File Under ‘Crap Facilities': Dangerous Crescent Dr. Sharrows

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

Crescent Drive sharrows placement

Is this any way to make our streets safer for those who choose to ride a bicycle?

As explicated in this graphic, these sharrows guide northbound Crescent riders into the left-hand lane, which allows motor traffic to pass on the right. After the South Santa Monica intersection, however, riders are then guided back to the right-hand lane which requires a merge back into faster-flowing traffic. This remains an eye-catching road engineering #FAIL six months after we notified the city about it.

Crescent Drive is a well-traveled N/S street that finds northbound motorists rushing to make the stoplights at North and South Santa Monica boulevards. So putting riders literally in the middle of this scrum is at best a mistake and, more likely, is a result of professional incompetence or ignorance.

While the misplacement of a sharrow marking may seem trivial to a driver, this state-approved traffic control device is important to riders as it offers official guidance as to where to ride. It is intended to make roads safer for those who ride a bicycle, not put them in harm’s way.

What is a Sharrow?

According to the state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), sharrows can be used to:

Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way; and encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists…. (MUTCD Section 9C.07 Shared Lane Marking)

sharrow markingAccording to the manual, the marking “shall only be used on a roadway which has on-street parallel parking.” But Crescent northbound here has no parallel parking, of course. And even if it did, the MUTCD offers this bit of specific guidance: Where used to direct riders to a lane adjacent to a traffic lane, it should be only to the left of a right-turn-only lane. (Section 4D.104 Bicycle Signals).

As the manual suggests, it is better to use no sharrows at all than to implement unsafe sharrows.

We’ve Tried and Tried to Get This Fixed

I first contacted the Beverly Hills Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz in early June after noticing the unsafe sharrows placement:

Sharrows on Crescent (south of little SM) make an ill-advised jog around a non-turn lane as I recall (not the best practice).

Then I suggested that our city fix it. After seeing no action, though, I followed up in early August:

I’ve been puzzled by the hazardous placement of n/b Crescent sharrows. I wonder if the city has a plan to fix it?

Kunz acknowledged the problem and said a fix was in the works. But no fix came. So I followed up again in early October:

Can you remind me if the city will be fixing the sharrow alignment problem on Crescent at SM South? (We spoke about it in early August.)

Kunz replied, “I will check on the status of moving the sharrow as we discussed and get a date.” Hearing nothing back about it (of course) I then followed up a third time in late October:

I’m wondering if you’ve been able to nail down the date?

Aaron replied, “The moving of the sharrow will be a priority but unfortunately I do not have a date yet.” Optimistically I said I would look forward to having the problem corrected.

But evidently I was too optimistic! Here we are approaching February and there is no fix yet. Where in the transportation planner’s handbook does it say that a mistake like this can go unaddressed despite highlighting the problem and following up three times? It cries out for a lawsuit!

SHIFTING GEARS: Bicycle Mobility on the Westside

Aside

Join the Westside Urban Forum’s next breakfast event focused on ‘bicycle mobility’ on the Westside. Panelists Aaron Pauley (Co-Founder of CicLAvia) and Francie Stefan, planner & transportation manager for Santa Monica will talk about “how the Westside can change gears” in the post-auto era. Rise and shine: 7-9 am at Olympic Collection, 11301 Olympic Boulevard in LA. Register. Student pricing available.

News Flash! City Council Keeps Bike Lanes on the Table

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

A more detailed update will follow shortly, but let’s get to the good news straight away: bike lanes are still on the table for North Santa Monica Boulevard, according to City Council. Just before Council sent the $24M reconstruction project on to the design phase, councilmembers heard from no less than 33 bike lane supporters that this multimodal mobility opportunity is too important to squander. Safety for those who choose to ride a bicycle is too important to sacrifice, we said, particularly on the symbolic “not one blade of grass” argument heretofore made by lane opponents.

What happened in today’s study session? Council listened…and listened. And then listened some more as we presented our last-minute compromise proposal called the Beverly Hills Greenway and a veritable parade of 33 speakers supporting bicycle lanes followed on. In fact, Councilmembers effectively cleared the rest of the afternoon’s agenda to talk about the agenda item – construction mitigation – but with a healthy dose of discussion about how we could eek out another half-foot (or more) out of this relatively narrow corridor to fit bike lanes. (Talk about safe mobility consumed three-quarters of the meeting if not more.)

