Beverly Hills Bike Route Pilot Outreach Meeting #1

Bike Route Pilot public meeting #1

Beverly Hills doesn’t have much to stand on when it comes to cyclist safety, so it’s heartening at least that a Bike Route Pilot program is underway to bring, for the first time, cycling-friendly improvements to some of our city streets. With the first public outreach meeting under our belt and two more upcoming on April 25th and May 9th, here we recap where we are and the next steps to safer bike routes.

The city’s first-ever bike facilities planning workshop just wrapped up, part of the Bike Route Pilot program to bring safer bike travel to city streets. This meeting is the first step; subsequently the Traffic & Parking Commission will formulate recommendations on or after the third meeting on May 9, with City Council action thereafter. The city mailed out 3,000 flyers (below) and Better Bike did some legwork too. Nevertheless, turnout was rather light. Hot-button issues draw the crowds (and the attention) but bike planning meetings? Not so much.

About seven or eight speakers total took the microphone. Collecting public input was the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee members Levine (Chair), Grushcow, and Friedman.

The meeting began with planner Martha Eros presenting an update on the Pilot, including the city’s bike rack effort. The latter includes new racks for commercial districts, new racks to replace the few substandard ‘wave’ type racks already installed, and (prospectively) a rack-on-request program so businesses can ask the city for a needed nearby bike rack. As presented, it’s clear that the city has come a long way in recognizing the value of bike parking. (And we appreciate it!) We look forward to these racks and this program in late summer and autumn.

The four routes identified for possible improvements (basic map) include Charleville Blvd., the most direct connection between La Cienega and Century City; Beverly Drive, the city’s commercial spine; and Crescent Drive and Carmelita Avenue. The latter seem to be the city’s preferred routes: they are less-traveled than the others, but they are also, we feel, a complement rather than a substitute. Should the city move forward on all four, we’ll see the kernel of a citywide bike network emerge, a prospect envisioned by our Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan from 1977.

The Pilot Program Feasibility Study

Our old bike plan hasn’t been a foundation of this effort; instead, the city commissioned a Pilot Program feasibility study from Fehr & Peers. On hand to present that study (PPT) was civil engineer Sarah Brandenberg. Emphasizing that “no decisions have been made yet,” Sarah enumerated the key parameter: the study assumed the existing right-of-way with no change to parking or vehicular flow. “We’re not removing anything,” she said. “This is what we could do for bicyclists.”

Moving through the four corridors (plus Burton Way, a late addition) she identified the possible improvements: bike lanes; share-the-road lane markings; and traffic circles. For most of the route segments, bike lanes are off the table; there simply isn’t room, she said. For sharrow-applied routes, like Carmelita and Charleville, the many stop signs that exist there could be replaced by innovative intersection treatments like roundabouts. “Nothing is envisioned [like that] now,” she added. “Maybe down the road.”

Bike Route Pilot Public Meetings Announced

South Beverly Drive congestion Beverly Hills has announced a roster of public meetings to discuss the previously announced Bike Route Pilot program study corridors: Charleville, Carmelita, Beverly Drive, and Crescent. The April 11th and April 25th meetings are open workshops and the final May 9th meeting will provide input directly to our Traffic & Parking Commission. This is your opportunity to tell the city why you need safe streets! So plan to attend and prepare your best ideas for bike-friendly improvements to these four possible routes – we’ll need them!

Public outreach for the Bike Route Pilot program of improvements comes after five meetings held since mid-2011 that brought together Traffic & Parking Commissioners and members from the bike community under the aegis of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. In these meetings we have discussed good practices from other cites and sorted through possible bike routes here at home. Ultimately we choose four ‘pilot’ routes to review for improvements, and last Fall the city contracted with an engineering firm to survey them and then return to the Committee with options. Fehr & Peers produced a Bike Routes Pilot Feasibility Study and a Bike Routes Pilot Program map that outlined the opportunities.

