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

Celebrating Geography Awareness We Look at Bike Maps

Existing and Planned lanes leading to Beverly Hills map

Beverly Hills has no plans to meet most of these proposed and existing bike lanes.

To mark the close of Geography Awareness Week (which began Monday) we’re offering a few maps that highlight the varying commitment of local governments to ensuring safe, multimodal mobility.* Each highlights bike lanes and designated bike routes that we know make riding more safe, but also tend to increase the appeal of cycling as a mode of transportation. Let’s start with Beverly Hills as a reference point.

Under a ‘pilot program‘ a couple of years ago, the city striped class II bicycle lanes along several blocks of North Crescent Drive and a few blocks of Burton Way. The city also installed several blocks of shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) south of Burton. But City Council stopped way short of what bike advocates asked for: instead of the five rider-recommended signed and/or protected routes, staff recommended just one of them – and then added a second one which politically was the easiest lift of them all.

Of course, the pilot, by definition, is a temporary program, so the city allowed the paint to fade on these installed lanes and sharrows. And sometimes it simply installed sharrows incorrectly but took months to rectify it.

Here is our map of the two final routes (note that the city produces no bike routes map on its own).

Pilot routes map illustration

Not quite the citywide bicycle network envisioned in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan!

MUTCD bicycle signs 2014That is the extent of the city’s bike route network! Just two routes – and neither of them highly trafficked or even a key business district street. The irony is that these improvements made little difference in terms of increased safety for riders.

It gets worse. Beverly Hills has hung no share-the-road or may-use-full-lane sign (right); or created a publicity program to remind motorists to look out for riders; nor has it sponsored a bike safety class (or even created a website) for rider safety education. Perhaps that’s why riders flout stop signs, as our policymakers like to remind us when they turn their back on bike-friendly improvements.

Yet other cities do continue to invest in multimodal mobility, and it  does make a difference: streets feel safer to ride and that leads to greater enthusiasm for cycling. These cities reap the benefits. Let’s have a look!

Santa Monica Takes the Lead

City of Santa Monica offers the most pointed contrast. The city has rolled out bike lanes and sharrows like its multimodal transportation policies depends on them. (It does.) Look at this bike map! Beverly Hills riders can only dream of this kind of citywide network.

Santa Monica bike map illustrationNot only does Santa Monica walk the talk, it codified it too in the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – which actually identifies as a policy goal the generation of no new motor trips in the downtown area. To reach that goal, it has been first out of the gate with a bike station, a 500-bike bike-share program, and of course these miles of bicycle lanes and routes. Bravo!

Culver City

Not all cities can have Santa Monica’s mojo. Our neighbor Culver City is a bit slow out of the blocks like Beverly Hills, and it too didn’t immediately embrace bike lanes. But Culver City is a very different city than either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in that it hardly revolves around its downtown; instead it serves as a crossroads for key arteries like Culver, Washington, Robertson, Jefferson, and Venice boulevards.

Aside from City of LA’s bicycle lane on the north edge, Culver City is not yet well-served by protected facilities like a bicycle lane. But the map suggests that it is beginning to roll out routes along the corridors.

Culver city bike map (2010)

Culver City’s incipient network will prioritize the key through routes.

With so much pass-through traffic, and now an Expo Line station too, policymakers have gotten the message. Former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells really got it, and she positioned the city to make positive changes to embrace multimodal mobility. That’s another key difference compared to Beverly Hills. The city adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011.

West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is not only farther along in its bike planning than Beverly Hills or Culver City, it takes the whole concept of multimodal mobility more seriously. City Council some years back formed a bicycle task force to make recommendations about which corridors to prioritize for facilities. And more recently the city undertook a process to update its new mobility plan. So we’re seeing an elaboration of new bike facilities and the beginning of a true citywide network of protected lanes and designated routes.West Hollywood bike map

Burbank and Glendale

Hard up against the Verdugo Mountains, the cities of Burbank and Glendale are well on their way to creating their own citywide bike route networks. Burbank adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011 and appears to be laying the foundation for a citywide network.

