Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction

Our Vision for Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard is one of the busiest crosstown streets on the Westside. Not only is it part of the region’s ‘backbone’ bicycle network, but it is a designated truck route and four Metro bus lines serve it. Not to mention the more than 50,000 vehicles that traverse it every day. Regardless of travel mode this road should get us where we’re going. But because the Beverly Hills segment of North Santa Monica Boulevard is engineered primarily for motoring, by design it puts non-motor road users in harm’s way.

Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to WilshireWe now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake the boulevard into a ‘complete street‘ for Beverly Hills – a thoroughfare that accommodates walkers, riders and drivers. Over the next two+ years, Beverly Hills will thoroughly reconstruct the boulevard down to the gravel. Read more about the project itself at bottom.

Here’s the bad news: Beverly Hills City Council has just elected to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard much as it is today. That means riders will enjoy no separate bicycle lane on a corridor that begs for one. And a corridor that federal and state departments of transportation agree should have them.

Despite ongoing Council and staff resistance to planning for multimodal mobility generally, and on Santa Monica in particular, ‘complete streets’ supporters developed a proposal that we called the ‘Beverly Hills Greenway.’ Our proposal would achieve the project’s broadest objective (to create a world-class boulevard for Beverly Hills) while making tomorrow’s boulevard safe for all road users. We called it a win-win.

The ‘Beverly Hills Greenway’

Developed with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, our proposal envisions a boulevard wide enough to accommodate bicycle lanes while maintaining the integrity of the adjacent Beverly Gardens Park. It would add green space to the boulevard along most of its wider segment in order to compensate for additional width needed to make the boulevard a uniform width (we proposed 62 feet).

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

© Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition

This is a no-net-loss proposal that would maintain the same traffic volume for motorists while taking riders out of their way via state-approved bicycle lanes. The Greenway would separate motor from non-motor traffic and moot concerns about the state’s new safe-passing law. And bicyclists who ride the corridor will feel safer outside of the vehicle flow. As we see it, 62 feet is enough for a world-class street!

We brought our proposal to City Council in January of 2015 with some precedent: last September City Council created a Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee of 15 appointed residents to receive public input. The committee was charged with receiving public input and nearly 200 members of the public addressed the committee (and more than 90% supported adding bicycle lanes to the boulevard). (Read our meeting recaps.)

When it came time to decide how to design the boulevard, City Council took a different perspective on bicycle lanes for Santa Monica. On July 21st, just as we expected, a split council said that Beverly Hills needs no bicycle lane on North Santa Monica Boulevard. In the majority were Mayor Julian Gold and councilmembers Willie Brien and Nancy Krasne. They evinced real genuine concern for riders. If you’re disappointed with their approach to their responsibility to provide for all road users’ safety, you can contact the entire City Council by email at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org (or call 310-285-1013 with your comments) about that decision.

What about that ‘Gateway’ concept that we brought to City Council in January? No more was said about it; the concept simply died a quiet death like so many progressive ideas in Beverly Hills.

Bicycle Lanes, We Hardly Knew Ye!

With Council’s decision we come to an end with our multi-year campaign to secure safer transit on this key regional ‘backbone’ corridor through state-approved bicycle lanes. But the demise of the bicycle lanes hardly brings an end to our campaign for a safer boulevard. We’re currently pressing the city to make passage safe for riders during the long and treacherous construction phase. Just witness the conditions the westbound rider encounters today – and construction hasn’t even started on this massive project!

Santa Monica Blvd at Hilton construction: no mitigation for riders!

Santa Monica Blvd during construction: the gantlet that offers no refuge for riders!

We’ve recommended traffic mitigation measures like other cities deploy in order to keep riders safe. But to date we find no partner in Beverly Hills City Hall: transportation officials like Susan Healey Keene and Aaron Kunz insists on giving advocates the runaround and giving riders short shrift where safety is concerned. Stay tuned!

About the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project

Santa Monica blvd project thumbnail mapWhat is it? This $12 $35 million Santa Monica Boulevard project will reconstruct the boulevard between West Hollywood to Century City. The redesign will retain today’s four travel lanes (accommodating 55,000 cars on average daily according to traffic counts) and will probably include a landscaped median.