Pilot feasibility study map for CharlevilleThis public process will work off of these four identified routes – Charleville (left), Carmelita, Beverly Drive, and Crescent. (Bike racks will be addressed at the beginning of the next fiscal year in July, we’re told, while a request for proposals for the Santa Monica Boulevard project was just released. But the timeline on that will extend through 2014.) City staff will take your questions and convey your suggested bike route improvements to the Commission, which will review them and make recommendations to City Council.

So your participation is important. But how to prepare for these workshops? Follow the links to the study (above) or consult the ad-hoc Committee’s page where the documents are posted.

You can also consult our notes on these meetings. Better Bike has attended all of the past meetings and have recapped them, beginning with the first meeting in June of 2011, the second in August, the third in November, the fourth in January of 2012 (which we’ve covered in three parts addressing the three key initiatives: the Pilot routes, the bike racks, and the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction).

Beverly Hills proposed bike routes mapWe haven’t generally been positive about the city’s efforts, though, as we’ve viewed the Committee’s pace as too lagging given that it’s safety we’re talking about, and even in bad faith given the city’s intransigence at scheduling these meetings so more folks could attend. But now that we’re embarking on a public process, we’ll be there to support real improvements that make a real difference – like a real bike route system for the city as was long-ago anticipated by our first (and only) bike plan in 1977. It’s still the plan we’re using, by the way. While the Pilot moves through the city’s decision-making machinery, we will advance our own vision of what a bike route network would look like (above right).

If you have an interest in safer streets and cycling-friendly infrastructure, please plan to attend these meeting and if possible prepare a statement to the Traffic & Parking Commission beforehand. The Commission is the stop before their recommended improvements hit City Council on May 9th, so it is important that the Commissioners clearly understand our needs. (Feel free to forward your statements on to Better Bike too.)

A Sobering Recap of Beverly Hills Bike Planning

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee at work

Leafing through the city’s ‘feasibility study’ (provided not in advance but at the meeting itself).

Looking back over the past year, it’s difficult not to be profoundly disappointed by the utter lack of progress in bike planning in Beverly Hills. Not a single new rack has been installed in any business district to accommodate bike-riding patrons. No bike lane or sharrow to ease our safe passage. No sign will remind motorists that we’re allowed to use the road too. And no ground gained on updating our 1970s-era bike plan. As we meet again with Commissioners this coming Wednesday, we need to ask what we can expect from the Traffic & Transportation Commission.

Chalk our lack of progress to the cynical machination called the ‘bike plan update’ process. Over nearly two years and three meetings now with members of the bicycling community (in June, August, and most recently November), the committee’s participating Traffic & Transportation Commission members have entertained our observations and heard recommendations including bike lanes, racks, and signage. We’ve urged them to remind drivers how to share the road safely. But this committee has recommended no safety measures, nor even cited specific improvements to our city’s implausible 5-page bike plan, to keep us safe.

The Bike Plan Update Committee can point only to a posted map of the few racks that we do have as its accomplishment. Is that satisfactory when cities all across the Southland have moved to create real bike plans? When they’ve rolled out bike lanes and other innovations (like Santa Monica’s Bike Station) and Long Beach’s protected bike lanes. These cities have recognized that separated travel is the safest mode of travel for all road users on busy corridors, but Beverly Hills remains stuck in the past. We can’t even show progress on the single most easily-implemented fix: a simple ride safe page of tips on the city’s website. Not that we haven’t asked; we’ve even offered to do it for free. The Transportation page for the Bike Plan Update committee itself is an embarrassment.

What can account for this utter lack of progress except for a cynical disregard for the safety of those who bike?

The Problem is the Process

Ad-Hoc agenda for November 16 screenshotWe can start with the process. As usual, Transportation will release a meeting agenda the day before. And like the last agenda (right) it will likely be a bare-bones affair rather than a roadmap for a productive discussion. In fact, all that’s wrong with this entire process is reflected in the agenda: it’s all one way communication. There’s simply no provision for internalizing public input, and no practice of making it available. We’ve seen no digest of participant comments nor official meeting minutes. Three meetings later, our input evaporated into the ether. The process gives nothing back to those who participate.

