Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction

Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction: Change is Coming Was Supposed to Come to Beverly Hills!

Santa Monica Boulevard is one of the busiest crosstown streets on the Westside. Fifty thousand vehicles traverse it daily and no fewer than four Metro bus lines serve it. And it is a critical piece of the ‘backbone’ bicycle network that spans the region. Regardless of our choice of travel mode, this road gets many of us where we’re going.

Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to WilshireAs the Beverly Hills segment of Santa Monica Boulevard is engineered for motoring, perhaps it is most safely experienced from behind the wheel of a car. But it need not be so: with the planned reconstruction of the city’s 1.8 mile stretch of the blacktop, we have a “once in a lifetime opportunity” (as our project consultant Psomas put it) to remake this key corridor as a bike-friendly ‘complete street.’

But we won’t get that chance if our City Council caters to a small-but-vocal bunch of north-side NIMBYs still locked into 20th-century thinking. You can help make this boulevard safe for all road users. Read on!

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 would include improved, continental-style crosswalks; intersections re-engineered to facilitate safe passage by bicycle; and most important, state-approved class II bicycle lanes. None of this is rocket science: cities all around us are embracing complete streets as a means to reduce the harm that flows from crashes. City of Los Angeles has even embraced a ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy to eliminate all traffic-related deaths.

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.

When will this project commence? It’s already underway. We are well into the first of three project phases: the identification of a concept and the selection of design alternatives. Next the city will engineer to the concept, with construction in phase III to follow. You’ll find project documents posted in our project documents library (below) or consult the city’s project page where you’ll find scant documentation and outdated process information. (That’s what a million bucks for consultants buys these days.)

Where We Are Now: Stuck in Phase I

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, discussing conceptual designs, and making recommendations to Council. Nearly 200 members of the public addressed the committee and more than 90% supported adding bicycle lanes to the boulevard. (Read our meeting recaps.) But on March 5th, Council summarily dismissed the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee and kicked the bike lanes can to December. In December, Council, faced with calls to not eliminate lanes from consideration, again punted and put off a decision until January 6th. (Please email City Council with your comments if you believe this boulevard needs bicycle lanes.)

About Those Bicycle Lanes…

SM Blvd tour: 3-feet staked

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

Facing City Council is a key early decision: whether or not to expand the narrowest section of our boulevard a few feet to make room for bicycle lanes. Today the boulevard is irregular in width and ranges from 60 feet between Wilshire and Canon to a full 63 feet to the east. That 60-foot section is the choke point: at that width we cannot accommodate both turn lanes and bicycle lanes.

Opponents of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard want to hold the narrow section to 60 feet, and have make a specious ‘save the park’ argument against even incremental expansion.

These NIMBYs want to see little change in their hamlet. They fought the proposed freeway in the 1960s and the Westside subway in the 1980s. Somehow bicycle lanes is the new bete noir to residents north of the boulevard. It’s worth noting that they opposed even sharrows for Carmelita and Elevado, both of which were floated by planners as an alternative to Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes during the bike route pilot program meetings.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and today representatives from the Beverly Hills North Homeowner Association and the Municipal League are going to the mat to prevent the installation of bicycle lanes. Local advocates (including Better Bike, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, City of West Hollywood and Mid-City’s neighborhood council) are working to find a compromise that would allow bicycle lanes while rebutting opponents’ claim about loss of green space.

The proposal is ‘no-net-loss.’ Today the boulevard is irregular in width, ranging from 60 to 63 feet. We propose to reduce the width to 62 feet for two of the three sections under consideration (between Wilshire and Doheney) and expand the boulevard on the remaining section to 62 feet. Doing the math, there is effectively no loss in green space. The plan would also produce a boulevard of uniform width.

Santa Monica Boulevard has a distinguished history of facilitating multimodal transportation. Why not continue that legacy into the 21st century? With riders saying that bicycle lanes are necessary for this busy corridor to ensure that those who choose to bike can traverse it safely – while also making it less intimidating for those thinking about riding – we can make it welcoming for non-motor users as well as make it more efficient for motoring too. Win-win, as they say.

