Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction

Tomorrow’s Not-So-Visionary Santa Monica Boulevard

North Santa Monica Boulevard is one of the busiest crosstown corridors on the Westside. Not only is it a key transit route (four Metro bus lines serve it) but it is also the city’s designated truck route. And of course about 50,000 vehicles traverse it on an average weekday. Regardless of travel mode, this road gets us where we’re going.

Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to WilshireBut this Beverly Hills segment of North Santa Monica Boulevard has long favored motorists over every other road user. Bus riders will find no shelter here; pedestrians cross at their own peril; and a bicycle rider will find no bicycle lane or even a single share-the-road sign to make passage more safe.

Indeed North Santa Monica Boulevard is perfectly representative of the 20th century’s misplaced mobility priorities: to facilitate vehicular travel no matter the impact on non-motor road users. Sadly, crash data for this corridor reflect our collective lack of concern, according to an LA Times analysis of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

1977 bicycle master plan map with parks

Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan shows schools and parks linked by bike lanes, paths and routes.

Yet North Santa Monica Boulevard remains a key non-motor mobility corridor, and it should be afforded a design to make it safer to walk and ride. Riders know that it is an element of the region’s ‘backbone’ bicycle network, after all, and perhaps to the surprise of Beverly Hills folks it is identified as a bike route in our city’s 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. (Yes, the plan dates from the disco era!)

So in this era of carbon-consciousness, as state and federal policies have evolved over the past decade to encourage non-motor mobility, the City of Beverly Hills still discounts the welfare of bicycle riders. Not surprisingly, the rate of injuries citywide continues to rise year-after-year. Yet no city official asks why? Our Traffic and Parking Commission simply looks the other way.

Yes, localities surrounding Beverly Hills have taken action by updating their bicycle plans and making key streets ‘complete’ (that is, safe for all road users). But not Beverly Hills. Why not make the North Santa Monica Boulevard corridor the demonstration project for a safe, complete street?

About the Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction Project

Santa Monica blvd project thumbnail mapThis $8M $12 $16 $35 $29 million project will thoroughly reconstruct the boulevard between West Hollywood and Century City Wilshire Boulevard from drainage to blacktop. Tomorrow’s corridor will retain the four travel lanes (accommodating 55,000 cars on average daily according to traffic counts) that exist today. In fact, very little on the corridor will change, unfortunately.

Today we are about 50% into the second of the three project phases (design) and next comes engineering then finally construction. Want to read more? Find all of the city’s project documents in our library. Call it a public service; the city’s own project page is not very informative despite cutting consultant Psomas a fat $2 million check for project outreach and design.

Beverly Hills Gets It Wrong

To make this corridor safe for all who would use it, tomorrow’s North Santa Monica Boulevard should reflect the principles of ‘complete streets.’ A street is ‘complete’ when its safe for all road users. Often it includes continental-style crosswalks (more visibility for pedestrians) and intersections engineered for safe cycling too. Most important, the complete street would separate travel modes so that those riding a bicycle need not mix with motor traffic.

Despite a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake tomorrow’s corridor for safety, City Council recently decided to reconstruct North Santa Monica Boulevard much as it exists today: without bicycle lanes or improved intersections. It’s no aberration: Beverly Hills transportation officials routinely overlook safety in designing our streets and have worked long and hard to keep bicycle lanes off this boulevard in particular.

For example, back in 2010 we first asked about putting bicycle lanes on North Santa Monica. Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz urged us to think about alternate routes, making clear that the politics of the bicycle lane is a poison pill for City Hall. Then shortly before this project was put out for bid (in April of 2012) a key contract document – the draft request-for-proposal – conveniently omitted any mention of ‘complete streets’ in its guidance to bidders. (It was subsequently revised after we made the omission an issue.)

When the city’s appointed ‘Santa Monica Blue Ribbon’ Committee discussed the issue in late 2013, city staff and consultants suggested it include 16-foot wide right lanes but, inexplicably, city staff would not endorse striping a bicycle lane. After the Blue Ribbon finally did recommend that addition to City Council in early 2014, the committee’s advice was simply buried. Bicycle lanes were spurned by City Council. That bicycle lanes recommendation? It was never mentioned again in Council chambers as far as we can tell. (Read the Blue Ribbon Committee documents below.)