Then there’s the Commissioners’ approach. In November’s meeting, Chair Jeffrey Levine summed it up when he unilaterally proclaimed at the top that our meeting would run only one hour and fifteen minutes. (Perhaps the shortest duration stakeholder meeting in city history.) At conclusion, when asked if the next meeting could start later than 5pm to accommodate working folks, he said, “No guarantees.” That’s not collaborative, constructive, or even cooperative. That attitude argues for a change in the Committee chair, and we at Better Bike look forward to that.

Then there’s the ‘bicycle route pilot project’ feasibility study. Crafted to appear substantial, in reality it promises few improvements because it is scoped to limit options only to measures that “would not impact car travel or existing parking.” It’s designed to bracket-out those options, evidently deemed not feasible by the Commissioners and the Transportation division, by baldly departing from the four criteria that were agreed upon at the prior meeting [recap]. So, road diets and bike lanes where we need them are out.

Unilateral moves behind closed doors are antithetical to a collaborative process. The city would not approach any other stakeholder group in this fashion, and we shouldn’t tolerate it either.

The Product is Also the Problem

Bike Route Evaluation: Beverly Corridor

Evaluation of the Beverly Drive corridor in the feasibility study

The findings from the study were presented at the November meeting. Two of the busiest streets, those most heavily used by those who bike, Beverly and Charleville, won’t see a bike lane because autos are given priority there under the “no impact to car travel or parking” criterion. Of course, then we’re left with what we have now: cyclists sharing streets with motorists who don’t know, or don’t care, to share – and maybe few sharrows for decoration. In fact, across the four routes chosen for evaluation (Carmelita, Crescent, Beverly, and Charleville), nearly all sub-segments are considered inappropriate for bike lanes. So scratch them from your wish list.

Transportation planners have a professional responsibility to cyclists, too, just like they do to motorists, but it’s been a responsibility conveniently overlooked for too long. We need to ask tough questions of the Commissioners, and of Aaron Kunz (310-285-2563), the official from the Transportation Division who is the liaison to the bike community, about the city’s obligations in this regard.

What a Real Process Looks Like >>

Beverly Hills Posts Bike Rack Map

Aside

Beverly Hills has finally posted a map of the city’s 22 bike racks. Clustered in the business triangle, these racks won’t do much for those with destinations beyond it, but at least with a map in hand now we’ll know where to look for a rack. The map [an 8mb download] is the only deliverable to emerge from the 18-month old ad-hoc Bike Plan Update committee and good for it, because some of our non-standard racks are easy to miss. Now, after a year of preparation, and an insufficient earlier version (see our improved version), the new map is still called a draft!

Bike Plan Update Committee Meeting #3

Ad-Hoc Committee - Ellen and TerryThe ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met for the third time on November 16th with representatives from the Beverly Hills cycling community. This was the latest in a bi-monthly series to bring the city & bike community together. We last met in August to discuss the our need for bike-friendly facilities and programs, and to identify candidate bike corridors for a pilot program here in the city. Here is the recap from this third meeting, with comment to follow in subsequent posts.

Unlike previous meetings, Chair Levine noted that this was a public hearing, indicated that it would be recorded, and set a very tight time for duration: just one hour and fifteen minutes (a limitation not previously mentioned or indicated on the agenda itself). In attendance were about 17 bike community members*, including two who remarked on recent collisions. Three commissioners from the parent body, the Traffic & Parking Commission, Jeff Levine (chair), Alan Grushcow, and Ira Friedman, presided.

The committee is self-tasked with bringing our outdated bike plan up to date, as well as moving ahead on specific bike improvements. It operates as an ad-hoc body, which means that it need not meet regularly, nor adhere to state requirements for public meetings.

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee at workOn the agenda was 1) a presentation by Fehr & Peers, which was retained by the city to assess bike facility opportunities for each of the four potential pilot project corridors (selected in the last meeting); 2) a review of progress on bike-related initiatives by the Transportation division, which has engaged an intern to focus on same; and 3) a general discussion about problem intersections and how to make them more safe for cyclists, a last-minute addition to the agenda).

