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 four Metro bus lines serve it and more than 50,000 vehicles traverse it every day. Regardless of our choice of travel mode, this road gets us where we’re going. But because our Beverly Hills segment of Santa Monica Boulevard is engineered primarily for motoring, 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 Santa Monica Boulevard into a bike-friendly ‘complete street‘ for Beverly Hills – one that accommodates walkers, riders and drivers. And we could call that better road a ‘Beverly Hills Greenway’ because our proposal would expand adjacent Beverly Gardens Park along two-thirds of the length of the reconstructed boulevard!

Our proposal would achieve the boulevard reconstruction project’s objective – to create a world-class boulevard for Beverly Hills safe for all road users – while finally realizing a boulevard of uniform width. Win-win.

About the ‘Beverly Hills Greenway’ Proposal

Developed with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, our proposal envisions a boulevard 62′ wide that exacts no cost to the adjacent park. That’s because today’s corridor is irregular and measures as much as 63′ wide in some sections – wider than we need. So we actually add green space to the boulevard in order to compensate for any that might be used to include bicycle lanes for safer two-wheeled travel along a short Wilshire-Canon segment.

Indeed this proposal is a no-net-loss concept: grass needed to make this street ‘complete’ is replaced by grass where today there is blacktop. That is, two feet is added to boulevard’s width on that single segment while we reduce the width of the boulevard by one foot on two other segments. Voila! No net loss of green space.

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

© Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition

The resulting boulevard profile accommodates the same traffic volume for motorists while bike riders can use state-approved bicycle lanes. On tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard, everybody will benefit! If drivers dread sharing a lane with bicyclists today, the Greenway will separate non-motor traffic to maximize traffic flow while mooting the required three-foot buffer under the state’s new safe-passing law. And bicyclists who ride the corridor will feel safer outside of the vehicle flow. We have found that’s the #1 reason people cite for not biking in Beverly Hills. As we see it, 62 feet is just perfect for a world-class street!

Support the Beverly Hills Greenway!

We believe this proposal offers a the best compromise between the need for bicycle lanes on a key regional corridor and the community’s concern about the loss of green space. It is a concept that Beverly Hills residents, business owners and other stakeholders should be able to embrace.

We presented the Greenway proposal to City Council on January 6th and received guarded recognition for the idea. City Council via its ad hoc project committee will likely decide the fate of bicycle lanes in the spring, but for now we’ve succeeded in keeping bicycle lanes for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard on the table.

It’s not too late to email City Council (or call 310-285-1013) with your comments about the Greenway concept. We hope to work with staff to improve it. Contact us with any questions you have about the proposal We welcome press inquiries too!

More 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. City Council last 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 and nearly 200 members of the public addressed the committee. More than 90% supported adding bicycle lanes to the boulevard. (Read our meeting recaps.)

When will this project commence? It’s already underway. We are well into the first of three project phases: development of the design concept. Next comes engineering with construction in phase III to follow. Find project documents in our project documents library or consult the city’s project page (warning: there you’ll find scant documentation and outdated information; that’s what a million-dollar outreach budget buys these days).

SM Blvd tour: 3-feet staked

Stakes illustrate the width necessary to provide every rider with a margin of safety: bicycle lanes.

This is a critical moment. On January 6th at 2:30 pm, City Council will make a final decision on boulevard width. That will make or break bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard! Should we expand the most narrow section of our boulevard a few feet to make room for bicycle lanes? Yes.

Here’s why: today the boulevard is irregular in width and ranges from 60-ft between Wilshire and Canon to a full 63-ft to the east. That narrow section is the choke point as 60-ft cannot accommodate bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Opponents want to hold the narrow section to 60 feet, however, and make a ‘save the park’ argument to do it. “Not one blade of grass should be lost,” they say. But local advocates like Better Bike and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, as well as neighboring cities of West Hollywood and Los Angeles, offer our Greenway proposal to address that concern.