The Blue-Ribbon committee thought so: we voted 9-1 to expand the boulevard and to stripe bicycle lanes too. It helped that both West Hollywood and City of Los Angeles have striped their segments on either side, and the former remade its boulevard into an award-winning pedestrian-friendly Main Street.

Next Steps

At the last City Council meeting on December 2nd we saw City Council essentially united to limit the most narrow section of Santa Monica Boulevard to a width too narrow to support bicycle lanes. But that need not be the end of the discussion: we want Council to consider the alternative no-net-loss proposal when it reconvenes on the issue on January 6th. (Find the agenda here.)

You can help support multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills by contacting City Council about your preference for bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Reach councilmembers by email or call them at (310) 285-1013 (and be sure to let them know if you’re a resident of Beverly Hills or work here). Let us know how they respond.

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

City Council Punts: Bike Lanes Deferred Again [Recap]

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz

Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz presents findings to Council.

When City Council last considered bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in March, the question of whether to expand the blacktop incrementally to accommodate lanes became bogged down in a broader discussion about costs. Then this December 2nd meeting mostly focused on traffic mitigation. So again Council has kicked the bike lanes can further down the road. Yet Council and staff nevertheless appear to be on the same page: no bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Let’s recap the meeting and look ahead to the next steps.

[Update: scroll down for more information about our just-announced strategy session on December 22nd.]

We had ample reason to suspect that “the fix” was in even prior to the December meeting. As we detailed then, the 12/2 staff report recommended that City Council not expand the boulevard even an inch beyond its most narrow section at 60-ft. That would effectively preclude bicycle lanes for the foreseeable future. (Read more about the project.)

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn't offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state's 3 foot passing law).

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping this section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions because the state’s 3 foot passing law would afford #2 lane travelers only 8 feet for their cage-of-steel.

As Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz explained in his presentation (and illustrated in the staff report), much of the boulevard is 63 feet wide with one section between Wilshire and Canon that is only 60 feet. The latter is the choke point.

The 63’ section has room for 4.5 foot bicycle lanes on both sides… the 60’ section is narrower and cannot accommodate a bike lane on both sides without reducing lane width and impacting traffic…. Our analysis showed that the 63’ would provide adequate space for all vehicles, including 3 feet of clearance for bicycles, but the 60’ as it is striped now would provide sufficient space in the westbound direction but it would be limited space and tight [for bicycles]. -Aaron Kunz (emphasis added)

Did you get that? “Without reducing lane width and impacting traffic.” That precondition is simply presented as a given. But it is not set in concrete; in fact transportation advocates argue that narrow travel lanes actually benefit all road users as it slows motor traffic. Here it would allow the inclusion of a standard-width bicycle lane for cyclists too.

Given that the prospect of bicycle lanes is the single most politically-combustible aspect of the project (even more than cost) we expected at this meeting a robust discussion on the merits of lanes, plus some acknowledgment that a public process had already been conducted and that the vast majority of the 200+ comments to date are supportive of lanes. (It’s worth noting that the Blue Ribbon Committee formed for the purpose last September actually recommended a wider boulevard with bicycle lanes too.)

But we heard none of that today. First off, we were surprised but not shocked: the city’s decision not to include bicycle lanes was essentially footnoted on page three of the staff report:

SM BLVD existing width text blurb That’s not a good sign as it seems a predetermined decision. Likewise, when the issue was teed up at this meeting by Community Development Director Susan Healey Keene, the conclusion about boulevard width was presented as a matter-of-fact. (Note that the staff report too is silent on the Blue Ribbon’s recommendations.)

Why? The question of whether to include bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard appears to be mooted: the two-member ad hoc committee (comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien) “agreed to proceed with the project designed at the existing road width” as Aaron noted. That was decided in July, well before the public could fully discuss the available options today.