1) Pilot Project Presentation

Fehr & Peers was retained by the city to examine four candidate corridors chosen at the last meeting to assess suitability for bike facilities. The routes are: Carmelita, Charleville, Crescent and Beverly Drive. Two are north-south and two are east-west.The criteria discussed in that August meeting included 1) value to regional transportation connectivity; 2) utility as linking city schools; 3) current usage levels by cyclists; and perhaps most important for a pilot program, 4) “learning value” of applying new (to Beverly Hills) bike-friendly facilities or improvements to a corridor. The expectation is that lessons could be applied to other corridors.

Sarah Brandenberg from Fehr and Peer Engineers

Sarah Brandenberg presenting the feasibility analysis to the ad-hoc committee

Fehr was charged with coming back to the committee and the community with options for these four different corridors. The firm was represented by civil engineer Sarah Brandenberg; she presented findings from this “high-level” study, which is intended to “give something to cyclists in the city…food for thought,” she said. But the study didn’t include long-term bike improvements. And the opportunities presented here “were not analyzed in any level of detail,” she added.

More significant was the constraint: the premise for this feasibility analysis was that any options evaluated “would not impact car travel or existing parking.” That precluded any outside-the-box thinking on improvements like ‘road diets’ to calm traffic, of course – a safety measure that is currently being rolled out in cities like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.

From a process perspective, such constraint was not previously discussed in our Bike Plan Update meetings; that instruction provided to Fehr by the city. It necessarily shaped the options evaluated and presented; without considering a wider set of opportunities, perhaps this feasibility analysis functions best as a survey of conditions. Handouts were provided to illustrate each route, existing characteristics like width and parking, and provide an overview of possible improvements. (When PDFs are available, Better Bike will review them route-by-route.)

Carmelita Avenue study via Fehr & Peers

The Carmelita Avenue study from Fehr & Peers

The constraint was material to how the evaluated options were presented. South Beverly Drive, for example, is a key commercial district; it is included in the city’s pedestrian district and is well-used by cyclists today (as suggested by the bikes attached to parking meters). But the Beverly Drive corridor is also congested. It’s somewhat dangerous for cyclists, who are often seen riding on the sidewalks (illegal in that district).

But the Fehr presentation somewhat discounted the corridor as a candidate route because of those issues, rather than prioritizing it as an already well-used destination (which was one of the original four criteria identified in the prior meeting with the bike community).

In Brief, The Routes Discussed & Findings

Carmelita (42′ wide, parking both sides, 25 mph limit). The key challenge to this northerly alternative to Santa Monica Blvd. is continuity: at the eastern and western ends it terminates at non-controlled intersections on busy thoroughfares (SM and Wilshire, respectively). Carmelita also crosses several busy north/south boulevards without signals (only stop signs – and a total of 18 stop signs on this route inhibit fluid travel). The width is also insufficient for striped lanes, the study found, as parking is allowed on both sides. A ‘shared lane marking’ or sharrow would be appropriate, Sarah added.

It’s worth noting that Carmelita has long been identified by the city as an alternative bike route to Santa Monica Blvd. on-street bike lanes. That proposal envisioned a single, eastbound bike lane on Santa Monica and a westbound bike lane on Carmelita. Were Carmelita considered as a designated bike route for both east and west travel, with dual bike lanes, connections to those thoroughfares might present significant obstacles to eastbound travel in particular, however.

Charleville (35′ wide, parking both sides, 25mph limit). Charleville was identified by the bike community in the prior meeting as a popular east/west route that usefully parallels Wilshire (but one block south). It serves as a regional connector (another identified criterion) between Century City and Mid-City Los Angeles. It was also noted to connect several schools (which was another identified selection criterion). Charleville, too, is very stop-and-go: every intersection is controlled by stop signs. But unlike Carmelita, key intersections like Doheny, Robertson, and Beverly are controlled by signals. Width is too is too narrow for bike lanes given existing two-sided parking. Sharrows here would suffice too, Sarah said.