In the Council discussion we saw hardened positions soften a little and a metaphorical space was found to talk about the prospect of lanes. And if ambiguity about the ultimate outcomes remains as councilmembers discuss design over the coming months, we believe that progressive mobility solutions can happen in Beverly Hills. As the Mayor said, “We can get there – we can find a way.” And we’re prepared to work with the city to make that happen.

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

Our proposal: The Beverly Hills Greenway. We can have bicycle lanes yet lose no green space!

Make no mistake, the clear winner today was street safety. But we are all victors too in a sense: the quality of the public process today reflected the best City Hall has to offer.

We want to thank our fellow advocates and lane supporters of all stripes who worked together to bring this Greenway proposal to Council: Drew Baldwin, Eric Bruins, Kevin Burton, Ron Finley, Mahala Helfman, Rich Hirschinger, Sharon Ignarro, Lou Ignarro, Lou Karlin, Kory Klem, Tish Laemmle, Greg Laemmle, Barbara Linder, Ellen Lutwak, Taylor Nichols, Alison Regan, Richard Risemberg, Danielle Salomon, Samuel Spencer, and Eric Weinstein.

We also want to thank those who took their time today to persuade City Council to keep this option on the table. In addition to the above, they include Susan Eisenberg, Jay Slater, Bruce Phillips, Susan Gans, Josh Padget, Marisa Schneiderman, Jim Pocras, Zachary Rynew, Kevin Winston, Paul Hekimian, Josh Kurpies, David Eichman, Jeff Jacobberger, Jon Weiss, Mel Raab, Kate Rubin, Jerry Sue Ginger, Nina Salomon, and Jennifer Wright.

We also want to thank institutional supporters Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the City Council from the City of West Hollywood, Mid City West Community Council, Finish the Ride, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and others. And a special thanks to Blue Ribbon Chair Dr. Barry Pressman, who listened to reasoned argument when few did and came to be a key boulevard bike lanes advocate.

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

Passing Safely: It’s the Law!

Give Me Three posterCalifornia’s Three Feet for Safety Act went into effect in September. For the first time a law codifies what ‘safe passing’ means for those who ride a bicycle: drivers now must allow a minimum of three feet when passing a rider (or else slow to a “reasonable or prudent” speed when passing. [FAQ] While disregarding it may incur only a $35 fine, should an injury crash result then the penalty jumps to $220. If sanctions are rare, this law is at least proving its value in one key arena: it sets a standard for local governments when they build new roads.

Here in Beverly Hills we’ve seen the new law, AB-1371 Three Feet for Safety Act (Bradford, D-62), invoked long before it even took effect. The Blue Ribbon Committee that reviewed design concepts for the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project recommended a wider corridor and striped bike lanes precisely because the new law’s safe standard of   3-feet could allow riders to slow motor traffic. (We recommended a wide boulevard and bike lanes for safety too.)

Existing law also required drivers to take due care when passing, of course. Prior to the Three Feet for Safety Act the state’s vehicle code described ‘safe passing’ this way:

The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…. (Sec. 21750)

While the law didn’t identify a ‘safe passing’ distance, drivers were obligated to pass with some margin for rider safety. But the lack of a ‘safe passing’ standard made it difficult to enforce the law. And how often did drivers actually take the care necessary to pass safely? Not often enough. When we leave ‘safe distance’ to the judgement of a driver piloting a big steel box from the left-hand side as he hurtles down the road at speed, there will be close calls and, no surprise, many would-be riders are frightened of sharing the road with drivers.

(Keep in mind, however, that the law allowed, and still does allow, riders to use the entire lane if it’s too narrow to share with larger vehicles. Read more about your rights under the state law and local ordinances.)

Revision of the vehicular code to set a ‘safe passing’ standard was long overdue. Consider that only a few paragraphs after Section 21750 we see this passage that calls for a higher degree of care when passing livestock:

The driver of any vehicle approaching any horse drawn vehicle, any ridden animal, or any livestock shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signaled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding or in charge of the animal or livestock in order to avoid frightening and to safeguard the animal or livestock and to insure the safety of any person driving or riding the animal or in charge of the livestock. (Sec. 21759)

It will come as no surprise to any of us who ride in Los Angeles that a farm animal is probably safer on a city street than is a cyclist. (We’re animal lovers, but we think that parity at a minimum is appropriate.)

