Santa Monica Blvd Recap & Update

Recently we spoke with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, about Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction and what to next expect in the process. Recall that back in March, the Council majority seemed unwilling to concede an extra foot of width to accommodate them. But the ballooning cost estimate stalled the project, and the Council deferred action pending more information about costs and traffic mitigation.

Santa Monica Boulevard: Quick Recap of the Timeline

The reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard has proved to be a much greater challenge than expected when the project was put on the city’s agenda in September of 2010. Back then, construction was anticipated to begin mid-2013. But that timeline began to slide in early 2012 when, prior to distribution, the draft project RFP  was referred back to staff because it specified no ‘complete streets’ measures as part of the project.

(The inclusion of complete streets principles is entirely discretionary, yet, as we recommended to the city, would be forward-looking. In 2009, a new state law directed localities to include complete streets principles in plans and policies by 2011. The intent was to ensure that making streets ‘complete’ or safe for all users would guide local transportation planning and infrastructure construction. But Beverly Hills got under the wire with a general plan update in 2010, and of course our city has passed no local complete streets ordinance to mandate such safety measures.)

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape.

As a result of our own inattention, complete streets treatments (like continental crosswalks and traffic calming measures such as curb extensions) are rare in Beverly Hills anywhere outside of the polished diamond of the business triangle.

When the draft RFP came up for Council review, then-Mayor John Mirisch argued that complete streets principles should frame expectations for this key transportation project and Council agreed. But even with that revised RFP, the project contract wasn’t signed until a full year later.

What should tomorrow’s corridor look like? City Council in the fall of 2013 appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee to consider conceptual design options. The committee’s work concluded in January of 2014. Between the Blue Ribbon and City Council meeting in March of this year, over 200 members of the public commented in support of bicycle lanes…public input which the Council majority seemingly opposed to lanes simply waved away. Since then, the entire project has been (figuratively) parked.

What’s next?

Backbone Bike NetworkWhile city staff & consultants prepare traffic mitigation options and revised cost estimates, Council is pondering the politics of boulevard widening and the prudence of dual-phasing the project with the western segment coming later. As we earlier observed, the problem for riders is that the lanes option could slip away unless we keep our focus on the project as a larger piece of the regional bicycle backbone network (right); and that much-needed safety improvements to the Santa Monica-Wilshire intersection may be deferred indefinitely.

On September 23rd the project comes back to City Council. Will Council then address the bicycle lanes question? Aaron Kunz from Beverly Hills was not committal; he described the agenda item it as more of a discussion about cost and traffic mitigation. But the traffic mitigation issue is directly related to the bicycle lanes question: if Council decides to unduly limit the width of tomorrow’s boulevard (to 63 feet or less, for example) it will forever preclude bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.

In effect, Council could decide the lanes question simply by choosing a specific mitigation option that boxes out the possibility, without ever directly addressing the merits of a bicycle lane.

We’ll know more about the contours of the Council’s discussion when the staff report is released the Friday before.

BH Chamber GAC logoBefore that Council meeting, however, the Beverly Hills Chamber has scheduled an August 21st government affairs committee meeting to discuss the bike lanes option. As presented in the announcement, the Chamber will receive pro & con positions on the lanes, with high-profile NIMBYs like Robert and Bob Tanenbaum and Thomas White speaking out against them. You are urged to attend. More information can be found in our earlier post.

Don’t you can email members of City Council to remind them that you ride in and around Beverly Hills and that safe passage along this corridor is not discretionary – it is an obligation for the city to provide. Use our handy contacts cheat sheet and remind city officials that bike riders matter too.

Use the Joint Powers Agreement as Leverage

BHHS bicycle rack cluster

The student’s reward for biking to high school: a crappy bike rack far from the classrooms.

City of Beverly Hills can take many steps to encourage safe cycling, but no step would be as formative as making sure our school district plans for safe cycling align with our city’s vision for multimodal mobility. Today our school campuses are hardly bike-friendly: only a few K-8 plants include a bicycle rack, and our high school (right) is a worst-practice example in how to discourage riding to school. But City Council could leverage our joint-powers agreement with BHUSD to ensure that the school board makes campuses much more bike-friendly.

As we’ve said before, the schools might just be the best opportunity to get folks riding. In the face of policymaker indifference to a citywide bike network, and outright hostility to a facility like a bicycle lane, our schools could do much to welcome students who choose ride. That would not only serve our common interest, but help dig the district out of its chronic inability to meet student parking demand.