The city has resisted looking at Charleville as a practical bike route. The narrow width mandates lane-sharing, yet busy through traffic and the significant volume of in/out parking activity between Reeves and Rexford, adjacent to a mixed-use and commercial areas, presents a safety challenge for cyclists.

Beverly Drive and Crescent Drive, both key north/south streets, are wide (60′ and 50′ respectively) and 2-lane and will accommodate on-street bike lanes north of Santa Monica Blvd. These routes are already relatively safe to ride, however. The challenge lies to the south, in the business triangle and beyond, where they both change character.

South of Santa Monica, Beverly maintains its width but expands from 2-lane to a 5-lane configuration (4 travel and one center/turn lane) and hosts parallel parking on both sides. Below Wilshire, diagonal parking nibbles further into the travel area, requiring the elimination of the center turn lane. At Olympic, though, Beverly splits into two southbound boulevards, each of which connect with City of Los Angeles and eventually Culver City.

Crescent Drive, on the other hand expands below Santa Monica to 56′ wide; it  accommodates 4 lanes and parallel parking, but south of Wilshire it narrows considerably (to 30′) – yet maintains dual-side parallel parking. That makes for a very narrow travel lane (which already slows traffic considerably). Because Crescent narrows south of Wilshire, the feasibility assessment suggested that an alternative route might jog west on Charleville to Reeves, where it turns left. Reeves has parking only on one side, leaving a relatively wide roadway.

South Beverly & Wilshire intersection overview

South Beverly as it meets Wilshire Boulevard

As pointed out by Planning Commission member Brian Rosenstein, Reeves is considerably busy with spillover from the adjacent Beverly Drive corridor. (As a resident on Reeves I can attest that road speeds from circling traffic routinely approach 50mph for that one-block stretch.)

The other challenge with the jogged alignment is that it would terminate at Olympic Blvd. because there is no through route to the south. At Olympic it simply comes to an end. Moreover, for the cyclist looking to continue south, she is forced to ether 1) cross Wilshire to enter the left turn pocket (facing west) for the left-hand turn; or 2) to cross both Beverly and Beverwill in the crosswalk.

Feedback

Attendees asked a number of questions concerning the evaluation of the routes and options (with responses in parentheses):

  • How well will it serve destinations? Places people actually want to go?
  • Did you do any of your surveying by bike? (“No, we did our observations in a car…I prefer to ride in a bike lane or with sharrows.”)
  • Were single-direction bike lanes considered in this analysis? (“No, we couldn’t do a one-way lane without a parallel facility” on the other side.)
  • Was Gregory considered [as an alternative to Charleville]? (“No, it doesn’t have the continuity that Charleville does.”)
  • Back-in parallel parking is safer for both cyclists and motorists. On Beverly it makes sense, and its where people want to go.
  • We need physical barriers to illegal left turns, like on Crescent near Whole Foods and South Beverly, near the parking garage. With sharrows there, turning cars will scoot between cyclists. (“In Santa Monica they’re putting sharrows on streets like Beverly Drive.”)
  • These routes are fine, but are they attaching to anything else? Charleville connects to the bike route on Santa Monica in Century City.

Several (including yours truly) questioned the conditions imposed on the analysis: no effect on vehicular flow, and no change in parking arrangements. These constraints precluded lanes on all but the northerly reaches of Beverly and Crescent drives. The city adjusts parking regulations all the time – it’s a regular agenda item for the Traffic & Parking Commission – so why not consider rearranging parking where it would open up additional options, like on Carmelita or Charleville, where curbside parking precludes class II (on-street) bike lanes entirely?

Aaron explained that the city has no bike facilities now, and suggested their gradual introduction to take the temperature of the community. “It’s what we can get now – the low-hanging fruit – to get us started,” he said. “If we removed parking as a first step, it could derail [further improvements]… In the future, if this takes off, if cycling increases, maybe parking can be removed.”

