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

Are Fading Beverly Hills Bike Facilities a Metaphor?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The pilot program as approved by City Council: just two routes out of five under consideration.

In 2013 City of Beverly Hills chose two corridors for bike facilities under the city’s (very) limited ‘pilot project.’ Several block segments of Crescent Drive and Burton way were identified by consultant Fehr & Peers as suitable for class II bicycle lanes, while Crescent (south of Santa Monica) was also deemed suitable for sharrows. A year on, our facilities are showing their age: Burton Way bike lanes are disappearing before our eyes; and an ill-advised realignment of sharrows on Crescent Drive now puts riders at risk.

Are our city’s first-ever bike facilities installed under the pilot program (read the feasibility study) an indication of bike-friendliness, as our Mayor says? Or do they telegraph our city’s true regard for the safety of two-wheeled road users in Beverly Hills as revealed by councilmembers this past summer? In short, are these pilot improvements a metaphor for the slippage of bike improvements from a Council ‘B’ priority to off the agenda entirely?

Consider the bicycle lanes installed on several block segments of Burton Way. They were striped with ordinary paint. As a result, the pilot program bicycle lanes have faded – really faded – to the point of disappearing before our eyes.

Beverly Hills and Los Angeles bike lane striping on Burton Way

Witness the difference between the faded bicycle lanes on Burton Way in Beverly Hills (left) and the markings on that same corridor in adjacent Los Angeles (right).

Faded crosswalk at Wilshire & Santa Monica South

Pity the poor pedestrians who cross every day at this major juncture of Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard South!

Yet the city appears to have no appetite to restripe them. And to be fair, it’s a citywide problem: many of our crosswalks have faded to the point of putting pedestrians in danger. They take on a ghostly quality, which is surely not appropriate for a traffic control device. So you see it’s not just cyclists that get the back of the hand. That’s why Beverly Hills leads small cities in California in pedestrian collision injuries.

Will our bike lanes be restored to their original luster? Our deputy director for transportation was non-committal when asked. (Stay tuned for an update as we have another query into the division.)

Another problem area with regard to the pilot program is the sharrows implementation on Crescent Drive (below Santa Monica Boulevard North). Heading northbound on Crescent approaching Brighton Way, the sharrow is correctly positioned in the right lane. North of Brighton approaching Santa Monica South, however, the sharrow has been relocated to the #2 lane adjacent to the double-yellow. That puts passing motor traffic to the right of the rider crossing over the next intersection. But then north of the Santa Monica South intersection the sharrow again shifts back to the right lane, forcing a rider merge with that passing traffic.

Sharrow placement on Crescent Drive infographicAdd to the obvious safety implications the fact that passing traffic has an incentive to speed along this segment in order to make both the Santa Monica South and Santa Monica North green lights and you have a recipe for serious rider injury.

This was brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, in early August. Of course transportation staff should have recognized the problem; for many months these sharrows have been misaligned But neither the plain evidence or even our communication has made the slightest bit of difference: riders still navigate this hazard as city hall takes no action to correct it.

City Hall: No Passion for Action on Road Safety

This pilot program in our opinion was too little, too late anyway. It was not intended to be much more than a gesture toward a bike-friendly claim. Indeed it doesn’t bolster our confidence that councilmember Julian Gold has appeared anxious for this pilot program – by definition it’s not permanent – to come back before Council for reevaluation. But to approve it and then wholly neglect to maintain it? That’s spitting into the eye of every rider who would follow our own city plans’ advice to opt whenever possible for bicycle travel over auto travel. You know – to reduce auto congestion and emissions!

Santa Monica's thermoplast bicycle lane markings

City of Santa Monica not only embraces thermoplast but pays more for pre-templated bike lane markings.

Thankfully we do have better examples on offer in neighboring cities. Both Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles, for example, are rolling out bike facilities citywide. They’re installed to be permanent – not as part of a pilot – and they’re installed according to Caltrans requirements. Moreover, these cities use thermoplastic, not regular paint, to ensure that such state-approved traffic safety measures stick around for more than a year. Santa Monica goes one better: new bike lanes there are high-visibility and some of them even buffered from adjacent motor traffic.

Calling ourselves bike-friendly and making Beverly Hills streets safe and welcoming to cyclists are not the same thing. We find the faded lanes and misplaced sharrows on Burton and Crescent to be an apt metaphor for city hall’s fading concern for rider safety as well as the future of the pilot program.

So often in Beverly Hills we like to talk the talk because it’s easy and cost-free.  But we prefer not to actually walk the walk because it’s harder and it costs money. Other cities make the investment in facilities and plan for a multimodal mobility future. Why not Beverly Hills?

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