilmember Gold he added, “The Council should be involved in this.”

Councilmember Krasne pushed back against the prospect of cyclists using the existing walkway with the current unmarked crosswalks and reiterated, “Bike safety is critical.” She said, “When they come off the curb they think it’s OK… but folks [in cars] are coming quickly and trying to beat the light.”

Vice-Mayor Lili Bosse addressed what she called the “fear factor” around incrementally widening the boulevard and urged the consultant to communicate to the public what may be gained if the width is increased. To accommodate a bicycle lane option, for example. “It’s more than just a diagram – these changes can create a positive effect like encouraging cycling.” The cross-section diagrams that are typically presented in workshops don’t often convey such possibilities, she said.

On noticing the Vice-Mayor called the staff report “very good” but added that the entire community should be noticed – especially during the design phase. “It doesn’t just belong to people here – people between Santa Monica and Sunset,” she said. “Everyone needs to know…to help create the vision.” She called for a “true outreach process.” Her first choice was an appointed steering committee and her second choice was the City Council/Traffic & Parking Commission Liaison Committee. “My priority is the most voices so that everyone feels they have ownership…My #1 goal is that the entire community is involved.”

Mayor John Mirisch agreed. “The blue-ribbon committee would be my preference. Plus [I favor] noticing the entire city.” He asked if councilmember Krasne agreed and she did. “That’s the way we should go,” he said. “Broad community involvement is a good thing [whereas Council-commission] liaisons may lock themselves into their viewpoints.”

As to design, the Mayor said that “greenspace concerns are justified” and acknowledged that the design need be coordinated with imminent Beverly Gardens renovation. “Bike lanes are important and safety is important,” he added. “How do we do it without losing greenspace – or losing the minimum?” (Our emphasis.)

Councilmember Brien replied, “My concern is this large a project without Traffic and Parking Commission or Council leadership.” He added, “I wouldn’t mind a liaison committee. We need somebody making the decisions – not just for design but for the mitigation [phase].”

Mayor Mirisch asked if the phases should be separate – perhaps the blue-ribbon steering committee for design and a Commission or liaison committee for the mitigation phase? “A two-step?” he asked. “Fine,” said councilmember Brien. “Maybe both working in parallel…Maybe the Chair of the Traffic and Parking Commission chairs the blue-ribbon panel?” Councilmember Gold agreed with Dr Brien. “Leadership is important – and it could be professional – but somebody needs to make the meetings move along.” Vice-Mayor Bosse responded that appointees could include experienced Commission members and Mayor Mirisch agreed.

With agreement that three committee members would be appointed by each councilmember, transportation Deputy Director Aaron Kunz said that he would be back with a resolution creating the committee. Should there be an appointed chair? he asked. Mayor Mirisch demurred. He likened the blue-ribbon committee to a jury that elects a foreman. “I have confidence in our residents,” he said.

Summary

The Council’s discussion suggested something about where they fall on the prospect of dual bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. Councilmembers Bosse and Mirisch recognize the need and appear open to maintaining a design alternative that preserves the option. Councilmember Krasne puts safety as her top concern and supports an off-street combined use path, but may not have considered the merits of a dedicated lane. And councilmembers Brien and Gold appear less sympathetic to the value of dual on-street lanes (at least to our ears).

This Council study session wrapped with a few significant steps forward for this important transportation and civic pride project. Foremost is the unanimous support across council for pedestrian and cyclist safety. From there it’s just a small step to engineering a corridor that reflects complete streets principles throughout. That’s the policy guidance at both the federal and state level.

Then there is the agreement on a stakeholder committee over the alternative of keeping the process in city hall hands. Comprised of three members appointed by each councilmember, this 15-member body will oversee both the design and construction outreach processes.

And last (and perhaps most dear to riders), Class II bicycle lanes are still on the table. But the devil will be in the details, as Mayor Mirisch advised Psomas representatives. “You’ll have to work your magic” to fit the lanes in, he said.

How significant a shift is that from where we began a few years ago? Then-Mayor Jimmy Delshad once proclaimed from the Council dais, “We will not widen the boulevard!” But that option is on the table today. And just consider how far we’ve come from this 2010 staff report that was then presented to Council:

Santa Monica blvd staff report excerpt 2010

Back in 2010, boulevard widening was OFF the table and so were bicycle lanes for this key regional corridor.

Next steps will include committee appointments; determination of outreach process and noticing particulars; and the scheduling of public workshops or hearings. Stay tuned.

Thanks very much to Eric Weinstein for attending the meeting an addressing council, and readers Alek Friedman and Mel Raab and others for contacting City Council.