Beverly Hills Greenway: The Right Compromise

The  Beverly Hills Greenway will be 62-ft wide boulevard that is created by adding one foot of additional park along two segments of the boulevard (east of Canon Drive) for two feet of grass  for transportation along only one segment (between Wilshire and Canon). Do the math: that means no-net-loss of green space. And it standardizes the boulevard at a uniform width.

Help support multimodal mobility for the region. Sign the Beverly Hills Greenway proposal petition. Attend the City Council meeting on January 6th at 2:30pm. (Find the agenda here.) Contact City Council by email or call 310-285-1013. Be sure to let them know if you’re a resident or business owner in Beverly Hills! And let us know how they respond. With bicycle lanes for safety and drivers less-inconvenienced by sharing the right-hand lane with bicycles, it’s a win-win, right?

After all, Santa Monica Boulevard has a distinguished history of facilitating multimodal transportation, so why not continue that legacy into the 21st century? None of this is rocket science: cities all around us are embracing complete streets to reduce the harm that flows from car crashes. Beverly Hills can literally do our small part by making our 1.8 mile segment of Santa Monica Boulevard safe for those who walk, ride or drive.

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 (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

LA Sizzles But Beverly Hills Sees Scant Tech-Sector Interest

Beverly Hills iphone appFortune magazine has posted the latest piece branding our region a SoCal version of Silicon Valley. Trading on that genuine article’s well-earned reputation for bootstrapped innovation, the ‘Silicon Beach’ concept summons our history of space-age imagination while edging into the glow thrown off by the Bay Area cauldron. Beverly Hills wants some of that new-economy gloss too, of course. We call ourselves the ‘smart city’ after all. But are we really a player in the Southern California technology economy? Are we as smart as we think we are?

Yes, we fancy ours a ‘smart city.’ We’ve got ‘flex-pay’ parking meters, online utility bill and parking ticket payment, ‘smart irrigation controllers,’ and our favorite bids for smart city status, iPhone apps like the ‘Ask Bev’ online reporting tool (aka “a high-tech citizen request system”). Over the past few years, City Council has also backed creation of an ‘E-Gov portal’ and implemented ‘smart traffic management.’ We’ve experimented with an “expansion of wired and wireless networks” and even flirted with laying broadband fiber.

All of it came under the umbrella of this high-technology priority*:

Expand the use of technology to improve efficiency in all initiatives including communications infrastructure and safety programs. (Priorities 2011-12 & 2012-13)

These ‘smart city’ initiatives have been ongoing for nearly ten years, but have they delivered on the promise of a smarter city?

 

The Visionary City sloganThe Visionary City?

We like to talk about ‘vision’ here in Beverly Hills. But our vision is relatively short-sighted. We’ve not gazed to the horizon of possibilities but instead focused on what we can get done today, before the staffers head back to the suburbs. Let’s take a look at some ambitious initiatives that really didn’t meet the vision.

We’ll start with fiber. City Council has talked about bringing fiber broadband to the masses for years. Indeed it is all the rage because cities from Santa Monica to Chattanooga find some competitive advantage (lower costs, freedom from proprietary control) in providing municipally-owned broadband services.

But our city has taken no step toward fulfilling the promise of broadband via fiber. Even our brief flirtation with outsourcing fiber broadband to Google fizzled, leaving our ‘smart city’ committee wishing we could catch up to the likes of Chattanooga.

Google fiber announcement via In Focus March 2010While we gave up on fiber rollout, what about municipal Wifi? We have only a very limited public network according to the city’s map:

WiFi coverage map

The larger map shows the only hotspot in the hot South Beverly Drive area while the inset map shows hypothetical coverage, which should – but doesn’t – extend through the 200 block.

If there’s anything that today’s tech-minded folks for granted it is the omnipresence of WiFi. But Beverly Hills does not deliver on this crucial leading-edge pubic infrastructure. Our system hardly covers the entirety of the business triangle, much less service the commercial districts beyond. Even for these relatively few hotspots the connectivity isn’t very good. Let’s just say that our system is no threat to Time Warner.

