Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction

Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction: Change is Coming to Beverly Hills!

You may know Santa Monica Boulevard as one of the busiest crosstown streets on the Westside. Fifty thousand vehicles traverse it daily. No fewer than four Metro buses serve it. And it is a critical segment of a regional ‘backbone’ bicycle network connecting Beverly Hills to the cities of Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Los Angeles. Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to WilshireThis boulevard is the road that gets many of us where we’re going regardless of our choice of travel mode. But today’s Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills is engineered primarily for motoring. Today it is best experienced behind the wheel of a motorcar. It wasn’t ways so, however; Santa Monica had been a multimodal corridor long before auto uses predominated.

Now we have an chance to make this 1.8 mile section of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills friendly again to those who choose not to get behind the wheel. Our design consultant, Psomas, says this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity to re-imagine it.” We agree. We all must work together to ensure that at its conclusion in 2015 we have a ‘complete streets’ corridor.

About the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project

Santa Monica blvd project thumbnail mapWhat is it? This $16 $35 million Santa Monica Boulevard project will reconstruct the boulevard between West Hollywood to Century City.  The redesign is expected to retain four  vehicular travel lanes (accommodating 55,000 cars on average daily according to traffic counts).

How might the corridor change? The most significant change could be that we make this corridor safe for all who use it (regardless of mode). City Council directed the project team to consider complete streets principles, which should mean improved crosswalks, re-engineered intersections and perhaps Class II bicycle lanes in addition to a landscaped median and left-turn lanes.

When will this project commence? It’s already underway. We are well into the first of three project phases – discussion about design alternatives – and next the city will undertake engineering with phase III construction to follow in 2015. See the city’s project page for construction mitigation information (as it’s posted). Find all the documents you’ll need our project documents library (below).

Where We Are Now: Public Outreach Phase I

City Council in September created a Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee of 15 appointed residents to receive public input. The committee was charged with receiving public input, discussing conceptual designs, and making recommendations to Council. By the time the committee wrapped up in late January, 50 people had provided public comment and another 150 more commented. Over 90% supported bicycle lanes. You can read our meeting recaps and make your position known to City Council before the next meeting on April 1st.

About Those Bicycle Lanes

Consultant Psomas has developed design alternatives and possible ‘enhancements’ which include a landscaped median and dual Class II bicycle lanes. We’d like to see both a median and bicycle lanes. We’d prefer not to see tomorrow’s boulevard look like what we have today.

SM Blvd tour: 3-feet staked

Stakes illustrate the width necessary to provide every rider with a margin of safety: bicycle lanes.

The first question is whether or not we will expand the boulevard to accommodate the median, turn lanes, and bicycle lanes. Because the boulevard is irregular in width today (ranging from about 60-63 feet wide), expansion would standardize it at a proposed 66 feet. That would allow for a shorter construction period and reduce project costs, our consultant says. It would take only a few extra feet to accommodate bicycle lanes (left).

Bicycle lane proponents say the lanes are necessary in order to ensure the safety of those who choose to ride a bicycle. And we note that Santa Monica Boulevard is a regional ‘backbone’ bike route, which our city should respect; why make our segment of the corridor an obstacle for two-wheeled travelers by excluding lanes?

Both West Hollywood and City of Los Angeles bookend our city with lanes on the boulevard. And looking ahead, both cities will expand their bicycle networks. That would make our failure to include bicycle lanes on the boulevard a real shame; this corridor has a distinguished history of facilitating multimodal transportation.Why wouldn’t we want to close our gap? Indeed the Blue-Ribbon committee voted so: by 9-1 committee members said that if we expand the boulevard we should stripe bicycle lanes too.

We see this as an opportunity to remake Santa Monica Boulevard into our Champs-Élysées of the Westside. Will we simply recreate the corridor that we have? Or will we think ahead to a multimodal mobility future? Our neighboring cities frame the choice: West Hollywood remade their segment into an award-winning, pedestrian-friendly Main Street characterized by wide sidewalks and safe crosswalks; but Los Angeles turned their West LA segment into a limited access freeway (our consultant Psomas worked on that project).