Sunshine Task Force Meeting #3 [Recap]

The Sunshine Task Force, an ad hoc committee formed by Mayor Mirisch to advance good government reforms, met for the third time this week, and on the agenda was a change to the city’s existing legislative advocate form. The objectives are to glean more information about lobbyists and their clients, and to make that information available online to the Council and the public at large. The broader goal: greater transparency in Beverly Hills city government.

John Mirisch made transparency his watchword at his installation as Mayor in March. He had called local government “the best form of democracy” but noted that it can also be “the most frustrating form of government” if it doesn’t listen to the public. “City hall forgets that the purpose of local government is to serve the residents, “ he said then. And his campaign slogan, “Putting the residents first,” put a fine point on transparency while suggesting an end the business-as-usual culture in Beverly Hills.

That’s a heavy lift! Open government and “active resident participation” are central the Mayor’s reform agenda, but today’s lobbyist registration form is an anachronism from an era of very limited disclosure and scant public involvement. It is a brief, one page paper form available for inspection at city hall but posted nowhere online. (So much for Beverly Hills “the smart city”!)

The proposed lobbyist disclosure reform would solicit more information from lobbyists – information like employer and issue client, of course, but also extensive organizational affiliations too – and make all of this available to the public via a searchable online database.

The theory is that if we recognize a paid or professional advocate working an issue (think land use variance, business subsidy or proposed regulation), then Council, will be better prepared by understanding the alignment of interests that would benefit from the city action. Such transparency is essential to legitimacy and trust, good government groups argue, and lobbyist disclosure reform is supported by Mayor Mirisch and Vice Mayor Lili Bosse and has been identified as a top priority by members of the Sunshine Task Force.

What’s on the Table?

Proposed changes to the lobbyist registration form would both expand the information required of the lobbyist and would create an online database of past and future lobbyists, associated firms, and individual lobbying actions. The proposed policy would require the lobbyist to disclose on a new form:

  • Individual lobbyist contact information
  • Lobbyist’s employer contact information
  • A summary of lobbying activity by the employer over the past three years, including the clients on behalf of which services were retained/performed
  • Client contact information, prior lobbying activities on behalf of that client, as well as the outcome(s) that the client is seeking
  • Organizations affiliated with the lobbyist and the nature of such relationships.

“Client” in the current working document is defined as:

any person who provides compensation to a lobbyist or lobbying firm or affiliated entity for the purpose of influencing a decision to be made by any governing body of the City of Beverly Hills, as well as any person, firm, corporation, partnership or other legal entity on whose behalf lobbying is performed by the lobbyist, affiliated organization or employer (collectively ‘Lobbyist’)

The Task Force members discussed the proposal. We agreed that a “penalty of perjury” oath important to retain but that incremental progress is better than no progress, so any effort to call out a lobbyist in chambers with a ‘badge’ would be ill-advised at this point.

The draft form proposes a 3-year (retrospective) window for disclosure. Of the lobbyist employer, for example, a “summary of each lobbying activity in which the lobbyist’s employer engaged in a matter involving the City of Beverly Hills during the last three years” would have to be disclosed. To some of us that seemed excessive. Vice Mayor Bosse suggested a 2-year disclosure window instead, reasoning that the city’s email retention policy is now two years; parity with standing public records policy makes intuitive sense.

As for the political feasibility of greater disclosure, the Task Force discussion focused on the (if you will) ‘mouth feel’ of a new disclosure questionnaire. How would a complicated form play with lobbyists and the councilmembers who will vote on it? We needed to capture enough information to begin building a lobbyist & lobbying database without making the online fillable form too formidable.

(We’d also like to see a plain-language description of ‘client’ so that some of the ambiguity about the nature of lobbying under this policy could be clear to non-professional issue advocates. The last Task Force meeting addressed that issue.)

With Task Force input, member Fred Fenster will re-draft the text; member Mark Elliot will mock-up an online form for review; and at the next meeting the entire Task Force will formalize a recommendation to Council.

The Task Force’s other identified priorities include:

  1. Lobbyist disclosure reform
  2. Staff reports that present pros and cons for objective Council review
  3. Posted Councilmembers’ city email addresses on the City’s website
  4. Independent analysis of all city contracts before approval
  5. Posting online of all official documents like land use plans, policy statements, agendas, minutes and the Council handbook

Today, neither our final Sustainable City Plan nor the City Council Policy and Operations Manual is posted online. (We’ve asked for that for years.) To this list we’d add that all plans should be available in the library in paper form too. Not even our General Plan, mandated by the state, is available there in hardcopy.