“What We Can Get Now”

The “what we can get now” theme surfaced repeatedly because political considerations are important. “Our first idea for this committee is to get the discussion to other facilities… to measure the community’s reaction to bicycles,” Aaron said. Consultant Sarah also reiterated the theme, suggesting that with no facilities currently in place anywhere in the city, modest measures (like sharrows) might be prudent. “This is not Mars,” cyclists Rick Risemberg said of Beverly Hills. “Residents here have seen bike lanes; they travel throughout the region.”

But with four candidate routes identified and now analyzed (according to the city’s constraints), the process appears beyond further participation specifically by the cycling community. This pilot program feasibility analysis was presented as an informational item: though questions were taken and answered, it’s not clear that the bike community’s input during this meeting has any bearing on which routes are selected, or how options might be considered by the Traffic & Parking Commission. In the end, “The Council drives everything,” Aaron said.

To a question about the timeline for the pilot program, Aaron said, “I don’t want to commit. I’m anticipating at the beginning of next year going to the community – public outreach – on one or more of these [routes].” When pressed, Aaron said, “Our goal is in the next four months: first to the community, then to Traffic & Parking Commission” and finally to City Council.

2) The Bike Facilities Update

The Transportation Division’s new intern, Elias, presented a spreadsheet identifying the business triangle’s 22 bike racks (including those at the library). In an advance over the division’s previous bike map (read more about it), the current effort notes exact locations, describes the type of rack, and attaches pictures, with the eventual goal of posting the information online. Elias said that the data would provide a basis for moving past the business triangle when installing new racks, perhaps next along the South Beverly commercial corridor.

“We’ll get this on the web,” Aaron said, “then develop guidelines for other areas.” When asked about a rack-on-request program, Elias responded, “We’ve been talking about it.” [Indeed, Better Bike has been talking with Transportation for the better part of this year about creating a rack-on-request program, and was under the impression that the effort was the focus of the new intern’s bike efforts. Evidently the map has been the sole focus.]

3) Intersection Safety

The meeting concluded with a discussion of intersection safety, an item added relatively late to the agenda at the request of Better Bike upon hearing about another cyclist injury collision – this one at Olympic & South Beverly. Given already documented problems with the Santa Monica & Wilshire intersection, we suggested that intersection safety be a focus of the Traffic & Parking Commission. But it was instead referred to this committee.

Bike community members suggested guidance for cyclists through the intersections to avoid some of the present ambiguity and confusion, as well as innovations like a ‘bike box’ that puts the cyclist ahead of motor traffic at the stoplight prior to moving through the intersection.

Aaron said that both intersections were identified in the city’s capital improvement program: Olympic & Beverly as a $1 million project and SM/Wilshire in conjunction with reconstruction of the boulevard. With no firm plans for Olympic/Beverly at present, and SM Blvd. reconstruction slated to conclude in 2013 (Hilton Hotel development is uncertain and is a complicating factor here), safer conditions won’t be soon in coming, he suggested. “In the meantime we’ll look at re-striping” options, he said.

4) Next Steps

The next ad-hoc committee meeting is scheduled for January 18th (again at 5pm) where Transportation will work on formalizing a workplan (requested at the first ad-hoc meeting) and establishing a timetable to get the pilot program to City Council.

There was no timetable discussed for finalizing or posting of the bike rack map, nor was one indicated for the rack-on-request program. Though discussed, no timetable was offered for posting a bike-focused webpage on the city’s website.

Recap: the Tone & Tenor of the Meeting

When asked what kind of outreach the city had done for these meetings, perhaps to other city departments or commissions, Chair Levine suggested that there hadn’t been extensive outreach, saying, “Well, this is an exclusive group. Our outreach was to get the core ridership together.”

When asked if the next meeting time could be pushed back from 5pm to perhaps 6 or 7pm to accommodate those who work days, Chair Levine was non-committal. “No promises. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll keep you posted.”

That about summed up the tone and tenor of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee meeting, from the arbitrary 1-¼ hour duration announcement to the “We’ll keep you posted.” It seems like we in the bike community are on a need-to-know basis when it comes to road facilities that would make our travel though Beverly Hills more safe and secure.

