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.

Nearly fifty years after the twentieth-century bicycle renaissance, cycling is popular again. We have returned to the bicycle because it is a pleasurable, healthy, and less-polluting alternative to the automobile. And it’s a heck of a lot more efficient than sitting in Beverly Hills traffic congestion.

But riding a bicycle in Beverly Hills is not without peril. The city has little dedicated infrastructure and our Bicycle Master Plan, which forty-years ago envisioned a citywide network of bicycle routes, has sat on the shelf – it’s promise unrealized.

The latter-day bicycle boom even passed by our General Plan, which was updated in 2010 but inexplicably kept that old plan on the books. As cities around Beverly Hills adopted new bike plans and encouraged cycling, we sat on our hands. Our transportation division couldn’t even be bothered to post a single ‘ride safe’ tip on the city website.

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The city’s one and only stab at bike infrastructure came a few years ago and it was called a ‘pilot’ bike route program. It included a few segments of Class II bicycle lanes and a few blocks of sharrows. But it was neither a product of a plan nor a down-payment on that citywide network. The improvements stand apart from any of our other mobility measures, the white paint fading like a metaphor for policymakers’ concern for the safety of riders.

More About the Pilot Program

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 cyclist-advocates who participated in several Pilot meetings with staff.

Bike Route Pilot program map

Candidate Pilot routes…

After those meetings concluded, transportation division staff then added a fifth route, Burton Way. Burton way was low-hanging fruit: it was plenty wide and easy and relatively safe to ride without lanes, so installing them was an easy add-on.

Supporters came out overwhelmingly in favor of all of the candidate routes (the more the better) but  northside homeowners feared that bicycle lanes (or ‘routes,’ or ‘paths’ as the terminology was used interchangeably) would harm their property values. With some public input in hand, the Traffic and Parking Commission took a recommendation to Council that included misguided recommendations.

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

…But the routes actually approved by Council.

When City Council City Council gave the nod to the Pilot program in mid-2012 only two route segments survived: Burton Way and Crescent Drive (at right). But only limited segments of each were slated for the improvement while City Council declined to make improvements south of Wilshire where much cross-city traffic flows. While Crescent Drive north of Santa Monica Boulevard would be striped with bicycle lanes, a few more blocks south of Santa Monica up to Wilshire would get only ‘sharrows.’ This was a mixed bag but what do you want when a program like this gets ahead of a mobility plan?

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

Proposed Pilot bike routes map

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

Reductive route selection. The Traffic and Parking Commission voted to leave the busiest routes like Charleville and Beverly off the table. Subsequently, City Council  whittled the three candidate routes down to two: Crescent Drive and Burton Way. Few of the advocates’ many ideas for the pilot program made it to the final program.

For more information check out the Better Bike recaps of meetings with cycling advocates:

Only a few treatment options were considered. Where the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan specified parking removal as an option, city consultant Fehr & Peers recommended only wider streets for treatments so as not to displace curbside parking. The less-wide segments were considered only for sharrows (shared-lane markings). Never on the table were innovations like road diets, bike boxes, and bicycle boulevards like we see in other cities. View the presentation from Fehr & Peers and the feasibility study diagrams for more information on options.

Ancillary measures to make cycling safe, or even to encourage it, were not part of the program. Our city can do much to make cycling convenient in Beverly Hills. Indeed getting people to ride to shops and work would alleviate some congestion (as our plans recommend). But there were no bicycle racks installed as part of this program, for example. Nor was any safety signage installed.

The Pilot program improvements may be temporary. A ‘pilot’ program by definition is one from which we hope to learn. This initiative should teach us what works and what doesn’t. And City Council did stipulate a 12-month review period for these improvements. But we won’t learn much because the bike lanes went where cyclists really didn’t need them; and where we did – like Crescent near Whole Foods – we only painted sharrows.

[Update: Council did review the pilot improvements after the twelve months elapsed and decided to keep the improvements. Mysteriously northside opposition did not raise any objection at that time. And last I checked their property values have increased about 5% a year.]

Ultimately the Pilot program may not really inform our understanding about the potential for bike facilities in Beverly Hills to make streets more safe. These lightly-used routes aren’t where the crashes are likely to occur. In fact, during the time since the pilot improvements were installed the city took no step to repair the curbside potholes and grates that long made North Santa Monica the single most perilous ride for those who bike.