But regional transportation advocates, neighboring city officials, and bicycle lane supporters from across the region urged City Council to include bicycle lanes in the final corridor design. Yet the city resisted. In early 2015, a few advocates stepped forward with a proposal we called the ‘Beverly Hills Greenway’ to meet neighborhood critics’ concerns about losing parkland while expanding the curb-to-curb width incrementally to accommodate bicycle lanes. The Greenway would have not only remade the boulevard at a uniform width; it would have actually added additional green space along most of its length. How? By adding a foot here while taking a couple from there for bicycle lanes. Here’s the profile schematic:

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

© Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition

While the Greenway proposal, developed with the support of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, was a no-net-loss-of-parkland concept, City Council evidently couldn’t abide it. Forget that it would have maintained the current vehicular volume and kept bicyclists out of the vehicular traffic flow (per the requirements of California’s new safe-passing law); above all it would have reflected the latest policy guidance from state and federal departments of transportation.

Regardless of merit, in July of 2015 City Council (as we predicted) simply sidestepped the Greenway proposal. Oh, city staff found a couple of feet to expand the boulevard but Council caved in to local NIMBYs – and longtime staff advice – to simply nix the bicycle lanes even though the boulevard would be wide enough to include them. (Scroll down for our meeting recaps and city staff reports.)

So despite a near $30 million price tag for the current reconstruction program, tomorrow’s North Santa Monica Boulevard will look much like it does today but with new asphalt. It will not include landscaped medians, sidewalks or bus shelters or any other features that would distinguish this signature boulevard. Here are the city’s visualizations:

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (west of Canon)

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (east of Canon Drive)

Just like North Santa Monica Boulevard today: no sidewalks, no medians, few crosswalks, and, of course, no bicycle lanes even though the 16-ft wide right-hand lane would accommodate them. That’s how we roll in Beverly Hills!

Really? Thirty million bucks to rebuilt the crappy corridor we have today? Riders aren’t the only losers here; all road users lose and city residents lose too. Because for decades to come we’ll live with a boulevard no better engineered for safety than then one we have today, and no more distinguished.

The Safety Campaign Continues

While City Council effectively brought to an end to bicycle lanes on North Santa Monica Boulevard, it didn’t end our campaign for a safer corridor. We’re pressing the city to make passage safe for riders during the long construction phase beginning in the spring. In fact, we have repeatedly urged our Traffic and Parking Commission to take rider needs into account in construction mitigation measures. But we’ve found no city partner. There exists zero interest among commissioners to incorporate the mitigation measures we’ve recommended. Despite months of trying we’ve found no success.

So what’s new, right? For years our former City Manager, Jeff Kolin, stonewalled progress. Community Development department director Susan Healey Keene and her deputy, the Director for Transportation, Aaron Kunz, each have let us down. City Hall has given us the runaround whenever we’ve asked about street safety, and now they’re giving us the short shrift when we demand protection during construction.

Looking ahead we can anticipate what to expect once reconstruction does begin. This past January, construction commenced on the Four Seasons project on Santa Monica Boulevard (west of Wilshire). Without so much as a thought about rider safety on this segment, Beverly Hills allowed the contractor to simply bound travel lanes with K-rail (below). The south-side sidewalk is impassible on a bicycle and there is nowhere to run if you’re headed west.

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

Here’s the view from the saddle: North Santa Monica Boulevard (west of Wilshire) during construction offers no refuge for riders from speeding drivers.

Of course they forgot about hanging share-the-road or may-use-full-lane signage so we’ll depend on drivers’ familiarity with the state vehicle code to ensure we can ride safely on the corridor:

Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except…when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge… (CVC Sec. 21202)

The section is worth reading in its entirely, but the key here is “substandard width lane.” The lanes on this segment are indeed ‘substandard’ (“too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane,” according to the code) so when you ride it be sure to use the entire right lane. Do not keep to the right edge!

Where rider-friendly construction mitigation is concerned, there is no need to invent the wheel. Our officials and consultant Psomas can refer to an entire chapter on construction zone safety in the state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Yet none of those recommended measures make an appearance in any of the Psomas construction mitigation materials. Heck, not even the word ‘safety’ makes a single appearance!

