About Our Safe Streets Campaign

Congestion on Santa Monica Boulevard

Our Campaign for Better Transportation Choices

bike jump

Beverly Hills: Rollin’ like it’s 1977!

Better Bike is all about making our streets safe and accessible for all travelers. Since 2010 we have pressed City of Beverly Hills to leave behind our outdated transportation policies and join our Westside municipal neighbors to support safe, ‘multimodal mobility’ alternatives to the automobile.

Today we don’t have practical transportation options in Beverly Hills. While each of us expects to arrive safely at our destination regardless of whether we travel by bike, foot or car, too often choosing to walk or ride a bicycle summons fear of injury. These travel modes simply must be safe and practical options too.

As our own city plans recognize, multimodal mobility for Beverly Hills is the best solution to problems like increased congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. And our General Plan’s Circulation Element talks  about making streets safe for road users. But it’s just talk if no policy supports it. Indeed collisions injure too many non-motor travelers on city streets. Bike-involved collisions account for ten percent of total collisions, for example, which is too many since people on bicycles make up less than 1% of all road users. Worse, in Beverly Hills nearly 300 collisions every year are hit-and-run. Where are the policies to address these problems?

We know from other cities that bicycle lanes and similar state-approved safety improvements not only make cyclists safer, they make cyclists feel safer too. And that encourages more of us to take a bicycle instead of a car – particularly women who often say they feel particularly vulnerable sharing the streets with harried drivers.

Yet facilities like bicycle lanes, bike ‘boxes,’ and bike-priority signaling find no welcome in Beverly Hills. Though we have a Bicycle Master Plan that calls for a bike route network, the plan dates from 1977 (as in ‘disco’ era 1977) and has yet to be revisited in the five years since our General Plan called for an update.

The First Step to Safer Streets is a A Real Bike Plan

Since 2010 Better Bike has called for the creation of a plan and implementation of programs and improvements that would make cycling safe. We’ve asked for dedicated bike lanes, intersection improvements, safety signage, and bike parking – all measures that we see in other cities that signals a bike-friendly environment – but to no avail. Why can’t we create streets that are safe for kids and adults biking to school, work, and shops?

Well we can. We need only look back to that 1970-era plan for guidance. From it we can begin to discuss what could be the citywide bike route network that we need. Here’s our first draft of what a comprehensive bicycle network should look like:

Bike routes Bevery Hills proposed map

A bike network in the making: Santa Monica Boulevard and Charleville provide east-west through routes while Beverly and Crescent drives afford north-south travel. Major points of access to surrounding cities come at the western gateway, Burton Way in the east, Sunset to the north and Beverly to the south.

We believe that at a minimum a Beverly Hills bike route network should include:

  • Routes that connect our five city schools and our key business districts;
  • Pavement markings and signage that show motorists and cyclists alike how to safely traverse major intersections;
  • Marked bike lanes on key corridors and shared-lane markings called “sharrows” on all secondary streets;
  • Bicycle racks where people need them and bike rack ‘corrals’ at high bike traffic points;
  • City-sponsored riding skills & road safety classes for all age groups and integrated into our Summer recreation program; and,
  • Changes to transportation and development policies to discourage auto commuting and encourage mass transit with the bicycle providing the proverbial ‘last mile’ connection between work, home, and transit.

Where Are We Now?

Four years ago our Traffic & Parking Commission created an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update committee to bring our 1977-era Bicycle Master Plan into the modern era, but it has made no recommendations. Three years ago, staff began to talk about more bicycle racks, but the fewer-than-25 to be installed haven’t yet found a place on our our sidewalks. No sign advises riders and drivers to share the road. Not even a simple city webpage offers safe-riding tips. We haven’t come a long way baby.

By calling attention to the safety hazards of cycling in Beverly Hills, we hope to highlight the challenges of simply choosing to ride a bike here. In the face of intransigent city officials and a population unschooled in the joys and practical benefits of cycling, have you any suggestions to offer? Let us know.

Recent Posts

LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest

Beverly Hills iphone appFortune magazine has posted the latest piece branding our region a SoCal version of Silicon Valley. Trading on that genuine article’s well-earned reputation for bootstrapped innovation, the ‘Silicon Beach’ concept summons our history of space-age imagination while edging into the glow thrown off by the Bay Area cauldron. Beverly Hills wants some of that new-economy gloss too, of course. We call ourselves the ‘smart city’ after all. But are we really a player in the Southern California technology economy? Are we as smart as we think we are?

Yes, we fancy ours a ‘smart city.’ We’ve got ‘flex-pay’ parking meters, online utility bill and parking ticket payment, ‘smart irrigation controllers,’ and our favorite bids for smart city status, iPhone apps like the ‘Ask Bev’ online reporting tool (aka “a high-tech citizen request system”). Over the past few years, City Council has also backed creation of an ‘E-Gov portal’ and implemented ‘smart traffic management.’ We’ve experimented with an “expansion of wired and wireless networks” and even flirted with laying broadband fiber.