What about E-Government? To civic engagement folks it’s a precondition for governing in the 21st century. But real ‘E-Gov’ (as we say) doesn’t play much of a role in governing in Beverly Hills. We’re an old-school institution that doesn’t even count online as a designated posting place for public meeting agendas. (Check the bulletin board at the library, staff say, when we point out that some or other meeting wasn’t even noticed on the city’s website.)

And the initiatives that we have put in place simply tinker at the margin. We’ve got the online bill pay, sure, and our ‘Government Efficiency 2.0′ effort “streamlines” development by allowing us to pull development permits remotely. But these are transactional tools. What about real public engagement?

Consider the city’s website. It should be our gateway to E-Government. But our site lags far behind other cities in design and functionality. (It was beyond its shelf-life even years ago when it was last upgraded.) Check out these nested menus!

Beverly Hills city website menus smallAnd while we hear about City Hall efforts like “electronic presentation of agenda materials,” the truth is that we still like our paper: just last month a city committee elected to keep receiving the thick paper packets. Moreover, the electronic agenda materials that are posted online are often PDFs scanned from paper documents anyway (rather than generated from native files) and they are sometimes are not searchable because there’s no OCR layer.

Other city efforts we see as distinctly small-ball too. Our so-called ‘smart traffic management’ scheme? Council priorities perfunctorily touch on “demand/flow models or other tools” but what does that mean in practice? Evidently not much: vehicular congestion is as bad as ever. Heck, the city has not even re-striped faded pavement markings, and those are the foundation of traffic control. When was the last time you saw a newly-repainted lane marker or crosswalk in Beverly Hills?

Mobile is very hot these days, of course. Some cities use mobile apps to engage the citizenry and encourage participation. But the city falls short of a ‘smart city’ promise here too. Our explorer-type Mobile Beverly Hills app feels like a proof of concept: it is slow, buggy and the listings are incomplete (none of the city’s smaller parks are listed for example). It hasn’t made much progress since we first reviewed it in 2012. Some cities have found mobile apps to be a valuable means of helping people report problems (potholes, etc.) but our own Ask Bev Mobile requires password sign-in every time you open it. That’s sure to dissuade reporting.

Worst, neither app has been updated in the last 18 months; and neither is tuned to take advantage of the newest iPhone operating system (iOS 8). When the apps were announced, though, there was ‘smart city’ promise wafting through the air!

Smart iPhone App via In focus August 2010What a Real ‘Smart City’ Should Do

We see thoughtful civic innovations like ‘open data‘ rolled out in other cities. We should copy their lead. Open data, a tech movement that has revolutionized the way some local governments keep the public informed, make public information more, well, public. Crime data helps everyone better understand the safety of the environment in which we live and work, for example. But it also informs City Hall by providing fodder for tinkerers who want to put the voluminous information we collect to use. Armchair analysts come up with new ways of looking at urban problems that were likely never envisioned by staffers.

Citizen analysts sift the policing data to examine the effectiveness of police resources management, for example; or use it to surface social factors that affect public safety. In that same vein we see ‘hackathons’ wherein open data evangelists come together to  incubate civic projects. City of Santa Monica does it:

From the event announcement:

You are invited to join us as we make available new real-time data for Big Blue Bus scheduling (GTFS-rt), real-time on-street and lot parking, Fire Department Calls for Service, and citywide water usage data. During the meetup, you will be provided with the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the City’s open data program, including providing input to help shape future events.

Why isn’t there a place for open data and hackathons in Beverly Hills? Well, for one thing our departments make very few datasets public. Maybe you want to use budget data to illustrate change in departments’ funding or staffing over time. How would you do it? Today you would scrape annual budget reports (PDFs) to get those numbers because the structured finance data isn’t available. Though we boast about our ‘transparent’ budgeting process, the city has never even posted its final FY 2014-15 operations budget, so you’d have to request it.

