Beverly Hills Bike Route Pilot Program

Beverly Hills Pilot Bike Route Program

Crescent Drive sharrow

Pilot Program Class II bicycle lane on North Crescent Drive.

Bike planning has come late to Beverly Hills. Forty years have passed since cycing took hold of the public imagination in the 1970s. In 1973, for example, more bicycles were sold than ever before. About five years later, Beverly Hills authored its own Bicycle Master Plan.* And there it sat on the shelf for another 35 years.

About four years ago, the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission formed an ad-hoc committee to update that old plan. But we’ve seen no progress on a new bike plan, and those 25 bicycle racks that transportation staff has been talking about for a couple of years have yet to materialize on city sidewalks. Heck, our city can’t even be bothered to post an online ‘ride safe’ and ‘drive safe’ tips webpage. How difficult is that?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The one program to which policymakers can point is the ‘Pilot’ bike route program. It is out city’s first initiative to plan for cycling. In all, the program provides a few segments of Class II bicycle lanes and a few blocks of share-the-road ‘sharrow’ markings. With these improvements, city leaders can say that Beverly Hills recognizes cycling as a legitimate means of transportation.

But is it enough? While we welcome the city’s initiative (indeed we’ve been calling for improvements since early 2010) our concerns are several. Most important among them is that the Pilot improvements are simply not relevant to today’s riders. Where they have been installed few tend to ride. But the most trafficked corridors were excluded.

Time Runs Out for Bike Improvements

Perhaps the most problematic aspect is that the Pilot program effectively stops the clock on any other improvements. There have been no bicycle lanes installed since; no signs hang the only road sign hanging from a city post is on the Pilot-established Crescent bike lane; and not a single intersection has been upgraded with best-practice striping to assist cyclists in navigating clearly hazardous conditions.

Indeed the clock has stopped: Public Works Department for its part recently closed out its only active cycling infrastructure item on the projects list. And a recent Traffic and Parking Commission work plan status report includes an item titled ‘Citywide Bike Plan Update,’ which refers to no action on the 1977 plan but does say “bicycle planning efforts are now focused on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Are the Pilot measures really the total of the city’s investment in safe cycling? A work plan discussion back in February clarified:

As a first step toward a Citywide Bike Plan, after recommendations from the Traffic & Parking Commission, the City Council directed staff to move forward with bicycle routes on Burton Way and Crescent Drive.

So much for safe cycling across the rest of the city! The Pilot measures weren’t derived from our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan (Crescent wasn’t identified in its citywide route network) so the plan and the Pilot are unrelated. But what about that next step toward a real citywide bike plan?

What Do Our Plans Say?

Smart Mobility Call to Action 2012Let’s take a look at the Pilot program itself and the city policies behind it before we focus on the process and particulars.

Our city plans acknowledge that multimodal mobility must be an answer to our mobility challenges. According to California DOT’s Smart Mobility Call to Action, the aim should be to “create communities where walking, bicycling, and transit use are common choices” through appropriate development and mobility policies. Smart Mobility, an accompanying fact sheet says, “responds to the transportation needs of the State’s people and businesses, addresses climate change, advances social equity and environmental justice, supports economic and community development, and reduces per capita vehicles miles traveled.”

Indeed our city plans say as much: our Sustainable City Plan, for example, calls on residents to walk or ride a bicycle wherever possible in order to reduce auto congestion and emissions. In accord with Smart Mobility principles, our goal is to “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community” in part through energy-efficient land use policies but also by “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourag[ing] alternative forms of travel.”

The Circulation Element of the General Plan is on board with that prescription too. It says we should provide travelers with “realistic options” to driving if we are to discourage additional vehicle miles traveled. Sensible enough, right? To that end, the element says, we should be “improving bicycle or pedestrian travel routes” in order to encourage travelers to make better transportation choices. Indeed the Circulation Element in its call for “a greater emphasis” on walking, bicycle riding, and transit says that amendments were adopted in the General Plan (in 2010) to facilitate it. Have we seen any “greater emphasis” on walking, riding or transit in Beverly Hills?

How Does the Pilot Program Comport with Our Bicycle Master Plan?

Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan of Bikeways map (1976)

Proposed bicycle network (circa 1977)

The Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan was authored back at the height of the bike renaissance in 1977. Yet it remains on the books and for good reason: the plan recommended that a 22-mile citywide network of bicycle lanes (right) be developed in order to connect parks and schools with our city’s residential neighborhoods. According to the Bicycle Master Plan, “bikeway facilities would serve the interests of both children and adults, so that the system could serve as alternative transportation to parks, schools, shopping areas, etc.”

The kind of network that would connect schools and parks with key destinations is a great place to begin a conversation about bike planning (as we noted), yet neither the Traffic and Parking Commission nor the City Council ever reviewed our Bicycle Master Plan prior during Pilot program development and discussion. Nor were the Sustainability Plan nor the General Plan’s circulation element ever invoked. Collision injury data from the BHPD received no consideration, for example, and the valuable input provided by a score of experienced cyclists went entirely unheeded.

The Pilot program simply doesn’t begin to meet the vision. Sharrows on the busiest section of Crescent and bicycle lanes for a few less-busy segments of Crescent and on Burton Way appear to be a one-off effort that was intended (in our opinion) to deflect calls for bike-friendly improvements. It simply stopped the clock on next steps. Is this any way to plan for multimodal mobility?

What Did the Pilot Program Provide?

Bike Route Pilot program map

Candidate Pilot routes…

In November of 2011, Transportation officials presented to advocates a feasibility study of possible routes with four candidates: the east/west corridors of Carmelita and Charleville and the north/south corridors of Beverly and Crescent Drive. All were recommended by cyclists and bike advocates who participated in the Pilot meetings with staff.

After those meetings concluded, transportation staff then added a fifth route – Burton Way – before scheduling two Traffic and Parking public hearings for input. Burton way is low-hanging fruit: it’s already plenty wide to ride even without lanes; installing them was an easy add-on.

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

…But the routes actually approved by Council.

Public opinion was split during these hearings, but cyclists came out overwhelmingly in favor of all of the candidates (the more the better). Northside homeowners, however, feared that bicycle lanes (or ‘routes,’ or ‘paths’ – the terminology was used interchangeably) would harm property values. With some public input in hand, transportation staff took it to Council with the commission’s misguided recommendation.

When City Council City Council gave the nod to the Pilot program in mid-2012, though, only two route segments survived the discussion: Burton Way and Crescent Drive (at right). And only limited segments of each were slated for improvements. In fact, the Council declined to make any improvements whatsoever south of Wilshire. Only three segments of Crescent north of Santa Monica would be eligible for bicycle lanes; a few blocks between Santa Monica and Wilshire would get ‘sharrows'; and then a few segments of lanes on Burton. A mixed bag and none likely to much affect cyclists. Where did the process go wrong?

The Pilot Process: Problematic from Beginning to (Possible) End

Where did the Pilot program planning go wrong? Let us count the ways!

Reductive route selection. In early 2010, the Traffic & Parking Commission formed an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update committee to revise that old Bicycle Master Plan. The committee of three met with cycling advocates from mid-2011 to March of 2012 to solicit suggestions for candidate routes and to field suggestions for bike-friendly improvements.

Proposed Pilot bike routes map

The proposed Pilot routes (in red) before whittling down by the commission and City Council

In the public meeting the full commission voted to recommend only on three routes to City Council (leaving the busiest routes, Charleville and Beverly, off the table). Subsequently, City Council approved the ‘pilot’ program but narrowed the three candidate routes down to only Crescent Drive and Burton Way. Few of our many ideas made it into the final program.

For more background on the process, please refer to our Better Bike recaps of meetings with cycling advocates:

Only a few treatment options were considered. With feasibility study in hand, options were limited by client constraints. Improvements could not impact street parking (contrary to the Bicycle Master Plan, which identified parking removal as an option) and consultant Fehr & Peers recommended lanes only for wider streets. Less-wide streets were considered suitable only for sharrows (shared-lane markings).

And no innovations like road diets, bike boxes, bicycle boulevards, bike signals that we see in other cities were considered for Beverly Hills (View the city’s introduction presentation, the engineers’ presentation from Fehr & Peers and that firm’s feasibility study diagrams for more information on treatment options.

