Complete Streets Walk Audit Recap

Complete Streets Walk audit overview of the roomBeverly Hills conducted a Complete Streets ‘walk audit’ on June 9th. It followed on the first Community Workshop (read the recap), the Workshop #2 (recap) and an Earth Day Complete Streets pop-up (pic). After those earlier conceptual discussions and associated mapping exercises, this event was a hands-on opportunity for participants to evaluate our environment for accessibility and safety.  And of course to make recommendations. “Everything is on the table” in terms of improvements, said Aaron Kunz, Community Development Department Deputy Director for Transportation.

What is a walk audit? A walk audit is simply an exercise that helps us focus attention on the built environment as it exists today. In conjunction with a complete streets planning process, a walk audit gets us out onto the streets where we can cast a critical eye on the features that may impede multimodal mobility. Are there barriers to accessibility, for example, that make it impractical or even hazardous to walk or ride a bicycle? (Read more about walk audits.)

The spirit behind the walk audit is summarized in this assessment tool from Delaware:

Everyone is a pedestrian! Most trips by car, transit, or bike begin by walking. Many roads are designed with only cars in mind, but at least one-third of Americans do not drive, including children, adolescents, many older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals….This includes economically disadvantaged individuals who do not own cars, people who do not drive, and/or persons with disabilities. Creating walkable, safe, and pleasant pedestrian areas creates transportation equity for mobility- constrained and special-needs populations. — Healthy and Complete Communities in Delaware: The Walkability Assessment Tool.

The walk audit is a fresh, and purposeful, look at streets that are a product of incremental engineering decisions over many decades. These decisions are generally taken without regard for the bigger mobility and accessibility picture. They may be triggered by traffic count thresholds and unfailingly overlook leading-edge best practices. Traffic engineering reflects our cultural bias, and for too long it prioritized efficiency over safety and, in particular, put the convenience of auto travelers front and center.

The culture is changing, however, and a walk audit asks us to consciously reevaluate the street and perhaps even bring a little bit of rigor to our assessment. What may need to change to encourage walking or bicycle riding? That’s what our own city plans say we should be doing.


About 25 participants, 10 staffers and several Traffic and Parking commissioners attended the session. Iteris consultant John Lower framed the issue and it was all about safety. “When we talk about ‘accidents’ we’re really talking about crashes: 94% of them arise from human error, and though our streets we can influence that behavior.” He went on to talk about the potential for ‘intelligent transportation’ (aka networked vehicles) to avoid that harm; and the need to shift more rides to transit by solving the ‘last mile’ connectivity problem: home to transit. “We want you to recognize these challenges and to buy in to possible solutions.”

Complete Streets Walk audit's John Lower with presentation

John Lower from Iteris gives the ins-and-outs of a walk audit.

This was a hands-on exercise, so we split off into groups to walk two segments of the business triangle, South Santa Monica and North Crescent Drive.

The former has long served as an expedient path for pass-through traffic but which came at the expense of safety and enjoyment of the corridor. There is now interest to refashion it as a village-like ‘local street.’ Crescent Drive is a busy pedestrian conduit between City Hall and the triangle and has already been identified as a bike route in our bike route pilot program. Both offer clear challenges! I participated in a South Santa Monica Boulevard walk audit so I will describe what we saw and talked about.

Not two minutes after we left the library we were confronted by a major safety challenge: the Burton Way / Rexford intersection.

Complete Streets Walk audit: Rexford and South SM intersection

South SM Blvd at Rexford looking west. Despite the faded sharrows, this intersection was created by drivers for drivers.

There is no better illustration of why riding a bicycle into Beverly Hills feels so hazardous: the marked bicycle lane on Burton ends with a couple of fading sharrows, which provides no guidance to a rider though that intersection. Worse, those sharrows exist in an optional right-turn lane (in the distance in the image above). Why queue impatient motorists waiting to turn behind a rider who may be continuing straight to go westbound? Why make that optional turn lane so extra wide? See the aerial:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Burton and Rexford

This intersection at Rexford and Burton would be so much safer for riders if the bicycle lanes continued through; and westbound riders were not merged into three lanes of motor traffic.

Better would be to narrow the turn lane to accommodate a marked bicycle lane to the left of the turn lane. It’s good when every road users knows where they are supposed to be. And then on the far side of Rexford that lane could have continued (instead of turning into a third vehicular lane). After all, this is where the boulevard narrows; do we need three through-traffic lanes? The poor sap on a bicycle dutifully follows the sharrows and then finds herself in a meat grinder of harried motorists. Crazy!