Next Steps

The last City Council meeting saw council divided; given uncertainties about costs, the Council declined to take any decision on the project and instead deferred action to April 1st at the next City Council meeting. That meeting will indicate whether we’ll look ahead when we remake this corridor or simply look to the past to recreate the corridor that we have today.

Project Documents

Here you will find the relevant project documents and supporting material that you won’t find on the city’s own project page. Let’s start with our own meeting recaps (and related posts) and then work down to documents that suggest the policy and history contexts for this project.

Our Project Meeting Recaps

Our Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project-related posts

City Project Documents

City Staff Reports

Policy Context

Key Contacts

Other Resources

Santa Monica Boulevard’s Multimodal Mobility History

Let’s briefly look back at the history of Santa Monica Boulevard to understand how it moved Angelenos for the past century.

Santa Monica Boulevard conditionsMost recently this was State Highway 2, and long before Beverly Hills took control in 2005 the corridor languished under the state’s DOT. Quick patches sufficed for maintenance and potholes proliferated. Perhaps most dangerous for those of us who ride a bicycle, the storm grates and potholes pose regular collision hazards. City stewardship has proven no better, however.

Prior to its ignominy today, Santa Monica Boulevard was once the terminal segment of the famous Route 66 that linked Chicago to Santa Monica. All that remains of the old road in Beverly Hills are a few commemorative signs, but there is a movement afoot to memorialize the history.

Pacific Electric at Beverly Hills Station #2

Pacific Electric station at Beverly Hills circa 1925.

Long before Route 66, however, the corridor served the Pacific Electric’s Western Division streetcar lines. Our city thrived as the junction of two lines that anchored Beverly Hills into the Southern California rail network. The station occupied the northwest corner of Crescent & Little Santa Monica, across from City Hall. When the post office was constructed there, the station moved a block west between Beverly and Canon (seen here from Santa Monica North looking southwest).

These streetcars moved two million passengers annually through Beverly Hills before passenger service was stopped in the early 1950s!

Los Angeles Pacific Baloon Route map smallEven prior to the regular service of those two Pacific Electric streetcar lines, the predecessor rail corporation, Los Angeles Pacific, ran a ‘balloon’ excursion train (“four double tracks to the Pacific Ocean”) through what was then called ‘Morocco Junction’ (as depicted in the map to the right) but known today as Beverly Hills.

But our Santa Monica Boulevard betrays none of that distinguished history today. Policymakers should approach this project as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to honor this rich multimodal mobility history. Remember, multimodal mobility is not just an historical footnote for this corridor; it will be our future too.

Recent Posts

Time for Beverly Hills to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy!

bike chattanooga bike share map

One of Chattanooga’s steps forward: a bike share system!

Chattanooga, Tennessee beat Beverly Hills in the broadband arena a few years ago with citywide 1gigabit-per-second Internet. Back then nobody paid much attention: Chattanooga is hardly on the minds of many Angelenos. But our own city dithered on broadband, which left Time Warner with a broadband monopoly. Now Chattanooga leaps ahead with a real complete streets policy to make travel safer for all road users. Yet our our “world class” city can’t seem to entertain a discussion about street safety or plan effectively for multimodal mobility. What gives?

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, streets “designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities” are termed ‘complete.’ In practice, the Coalition says,

Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations. – National Complete Streets Coalition

Safe streets and access for all road users regardless of mode of travel: what a radical prescription for mobility! The equity-in-access proposition is no stranger to transportation planners or the public alike; we’ve all heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It mandates nationwide disabled access to public and private facilities. But for the rest of us on public streets we’re left to fend for ourselves. And these streets are often dangerous by design.

ADA rampDespite its limited scope, the ADA reach is broad; it has required the only real improvements to the public right-of-way in Beverly Hills that we’ve seen in years: those ubiquitous studded sidewalk ramps (at right) that make crossing streets less hazardous for the visually-impaired.

The rest of us mostly get worn-out crosswalks, poorly-marked intersections and boulevards made for speed.