Nor should the district even try. Instead, BHUSD could use some of the public’s bond dollars that are earmarked for facilities upgrades (but often spent on anti-Metro attorneys) to install better racks, say, or to establish phys-ed programs that demonstrate safe-riding techniques to students. We’re seeing an uptick in riding among students in many areas of the city. Why not Beverly Hills?

We’re realists: we don’t have much hope that BHUSD will take the lead on its own accord. To date the board has exhibited scant interest in encouraging cycling, in fact. The high school principal, Carter Paysinger (ironically, a former sports coach) hasn’t reciprocated our outreach to increase the rate of bike-to-school at BHHS. Moreover, we’ve attended a handful of facilities oversight meetings at the district HQ to make sure that multimodal mobility concerns are heard. But our pleas for better bike racks and class II bicycle lanes to connect schools and parks were only met with knowing nods… but no action.

Yet our principal does seem interested in his own after-school extra-curricular sports network – for which he recruits fee-paying district students. A report last year commissioned by the school board found that he’d been self-dealing by controlling that enterprise, failing to report income, and sidestepping conflict of interest rules but he was cleared of criminal charges. To date he’s not been sanctioned by the district.

Regardless, he can do more to make the high school welcoming to riders. And now is the time to ensure that the high school, and all campuses, are hospitable to multimodal mobility for decades to come. The BHUSD facilities upgrade is a perfect opportunity to align campus mobility planning with our city’s own vision for increased bicycle use.

What Leverage Does Our City Have Over the District?

City Council can encourage the district to move forward on our city’s health and safety priorities by conditioning some part of the $1 million in taxpayer funding we give to the district (under a ‘joint powers agreement’) on bike-friendly district facilities. What is a joint powers agreement? We’re glad you asked. From Tuesday’s staff report 2014-6-17:

The City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District entered into a four year agreement effective July, 2012 regarding the provision, use and maintenance of educational, recreational and community facilities and programs…During the year, the City averages approximately ninety (90) hours per day of School District facility use. This includes, but is not limited to, preschool programs, after school childcare and enrichment classes, youth sports organization use, aquatic activities, summer camps, adult sports and adult classes. Without the use of School District facilities many of these recreation opportunities for the community would be non-existent or extremely limited. – Staff report

We pay dearly for the privilege of using school facilities: $1 million annually, in fact. That presents an opportunity to extract a bike-friendly concession for our school district bucks. Indeed the agreement could provide some incentive for district planning for multimodal mobility. After all, our city’s Bicycle Master Plan (1977 – see the map at bottom) views schools as key nodes of a planned citywide network. Why not plan for safe cycling from these nodes out to the rest of the city?

BHHS pool conditions

Decrepit pool conditions suggests a history of mismanagement of BHHS the facility.

But there’s yet another reason to task the district under a revised agreement: it is simply falling down on the agreement that the district already signed. The Joint Powers Agreement staff report highlights the problems: poor maintenance of pool facilities that disrupt city aquatics classes; a $32k city tab for outside-the-district facilities rentals after the unanticipated closure of the pool and B-ball court; and poor district communication practices that put the city at the whim of the district for after-school and other programming. BHUSD is the tail wagging the dog.

We can and should ask for more from BHUSD. City Council can start by renegotiating the agreement to 1) hold the district accountable for poor performance; and 2) to ensure that BHUSD becomes more bike-friendly for the benefit of all city residents and students both present and future.

Bike Master Plan Bikeways system map (1976)

An ambitious 22-mile bikeways system for Beverly Hills in the Bicycle Master Plan (1977) shows how schools and parks could be linked by multimodal mobility facilities like bike lanes, paths and routes.


Santa Monica Boulevard Comes Back May 20th

Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to Wilshire

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz apprized us this week that no decisions have been made about bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard because staff and the contractor, Psomas, are still refining cost projections for the reconstruction project. We expected it to come back before City Council for direction this week, but it looks like it won’t come back until May 20th in afternoon study session. At that meeting, Kunz said, the key question will be, To what width do we want to construct the boulevard?  Update: The Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project is indeed scheduled for the May 20th Council study session (2:30pm) but it is agendized as an informational item. Council will review justification for the revised cost … Continue reading

California’s Vulnerable Road Users Protection Act


California Bicycle Coalition is spearheading the Vulnerable Road Users Protection Act (AB 2398) in California. The bill would put real sanctions to negligent road behavior. How necessary is this new protection for those who bike, walk, run or skateboard our streets?  Bike safety advocate Ted Rogers says that vehicular homicide is the only form of murder for which perpetrators are regularly excused. We agree: support Calbike’s push for AB 2398 today!