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Lend Your Voice to the Beverly Hills Complete Streets Plan

Several years ago Metro added a condition to the transportation grants the deep-pocketed agency makes to localities: money is contingent on a Metro-approved complete streets mobility plan in place at the local level. Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan won’t cut it, so City of Beverly Hills city stepped away from a decade of talk about a plan update and instead chose to focus on a brand-new complete streets plan. That planning process is under way now. Mobility advocates please lend your voice!

We need you to participate in the Beverly Hills complete streets planning process by both taking the city’s online complete streets survey (tell our complete streets consultants about your mobility preferences!) and attending one of the city’s complete streets public events. The first workshop was held in mid-March (read my recap) and the next scheduled event is Earth Day on Sunday, April 15th at the Farmers Market. Check the city’s complete streets website for more upcoming events.

Some Backstory on the Complete Streets Plan

So Beverly Hills has embarked on a complete streets plan process. Why now? The city kept an outdated bike plan on the books for four decades and made no other multimodal concessions aside from a few bike lane segments. Then the city heard that regional transportation agency Metro requires localities to have an approved complete streets plan if a local agency wants to tap Metro grant money. The city will receive not one but two Purple Line metro stations, so the city saw the light: adopt a complete streets plan or do without Metro’s pot of grant-funding gold.

Metro may be best known here for sparking the heated debate about a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School, but there can be no debate that Metro is the good guy when it comes to multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills: the agency forced the city’s hand where we bike types failed.

Multimodal advocates have dogged City Hall for years about safe streets  (and specifically the lack of safe facilities for those who ride a bike) but we were out in the cold. At least until found strong support among three councilmembers: Lili Bosse, John Mirisch, and Bob Wunderlich (now in office just a year). Bosse, in fact, was committed to multimodal back in 2016 when she forged (bare) Council consensus to make it a Council ‘A’ priority. The following year she garnered City Council support for a complete streets plan (her first official action as Mayor). And notably those three councilmembers supported a bright green high-viz bicycle lane for Santa Monica Boulevard too!

In the end Council support was unanimous, and last year the city selected Iteris engineering as lead consultant on the complete streets plan. It was backed by Nelson Nygaard and Alta Planning as subcontractors. Theirs wasn’t the most imaginative proposal, but the team is experienced and Alta has some bike plan bona fides. If this plan fails it is because we-the-people didn’t step up to make it our priority. Indeed the plan and the implementation program will be less the measure of our consultants than a reflection of our city’s commitment to the principle of complete streets: the ‘complete’ street is one that is safe and accessible for every road user regardless of age, ability or travel mode.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one reflected the disrepair of Santa Monica boulevard as well as the city’s disregard for cyclist safety on that corridor.

Will the final plan be a leading-edge example of multimodal planning? Time will tell, but don’t sit this one out. We’ve come this far, over too long a time, against too much city-side opposition, to simply leave it up to staff and consultants to shape a draft plan for Council consideration this fall.

Interesting side story.

Caltrans, the state transportation agency, handed to City of Beverly Hills control over North Santa Monica Boulevard back in 2005. The boulevard was a shambles, so Caltrans forked over about $5M for repairs. Beverly Hills sat on that project for nearly ten years as bicycle riders endured clearly unsafe conditions. When it came time for a top-to-bottom reconstruction the city eschewed any outside money for the estimated $13 million job. Why? The city wanted no conditions attached to that money; the city didn’t want Caltrans or the Federal DOT requiring bicycle lanes or other complete streets design features.

Well when the city did finally reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard (wrapping up this June) it will have a bicycle lane; and it will have high-visibility crosswalks. Because the city belatedly acknowledged that such features on a corridor like Santa Monica are required for bike and pedestrian safety.. They needed only glance at crash data to understand. Thing is the city was left holding the bag when the cost projections for Santa Monica reconstruction soared to $24 million and we could tap not a dime of outside money for it.

City Hall made no such mistake when it comes to Metro’s Measure E pot of grant-money gold. Transportation officials here may continue to view mobility exclusively through the windshield (they never did recommend bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard even though we got the lanes anyway) but they know a pot of grant money when they see one. With two Metro stations coming to the city we needed a complete streets plan post-haste.

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