All of it came under the umbrella of this high-technology priority*:

Expand the use of technology to improve efficiency in all initiatives including communications infrastructure and safety programs. (Priorities 2011-12 & 2012-13)

These ‘smart city’ initiatives have been ongoing for nearly ten years, but have they delivered on the promise of a smarter city?

 

The Visionary City sloganThe Visionary City?

We like to talk about ‘vision’ here in Beverly Hills. But our vision is relatively short-sighted. We’ve not gazed to the horizon of possibilities but instead focused on what we can get done today, before the staffers head back to the suburbs. Let’s take a look at some ambitious initiatives that really didn’t meet the vision.

We’ll start with fiber. City Council has talked about bringing fiber broadband to the masses for years. Indeed it is all the rage because cities from Santa Monica to Chattanooga find some competitive advantage (lower costs, freedom from proprietary control) in providing municipally-owned broadband services.

But our city has taken no step toward fulfilling the promise of broadband via fiber. Even our brief flirtation with outsourcing fiber broadband to Google fizzled, leaving our ‘smart city’ committee wishing we could catch up to the likes of Chattanooga.

Google fiber announcement via In Focus March 2010While we gave up on fiber rollout, what about municipal Wifi? We have only a very limited public network according to the city’s map:

WiFi coverage map

The larger map shows the only hotspot in the hot South Beverly Drive area while the inset map shows hypothetical coverage, which should – but doesn’t – extend through the 200 block.

If there’s anything that today’s tech-minded folks for granted it is the omnipresence of WiFi. But Beverly Hills does not deliver on this crucial leading-edge pubic infrastructure. Our system hardly covers the entirety of the business triangle, much less service the commercial districts beyond. Even for these relatively few hotspots the connectivity isn’t very good. Let’s just say that our system is no threat to Time Warner.

What about E-Government? To civic engagement folks it’s a precondition for governing in the 21st century. But real ‘E-Gov’ (as we say) doesn’t play much of a role in governing in Beverly Hills. We’re an old-school institution that doesn’t even count online as a designated posting place for public meeting agendas. (Check the bulletin board at the library, staff say, when we point out that some or other meeting wasn’t even noticed on the city’s website.)

And the initiatives that we have put in place simply tinker at the margin. We’ve got the online bill pay, sure, and our ‘Government Efficiency 2.0′ effort “streamlines” development by allowing us to pull development permits remotely. But these are transactional tools. What about real public engagement?

Consider the city’s website. It should be our gateway to E-Government. But our site lags far behind other cities in design and functionality. (It was beyond its shelf-life even years ago when it was last upgraded.) Check out these nested menus!

Beverly Hills city website menus smallAnd while we hear about City Hall efforts like “electronic presentation of agenda materials,” the truth is that we still like our paper: just last month a city committee elected to keep receiving the thick paper packets. Moreover, the electronic agenda materials that are posted online are often PDFs scanned from paper documents anyway (rather than generated from native files) and they are sometimes are not searchable because there’s no OCR layer.

Other city efforts we see as distinctly small-ball too. Our so-called ‘smart traffic management’ scheme? Council priorities perfunctorily touch on “demand/flow models or other tools” but what does that mean in practice? Evidently not much: vehicular congestion is as bad as ever. Heck, the city has not even re-striped faded pavement markings, and those are the foundation of traffic control. When was the last time you saw a newly-repainted lane marker or crosswalk in Beverly Hills?

Mobile is very hot these days, of course. Some cities use mobile apps to engage the citizenry and encourage participation. But the city falls short of a ‘smart city’ promise here too. Our explorer-type Mobile Beverly Hills app feels like a proof of concept: it is slow, buggy and the listings are incomplete (none of the city’s smaller parks are listed for example). It hasn’t made much progress since we first reviewed it in 2012. Some cities have found mobile apps to be a valuable means of helping people report problems (potholes, etc.) but our own Ask Bev Mobile requires password sign-in every time you open it. That’s sure to dissuade reporting.

Worst, neither app has been updated in the last 18 months; and neither is tuned to take advantage of the newest iPhone operating system (iOS 8). When the apps were announced, though, there was ‘smart city’ promise wafting through the air!

Smart iPhone App via In focus August 2010What a Real ‘Smart City’ Should Do

We see thoughtful civic innovations like ‘open data‘ rolled out in other cities. We should copy their lead. Open data, a tech movement that has revolutionized the way some local governments keep the public informed, make public information more, well, public. Crime data helps everyone better understand the safety of the environment in which we live and work, for example. But it also informs City Hall by providing fodder for tinkerers who want to put the voluminous information we collect to use. Armchair analysts come up with new ways of looking at urban problems that were likely never envisioned by staffers.