Why Extended Disclosure?

Why is lobbyist disclosure so important? We’re a small town, you see, where the networks of influence often operate beyond the literal corridors of power. The city’s old guard has long reserved power for themselves through handshakes, policy favors and, at election time, quid pro quo campaign support. It’s a system that keeps city hall open for business but keeps the metaphorical corridors of power largely closed to the public.

That’s where lobbying disclosure comes into play. Without sufficient scrutiny, the people’s business can yield to cozy arrangements of convenience. Property developers, business owners, their lawyer-lobbyists and elected councilmembers – the real Team Beverly Hills if you like – can all find common cause in supporting decisions that don’t necessarily benefit the public at large. These decisions were often taken with scant public awareness…hence the need for greater openness in city hall.

In making a recommendation to Council Sunshine, the Task Force has to balance the need for transparency against the burden of unnecessary disclosure. It’s also a tradeoff between the good governance reform ambition of the Mayor and the political feasibility of actually getting something through Council. “Politics is the art of the possible,” said Task Force member Marilyn Gallup, putting her finger on the challenge. “Let’s make it as palatable as possible.”

Metro I-405 8/15 Meeting Recap

Metro I-405 community meeting panorama

Pity the poor motorist. At the Westwood Recreation Center tonight, we learned that the eastbound Wilshire on-ramp to the northbound I-405 would close for (count ‘em!) 90 days. For 405-proximate residents west of UCLA there was plenty of pain too. They learned that the convenient Montana ramps would go away forever. What of our fate, dear cyclists? Metro had little to offer us too. We attended this meeting because we wanted to ask Metro and Caltrans why there have been no safety provisions provided to those who ride a bicycle under the 405 in the years that this $1-billion project has been underway. We wanted to know, for example, why Caltrans tolerates poor conditions for cyclists despite that agency’s Deputy Directive … Continue reading

Human Relations Commission July 18, 2013 [Recap]

The Beverly Hills Human Relations Commission has been considering an expansion of its ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative to address uncivil conduct evident on city streets. God Bless, we say. But we wonder if riders will need more than a well-intentioned message to make our streets materially safer for those who do choose to ride. So we tuned in to hear transportation planner Martha Eros brief the commission today about the city’s new Pilot bike route program. We listened in as commissioners asked a few questions of their own. And here we suggest a role for the commission to play to make those streets safe. You’ll recall that the Human Relations Commission has been debating how to expand the ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative … Continue reading

Rec & Parks Follow Up

Rec & Parks appearance

Better Bike appeared before the Recreation and Parks Commission this past Tuesday to highlight the need for safe streets for those who ride a bicycle to our parks in Beverly Hills. Our city plans recommend that we ride or walk around town as an alternative to driving, we said, and recalled for commissioners that our Bicycle Master Plan (1977) once proposed a 22-mile citywide bicycle network. That extensive systems of lanes and paths used our parks as anchors – an idea that should have appeal to the commission. And the commissioners were receptive. And why not? Bicycles and parks go great together! We always enjoy jawboning with commissioners, but we came before this commission because we need these commissioners to … Continue reading

Sunshine Task Force #2 Recap

The Beverly Hills Sunshine Task Force met for a second time this week following on last month’s initial meeting, wherein participants highlighted instances where the city falls short on sharing information. In that meeting, several new initiatives were proposed to nudge the city toward open government principles. On this month’s agenda was a staff presentation on West Hollywood, Walnut Creek and little-known city of Villa Park’s efforts. But in this 1-hour meeting we focused instead on proposals for an ombudsman and greater lobbying disclosure. There was scant time to address other issues as suggested last month much less ‘next steps.’ Here’s the recap. Recall that the Sunshine Task Force was created by Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch to “ensure greater transparency and … Continue reading

One Month Later, Nothing from BHPD or T&P Commission on Attempted Murder on 4/3

Remember the attempted murder & hit-and-run on a cyclist in Beverly Hills back on April 3rd? You’d think a crime like that would garner significant media attention seeing as it was captured by CCTV video. That it would generate concern among commissioners on the Traffic and Parking Commission. That the body receiving a standing monthly police report on collisions and citations would bother to ask.  Today we tuned into the live commission broadcast to learn that commissioners wouldn’t be wrestling with this threat to public safety because they had other pressing business. Like the assault never happened. Sgt. Mader delivered the department’s monthly report to the Traffic and Parking Commission. He’s got the unflappable demeanor of Joe Friday with a … Continue reading