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

City Council Punts: Bike Lanes Deferred Again [Recap]

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz presents findings to Council.

When City Council last considered bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in March, the question of whether to expand the blacktop incrementally to accommodate lanes became bogged down in a broader discussion about costs. Then this December 2nd meeting mostly focused on traffic mitigation. So again Council has kicked the bike lanes can further down the road. Yet Council and staff nevertheless appear to be on the same page: no bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Let’s recap the meeting and look ahead to the next steps.

[Update: scroll down for more information about our just-announced strategy session on December 22nd.]

We had ample reason to suspect that “the fix” was in even prior to the December meeting. As we detailed then, the 12/2 staff report recommended that City Council not expand the boulevard even an inch beyond its most narrow section at 60-ft. That would effectively preclude bicycle lanes for the foreseeable future. (Read more about the project.)

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn't offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state's 3 foot passing law).

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping this section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions because the state’s 3 foot passing law would afford #2 lane travelers only 8 feet for their cage-of-steel.

As Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz explained in his presentation (and illustrated in the staff report), much of the boulevard is 63 feet wide with one section between Wilshire and Canon that is only 60 feet. The latter is the choke point.

The 63’ section has room for 4.5 foot bicycle lanes on both sides… the 60’ section is narrower and cannot accommodate a bike lane on both sides without reducing lane width and impacting traffic…. Our analysis showed that the 63’ would provide adequate space for all vehicles, including 3 feet of clearance for bicycles, but the 60’ as it is striped now would provide sufficient space in the westbound direction but it would be limited space and tight [for bicycles]. -Aaron Kunz (emphasis added)

Did you get that? “Without reducing lane width and impacting traffic.” That precondition is simply presented as a given. But it is not set in concrete; in fact transportation advocates argue that narrow travel lanes actually benefit all road users as it slows motor traffic. Here it would allow the inclusion of a standard-width bicycle lane for cyclists too.

Given that the prospect of bicycle lanes is the single most politically-combustible aspect of the project (even more than cost) we expected at this meeting a robust discussion on the merits of lanes, plus some acknowledgment that a public process had already been conducted and that the vast majority of the 200+ comments to date are supportive of lanes. (It’s worth noting that the Blue Ribbon Committee formed for the purpose last September actually recommended a wider boulevard with bicycle lanes too.)

But we heard none of that today. First off, we were surprised but not shocked: the city’s decision not to include bicycle lanes was essentially footnoted on page three of the staff report:

SM BLVD existing width text blurb That’s not a good sign as it seems a predetermined decision. Likewise, when the issue was teed up at this meeting by Community Development Director Susan Healey Keene, the conclusion about boulevard width was presented as a matter-of-fact. (Note that the staff report too is silent on the Blue Ribbon’s recommendations.)

Why? The question of whether to include bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard appears to be mooted: the two-member ad hoc committee (comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien) “agreed to proceed with the project designed at the existing road width” as Aaron noted. That was decided in July, well before the public could fully discuss the available options today.

Perhaps our ad hoc members heard from one particular community that evidently does matter to them: north-side homeowner association representatives and its members. They swing a lot of weight (and campaign contributions) and evidently they don’t care for multimodal transit. They also like to sue.

Public Comment

Though the agenda item was carefully focused on mitigation measures, supporters did have something to say. Speaking on behalf of the lanes option was Josh Paget, board member on the neighboring Mid City West Community Council and co-chair of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Streetscape committee. He said:

We are your neighbors… and we have drafted a resolution in support of bicycle lanes, and the board has voted to encourage BH to adopt bike lanes… We hope that you do that as a benefit not only to benefit your community, but also to members of our community who frequent Beverly Hills. – Josh Paget

He also noted that his board has endorsed both a neighborhood greenways proposal and Melrose complete streets project, the latter “complete with bike lanes because we believe it benefits our community.”

Allison Regin speakingNext up, Allison Regan told the Council that Santa Monica is a “vital link connecting current or proposed lanes” in adjacent cities. She said:

As you know, biking as an alternative mode of transport – and as a preferred mode for tourists – is growing in popularity… [and] it is well documented that bicyclists bring dollars to cities with dedicated bike infrastructure. I encourage you to rethink the widening of Santa Monica, particularly when it would not encroach on usable park space to do so. The preference – the ideal – would be to create an entirely separate bike path along the boulevard, and you could do so by expanding the usable park space…[and] installing a separate bike path in the park. – Allison Regan

LACBC's Eric BruinsThen LACBC‘s Eric Bruins laid out the case for restriping more narrow lanes in order to slow traffic and to accommodate lanes on the boulevard. He referred to his LACBC letter to Council to observe, “Your consultants and staff are not using the best engineering standards for city lane design. They find that 60 feet wide does not accommodate bike lanes.” But it does if you use current NACTO standards, he added. Then he asked, “What are the aspirations here? Are we just trying to rebuild it? Or aspire to a healthier, safe and more sustainable community? We ask that bike lanes be carried forth into design [phase] so that we can preserve that option.”

