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?

Recent Posts

Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too

strava logoReader Brent Bigler recently forwarded our way a Strava heatmap that shows the frequency of rides through Beverly Hills. Riders use Strava’s mobile app to track rides and training performance. And the data collected by the app in the aggregate is extremely useful to riders and planners alike. Let’s take a closer look at the heatmap and talk with Strava’s data jockey to learn more about what the data mean.

Everybody in Los Angeles, driver, walker and biker alike, has a favorite route to recommend. Riding Mid-City to Santa Monica? Take 3rd street, snake through the Civic Center parking structure, and you’ll pop out on Rexford Dr. near Santa Monica Boulevard. (Eastbounders take the Civic Center Drive turnoff at City Hall and then turn right to reach 3rd). Riding Beverly Hills to Venice? Try Beverwil south to National, then west to Overland and south again to Venice.

But you don’t need to take our word for it with Strava’s app-generated data. One look at the heatmap (filtered for bike data) shows that many riders take these recommended routes.

Strava Beverly Hills heatmap

Of course the most popular routes are through streets like Santa Monica, Wilshire, Olympic boulevards and Burton Way. But secondary streets get a lot of use too, and using Strava data could be a transformational tool for city transportation officials when identifying safe bike routes as our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan recommends.

Remember that when City Council a year ago approved limited  bike lanes and sharrows under a pilot project, they didn’t heed the advice of riders, who identified Beverly Drive, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Wilshire alternatives Charleville Drive and Gregory Way as the best routes for bike-friendly treatments. We also suggested that Elevado (rather than the staff-recommended Carmelita) offers good crosstown connectivity. These recommendations are supported by the Strava data.

Backbone missing piece map

Beverly Hills is the missing link in our regional bike route network.

Not to mention the need for class II bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was a proposal upon which a Council majority has frowned. Yet our Beverly Hills segment of this regional corridor begs for officials to close the gap in the Westside’s ‘backbone’ bikeway network.

More About the Heatmap

The Strava system uses a mobile app to track runners and riders via global positioning system (GPS) satellites. The GPS  “pulses” triangulate rider location (each pinpoints a user in space and time) and that data is then collected by Strava and aggregated to map the individual rider’s route as well as route popularity more generally. Strava at HQ maps the data points and out pops a heatmap of ride frequency.

Of course it’s not quite that simple. We asked Strava’s GIS lead, Brian Riordan, how the heatmap is generated. The data for the heatmap is displayed dynamically on demand. So that each time the map is resized, the ride data is redrawn and “re-normalized” at the scale of the regenerated map. Instead of merely moving the same data around in the browser, it is re-plotted to show subtleties in the relative popularity of displayed routes.

Strava map redraws according to zoomWe can see this from the screen capture at right (cropped to show only Beverly Hills). We begin with a broader view including West Los Angeles. When we zoom into BH, changing scale, differences emerge in the relative popularity of the secondary routes. We see it in the subtle color changes on these routes.

There are some caveats to the Strava heatmap, however. It’s not a real-time metric; the data is current only through October. And there is little the user can do to dice-and-slice this data: the heatmap only allows limited color tweaking and no capacity exists for the user to fiddle with thresholds to dynamically distinguish more heavily-traveled secondary routes from less-traveled secondary routes. Is the ratio of rides on Santa Monica relative to Carmelita only 2:1, or do SM trips greatly outnumber Carmelita trips by as much as 10:1? We don’t know. Likewise with Elevado and Carmelita: they visually they rank more or less the same, but is one more frequently ridden? A threshold slider might help us dynamically tease out the difference.

More About Strava

More important as a caveat is the data itself. Where is it coming from? Strava is embraced as a training tool or fitness tracker and so naturally appeals to sport-minded riders. We’d like to see the app find a representative user base including commuters and recreational riders too. San Francisco-based Strava is reaching a wider audience, Brian says, given the incorporation of smartphones into exercise regimens. So Strava data will likely be more representative (and more fine grained) going forward. (Check out the Strava engineering blog to see the uses to which the app’s data can be put.)

And what about all that good data? How can we make good use of it to create safe and practical bike routes? Strava offers a ‘Metro’ product to local governments like Beverly Hills and the County of Los Angeles (as well as advocacy organizations):

Using Strava Metro, departments of transportation and city planners, as well as advocacy groups and corporations, can make informed and effective decisions when planning, maintaining, and upgrading cycling and pedestrian corridors….Strava Metro data enables DOTs and advocacy groups to perform detailed analyses and glean insights into cycling and running patterns dissected by time of day, day of week, season and local geography. – Metro website

Needless to say, there is value to digging into the aggregated data especially a regional level where scale gives us a much broader picture of routes taken. Forget route recommendations: Strava essentially crowdsources the best routes!

What Does the Heatmap Say About Beverly Hills?

Looking at the mapped data for Beverly Hills, a few things are immediately apparent:

Santa Monica Boulevard is a regional connector. We knew it was. So why not designate and improve it as such? Today it is a dangerous ride, so dangerous, in fact, that Beverly Hills councilmember Nancy Krasne called riders there “organ donors.” Of course she refused to consider a separate bike lane there, calling it “unsafe.” But we see improving safety on this defacto regional connector a no-brainer.

Crosstown routes rule. Even major crosstown boulevards like Wilshire, Santa Monica and Wilshire see frequent riders despite these corridors being intimidating for all but the more experienced road-warriors. As for secondary routes, several come to the foreground. To the north, Elevado emerges as a favored route. Why not? It connects Sunset to Santa Monica via a handy shortcut through the Hilton property (via Whittier and Merv Griffin Way). To the south, Charleville appears to be a favored alternative to Wilshire (it also connects three schools) while Gregory, wider and less congested than Charleville, is a favored alternative to Olympic.

Beverly Drive is a favorite north-south route. Not only because it’s a commercial spine, but also because it connects to Beverwill and Culver City beyond. Unfortunately, Council refused to consider Beverly Drive for bike-friendly improvements. Surprisingly, Beverly Glen and Coldwater also see riders, but we expect given the grade in the canyons that these are spandex folks.

What’s most remarkable is that none of the most frequently-chosen routes in Beverly Hills at least as displayed by the Strava heatmap have received a single bike-friendly or safety-improving treatment like a lane, sharrow, or signage (except Burton Way). And yet they’re all popular because they take riders where we need to go. Of course that’s why many of them are congested with vehicles too. The difference is that City of Beverly Hills welcomes motorists but not riders despite our own Sustainable City Plan’s emphasis on multimodal mobility.

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