Ancillary measures not part of the Pilot program. Our city can do much to make cycling convenient in Beverly Hills. Bicycle racks for example would indicate to cyclists that they’re welcome in Beverly Hills. Indeed getting people to ride to shops and work would  alleviate our congestion problem (as our plans recommend). But while the city has discussed installing racks as long as two years ago, we only finalized a rack design last March, and took delivery this October, but haven’t installed a single one of them as of early November.

The Pilot program improvements may be temporary.. A ‘pilot’ program by definition is one from which we hope to learn, and the initiative should teach us what works and what doesn’t. Accordingly, City Council stipulated a 12-month review for these improvements. Staff conducted bicycle counts (before) and will review updated counts during the twelve (12) month Pilot period. That is, City Council may request that the Traffic & Parking Commission receive public input at the end or before of the twelve (12) month Pilot period. It could end even before the 12-month period and the new lanes removed.

The Pilot improvements may not tell us much. The pilot improvements are limited to short sections where cyclists don’t necessarily ride today. Even with before/after counts, how much are we likely to learn much after the 12 months passes? It’s something else to roll out an ambitious program and then see how it’s affected rates of cycling or traffic flow.

How You Can Help

Members of our cycling community should encourage our City Council to accelerate bike-friendly planning and improvements. Drop them an email or pick up the phone (310-285-1013). Let our City Manager know that you care about cycling by sending an email to Jeff Kolin (or just call him at 310-285-1012). Have a question about the ‘pilot’ or about the bicycle racks programs? Contact Martha Eros, Planner (at transportation@beverlyhills.org) and let Better Bike know what you find out.

*FYI: In January of 2010, City Council re-adopted the existing (1977) Bike Master Plan as part of the city’s required General Plan update. While every other element of our city’s guiding document was updated in a lengthy process, this plan was simply tucked into an appendix without review. It references long-outdated data and includes maps that are not legible. Again, is this any way to plan for mobility?

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Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logoSecretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, appointed by President Obama in 2013, is continuing the efforts predecessor Raymond LaHood to make street safety the Department’s priority. “In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured,” Foxx says in a recent post. To reverse the trend he’s announced his Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in conjunction with last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Will Beverly Hills take the challenge?

Recently US DOT has upped its game on street safety. Where the department in the past focused less on health and welfare and more on moving people and freight, in recent years leaders have stressed the human toll taken on our roadways by errant drivers. Specifically, the department has focused on non-motor traveler safety through its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety initiative, as well by issuing safety-focused bulletins, surveys, and advisories.

Just recently, for example, Secretary Foxx noted that in the past decade the number of people killed on our roads has declined by a quarter. In the past five years alone, however, the number killed while walking or riding has increased 15%.

To underscore that disproportionately high representation of cyclists among road injuries and deaths, US DOT has undertaken public education and outreach efforts (like its Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to highlight safety and pointed to deficiencies in the designs of the roads themselves that likely contribute to the problem. To that end, the agency offers evaluation tools to help professionals diagnose built environment.

Secretary Foxx’s “Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” falls squarely into the department’s recent safety efforts and puts it right to executives who help set local priorities for transportation officials. The officials have a professional responsibility to provide for the safety of those who walk and ride a bicycle, but as the challenge suggests, they’ve not always met the charge.

It is all part of the US DOT’s mission, which is to provide Americans with “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.” Now, ranking safety as job #2 may not be our preference, but it is a leap beyond the department’s priorities during the automobile era.

‘Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets’

 

“As a former mayor, I know that our nation’s mayors with their ground-level view and community-specific resources offer us an effective way to get that done,” Foxx says. “The Challenge will showcase best local practices to improve safety, share tools for local leaders to take action, and promote partnerships to advance pedestrian and bicycle safety.” The initiatives identified in the Secretary’s challenge include:

  • Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles in the design of roadways to make streets safe and convenient for all road users;
  • Incorporate “on-road bike networks” during routine street resurfacing and deploy safety innovations appropriate to context;
  • Revisit and improve safety laws and regulations and collect non-motor traveler data; and,
  • Educate road users and enforce against bad behavior.

