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

Santa Monica Blvd Recap & Update

Recently we spoke with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, about Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction and what to next expect in the process. Recall that back in March, the Council majority seemed unwilling to concede an extra foot of width to accommodate them. But the ballooning cost estimate stalled the project, and the Council deferred action pending more information about costs and traffic mitigation.

Santa Monica Boulevard: Quick Recap of the Timeline

The reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard has proved to be a much greater challenge than expected when the project was put on the city’s agenda in September of 2010. Back then, construction was anticipated to begin mid-2013. But that timeline began to slide in early 2012 when, prior to distribution, the draft project RFP  was referred back to staff because it specified no ‘complete streets’ measures as part of the project.

(The inclusion of complete streets principles is entirely discretionary, yet, as we recommended to the city, would be forward-looking. In 2009, a new state law directed localities to include complete streets principles in plans and policies by 2011. The intent was to ensure that making streets ‘complete’ or safe for all users would guide local transportation planning and infrastructure construction. But Beverly Hills got under the wire with a general plan update in 2010, and of course our city has passed no local complete streets ordinance to mandate such safety measures.)

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape.

As a result of our own inattention, complete streets treatments (like continental crosswalks and traffic calming measures such as curb extensions) are rare in Beverly Hills anywhere outside of the polished diamond of the business triangle.

When the draft RFP came up for Council review, then-Mayor John Mirisch argued that complete streets principles should frame expectations for this key transportation project and Council agreed. But even with that revised RFP, the project contract wasn’t signed until a full year later.

What should tomorrow’s corridor look like? City Council in the fall of 2013 appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee to consider conceptual design options. The committee’s work concluded in January of 2014. Between the Blue Ribbon and City Council meeting in March of this year, over 200 members of the public commented in support of bicycle lanes…public input which the Council majority seemingly opposed to lanes simply waved away. Since then, the entire project has been (figuratively) parked.

What’s next?

Backbone Bike NetworkWhile city staff & consultants prepare traffic mitigation options and revised cost estimates, Council is pondering the politics of boulevard widening and the prudence of dual-phasing the project with the western segment coming later. As we earlier observed, the problem for riders is that the lanes option could slip away unless we keep our focus on the project as a larger piece of the regional bicycle backbone network (right); and that much-needed safety improvements to the Santa Monica-Wilshire intersection may be deferred indefinitely.

On September 23rd the project comes back to City Council. Will Council then address the bicycle lanes question? Aaron Kunz from Beverly Hills was not committal; he described the agenda item it as more of a discussion about cost and traffic mitigation. But the traffic mitigation issue is directly related to the bicycle lanes question: if Council decides to unduly limit the width of tomorrow’s boulevard (to 63 feet or less, for example) it will forever preclude bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard.

In effect, Council could decide the lanes question simply by choosing a specific mitigation option that boxes out the possibility, without ever directly addressing the merits of a bicycle lane.

We’ll know more about the contours of the Council’s discussion when the staff report is released the Friday before.

BH Chamber GAC logoBefore that Council meeting, however, the Beverly Hills Chamber has scheduled an August 21st government affairs committee meeting to discuss the bike lanes option. As presented in the announcement, the Chamber will receive pro & con positions on the lanes, with high-profile NIMBYs like Robert and Bob Tanenbaum and Thomas White speaking out against them. You are urged to attend. More information can be found in our earlier post.

Don’t you can email members of City Council to remind them that you ride in and around Beverly Hills and that safe passage along this corridor is not discretionary – it is an obligation for the city to provide. Use our handy contacts cheat sheet and remind city officials that bike riders matter too.

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