Better Bike’s Santa Monica Boulevard Project Library

Here you will find the relevant project documents and supporting material that you won’t find anywhere on the city’s own project page. We begin with our meeting recaps – the most detailed summations of proceedings you will find – and continue on to our posts about the process. We then post contact documents, staff reports, Blue Ribbon Committee minutes & memos, mitigation materials and finally some policy and history context for this project. Happy reading!

Meeting Recaps

Our other Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project-related posts

Contract Documents

City Staff Reports and Presentations

Blue Ribbon Committee Documents

Construction Mitigation Documents (not one mentions ‘safety’)

Plans and Policy Context

Contact Your City Officials

More About 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

Beverly Hills City Council UNANIMOUSLY OKs SM Blvd Bike Lanes

In an incredible turnabout tonight, all five Beverly Hills councilmembers agreed to include bicycle lanes on our segment of Santa Monica Boulevard. The unanimous vote demolished the specious claims put forth by NIMBY opponents. And it recognized the solid arguments brought forth by forty speakers and scores more comments from proponents of safe multimodal mobility. In sum, bicycle lanes not only make riders feel safe, they actually make us more safe.

In what amounts to a total victory, we not only gained five votes for lanes; we also have support from three councilmembers for high-visibility lanes. On that point, the only discussion concerned just how conspicuous we could make them. Councilmember Mirisch suggested a very specific shade of blue to pop out; even better, he said, let’s make any colored treatment self-illuminating. (Is this Beverly Hills?!)

Third, and most incredibly, it looks like we have Council approval to actually make an incremental reduction – yes, reduction – in the #1 (inside) vehicular lanes. Staff had inexplicably recommended 11-foot inside lanes, much wider than necessary, while whittling down our bicycle lanes to a bare-minimum 4’6″. Councilmembers asked, Why so wide? With some support from our transportation consultant, Iteris, it now looks like the boulevard’s #1 lanes may shrink to 10.5 or even 10 feet. (Pinch me. Where am I?!)

In a perverse bit of irony, that too-wide #1 lane recommendation included in the staff report might have allowed opponents to have their cake and eat it too. Three years ago they throttled the boulevard’s width and almost squeezed out bicycle lanes. (We barely got the necessary width back in January 2015). Yet now lane opponents claimed that the only bicycle lanes that would fit on a boulevard they worked so hard to narrow are simply not safe to ride. The balls of it.

But their argument was dispatched tonight with alacrity because, unlike opponents, our councilmembers actually reviewed the prevailing design guidance and agreed: 11 feet is too wide. Moreover, the Council majority embraced the notion that narrower lanes would calm Santa Monica Boulevard traffic. (Seriously, in Beverly Hills?!)

The incredulity expressed by councilmembers regarding our opponents’ flimsy arguments against bicycle lanes suggested two things as the evening progressed:

  1. Complete streets is a concept whose time has finally come in Beverly Hills. We’re embarking on a complete streets plan process now, and the embrace of safe, multimodal mobility makes all the difference between ginning up a pro-forma, check-the-box complete streets plan; and a real policy statement and implementation framework that would actually make our streets safe for all road users. It’s the difference between cynicism and optimism.
  2. The NIMBY zombie that has come back, time and again, to loom like a black cloud over every discussion of bicycle lanes in Beverly Hills has finally been banished. Not only could the opposition forces not muster the enthusiasm (let alone numbers) of years past; their arguments were transparently disingenuous.

For this we can thank Mayor Lili Bosse for her leadership. She made the bike plan a priority; then she literally put bicycle lanes back on the agenda; and finally, tonight, she proclaimed, “bike lanes everywhere!” John Mirisch, likewise is a solid ally and a complete streets supporter. He always has been. And rounding out the loudest voices for multimodal mobility, councilmember Robert Wunderlich is all about making our city bikable. (C’mon, man, this is Beverly Hills?!)

That’s just three votes, of course, but we got five for lanes. I trust that Vice-Mayor Gold and councilmember Friedman will come around.

If there was one outcome worth the many-years wait, it is that we in Beverly Hills have conclusively put to rest the fictions that have long-driven our transportation planning. That we could remain an isolated suburb in the center of a sprawling urban region with serious mobility and quality-of-life challenges; and that we could cling tight to a 20th-century car culture even as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

Thanks be to all of our friends and supporters who have been there from the beginning – and those that joined us tonight for the first time. You will get your due when this is updated with a full-on report! Onward!

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