Burbank bike mapBut Glendale got the earlier start. In the mid-2000s the city partnered with the LACBC to undertake their Safe and Healthy Streets Plan (2009). Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under its PLACE Program (Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments) the plan anticipated a city where “residents live safer, healthier lives by walking and riding a bicycle for both transportation and recreation.” (Read the Action Plan for more information.)

The plan puts at its center the complete streets vision of transportation “that meets the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and people of all ages and abilities,” says the plan. (“As well as motor vehicles.”) That philosophy is borne out by its rapidly-expanding citywide network of bicycle routes.Glendale bike map

Given the challenging topography of the City, Glendale is making rapid strides toward knitting together the whole!

So What Does This Comparison Say About Beverly Hills?

Beverly Hills is dead last in the installation of bicycle facilities and it pulls up the rear when it comes to intent to make our streets safer to ride. That’s because Beverly Hills policymakers continue to grasp at auto-era solutions to our post-auto era problems.

Consider congestion. Today, crosstown boulevards handle nearly 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday; and our major intersections can’t handle the capacity we throw at it (most are level-of-service ‘F’). It strains our streets and will only get worse as more intensive development comes tomorrow.

Consider multimodal opportunities. We’re a compact city for the most part. With excellent transit connections. Of course that suggests we shift more trips to transit and bicycles. Yet policymakers stubbornly resist. Our Bicycle Master Plan dates from 1977 and there is no intent to update it. Our transportation officials are largely unacquainted with the new, multimodal thinking, and staff declined to recommend to City Council that we include bicycle lanes when the city reconstructs Santa Monica Boulevard next year. So we won’t be including them.

Consider the potential of the bike-friendly business district. Our small business task force seemed unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bicycle-friendly business district’ when it issued its findings to City Council. No surprise: our city still demands (now discredited) excessive, code-required off-street parking. We simply prey a developer will come along to dig down deep – in the ground and in the pocket – when building anew so we’d get a few additional parking spaces. Spaces that will never satisfy demand, which only increases with our continuing policies that facilitate reliance on the auto.

Beverly Hills has all of the advantages. Our city of 35,000 is the smallest in population and the second-smallest by land area (after Culver City) among the cities we’ve reviewed here.  Off the hills we’re a compact city, and we are not grappling with a challenging periphery (as does Glendale) or a non-grid center city (like Culver City).

And we’ve got the money: Beverly Hills households have the highest median income of all these cities. Led by our ‘golden’ business triangle, we ring up more retail sales than any other city (fully one-third more than runner-up Santa Monica). If we didn’t dump $5 million every year into marketing, why we could have the gold-standard facilities instead of grubbing a few bucks from clean-air grants for fewer than 30 bicycle racks. We clearly have the resources to invest in multimodal mobility but we simply choose not to make the investment.

*City of Los Angeles is the region’s big gorilla, of course, but here we look at smaller cities (populations under 200,000).

  1. Update to the 1977 Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan is No Longer a Priority Leave a reply
  2. Another Bike Count Behind Us Leave a reply
  3. Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What? Leave a reply
  4. Bike Parking at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills is STILL Broken 1 Reply
  5. Qataris Behaving Badly? Let’s Focus on the Homegrown ‘Sheikhs’ Comments Off on Qataris Behaving Badly? Let’s Focus on the Homegrown ‘Sheikhs’
  6. Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm? Comments Off on Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?
  7. Hazardous Intersections That Need a Safety Upgrade TODAY Comments Off on Hazardous Intersections That Need a Safety Upgrade TODAY
  8. New Ambassador Program Promises Smiles. Unless You’re Homeless! Comments Off on New Ambassador Program Promises Smiles. Unless You’re Homeless!
  9. Say Goodbye to Santa Monica Boulevard Bike Lanes [recap] 11 Replies
  10. Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders Comments Off on Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders
  11. Beverly Hills Intersections May be Hazardous to Your Health Comments Off on Beverly Hills Intersections May be Hazardous to Your Health
  12. Santa Monica Boulevard Lanes Returns to Council Comments Off on Santa Monica Boulevard Lanes Returns to Council
  13. LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest Comments Off on LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest