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

Back on the Priority List: The Beverly Hills Bike Plan!

City Council pictured in 2013.Among the ignominious developments over the last year in Beverly Hills, surely the one of greatest interest to bicycle riders was City Council’s decision not to include a bicycle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. But on its heels came another decision that would have escaped notice if we hadn’t reported that the city had intended to step away entirely from an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. But we called it out, councilmember Lili Bosse took up the cause, and City Council agreed to make it a priority. Again.

The Backstory

Update to a bike plan? You mean Beverly Hills has a bike plan? Yes, we do, and it’s called the Bicycle Master Plan. It was written in 1977 and re-adopted in 2010 verbatim during our General Plan update. And yes indeed it remains in effect! But you’d be excused for not noticing: no city official dares mention it, and no planning or transportation policy has ever referred to it. Indeed it seems like city hall would want to simply wish the bike plan away.

Inconveniently, however, it has been identified for a much-needed update since 2011 when the near-forty-year-old plan was marked by City Council as an official B-level priority (for the 2012-13 fiscal year).

But ever since, our city has been (quietly) walking back any intent to update the bike plan. First any reference to the plan itself was deleted in 2013. Then in the subsequent year, Community Development Director Susan Healy Keene and Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz rephrased the item’s description to take emphasis off bike facilities generally and instead prioritize the small bike-share system intended to roll out in 2016 rollout.

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan

This iteration of the city priorities failed to include any reference to the plan itself outside of the title. It’s an empty container that merely suggests progress on the Council’s informal priority, a tourism-focused bike-share system.

When the plan update priority was downgraded, no announcement was made by the transportation staff. Indeed the title of the priority item itself (‘Citywide Bike Plan’) didn’t even change to reflect the new emphasis on bike-share.

We were only alerted to the new, diminished concern for cycling safety when the Traffic and Parking Commission declined in the fall to recommend the priority item to Council. Then, when we listened closely to the meeting tape, we realized, according to Kunz, that the city has no intent at all to update the bike plan. So we took it as fait accomplis that Council wouldn’t renew the city’s only bike-related priority item when re-setting priorities in December.

But then after we reported on it in November, councilmember Lili Bosse contacted us by email. “I completely agree with you,” she said. “I was planning on putting the update of our bike master plan ON our priority list!”

Street Safety Needs to be a New Priority

Fast forward to mid-December. Holiday season. Not too many eyes were on city hall. But that’s when City Council met to select priorities for the next fiscal year. In past years, the bike plan update item never made it past the B-level. (We can’t over the past six years the Traffic and Parking Commission ever discussing it.) Would it disappear entirely now?

We made one last plea for bike safety in Beverly Hills by regaling city executives and staff who attended this priorities-setting exercise with our analysis of BHPD traffic data. We noted for example that crash injuries in Beverly Hills the previous calendar year (2014) were 6% higher than average over the prior seven years. And we noted that police enforcement during that time declined precipitously. How precipitously? Look at the citations for red-light runners, among the most dangerous traffic scofflaws out there.

Chart of Signal citations between 2008-2014

Data from Beverly Hills Police Department monthly reports to Traffic and Parking Commission.

No wonder injuries are on the rise: signal violations are so pervasive, and go unpunished in Beverly Hills so frequently, that there is in effect no sanction for running a red light. Even in front of a motor cop.

Of course unprotected riders will always fare worst. Again, look at the data. In 2014, the number of rider injuries (48) was not only 37% higher than the baseline year of 2008; it  actually outpaced the 7-year average by 30% too. Moreover, rider injuries in 2014 represented 12% of all crash injuries. But if riders constitute less than 1% of road traffic in Beverly Hills, that would suggest an injury rate of greater than 12X that of auto-occupants. Even worse: the proportion of rider injuries (as a share of all injuries) actually increased by one-fifth larger than in 2008.

The trends suggest we’re making negative progress toward safer streets overall and for riders in particular. Not only is that bad policy; it contravenes our own city plans.**

City Council Agrees to Make Multimodal Mobility a Priority

Ultimately City Council agreed. Or more precisely  Lili Bosse, John Mirisch and Dr. Willie Brien agreed to make multimodal mobility and a bike plan update a priority. Here’s the priority item:

Bike plan update priority item.The councilmembers that did not support making multimodal a priority were Nancy Krasne and Mayor Julian Gold. The former likes to say she “loves the cyclists.” Yet she’s not stepped up to makes streets safe for riding in the way that riders say we need in order to feel safe. She’s been a staunch opponent of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, for example. And Mayor Gold has never evidenced concern for riders, nor for street safety in general. This physician appears unimpressed at the negative trend in collision injuries.

What’s interesting about Dr. Willie Brien is that he was not expected to support this priority item. He’s on record for supporting our small 50-bike bike-share system, but he’s not previously indicated any concern for multimodal mobility or street safety generally. Coincidentally, perhaps, he’s leaving town for a new gig in Texas and might not fear north-side NIMBY blowback. That might have made all the difference.

The other big step taken by the city was to prioritize complete streets improvements for South Santa Monica Boulevard. From the official priorities list:

priority-LSMThis is significant for a couple of reasons. During construction, curb parking will be eliminated from one side of this boulevard. Could that be a step toward incorporating bicycle lanes here to make this corridor a bicycle boulevard of some kind? Councilmember Krasne has long pointed to the south boulevard to accommodate bicycle riders, but with curb parking on both sides there was never an opportunity.

And second, this priority item is the very first time the term ‘complete streets’ has ever been used in a city document to our knowledge. Those words never even pass the lips of any of our transportation officials (let alone make it into print). So this is a significant step forward for multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

And it’s a step forward for safety too: a Los Angeles Times analysis of traffic fatalities and injuries showed that several South Santa Monica intersections are far more dangerous than they should be (even controlling for other factors like traffic volume). Making South Santa Monica ‘complete’ would be a real gesture of acknowledgment that we have a street safety problem.

Looking Ahead: Now What?

New priorities will only find action in the next fiscal year (after June). So it could be the Spring of 2017 perhaps before we movement on progressive mobility policies in Beverly Hills (especially with Community Development Director Keene at the helm, and we don’t have much faith in our transportation staffers either). How far behind the curve is Beverly Hills transportation when it comes to multimodal mobility? Our department is still crowing about meeting priorities from 2013!

From the city website: Transportation responds to priorities from 2012

Our transportation staffers fist-bump over years-old programs that met city priorities back in 2012.

There’s more we can do in the meantime. We’re urging the city to protect riders on the North Santa Monica corridor during the long construction period. But our year-long campaign to date has had little to show for it from the city. We’re also keeping an eye on bike-share implementation this spring. Care to get involved? We need your help!

*The 1977 Bicycle Master Plan was simply readopted – verbatim – as part of the state-required General Plan more than three decades after it had been originally adopted. Surely that’s a form of professional planner malpractice, right?

**Beverly Hills plans urge us to drive less and ride more. That’s the official policy statement of the city. For example, the General Plan’s Circulation Element (2010) calls on the city to create “realistic” alternatives to driving, like “taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking,” says the text. The Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls for “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” The plan’s goal? To “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community.” The plan concludes, “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available then people will bicycle more.” If only someone informed our policymakers that we’re supposed to embrace the 21st century multimodal mobility future!

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