Those heading eastbound anticipate the beginning of marked bicycle lanes on Burton, but when they come off of South Santa Monica there is no bicycle lane that protect them. There is no marking to guide them through the intersection. Somehow we are expected to (again) share a too-wide optional right turn lane.  Why no bike lane? There is width sufficient for it. As it is it is a ‘right-hook’ nightmare for the cyclist.

For pedestrians crossing Rexford westbound (as we were) the danger at this juncture was clear: the wide-radius right turn from Burton onto north Rexford allows drivers to negotiate the turn at high speed. Speed kills when vehicles collide with pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Pedestrians faced the same hazard (and greater danger) at the South Santa Monica / Crescent intersection. The ‘diamond’ shape seen in the aerial is created by two acute corners and two wide, obtuse angles.

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent

Who would engineer an intersection like this? No doubt our transportation engineers cross on foot regularly. It’s the SW corner of City Hall. They never did a forehead slap to say, “What were we thinking?”

The westbound driver turning north onto Crescent can take that northeast corner at high speed. (Same with eastbound drivers turning south on Crescent.) This is the southwest corner of City Hall and yet it feels to be the most dangerous place for walkers or riders in the entire city. Three of the four crosswalks there are not high visibility and the north-side crosswalk is arguably not even disability-accommodating due to the many pop-up bollards.

What’s the fix? The city could create a pedestrian scramble at Crescent to shorten the crossing distance between City Hall and the triangle. Here’s a before/after animation:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent reimagined as a scramble

A before/after view of today’s crosswalk looking southwest and a pedestrian scramble. This should have been the first scramble installed anywhere in the city! (Reload the page to refresh the animation.)

Alternately, or in addition, squaring off the crosswalks relative to the curbs would help too. Not only would that shorten the crossing distance across wide South Santa Monica Blvd; it would also require that eastbound drivers stop well in advance of the corner on the red before proceeding around that oblique angle turn. Win-win.

A bike box

The bike box is a reserved space for cyclists that facilitates an advance start ahead of motorists.

The intersection is also hazardous to a westbound rider who would turn left onto the bike route at Crescent. The choice: merge across two through traffic lanes and into left turn pocket. Dangerous because this is a high-speed corridor (and there is no enforcement). Or cross Crescent to the northwest corner and wait for the southbound signal (aka box turn). Why not put the city’s first bike box just before the crosswalk at Crescent? That allows riders to bunch near the front of the car queue and is very handy for accessing the left turn. The riders are visible to all drivers queued at the signal and riders get a jump on the movement. It’s a no-brainer if the crosswalks are squared off: that makes more room for a bike box.

The peril for bicycle riders only begins at Crescent. Once west of the Wallis, the road narrows considerably. Here traffic is dual-lane with no curbside parking. Boy do drivers fly through here – like water shooting through a crimp in a garden hose! What we need is traffic calming.

Walk audit: South Santa Monica west of Canon

No ‘village’ street should look – or feel – like South Santa Monica Boulevard between Beverly and Canon. Bad for all road users

I suggest a road diet! Take these dual lanes down to single-lane and create a buffered bike lane in each direction.

Kory Klem made a good point at the last workshop: make South Santa Monica Boulevard single-lane west of Beverly. Then, remove curbside parking on the north side to make room for a bicycle lane. Kory noted that removing the north-side curb parking would help to accommodate both bike lanes AND back-in parking. That would increase parking capacity on the south side to make up for the less-efficient parallel parking lost on the north side. Here’s the diagram:

Kory Klem's South SM Blvd proposal diagram

Diagram of South Santa Monica Boulevard east of Wilshire. Credit: Kory Klem.

It is a win-win-win. 1) It would (properly) send drivers to the garages (just behind the stores) rather than invite them to circle continuously for an open meter. 2) It would vastly improve the pedestrian experience on narrow north-side sidewalks. A buffered bicycle lane would put motor traffic fully 8 feet from the curb (today west of Canon it abuts the curb). And finally, 3) It would provide bike lane connectivity though this most difficult area. Safety first!