The new law also implicitly acknowledges that disproportionate harm is suffered by those who bike: riders are injured in collisions at a disproportionately higher rate than are motorists considering the relatively small number of riders on the road. But still this law was no slam-dunk for the Governor: two bills prior to AB-1371 died with a stroke of Jerry Brown’s veto pen despite relentless advocacy for the safe-passing standard by the California Bicycle Coalition. (This year, Brown vetoed a raft of hit-and-run laws he didn’t like.)

How Three Feet Affects (or Doesn’t Affect) Transportation Planning in Beverly Hills

The Blue Ribbon committee back in January heard that the new law provided a means by which riders could claim that 3′ of blacktop in order to pass safely, and committee members feared that riders in the travel lane would slow traffic inordinately. So the committee recommended a wider boulevard and the striping of lanes.

More recently, in December, Beverly Hills transportation staff presented a new set of concept options for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. And the staff report included a cursory supplementary analysis in light of the Three Feet for Safety Act. And what it found was that a boulevard less than 63′ would pinch the #2 lane to make safe passing impracticable. For example, maintaining a 60-ft width would allow only 8′ to pass, according to this city diagram:

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 the section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state’s 3 foot passing law).

By contrast, a 63-feet wide blacktop would provide sufficient room for motorists to safely pass a cyclist in the #2 lane, which we feel is demanded on a busy regional corridor that serves 50,000 vehicles a day. That’s why the Blue Ribbon had earlier recommended an even wider, 66-ft wide boulevard with striped lanes: that’s what’s necessary to maximize safety, it agreed by a wide margin, and nearly 200 road users who commented agreed.

Even our staff, led by Susan Healey Keene, Director of the Community Development Department (which has responsibility for transportation planning) agreed – and recommended the wider boulevard (albeit without striping lanes).

So why would our transportation staff now now recommend constructing this key regional corridor at only 60-ft, rider safety be damned? Simply because it’s more politically palatable to our City Council.  (Stay tuned: a final decision on boulevard width will come on January 6th.)

No Net Loss Proposal: 62-Feet Allows Bicycle Lanes

We need not sacrifice rider safety on the altar of political expedience. A proposal to standardize (or rationalize) the entire boulevard at 62-ft with narrower lanes and striped bicycle lanes will be soon be presented to Council. As a bonus, those narrower travel lanes will slow traffic too. Win-win! We’ll discuss this proposal at a Monday (12/22) meeting at 7pm in the south meeting room of Beverly Hills Public Library (444 N. Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills).

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

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

The Three Feet for Safety Act provides street safety advocates with leverage we didn’t have prior. Before AB-1371, ‘safe passing’ was not defined; now it is defined as a three feet buffer around the rider. Transportation planners must take the new standard into account when, say, planning new roads or reconstructing existing ones (like Santa Monica). The law demands that rider safety be put on par with concerns like traffic throughput.

Beverly Hills will not have heard that message if City Council decides to construct Santa Monica Boulevard to a 20th century standard. At 60′ our segment of the boulevard will be too narrow to ever include bicycle lanes. Then we’ll not only have the impediment to traffic flow that Blue Ribbon committee members had feared; we’ll have a standing example of how our city, faced with the task of accommodating to new modes of mobility, simply disregarded our own plans and stuck our heads in the sand despite knowing better.Give-me-three Logo

LOL

Aside

LOL: “Under the leadership of the City Manager, Jeff Kolin, Beverly Hills City employees aspire towards a performance environment of excellence and innovation. The ultimate goal is to provide unparalleled municipal services by being ‘the Best of the Best.'” We wish him well in his pending retirement.

Are Fading Beverly Hills Bike Facilities a Metaphor?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The pilot program as approved by City Council: just two routes out of five under consideration.

In 2013 City of Beverly Hills chose two corridors for bike facilities under the city’s (very) limited ‘pilot project.’ Several block segments of Crescent Drive and Burton way were identified by consultant Fehr & Peers as suitable for class II bicycle lanes, while Crescent (south of Santa Monica) was also deemed suitable for sharrows. A year on, our facilities are showing their age: Burton Way bike lanes are disappearing before our eyes; and an ill-advised realignment of sharrows on Crescent Drive now puts riders at risk.