The data that we’d most like a crack at working with is BHPD crash data. As Beverly Hills-based bike advocate, Better Bike would map bike-related injuries and analyze the factors that contributed to them. But the police won’t release collision information to the public; they also claim there’s no automated way to even search it by criterion.

The police department does tally crash injuries monthly for our Traffic and Parking Commission, but city analysts don’t chart the data so policymakers have no idea how injury rates are trending.

Turns out they’re trending mostly upward. We scraped the data from seven years of department reports and plugged them into a spreadsheet. And we found pretty much zero progress over time in reducing the number of crash injuries. Worse, bike injuries, in fact, are way up since 2008. We presented these general findings to our Traffic and Parking commissioners (who likely had no idea about those trends) and received a polite ‘thank you’ but no follow up for our charts. Imagine what we could do with data on crash locations!

Beverly Hills Water Tracker

The city’s water tracker is fine for checking your own wastage, but not much help in shaming your neighbors.

But wait, there’s more we would like to do. We want to take a crack at displaying water consumption data by household to map the biggest water wasters. We would also assess its consumption pattern over time. But Beverly Hills City Hall isn’t interested in these measures. For good reason, the data searched through the ‘water tracker’ tool is available only to an account holder. So there is no bigger picture of consumption that any of us can piece together.

If we’d had that data years ago we could have charted the trends to guess how little progress the city would make on conservation. And maybe saved the effort of regular exhortations and instead moved right to sanctions.

City of Santa Monica is making their water usage data open and available to the public for civic hackers and whomever. Why not Beverly Hills?

Will We Ever Become a Technophile’s City?

Few startups will form here and few established firms will see an incentive to relocate if they don’t regard Beverly Hills as leading-edge or even competitive with other areas in the realm of technology and innovation. Just check out Fortune’s ‘Technologist’s Guide‘ map. We see branch offices of the best-known technology firms – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook – and high-flying app-makers like Snapchat, Tinder and even Whisper. Where is Beverly Hills represented here?

Fortune Magazine's technology map

Fortune Magazine maps plenty of tech action, but none of it is happening in Beverly Hills.

Of course it’s not. We have no major tech firms here except an outlier: a small frontier outpost of YouTube. We’d like some of that tech gloss to be sure, but let’s face that we’re just not that hip to tech folks. We’re so ‘old economy,’ in fact, that our budget is practically shackled to industries like retailing, hospitality, and medical, law and finance. Tourism and commerce run this city.

Even if we don’t suck in the smarts, boy do we attract the capital! Fortune notes that Beverly Hills is a bedroom community of choice for the richest of the ‘Silicon’ elite. Jeff Bezos paid $24 million for his home here. Minecraft’s founder bought a $70 million spread. Irrational exuberance has evidently been great for our real estate sellers and city coffers, but we aren’t seeing the trickle-down in tech jobs and knowledge workers. Capital just doesn’t lend the same glow as a critical mass of technologists. It smells alright, but it doesn’t have the same luster.

Will Beverly Hills bask in the glow of the tech economy? Or are we consigned to be the bedroom community for elite who prefer to work in Santa Monica and Los Angeles? Those cities are investing in broadband fiber and WiFi networks as well as life-enhancing safe-streets and alternative modes of transportation because it appeals to today’s techies. Will we ever roll out those innovations here? Bike lanes and the like?

That’s the only way we’ll drag our city into the 21st century. Living up to our self-assigned reputation will take a much more visionary City Council than we have today.Beverly Hills vision statement: technology programs

*Notably, Beverly Hills has delivered another kind of ‘smart city’ too: we’ve installed an extensive system of automated license plate readers (currently a focus of ACLU lawyers nationwide) and CCTV cameras that capture our every move. These aren’t delivering increased governmental efficiency and better public communications; today’s ‘smart city’ has a darker side too.

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