Complete streets features on Montana in Santa MonicaWe can do much more. Other cities install highly-visible zebra crosswalks using thermoplastic; they make their streets complete with bicycle lanes, signage and even flashing crossing signals (Santa Monica has incorporated all of these measures on Montana, at right).

Beverly Hills we are still marking crosswalks in the old ‘transverse’ style with ordinary paint. These crosswalks are not only less-visible to motorists; they fade with use too. Faded crosswalks? Can that really pass safety muster? It’s as if our transportation officials cared little for our safety. No wonder state collision figures show that we are one of the most dangerous little cities in California!

Our Problem: Zero Official Interest in Street Safety

Santa Monica Boulevard road conditionsWe at Better Bike simply haven’t been able to get our transportation folks to consider safety upgrades for bike facilities or crosswalks. But it’s not for lack of trying; we’ve repeatedly communicated our concerns to transportation officials. Yet key intersections and corridors (like Santa Monica at left) remain hazardous to walk or to bike.

Our streets can be made safer if the private-sector steps in, however. Curb extensions make crossing streets quicker and safer in the business triangle. State-of-the-art continental crosswalk markings (aka zebra crosswalks) better safeguard pedestrians from speeding or careless motorists there. And traffic control innovations like pedestrian scrambles (where all motor traffic is momentarily halted) heretofore unknown to Beverly Hills find favor there. In fact, outside of the privately-funded improvements for the business triangle, our neighborhoods see no complete streets TLC at all.

Curb extensions diagram via FHWA

Diagram courtesy FWHA’s best practices guide.

For contrast look at these two intersections. The one on the left is Beverly Boulevard at Santa Monica, which languishes from inattention. On the right, the privately bankrolled business triangle feels safer to walk.

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape. Zebra stripes, painted curbs and a teaspoon of maintenance make all the difference for pedestrian safey.

Surely our transportation planner knows better than to leave our streets and crosswalks unimproved in this day and age. The information is out there, after all. We know that the zebra crosswalk, for example, is twice as visible to motorists at a distance, and thats both day and night according to an FHWA study. Where motorists zip through the intersection of Beverly and Santa Monica boulevards as if there were no crosswalk at all, the zebra might remind them that people do walk in Beverly Hills. Zebra crosswalks are that much more visible than are ordinary transverse-striped crosswalks when placed mid-block too.

West Hollywood has striped several crosswalks with rainbows (a thematic gesture) to raise awareness of crossing pedestrians. Santa Monica likewise is putting zebra crosswalks all over town (a nice complement to their new bike lanes, right). Los Angeles started with fifty zebra crosswalks two years ago and now the city is aiming for twenty thousand.  That’s because they do important safety work. At only $10k installed, after all, they’re a bargain compared to the damage arising from a single vehicle-pedestrian collision.

Our transportation officials Susan Healey Keene, Community Development Director, and Aaron Kunz, our Deputy Director for Transportation, need only visit nearby cities to see these innovations in place. And it won’t even take them out of their way: they live in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, respectively, so they’ve seen multimodal mobility planning up close. They just don’t do it here. As riders and pedestrians we can read about the virtues of multimodal mobility in our city’s plans; we just can’t experience at home.

These upgrades, by the way, are often funded by Measure R, the 2008 voter-approved transportation tax. That’s a pot of free money for safety. So why isn’t Beverly Hills using it to improve our streets?

One Solution: Adopt a Complete Streets Policy

What Beverly Hills lacks (in addition to a comprehensive mobility vision) is a policy that specifies how our streets can be made safe and accessible. Complete streets, recall, mandates that all means of public conveyance should not only be designed for safety but also to allow everyone to access them. So what does complete streets look like when implemented? Pretty much what we see in more advanced cities. Consider this intersection organized for equitable access and striped for safer transit:

Complete streets intersection

An example ‘complete streets’ intersection: bicycle lane, shaded crosswalks, and well-marked pavement.