Are our city’s first-ever bike facilities installed under the pilot program (read the feasibility study) an indication of bike-friendliness, as our Mayor says? Or do they telegraph our city’s true regard for the safety of two-wheeled road users in Beverly Hills as revealed by councilmembers this past summer? In short, are these pilot improvements a metaphor for the slippage of bike improvements from a Council ‘B’ priority to off the agenda entirely?

Consider the bicycle lanes installed on several block segments of Burton Way. They were striped with ordinary paint. As a result, the pilot program bicycle lanes have faded – really faded – to the point of disappearing before our eyes.

Beverly Hills and Los Angeles bike lane striping on Burton Way

Witness the difference between the faded bicycle lanes on Burton Way in Beverly Hills (left) and the markings on that same corridor in adjacent Los Angeles (right).

Faded crosswalk at Wilshire & Santa Monica South

Pity the poor pedestrians who cross every day at this major juncture of Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard South!

Yet the city appears to have no appetite to restripe them. And to be fair, it’s a citywide problem: many of our crosswalks have faded to the point of putting pedestrians in danger. They take on a ghostly quality, which is surely not appropriate for a traffic control device. So you see it’s not just cyclists that get the back of the hand. That’s why Beverly Hills leads small cities in California in pedestrian collision injuries.

Will our bike lanes be restored to their original luster? Our deputy director for transportation was non-committal when asked. (Stay tuned for an update as we have another query into the division.)

Another problem area with regard to the pilot program is the sharrows implementation on Crescent Drive (below Santa Monica Boulevard North). Heading northbound on Crescent approaching Brighton Way, the sharrow is correctly positioned in the right lane. North of Brighton approaching Santa Monica South, however, the sharrow has been relocated to the #2 lane adjacent to the double-yellow. That puts passing motor traffic to the right of the rider crossing over the next intersection. But then north of the Santa Monica South intersection the sharrow again shifts back to the right lane, forcing a rider merge with that passing traffic.

Sharrow placement on Crescent Drive infographicAdd to the obvious safety implications the fact that passing traffic has an incentive to speed along this segment in order to make both the Santa Monica South and Santa Monica North green lights and you have a recipe for serious rider injury.

This was brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, in early August. Of course transportation staff should have recognized the problem; for many months these sharrows have been misaligned But neither the plain evidence or even our communication has made the slightest bit of difference: riders still navigate this hazard as city hall takes no action to correct it.

City Hall: No Passion for Action on Road Safety

This pilot program in our opinion was too little, too late anyway. It was not intended to be much more than a gesture toward a bike-friendly claim. Indeed it doesn’t bolster our confidence that councilmember Julian Gold has appeared anxious for this pilot program – by definition it’s not permanent – to come back before Council for reevaluation. But to approve it and then wholly neglect to maintain it? That’s spitting into the eye of every rider who would follow our own city plans’ advice to opt whenever possible for bicycle travel over auto travel. You know – to reduce auto congestion and emissions!

Santa Monica's thermoplast bicycle lane markings

City of Santa Monica not only embraces thermoplast but pays more for pre-templated bike lane markings.

Thankfully we do have better examples on offer in neighboring cities. Both Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles, for example, are rolling out bike facilities citywide. They’re installed to be permanent – not as part of a pilot – and they’re installed according to Caltrans requirements. Moreover, these cities use thermoplastic, not regular paint, to ensure that such state-approved traffic safety measures stick around for more than a year. Santa Monica goes one better: new bike lanes there are high-visibility and some of them even buffered from adjacent motor traffic.

Calling ourselves bike-friendly and making Beverly Hills streets safe and welcoming to cyclists are not the same thing. We find the faded lanes and misplaced sharrows on Burton and Crescent to be an apt metaphor for city hall’s fading concern for rider safety as well as the future of the pilot program.

So often in Beverly Hills we like to talk the talk because it’s easy and cost-free.  But we prefer not to actually walk the walk because it’s harder and it costs money. Other cities make the investment in facilities and plan for a multimodal mobility future. Why not Beverly Hills?

Update: on Tuesday, 11/18 City Council will hear the staff recommendation to make these two paltry bike routes permanent and, if that’s approved, Public Works will presumably restripe them. After all, it allows the city to say they’ve done something for rider safety. Stay tuned.

