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. This 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
What is it? This $16 million Santa Monica Boulevard project will reconstruct the boulevard from West Hollywood to Century City. Tomorrow’s boulevard will keep four lanes of vehicular travel but replace utilities and almost everything else – including turn lanes, perhaps a landscaped median and even bicycle lanes.
How might the corridor change? The most significant change will be making this corridor safer for all who use it regardless of mode. City Council directed the project team to “simultaneously consider” principles of complete streets along with a mandate to respect the character of the corridor. Though there will be no increase or decrease in travel lanes or vehicular capacity (55,000 cars on average every day, according to the city’s traffic data), features such as improved crosswalks, re-engineered intersections and perhaps Class II bicycle lanes will improve the overall user experience.
When will this project commence? It’s already underway. We are well into the first of three project phases and the accompanying public discussion about design alternatives. Next the city’s design-build consultant, Psomas, will undertake design and engineering work. Finally Phase III construction will 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: 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 is charged with receiving public input, discussing conceptual design options, and making recommendations to Council later this winter. The committee is comprised of city commissioners, former mayors, and various community-engaged stakeholders including yours truly, Mark Elliot, the rider and organizer behind Better Bike.
The committee met in November to select a Chair, met again in December to collect more public feedback, and penultimately met this January. (‘Penultimately’ because this last meeting will e adjourned to January 22nd.) The committee welcomes your voice. Visit the city’s project page; email staff (SMBLVD@beverlyhills.org) with questions; and contact the committee via the city’s online form with your concerns or to support one or other design option. To date over 150 members of the public have made comments to the committee with over 90% supporting bicycle lanes.
Better Bike welcomes your suggestions too. Please get in touch if you have a specific concern about cycling-specific issues and we will forward your thoughts to the committee. You can keep apprized through our meeting recaps and our project-related material here on our Santa Monica Boulevard project library.
Conceptual Design Alternatives
What’s at stake for cyclists in the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project? Plenty! Consultant Psomas has developed a matrix of possible design alternatives and ‘enhancements’ including a landscaped median, dual Class II bicycle lanes and a possible off-street shared bike & pedestrian path. Any or all of these could find their way into the project. What we’d prefer not to see is tomorrow’s boulevard looking like the one we have today, however. Your views are welcome. Here are some of the alternatives:
What are the Options?
The first question is whether or not we want to expand the boulevard’s curb-to-curb width in order to accommodate both a median and Class II on-boulevard bicycle lanes.
Council has indicated some interest in a median already, so that’s looking likely. But Council has also explicitly identified as a goal the promotion of non-motorized modes of travel including bicycling. We’d like to see both a median and bicycle lanes to accommodate both objectives.
And then there’s the bicycle lanes. No issue has riven this process like the mere prospect of including a bicycle lane in the corridor’s redesign. Proponents of bicycle lanes call them a necessary addition if we’re to ensure that Santa Monica Boulevard becomes a regional ‘backbone’ route for two-wheeled travelers. Opponents (including northside residents and some of our city’s power brokers) find anything they like to hate about bicycle lanes in any idea. Generally they are loathe to cede a few feet of grass in Beverly Gardens Park to accommodate them.
But in a surprise, the city stepped in at the 11th hour with an entirely new proposal from the consultant: let’s widen the corridor but not include bicycle lanes. According to consultant Psomas, that would be the “safe shared access” option. That is, we’ll keep mixing bicycle and motor travelers and simply call it job done. Orwell would love the phrase. We should go ahead and trademark it!
And finally there’s corridor character. There is a lot riding on the expansion decision. Will it be the true multimodal mobility corridor called for in our city’s plans? Or will it remain a thoroughfare prioritized only for motoring? We have an opportunity to “re-imagine” Santa Monica Boulevard as a safe, attractive and fully-functional corridor (perhaps a Champs-Élysées of the Westside!) but we can realize that vision only by thinking expansively about how we will use it in the future. Context-sensitive design has to guide our choices.
What is at Stake?
Two nearby segments of the boulevard frame our choices. West Hollywood recreated their segment of Santa Monica Boulevard as an award-winning, pedestrian-friendly Main Street characterized by wide sidewalks, curb extensions, and highly-visible crosswalks.
In contrast, Los Angeles turned their West LA segment into a limited access freeway in all but name. As it happens, our consultant Psomas worked on that project too. It is seen at right in a rather optimistic rendering. But the reality is more sobering. Today this segment between Beverly Hills and I-405 practically incarnates the proposed ‘Beverly Hills freeway’ that never came to be. It is a model to avoid.
Yet both the West Hollywood and West Los Angeles segments incorporate bicycle lanes. And looking ahead, both cities have plans to greatly expand their bicycle networks. That would make our failure to include bicycle lanes in our Beverly Hills segment a real shame because this corridor has a distinguished history of facilitating multimodal transportation. Scroll down to read more history!.