It has the key elements that make this intersection safer to navigate. Note that the rider-on-a-bicycle is not considered a vehicle for planning purposes; instead the non-motorized road user is accommodated with a class II bicycle lane – a facility that acknowledges riders need protections that motorists in steel boxes don’t. Often that means a separate lane for non-motor travel.

Planning Commission Gateway field trip

Even our Planning Commissioners on a field visit to Wilshire & Santa Monica boulevards can’t make it all the way across on the white hand signal.

When it comes to adopting a complete streets policy, unfortunately, each state and city is on its own. California did its part with a 2008 complete streets law; but localities are a mixed-bunch today. And Beverly Hills itself has taken no step forward. How far behind the state-of-the-art are we? Consider the sorry state of two key intersections: Wilshire-Santa Monica and Beverly-Olympic. These are not only hazardous for riders to navigate; they’re not very safe for motorists or pedestrians too.

Chattanooga Steps Up

While Washington has yet to OK a national complete streets policy, cities like Chattanooga pick up the slack by adopting their own complete streets policy. There, City Council is set for a second reading of its complete streets ordinance intended to foster a “safe, reliable, efficient, integrated and connected multimodal transportation system that will promote access, mobility and health for all users, and will ensure that the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system are accommodated.”

That’s a mouthful. But the thrust of the new policy is that appropriate steps to make streets safe need to be taken throughout the planning, programming, design, construction and operation phases of any road project. But the reach of the city’s law is even greater than that:

The Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Economic & Community Development, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, and other relevant departments, agencies, or committees will review and modify current city standards, including but not limited to subdivision regulations, zoning codes and ordinances, to ensure that they effectively implement Complete Streets principles; and such groups shall incorporate Complete Streets principles into all future planning documents, manuals, design standards, checklists, decision – trees, rules, regulations, programs, neighborhood redevelopment projects, and other appropriate endeavors.

Moreover, the ordinance directs the city to “foster partnerships” with jurisdictions at every level to “develop facilities and accommodations that further the City’s Complete Streets policy.” It directs transportation officials to identify “current and potential future sources of funding” for complete street improvements. And this well-thought out legislation also mandates the development of performance measures and the publication of a “periodic report” to Council showing the city’s progress. Bravo!

Policy is key, of course, but standards matter too. The new Chattanooga ordinance takes the step that we’d like to see every transportation-planning jurisdiction embrace: the rejection of the outmoded AASHTO design manual in favor of the NAACTO guide when formalizing design and construction standards.

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga. Ready for the complete streets treatment!

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga after the complete streets treatment!

The new policy should greatly improve a major corridor like Broad Street downtown, which connects key destinations but today is little more than a motor vehicle thoroughfare. Add complete streets (visualized at right) and turn folks loose with the city’s bike share program, Bike Chattanooga, and you’ve got the recipe for a two-wheeled urban renaissance.

The city is banking on it. And that makes us proud; we knew Chattanooga back when it was something of a cultural backwater. No more a backwater: it’s all growed up! Now with 1 gigabit broadband, bike share, online ride-safe tips and soon a complete streets policy, this formerly-provincial city has upped its competitive game. Not bad for the 4th largest city in Tennessee! How long before the ‘Nooga becomes its own brand?

Time for a Mobility Coordinator in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills has taken none of those steps. It’s time for us to up our game. Thankfully good models for safe streets policymaking are out there…if only our policymakers would embrace the effort. Here is what complete streets could look like for Beverly Drive, by the way:

This complete street allows for a bike lane. Reverse-angle parking increases cyclist safety too.

This complete street allows for a bike lane by removing a traffic lane and reverse-angling the street parking. That increases cyclist safety by eliminating the blind spot.

Even short of adopting a complete streets ordinance, our city can take a crucial step to make streets welcoming and safe to walkers and riders: we could create a position for a non-motor mobility coordinator (as Los Angeles has done). A generic ‘transportation planner’ position doesn’t cut it; we need a specialist, someone versed in complete streets principles, bike-friendly facilities and finding the funding for them. In the past we’ve simply looked to an intern to do that important work. That won’t cut it anymore for Beverly Hills, however; we’re one of the most dangerous little cities in California.

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