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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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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