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
- November 7th Blue-Ribbon Committee meeting recap
- Santa Monica Boulevard Tour #1 Recap
- December 10th Blue-Ribbon Committee meeting recap
- January 8th Blue-Ribbon Committee meeting recap
- January 22nd Blue-Ribbon Committee meeting recap
Our Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project-related posts
- New Recommendation Blind-sides Blue-Ribbon Committee
- A dozen reasons why bicycle lanes are right for Santa Monica Boulevard
- Beverly Hills Calls for Public Input on SM Blvd Project (10/28/13)
- Council’s Agenda for Tuesday: SM Blvd Reconstruction (9/6/13)
- Council Hears Santa Monica Boulevard Options (9/11/13)
- Beverly Hills Community Survey: Where’s the Validity?
- Will Complete Streets Become the Law of the Land? (8/4/13)
- City Releases Draft SM Blvd. Reconstruction RFP (4/16/12)
- City Council Study Session: Complete Streets Mentioned (4/7/12)
City Project Documents
- City’s DRAFT request for proposals for Santa Monica Boulevard (4/17/12)
- City’s request for proposals for Santa Monica Boulevard (1/24/13)
- Psomas Santa Monica Blvd proposal
- Santa Monica Boulevard project goals PowerPoint (9/10/13)
- Meeting #1 agenda November 7, 2013
- Meeting #1 city’s minutes
- Meeting #2 agenda December 10, 2013
- Meeting #2 city’s minutes
- Meeting #3 agenda January 8, 2014
- Psomas meeting #3 Memo
- Psomas meeting #3 Memo attachment
- Committee meeting #3 city’s minutes (not distributed)
- Meeting #4 agenda January 22, 2014
- Psomas meeting #4 memo
- Psomas meeting #4 memo exhibits
City Staff Reports
- Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee Formation staff report (10/15/13)
- Psomas contract staff report (6/4/13)
- Public Outreach Options staff report (9/10/13)
- Santa Monica Blvd Reconstruction staff report (9/21/10)
- Public Outreach Options staff report (9/1013)
- General Plan Circulation Element (2010)
- Bicycle Master Plan (1977)
- Vision 2025 sustainability report (2003)
- Sustainable City Plan (2009)
- General Plan white paper: Santa Monica Boulevard Corridor (No. 3, March 2006)
- LACBC proposal for Santa Monica Blvd bicycle lanes (2009)
- Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee Roster
- Aaron Kunz, Director of Transportation (Beverly Hills)
- Susan Healey Keene, Director of Community Development (Beverly Hills)
- Michael Meyer, transportation planner (Iteris)
- Sean Vargas, Project Principle (Psomas)
- Jeff Chess, Senior Project Manager (Psomas)
The last scheduled blue-ribbon committee was held on January 22nd to choose recommended enhancement options. The committee voted (7-4) to recommend expanding Santa Monica Boulevard to 66′ and voted (9-2) to recommend that a class II lane be striped as part of this project. In February, these recommendations will be included in a staff report to City Council, followed by a study session to discuss a final conceptual design. We’ll keep you apprized of the date. Stay tuned!
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. Most recently it was State Highway 2. Before Beverly Hills even took control in 2005 the boulevard languished under the state DOT. And we see that legacy in the quality of the corridor today: quick patches sufficed for maintenance; potholes and ruts proliferated; and the corridor evolved irregularly to vary in width. Curbs are sometimes nonexistent. Perhaps most dangerous for those of us who ride a bicycle: the storm grates and potholes are regular collision hazards.
It wasn’t always so. Prior to today’s ignominy, Santa Monica Boulevard was once the proud terminal leg of the famous Route 66 that linked Chicago and Santa Monica. But all that remains of the old road in Beverly Hills are a few commemorative signs.
Long before Route 66, however, our city thrived at the junction of two Pacific Electric Western Division lines that anchored Beverly Hills into a regional mass transit network. Not just one but two rail stations graced our city. The first sat at the northwest corner of Crescent and Burton Way. When the post office was planned, the station then moved to the two-story strip of shops between Beverly and Canon (seen here from Santa Monica South looking northeast).
These streetcars moved two million passengers annually through Beverly Hills before passenger service was stopped in the early 1950s.
Even prior to the regular service of those two Pacific Electric streetcar lines, a predecessor corporation called Los Angeles Pacific ran a ‘balloon’ excursion train (“four double tracks to the Pacific Ocean”) through Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. Back in the early 1900s our little burgh was called ‘Morocco Junction’ (as depicted in the map to the right).
Today Santa Monica Boulevard betrays none of that distinguished history. It is a celebration of motoring but not much else. And should policymakers not approach this project as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity (as our consultant said) we’ll continue to celebrate the motorcar era well into the 21st century. Multimodal mobility is not just an historical footnote; it’s our future.