Perhaps our ad hoc members heard from one particular community that evidently does matter to them: north-side homeowner association representatives and its members. They swing a lot of weight (and campaign contributions) and evidently they don’t care for multimodal transit. They also like to sue.

Public Comment

Though the agenda item was carefully focused on mitigation measures, supporters did have something to say. Speaking on behalf of the lanes option was Josh Paget, board member on the neighboring Mid City West Community Council and co-chair of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Streetscape committee. He said:

We are your neighbors… and we have drafted a resolution in support of bicycle lanes, and the board has voted to encourage BH to adopt bike lanes… We hope that you do that as a benefit not only to benefit your community, but also to members of our community who frequent Beverly Hills. – Josh Paget

He also noted that his board has endorsed both a neighborhood greenways proposal and Melrose complete streets project, the latter “complete with bike lanes because we believe it benefits our community.”

Allison Regin speakingNext up, Allison Regan told the Council that Santa Monica is a “vital link connecting current or proposed lanes” in adjacent cities. She said:

As you know, biking as an alternative mode of transport – and as a preferred mode for tourists – is growing in popularity… [and] it is well documented that bicyclists bring dollars to cities with dedicated bike infrastructure. I encourage you to rethink the widening of Santa Monica, particularly when it would not encroach on usable park space to do so. The preference – the ideal – would be to create an entirely separate bike path along the boulevard, and you could do so by expanding the usable park space…[and] installing a separate bike path in the park. – Allison Regan

LACBC's Eric BruinsThen LACBC‘s Eric Bruins laid out the case for restriping more narrow lanes in order to slow traffic and to accommodate lanes on the boulevard. He referred to his LACBC letter to Council to observe, “Your consultants and staff are not using the best engineering standards for city lane design. They find that 60 feet wide does not accommodate bike lanes.” But it does if you use current NACTO standards, he added. Then he asked, “What are the aspirations here? Are we just trying to rebuild it? Or aspire to a healthier, safe and more sustainable community? We ask that bike lanes be carried forth into design [phase] so that we can preserve that option.”

Then the closer while holding up an image of a boulevard hit-and-run victim:

More important, this is Paul Livingston. He was hit a block from here on SM in 2011. He is among the many injured transported to Cedars Sinai because that street is currently inhospitable [to riders]. The Council can change that if we use the current best standards and do what’s possible in the right-of-way by striping bike lanes to make that street available to all people to use it. – Eric Bruins

Resident Kory Klem also spoke in favor of multimodal mobility and he came loaded with data:

More Angelenos are biking each year, with 8% growth in the past year alone. This number includes both Beverly Hills residents and the folks passing through our amazing community. LA has added 120 miles of bike lanes to support this growth. On streets with new dedicated lanes since 2011, the number of cyclists has doubled. New York’s protected bike lanes have led to a 45% reduction in all injury related accidents. We’re flanked immediately to the east and west by some of the best, contiguous bike lanes in Los Angeles. Please, let’s connect them.

Kory noted the breadth of public support for lanes, including boulevard churches like Good Shepherd and All Saints. “They are 100% for bike lines even at the cost of widening [the boulevard].” He then reminded Council:

You hired a consultant and they recommended widening and accommodating bike lanes… You then appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee and I watched them invert their support and evolve their thinking to actually recommend widening and bike lanes… So I implore you yet once again, please do the right thing, not only for today, but for generations to come…. The only people who should be opposed [the churches] are actually in support. – Kory Klem

Blue Ribbon Committee chair Barry Pressman, in a letter read into the record, said he reiterated the committee’s support; not only for expansion but also for striped bike lanes.