How could the corridor be made safer? To make this corridor safe for all who would use it regardless of mode, the new design should reflect the principles of ‘complete streets,’ which means crosswalks safer for pedestrians, intersections engineered for safe passage by bicycle, and, most important, state-approved bicycle lanes along its full length.

When will this project commence? It’s already underway. We are well into the second of three project phases: development of the design. Next comes engineering and construction. Find project documents in our project documents library or consult the city’s project page. (Warning: on the city’s site you will find scant information about this project and what is there is often outdated information because the city doesn’t care enough about what you think to make it worth its while to inform you.)

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

Other Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project-related posts:

City Project Documents

City Staff Reports (most recent first)

Policy Context

Key Contacts

Other Resources

Afterward: The Boulevard’s History

Santa Monica Boulevard conditionsLet’s understand how Santa Monica Boulevard moved Angelenos over the past century. Most recently it was State Highway 2. Long before Beverly Hills took control of it in 2005, however, the corridor had languished under the state’s DOT. Quick patches sufficed for maintenance and potholes proliferated. City stewardship has proven no better: potholes and storm grates pose regular collision hazards for those who ride.

Prior to its ignominy as a bike-unfriendly Hwy 2, Santa Monica Boulevard was known as the terminal segment of the famous Route 66 that once linked Chicago to Santa Monica. All that remains of that old road in Beverly Hills are a few commemorative signs, but there is a movement afoot to memorialize that history.

Pacific Electric at Beverly Hills Station #2

Pacific Electric station at Beverly Hills circa 1925.

The Pacific Electric’s Western Division once ran streetcars down the future boulevard. In fact, our city thrived as the junction of two lines that together anchored Beverly Hills into a regional Southern California rail network.

The first station occupied the northwest corner of Crescent & Little Santa Monica, across from City Hall. Once post office construction commenced, the station was moved a block west, to between Beverly and Canon, as 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 smallLong before Route 66 and the PE, the Los Angeles Pacific, a predecessor rail corporation, 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). It is known today as Beverly Hills.

But Santa Monica Boulevard today betrays none of that distinguished history. We see a multimodal boulevard as our “once in a lifetime” opportunity to honor its rich transportation history. Remember, multimodal mobility is not just an historical footnote for this corridor; it can be our future too.

Recent Posts

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Los Angeles intersectionToday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)

We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.

This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.

Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).

“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.

Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.

Our Reply to Mr. Feldman

To the Editor:

In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.

Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.

We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners  150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.

As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.

And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?

I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.

  1. Hazardous Intersections That Need a Safety Upgrade TODAY Leave a reply
  2. New Ambassador Program Promises Smiles. Unless You’re Homeless! Leave a reply
  3. Say Goodbye to Santa Monica Boulevard Bike Lanes [recap] 11 Replies
  4. Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders Comments Off on Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders
  5. Beverly Hills Intersections May be Hazardous to Your Health Comments Off on Beverly Hills Intersections May be Hazardous to Your Health
  6. Santa Monica Boulevard Lanes Returns to Council Comments Off on Santa Monica Boulevard Lanes Returns to Council
  7. LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest Comments Off on LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest
  8. NIMBYs Whiffed on Bike Lanes But Killed the Dog Park Comments Off on NIMBYs Whiffed on Bike Lanes But Killed the Dog Park
  9. Tracking Hazards and Collisions: Maps and More Maps! Comments Off on Tracking Hazards and Collisions: Maps and More Maps!
  10. Are You a ‘Team Player’? Traffic Commission Has Two Vacancies Comments Off on Are You a ‘Team Player’? Traffic Commission Has Two Vacancies
  11. Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan: Will It Ever Be Updated? Comments Off on Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan: Will It Ever Be Updated?
  12. Is a Mandatory Bike Helmet Law the Answer? Comments Off on Is a Mandatory Bike Helmet Law the Answer?
  13. Beverly Hills OKs Bike-share Feasibility Study Comments Off on Beverly Hills OKs Bike-share Feasibility Study