Citizen analysts sift the policing data to examine the effectiveness of police resources management, for example; or use it to surface social factors that affect public safety. In that same vein we see ‘hackathons’ wherein open data evangelists come together to  incubate civic projects. City of Santa Monica does it:

From the event announcement:

You are invited to join us as we make available new real-time data for Big Blue Bus scheduling (GTFS-rt), real-time on-street and lot parking, Fire Department Calls for Service, and citywide water usage data. During the meetup, you will be provided with the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the City’s open data program, including providing input to help shape future events.

Why isn’t there a place for open data and hackathons in Beverly Hills? Well, for one thing our departments make very few datasets public. Maybe you want to use budget data to illustrate change in departments’ funding or staffing over time. How would you do it? Today you would scrape annual budget reports (PDFs) to get those numbers because the structured finance data isn’t available. Though we boast about our ‘transparent’ budgeting process, the city has never even posted its final FY 2014-15 operations budget, so you’d have to request it.

The data that we’d most like a crack at working with is BHPD crash data. As Beverly Hills-based bike advocate, Better Bike would map bike-related injuries and analyze the factors that contributed to them. But the police won’t release collision information to the public; they also claim there’s no automated way to even search it by criterion.

The police department does tally crash injuries monthly for our Traffic and Parking Commission, but city analysts don’t chart the data so policymakers have no idea how injury rates are trending.

Turns out they’re trending mostly upward. We scraped the data from seven years of department reports and plugged them into a spreadsheet. And we found pretty much zero progress over time in reducing the number of crash injuries. Worse, bike injuries, in fact, are way up since 2008. We presented these general findings to our Traffic and Parking commissioners (who likely had no idea about those trends) and received a polite ‘thank you’ but no follow up for our charts. Imagine what we could do with data on crash locations!

Beverly Hills Water Tracker

The city’s water tracker is fine for checking your own wastage, but not much help in shaming your neighbors.

But wait, there’s more we would like to do. We want to take a crack at displaying water consumption data by household to map the biggest water wasters. We would also assess its consumption pattern over time. But Beverly Hills City Hall isn’t interested in these measures. For good reason, the data searched through the ‘water tracker’ tool is available only to an account holder. So there is no bigger picture of consumption that any of us can piece together.

If we’d had that data years ago we could have charted the trends to guess how little progress the city would make on conservation. And maybe saved the effort of regular exhortations and instead moved right to sanctions.

City of Santa Monica is making their water usage data open and available to the public for civic hackers and whomever. Why not Beverly Hills?

Will We Ever Become a Technophile’s City?

Few startups will form here and few established firms will see an incentive to relocate if they don’t regard Beverly Hills as leading-edge or even competitive with other areas in the realm of technology and innovation. Just check out Fortune’s ‘Technologist’s Guide‘ map. We see branch offices of the best-known technology firms – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook – and high-flying app-makers like Snapchat, Tinder and even Whisper. Where is Beverly Hills represented here?

Fortune Magazine's technology map

Fortune Magazine maps plenty of tech action, but none of it is happening in Beverly Hills.

Of course it’s not. We have no major tech firms here except an outlier: a small frontier outpost of YouTube. We’d like some of that tech gloss to be sure, but let’s face that we’re just not that hip to tech folks. We’re so ‘old economy,’ in fact, that our budget is practically shackled to industries like retailing, hospitality, and medical, law and finance. Tourism and commerce run this city.

Even if we don’t suck in the smarts, boy do we attract the capital! Fortune notes that Beverly Hills is a bedroom community of choice for the richest of the ‘Silicon’ elite. Jeff Bezos paid $24 million for his home here. Minecraft’s founder bought a $70 million spread. Irrational exuberance has evidently been great for our real estate sellers and city coffers, but we aren’t seeing the trickle-down in tech jobs and knowledge workers. Capital just doesn’t lend the same glow as a critical mass of technologists. It smells alright, but it doesn’t have the same luster.

Will Beverly Hills bask in the glow of the tech economy? Or are we consigned to be the bedroom community for elite who prefer to work in Santa Monica and Los Angeles? Those cities are investing in broadband fiber and WiFi networks as well as life-enhancing safe-streets and alternative modes of transportation because it appeals to today’s techies. Will we ever roll out those innovations here? Bike lanes and the like?

That’s the only way we’ll drag our city into the 21st century. Living up to our self-assigned reputation will take a much more visionary City Council than we have today.Beverly Hills vision statement: technology programs

*Notably, Beverly Hills has delivered another kind of ‘smart city’ too: we’ve installed an extensive system of automated license plate readers (currently a focus of ACLU lawyers nationwide) and CCTV cameras that capture our every move. These aren’t delivering increased governmental efficiency and better public communications; today’s ‘smart city’ has a darker side too.

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