CicLaVia Returns Sunday, October 5th

Ciclavia 2014-10-5 map smallThe vaunted closed-street bike parade known as CicLAvia returns to Los Angeles city streets this Sunday with a ride from Echo Park though Downtown and into East Los Angeles. This exciting route not only offers a window onto our region’s complex urban fabric; it also bids Westside riders to explore areas to the east which we are less likely to seek out. We’ll be there on Sunday and may even catch a feeder ride to Echo Park. Join us!

What Is CicLAvia?

What needs to be said about our region’s foremost celebration of the street as a public space? This Sunday morning, feel-good shutdown of traffic that otherwise rules is not only an opportunity to see our region from a different perspective. That’s important because we must refocus our attention from the reigning mobility paradigm, in which policies and priorities make motoring our first and most convenient choice, to a near-future wherein multimodal mobility offers real transportation options to those who don’t want to drive.

In fact, CicLAvia has been conceived as a bona fide social program to prompt us to reconsider our most overlooked public space resource: city streets. “Our streets are congested with traffic, our air is polluted with toxic fumes, our children suffer from obesity and other health conditions caused by the scarcity of public space and safe, healthy transportation options,” the CicLAvia folks say. “CicLAvia creates a temporary park for free, simply by removing cars from city streets. It creates a network of connections between our neighborhoods and businesses and parks with corridors filled with fun.”

We’ve participated in many of the CicLAvias and it’s always a blast. And you don’t even need to own a bike to enjoy CicLAvia. There are plenty of opportunities to rent a ride. And if you don’t want to ride, you can walk, run, skate, or scooter. By whatever means of conveyance, be sure to join us! And be sure to ride safe.

The Route

This ‘Heart of LA’ route will once again make Downtown LA a fulcrum of sorts for a cross-region ride. From the west, riders will gather in Echo Park and then follow the historic Pacific Electric route to downtown. From there we’ll thread through the Historic Broadway Theater District, where a relocated pedestrian zone will encourage mixing; then stop at the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (at Grand Park) before crossing the Los Angeles River to pass by Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on the way to the East Los Angeles. The official route terminates with a ‘kids zone’ at the East LA Civic Center.Ciclavia 2014-10-5 map

Grab A Feeder Ride!

Unlike recent CicLAvias, this weekend’s ride does not close Wilshire Boulevard so you’ll likely find yourself on a parallel route to downtown or to the route’s terminus at Echo Park. Fortunately you won’t have to think too hard about it: we have two good feeder rides to lead us to either the Echo Park terminus or the Downtown hub.

Ciclavia 2014-10-4 Santa Monica Spoke feeder route mapRiders in Beverly Hills can join up with not one but two ‘feeder’ rides to the downtown event. Santa Monica Spoke, that city’s premier bike advocacy organization, is hosting a ride departing from the Santa Monica Pier at 8:30 a.m. (come early for the free bagels). Their route courses through Beverly Hills along Santa Monica Boulevard South and Burton Way before it hooks up with LA’s 4th Street bike boulevard to the western Echo Park terminus.

Ciclavia 2014-10-4 I martin feeder route mapIf you make your way to Mid City, bike shop I Martin is hosting a feeder ride from that shop at 8330 Beverly Boulevard which will depart at 8:30 a.m. This feeder takes the same 4th Street route to downtown. With enough riders from the Westside, we can make it a defacto CicLAvia route east!

You need not ride the whole CicLAvia route or even ride to the event at all. Public transit has always been a key consideration for ride organizers. Find Metro rail stops all along the route! We’ll see you there!

How NOT to Make a Street Safety Video

dangerstoppers video title

We watched the new City of Beverly Hills video ‘Watch Your Walk,’ part of the Dangerstoppers series co-produced by the Beverly Hills Police Department and the city’s Health and Safety Commission, because we were curious what kind of safety advice City Hall dispenses. And true to this trouble-titled video, pedestrians are admonished to take extra care because drivers are off-the-hook for their bad road behavior. We wondered, why has Beverly Hills suddenly gotten into the street safety business? For years the city has turned a blind eye to driver aggression streets (especially when it’s directed at those who ride a bicycle). Perhaps officials were prompted to act by the average six pedestrians injured every month on Beverly Hills streets. That rate … Continue reading