We are halfway there: eastbound travelers already see the road narrow to one through-lane on the blocks before Beverly. (This was a recent change to accommodate eastbound right-turn-only lanes at busy intersections.) Why not expand on that concept to create single-lane travel from Moreno through these choke points and clear on to Burton? That way we could have contiguous bike lanes from Century City to the eastern Boundary near Robertson. Win #4: Reverse angle parking makes it safer for cars backing out and the adjacent bike lane need not be buffered from motor traffic: parked cars are the buffer. No bicyclist would be in harm’s way.

Other Issues

My group identified several other issues that I will touch on briefly. Like sidewalks that are unpleasant to roam – especially between Canon and Beverly. (Ironically the area used to be rife with pedestrians as the streetcar station was located adjacent.)

And half-blocks north of the boulevard provide little to the pedestrian. These are important connectors to Beverly Gardens Park, but they are unsightly (and with the exception of Alfred Coffee there is little to catch the eye).

Walk audit: SM-5 garages

Walk audit: SM-5 garages and ancillary use KILL a street vibe.

Walk audit: Dead zone on South Santa Monica.

Not much here beckons a pedestrian except shade.

There are whole blocks that are ‘dead’ from a pedestrian standpoint as this part of South SM west of Camden shows. Indeed an entire chunk of the triangle seems to have been simply carved out from our designated pedestrian area according to the map.

Why? No doubt there is a story to it! If I know Beverly Hills, it was easier to carve it out than to suggest to commercial property owners to prioritize the street. As a result the whole corridor west of Camden dies on the vine.

Wrap Up

From there we headed back to the library on the south and shady side of the street. As we paused adjacent to one of the city’s so-called pedestrian plazas (probably the short end of a development bargain for a behemoth tower), we stumbled on some public art. It was an older couple in bronze. With fear in their eyes. Our Community Development Director immediately identified the figures as frightened pedestrians. There is no better metaphor on a walk audit though a part of the city so badly in need of complete streets!


At the library we pored over maps and devised our recommendations. (I’ve elaborated on some of ours above.) Here are a few pics. Send me the results of your table!

Walk audit: Ron and Mark with staffer Gina

Presenting our recommendations for a road diet and bicycle lanes.

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou's table talks safety

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou’s table talks safety

Walk audit: South Santa Monica mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s South Santa Monica Boulevard

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Making a safety list and checking it twice for an improved Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Building a boulevard profile for tomorrow’s Crescent Drive. Will it or won’t it include bicycle lanes? It’s a bike route already!

The walk audit was a chance to surface all manner of ideas, including some that did not anticipate adding bicycle lanes to either South Santa Monica or to Crescent Drive. That is a foreshadow of the challenge we face in coming up with a complete streets plan to makes our streets safe and accessible while also needing to accommodate stakeholders more concerned about motoring.

Do your part to keep up with the process and consider the online survey and provide your comments to our Traffic and Parking commissioners. (Visit the transportation division to leave a comment.)

TPC Chair Nooshin Meshkaty is the most safety-minded commissioner we’ve ever had. At this walk audit she took to task the transportation staffers and consultants who fail to step up, and, in my view, who too long let our streets descend into madness. “Professionals with ideas we should not stop at anything. People have suggestions but we need leadership,” she said. “Take our city through the future. Guide the vision of the residents. It is not just crosswalks but about the future. Guide our community to that.”

Make your comments specific and reference problems that need to be fixed. The draft complete streets plan is set for release coincident with the third (and final) community workshop on August 22nd. The clock is ticking!

Complete Streets Workshop #2 Recap

City of Beverly Hills has hosted the second in a series of complete streets outreach events. At workshop #1 general concepts were presented and key concerns identified. This workshop was rubber-meets-road as participants hovered over city maps to drill down on opportunities for pedestrian and bicycle networks and ‘vehicle technology streets.’ Good ideas came from five roundtables. Read on! Continue reading

Say Goodbye to Santa Monica Boulevard Bike Lanes [recap]

Cycling prohibited graphicIf you expected that Beverly Hills might install bicycle lanes on our segment of North Santa Monica Boulevard when reconstructing it next year, you will be sorely disappointed to know that City Council appears to have pounded the final nail into the bike lanes coffin. The decision reflects a lack of concern for the scores of speakers who supported the inclusion of bicycle lanes as a safety measure and stands as a rebuke to the hundreds more who urged our city in written comments to do the right thing by riders. Continue reading

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 next steps and a new proposal. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Santa Monica Boulevard Tour #1 Recap

SM Blvd tour: Michael Meyer from Iteris

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.

Council Hears Santa Monica Boulevard Options [Recap]

Beverly 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!

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.

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.

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.

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!