Let’s look at these ‘challenge’ provisions one-by-one. Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles? Yes we can! In Beverly Hills today, none of our city plans or mobility policy statements includes a reference to ‘complete streets‘ (or even reflects the spirit of the principles). Traffic-calming for example? Outside of the business triangle you won’t find a single complete streets improvement implemented to slow or calm traffic. In fact our policy is to speed traffic through. As for other ‘complete streets’ measures like curb extensions, continental crosswalks, pedestrian refuges and narrowed travel lanes? Beverly Hills uses none of them. Yet these sensible measures moderate traffic flow and reduce the incidence – and severity – of collisions (according to US DOT).

Incorporate “on-road bike networks.” Here we have a golden opportunity with the imminent reconstruction of North Santa Monica Boulevard. That boulevard should be the spine of a future bike route system (it connects schools and parks) but the city has resisted including bicycle lanes (necessary to separate bikes and cars) as part of the massive project. Advocates have put forward a plan, however. As for ‘networks,’ we’re invited by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan to identify and create a network of streets safe for riding. We’ve not updated that plan (though it remains in effect); and we’ve taken no step to think holistically about how two-wheeled travelers can safely access our streets.

Improve local safety laws and collect non-motor traveler data. Yes and yes. Beverly Hills has local ordinances concerning cyclists on the books that are out-of-date. For example, city law requires riders to always ride to the right without acknowledging that conditions may preclude it (hence the state law’s “when practicable” stipulation). And our municipal code makes bike registration mandatory even though such bike licensing laws have been declared unenforceable. Other areas of the code like that governing bike parking need a facelift too.

As for data, the city’s budget says that the Community Development department has the responsibility for annual “traffic engineering studies, speed surveys, traffic volume counts and compile accident data at the City’s 500 intersections and crosswalks.” Does the city do collect that data? No it doesn’t. Our Traffic and Parking Commission does receive a monthly BHPD citation and crash data report, but commissioners ask few questions; staff simply files away those reports. And we wish the city compiled crash data by intersection. We’ve asked BHPD for that kind of data and their system can’t generate such reports.

And that last of the four initiatives – educate and enforce road user behavior – would be welcome here too because there is no safety education. We’ve begged our transportation officials to post a simple safety tips page on the city’s website, but in five years they haven’t done it. (We’ve even offered to compose it gratis but we found no taker in City Hall.) Basic tips to help drivers and riders learn our rights and responsibilities in order to safely share the road would seem to be the minimum envisioned by Foxx’s challenge to Mayors.

As for enforcement, red light cameras are remarkably prolific and consistent generators of citations day-in-and-day-out. Evidently our drivers continue to be regular scofflaws. Yet citations in nearly every category have declined over the years (BHPD says it’s short-staffed). Witness the downward trend in the last few years:

Citation trends 2008-2013 graph

Even within a given year (2013 for example) there is a pronounced slack-off at the beginning and end:

Citation trends 2013

Heck, drivers run red lights all day every day at every intersection in the city. At least write them a ticket!

Let’s Hope Our Mayor Takes the US DOT’s Challenge

In March a new Mayor takes over in Beverly Hills: Dr. Julian Gold will have the helm for a full year. That’s enough time to prod our incoming city manager to do more than simply warm the chair; he or she should be directed to immediately implement the Secretary’s suggestions right away. Maybe then we’ll do something about this shameful lack of progress on reducing collisions (see the chart below). Another mark of distinction is that Beverly Hill’s relatively high incidence of crash injuries keeps us tops among smaller cities in California in the crash injury rate category.

All collisions 2008-2013 graph

Crash injuries in all categories show remarkable resilience in the face of state and federal safety education programs and law enforcement initiatives. Call it a Beverly Hills achievement!

Either our transportation officials aren’t cognizant of current best street safety practices, or they view it as simply unimportant. So let’s hope that the next Mayor takes the Foxx challenge. We’ll check back in with Mayor Gold after he attends the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets this coming March. What will he proposes in the way of safety policies for Beverly Hills? Our own municipal neighbors take these steps now to make their streets safe; why can’t we do it here?

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