Then the closer while holding up an image of a boulevard hit-and-run victim:

More important, this is Paul Livingston. He was hit a block from here on SM in 2011. He is among the many injured transported to Cedars Sinai because that street is currently inhospitable [to riders]. The Council can change that if we use the current best standards and do what’s possible in the right-of-way by striping bike lanes to make that street available to all people to use it. – Eric Bruins

Resident Kory Klem also spoke in favor of multimodal mobility and he came loaded with data:

More Angelenos are biking each year, with 8% growth in the past year alone. This number includes both Beverly Hills residents and the folks passing through our amazing community. LA has added 120 miles of bike lanes to support this growth. On streets with new dedicated lanes since 2011, the number of cyclists has doubled. New York’s protected bike lanes have led to a 45% reduction in all injury related accidents. We’re flanked immediately to the east and west by some of the best, contiguous bike lanes in Los Angeles. Please, let’s connect them.

Kory noted the breadth of public support for lanes, including boulevard churches like Good Shepherd and All Saints. “They are 100% for bike lines even at the cost of widening [the boulevard].” He then reminded Council:

You hired a consultant and they recommended widening and accommodating bike lanes… You then appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee and I watched them invert their support and evolve their thinking to actually recommend widening and bike lanes… So I implore you yet once again, please do the right thing, not only for today, but for generations to come…. The only people who should be opposed [the churches] are actually in support. – Kory Klem

Blue Ribbon Committee chair Barry Pressman, in a letter read into the record, said he reiterated the committee’s support; not only for expansion but also for striped bike lanes.

The Blue Ribbon Committee came to these conclusions after extensive investigation, public comment and deliberation… The present status is dangerous or potentially dangerous for drivers and cyclists alike. – Dr. Barry Pressman

 

Discussion

Ad hoc committee member and councilman Willie Brien confined his remarks mostly to traffic mitigation. (That is, only how the Santa Monica Boulevard project might inconvenience motorists during construction). But on boulevard expansion and bike lanes he elided. He has previously stated diehard opposition, and facing the issue again today  called this “a very early step” in the process. “There are no simple solutions to this problem… Nothing is off the table but we do need to move forward.”

But Brien did talk briefly about mobility beyond reconstruction, however, which is a welcome nod to an overdue discussion (the city’s bike plan dates to 1977):

We plan to come back and discuss specifically bike lanes and bike routes in the city. We hear the advocates, and all of us support bike safety to the fullest, and we’re going to look at those lanes and routes. – Dr. Willie Brien

Councilmember Nancy Krasne for her part said of Santa Monica Boulevard, “I don’t see a bike lane there – that is my preference.” But she evidently has a soft spot for folks who travel without a steel cage to protect them. “I worry about the safety of the bikers foremost,” she said, adding later, “I want my bicyclists as safe as my children.” (Yes, do it for the kids!)

When it comes to project prescriptions, however, she wasn’t entertaining bike lanes. “I always hear, ‘This is how we’ve always done it, so we’re going to stripe SM Blvd [for lanes].’ But I think that is a very foolish option.” (Never mind that that’s not how we’ve always done it in Beverly Hills.) She then again floated her proposal:

Let’s remove parking on Little Santa Monica and use it for local traffic and cyclists… As much as I hate giving up parking, if we could put up bollards to get Century City traffic off [it] and use it for local traffic and for bicycles, we will have a safer, better community… My concern is a healthier, safer and more sustainable community.

For what it’s worth, we agree. But that’s a non-starter. She can’t seriously believe that local businesses will give up street parking when they ordinarily fight tooth and nail for any single additional space they can squeeze out of the public realm.

Her opposition to lanes? It makes zero sense: a parade of riders has called bike lanes essential to a safer corridor. And despite studies available to her that attest otherwise, she maintains that state-approved bicycle lanes put riders in harm’s way. (Consult the state’s manual if you’re curious.) You can’t argue with facts if you simply don’t engage them.

As time in this study session ran short, Vice Mayor Julian Gold, councilmember John Mirisch and Mayor Bosse each made no substantive comments. Note that the Mayor didn’t speak from the dais in favor of, or against, bike lanes in this meeting, nor did she address it in March.

Next Steps

It’s been a long slog since the city took control of the corridor (in 2006) and initiated studies in early 2010, as Aaron Kunz himself noted in his own presentation. Moreover, there’s been a public process to collect input too. So it would be a shame to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard for generations to come without meeting the spirit of the state’s Complete Streets Act of 2008, which requires localities to plan for multimodal mobility by making travel safe for all road users, or reflecting the needs of users who spoke up about how they might be made to feel safer traveling the boulevard.

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

So we’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t remind Council that there is a solution to the loss-of-park problem: a no-net-loss proposal that would expand the green space by a foot on two eastern segments of the boulevard while taking away two feet along a single segment between Wilshire and Canon.

It would make the finished boulevard a uniform 62 feet wide – sufficient for 5′ bike lanes, according to this illustration courtesy of Eric Bruins.

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

Santa Monica at 62 feet restriped for bicycle lanes is possible!

Call this a win-win! Bike lane proponents get the safe travel infrastructure we need; park proponents suffer no loss of green space; and motorists will have to slow down because tomorrow’s travel lanes would be marginally more narrow.

City Council will next consider the question on January 6th. We hope then our councilmembers will choose to make the Beverly Hills segment of this key regional corridor bike-friendly. Join us in a strategy session at the Beverly Hills Public Library on December 22nd at 7pm. (For more information and to RSVP, check here.) We’ll talk plans and politics and organize to get our Council behind a compromise that will afford non-motor travelers sufficient space on the blacktop while meeting the demands of north-side residents for no loss of green space.

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