The Blue Ribbon Committee came to these conclusions after extensive investigation, public comment and deliberation… The present status is dangerous or potentially dangerous for drivers and cyclists alike. – Dr. Barry Pressman

 

Discussion

Ad hoc committee member and councilman Willie Brien confined his remarks mostly to traffic mitigation. (That is, only how the Santa Monica Boulevard project might inconvenience motorists during construction). But on boulevard expansion and bike lanes he elided. He has previously stated diehard opposition, and facing the issue again today  called this “a very early step” in the process. “There are no simple solutions to this problem… Nothing is off the table but we do need to move forward.”

But Brien did talk briefly about mobility beyond reconstruction, however, which is a welcome nod to an overdue discussion (the city’s bike plan dates to 1977):

We plan to come back and discuss specifically bike lanes and bike routes in the city. We hear the advocates, and all of us support bike safety to the fullest, and we’re going to look at those lanes and routes. – Dr. Willie Brien

Councilmember Nancy Krasne for her part said of Santa Monica Boulevard, “I don’t see a bike lane there – that is my preference.” But she evidently has a soft spot for folks who travel without a steel cage to protect them. “I worry about the safety of the bikers foremost,” she said, adding later, “I want my bicyclists as safe as my children.” (Yes, do it for the kids!)

When it comes to project prescriptions, however, she wasn’t entertaining bike lanes. “I always hear, ‘This is how we’ve always done it, so we’re going to stripe SM Blvd [for lanes].’ But I think that is a very foolish option.” (Never mind that that’s not how we’ve always done it in Beverly Hills.) She then again floated her proposal:

Let’s remove parking on Little Santa Monica and use it for local traffic and cyclists… As much as I hate giving up parking, if we could put up bollards to get Century City traffic off [it] and use it for local traffic and for bicycles, we will have a safer, better community… My concern is a healthier, safer and more sustainable community.

For what it’s worth, we agree. But that’s a non-starter. She can’t seriously believe that local businesses will give up street parking when they ordinarily fight tooth and nail for any single additional space they can squeeze out of the public realm.

Her opposition to lanes? It makes zero sense: a parade of riders has called bike lanes essential to a safer corridor. And despite studies available to her that attest otherwise, she maintains that state-approved bicycle lanes put riders in harm’s way. (Consult the state’s manual if you’re curious.) You can’t argue with facts if you simply don’t engage them.

As time in this study session ran short, Vice Mayor Julian Gold, councilmember John Mirisch and Mayor Bosse each made no substantive comments. Note that the Mayor didn’t speak from the dais in favor of, or against, bike lanes in this meeting, nor did she address it in March.

Next Steps

It’s been a long slog since the city took control of the corridor (in 2006) and initiated studies in early 2010, as Aaron Kunz himself noted in his own presentation. Moreover, there’s been a public process to collect input too. So it would be a shame to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard for generations to come without meeting the spirit of the state’s Complete Streets Act of 2008, which requires localities to plan for multimodal mobility by making travel safe for all road users, or reflecting the needs of users who spoke up about how they might be made to feel safer traveling the boulevard.

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

The no-net-loss proposal illustrated. (Click to animate.)

So we’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t remind Council that there is a solution to the loss-of-park problem: a no-net-loss proposal that would expand the green space by a foot on two eastern segments of the boulevard while taking away two feet along a single segment between Wilshire and Canon.

It would make the finished boulevard a uniform 62 feet wide – sufficient for 5′ bike lanes, according to this illustration courtesy of Eric Bruins.

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

Santa Monica at 62 feet restriped for bicycle lanes is possible!

Call this a win-win! Bike lane proponents get the safe travel infrastructure we need; park proponents suffer no loss of green space; and motorists will have to slow down because tomorrow’s travel lanes would be marginally more narrow.

City Council will next consider the question on January 6th. We hope then our councilmembers will choose to make the Beverly Hills segment of this key regional corridor bike-friendly. Join us in a strategy session at the Beverly Hills Public Library on December 22nd at 7pm. (For more information and to RSVP, check here.) We’ll talk plans and politics and organize to get our Council behind a compromise that will afford non-motor travelers sufficient space on the blacktop while meeting the demands of north-side residents for no loss of green space.

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