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 to one of these proposed widths: 63, 64 or 66 feet. Additional width would allow for a shorter construction period and reduce project costs, our consultant says; widths over 64 feet, they say, will accommodate class II lanes. Should the boulevard be standardized at the widest width today (63 feet), it would take only twelve inches more to accommodate bicycle lanes. (At left we see the full 66-foot option staked out by the consultant.)

Bicycle lane proponents say the lanes are necessary in order to ensure the safety of those who choose to ride a bicycle. They note that Santa Monica Boulevard is a regional ‘backbone’ bike route, so would the city reconstruct our segment of the corridor as an obstacle to multimodal mobility? They also add that both West Hollywood and City of Los Angeles bookend the city with their own class II lanes.

Critics, notably two resident associations, Beverly Hills North Homeowner Association and the Municipal League, have positioned themselves as defenders of the park, claiming that Beverly Hills is park poor. They’ve circulated to city households all manner of falsehoods via call-to-action and a newsletter and ‘town hall’ event scheduled for June 26th at 7pm.

Santa Monica Boulevard has a distinguished history of facilitating multimodal transportation. Why not continue that legacy into the 21st century? The Blue-Ribbon committee thought so an voted 9-1 to stripe bicycle lanes if we expand the boulevard. Helpfully our neighboring cities frame the choice: West Hollywood remade their segment of the corridor into an award-winning, pedestrian-friendly Main Street, one characterized by wide sidewalks and safe crosswalks. Los Angeles turned their West LA segment into a limited access freeway. But both include on-street lanes.

Next Steps

The last City Council meeting saw council divided; given uncertainties about costs, the Council declined to take any decision on the project at the March 4th meeting and has deferred action to the July 1st City Council meeting. Then Council may well decide to limit the new width to preclude lanes, or perhaps take some other action on the project.

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

Gran Fondo Italia Comes to Beverly Hills on 9/28

Gran Fondo Italia BH logoThe Gran Fondo Italia ride, an annual for-profit ‘packaged’ bike ride & marketing extravaganza, comes back to Beverly Hills with city sponsorship this September 28th. It’s the only kind of ride our city appreciates: hospitality dollars roll in while City Hall basks in ersatz Euro-gloss. Fittingly, premium riders will enjoy a dinner at the Montage Hotel and a Tuscan wine ‘goody bag.’ But those linen tablecloths and Tuscan wines won’t streets any safer for the everyday riders. If you’re concerned about safe streets in Beverly Hills, this Gran Fondo is as relevant to your commute as if it actually happened in Italy. 

The Laguna Beach-based organizers behind the Fondo promise “a strong ‘Italian feeling’ with Italian sponsors, Italian foods, and a great Italian atmosphere,” according to correspondence with city officials. “The spirit and passion of Italy, iconic Italian brands and products, and incredible destinations are all part of the experience with Gran Fondo Italia events,” their promo materials say. And the pitch to riders: “Grab your cycling friends and line up behind the Lexus lead car and police escort for a fantastic start to a beautiful ride through the Santa Monica mountains and back to the finish at Beverly Hills City Hall.”

But we need remind nobody that non-paying riders in Beverly Hills enjoy no lead car or police escort through our city. We’re subject to regular motorist harassment (as if we’ve got no right to the road) but no cop comes to our aid. Though we’re threatened by reckless drivers, speeders and red-light runners every day, there is no traffic cop on the beat as enforcement has decreased over the past five years, according to our analysis of BHPD data.

Santa Monica Blvd pavement irregularitiesIn fact, dangerous conditions greet riders every day especially along this big event’s main course – a few blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard between City Hall and Wilshire. For this key regional connector has languished over the past decade as the city has simply refused to repair it. Yet the Gran Fondo riders who brave only a few blocks of the rutted corridor won’t feel the full Beverly Hills welcome. That said, we will not be surprised to see some spot repairs made on the event section (that is, only where our event guests will see it).

It’s All About the Marketing

But then it’s all about the marketing anyway, as the Chamber’s letter to Council supporting the event says:

The event will provide an opportunity for local merchants to participate in the event and related activities. Attendees of the event will be able to easily dine at our restaurants and walk around and shop while in Beverly Hills. In addition, the event could be a nice occasion to bring the residential community and the business community together.

Yes, why not use cycling to bring residents and businesses together? Why not encourage two-wheeled travel to shops and restaurants? Great questions. But in the past, the Chamber has not been very receptive to notions of bike-friendly business districts. (We received an icy reception when we met with a Chamber official a few years ago.) Indeed the Chamber is actually driven by larger members anyway – hotels, restaurants, and banks for example – and so is not particularly representative of the smaller shops who would find support in a ‘shop local’ program. (The Chamber even once ran its own until it folded that tent when City Hall money ran out).

Of course City Hall is on board. “We are thrilled to host the Gran Fondo Italia and it is a great way to help promote our Centennial year internationally,” said Mayor Lili Bosse in an event press release. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the bike friendly activities in our city and build on our Healthy City Initiative, both for our community and for cyclists visiting from around the world.”

Should Local Bike Clubs Support a Marketing Event?

Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills organizers have reached out to local clubs for a little bit of promo love. “Dear Cycling Club: Help get the word out!” an email pleads. “The Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills is Sunday September 28. Please post the event on your website calendar. And feel free to use the image links (below) in your messaging.”

Gran Fondo Italia promo

Pasadena Athletic Association Club President Wesley Reutimann brought it to our attention and copied us on his reply to event organizers:

Thank you for reaching out to our club. As President of PAA cycling, a 350 member bike club, I am unable to promote this event or any other in the City of Beverly Hills as long as its elected leaders and City staff do not take the safety of ALL road users seriously. Over the past few years, the City of Beverly Hills has repeatedly failed to support local efforts to improve the safety of its streets.

At the same time, neighboring LA, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica have made significant investments to protect vulnerable road users like bicyclists (e.g., bike lanes on Santa Monica Blvd). Until the City can address these issues (e.g., existing bike lane gap on Santa Monica Blvd), I will be compelled to take my business elsewhere, as well as encourage that of our entire membership to do so as well. Please feel free to relay my message to your contacts in the City.

Bravo! Wes has been witness all along to our city’s resistance to safer streets for cyclists, and he’s lent his effort to secure bike lanes for Santa Monica. So he has a right to gripe.

And he’s right: Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and Culver City have each pressed ahead with bike-friendly measures while Beverly Hills has slapped down only a few block segments of sharrows and lanes and called it done. That’s par for the course for Beverly Hills: we talk a good game in our plans – for example, about multimodal mobility in our General Plan and we even encourage cycling in our Sustainable City Plan – but we seem to not be able to muster the interest to make cycling safe for folks who might want to bike to the cafe or store.

Heck, we’ve even got a Bicycle Master Plan that dates to 1977 (and it’s still legally in effect, contrary to what our transportation officials think) and it calls for all the right things: a citywide bikeway network; a designated bike route on Santa Monica Boulevard; and safe connections between schools and parks.

Yet city leadership won’t follow our own guiding policies. Most recently, City Council slapped back at the over 200 riders who spoke up in support of class II bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. A majority of councilmembers essentially disparaged supporters and waved away their comments in support. One, Nancy Krasne, questioned whether lanes were even safe (despite evidence that they are more safe than streets without them). Read more about the SM Blvd project on our dedicated page.

We feel that city support for Gran Fondo Italia should be seen as a rebuke to anyone who calls for safer streets for cycling in Beverly Hills. Because really it’s the principle of the thing: why take unearned rewards by coat-tailing on an ersatz Euro sport ride event when policymakers can’t make a simple effort to create welcoming, complete streets?

So we appreciate Wes and his club for speaking up. “Cyclists have a lot of purchasing power,” he says, “and we shouldn’t be shy to wield it and encourage others to do so too.”

Has your club been on the receiving end of the organizer’s outreach? Has it declined to support the Fondo? Let us know. We hope you stand with Wes! (Update: Ted Rogers over at BikinginLA chimed in too: “While I’m normally willing to back any event that promotes bicycling, it just doesn’t make sense to support a bike event in a city that doesn’t support us.”)

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