* Unfortunately, not all cycling community interests could be represented. The 5pm Wednesday meeting precluded attendance for at least a couple of working folks, for whom an evening meeting is more convenient. Moving the meeting from Monday to Wednesday, too, raised a conflict for LACBC representatives who had attended earlier meetings. They were obligated to attend an organization board meeting downtown this afternoon.

Beverly Hills Posts an ad-hoc Bike Committee Page

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Committee website screenshotNewsflash! Beverly Hills Transportation has created a webpage for the city’s ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. It sure took long enough: after beggaring the city to merely pick this lowest of low-hanging fruit – creating a webpage – we finally have something to show for our year-and-a-half effort.

Heck, Transportation has even gone ahead and posted the agenda for this Wednesday’s committee meeting. That’s about 48 hours in advance. Yet it’s too short a lead time to satisfy Brown Act requirements. That’s why it’s an ad-hoc committee.

What distinguishes this current effort is how truly insubstantial it is. Compared to the sites hosted by cites like Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Culver City, where each posts planning and policy documents and often safety-related information too, our  Transportation division has put in the absolute least amount of effort: it merely posted a single meeting agenda. No background on the committee’s work here. No supporting documents like the map of business triangle bike racks that Transportation has been working on for six months. Nada.

And what an insubstantial agenda it is: two information items, one discussion item (sans detail) and a ‘next steps’ closing item. Have a look at Wednesday’s agenda and tell us what you think.

Ad-Hoc agenda for November 16 screenshotThat’s from a department with $250k/year in transportation planning staff PLUS one bike-focused intern. The City itself employs enough outreach & communications talent (not to mention outside contractors) to add nearly $1 million to our city’s annual budget to reach out through electronic channels. How difficult is it to crib some boilerplate from another city’s website?

Indeed, how is it that Better Bike does our own outreach to membership, posts a regularly-updated blog AND can put together a detailed stakeholders agenda for less than the price of a cup of coffee? No generous salary here; nor does sick time or retirement benefits accrue.

Too Little, Too Late

Now you might ask, Why criticize the city’s single bike-related accomplishment? After a year-and-a-half, this ad-hoc committee finally posted an agenda. Simply because it’s too little and much too late.

Better Bike long ago offered to craft a bike safety page and more for the Transportation website (gratis!) but we’ve never gotten the call. In the last August 29th meeting [recap], Transportation said they’d work with us on it. But we never got that call either. We didn’t even get an official notice of this Wednesday’s meeting until two days before.

So we’re not inclined to applaud cynical efforts when every day we ride streets without bike lanes or signage (not even a sharrow to be seen) and chain up to parking meters because the city’s not deigned to provide a single additional rack in years. That’s why.

Bike Plan Update Committee to Meet Mid-November

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee table view

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee meeting 8/29/11.

Put on your mental calendar an upcoming meeting of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee, tentatively scheduled for the 3rd week in November. The committee has met since early 2010 – twice behind closed doors and twice with the cycling community – and this meeting should suggest whether we’re wasting our time, or making even limited progress on bike facilities, plans, and programs going forward. I’m not optimistic.

We recently followed up with Aaron Kunz (from the Transportation division) about issues discussed in the August meeting of the city’s ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. Given two recent car-bike injury collisions in Beverly Hills, we’re anxious to hear what’s been accomplished on the agenda already. Could we look forward, for example, to identifying in the next meeting corridors to receive improvements under the previously-announced pilot program? Will we learn that the city’s finally established that much-needed bike rack-by-request program, long in the works? Has Transportation finally finished mapping existing bike racks (about twenty of them!) and has it been posted on the city’s website? (The latter was one of the key deliverables promised this past Spring.)

Has Transportation created and posted much-needed bike safety information and bike resources on the city’s website, as every other city has done already?

From the update we just received, progress on the Bike Plan Update Committee’s short-list of to-do items – perennially “in progress” – seems scant. Aaron said that a firm has been contracted to analyze the aforementioned candidate pilot program corridors, but he can’t confirm that findings will be completed in time for the meeting. The cycling community needs these findings before advising on final corridor selection, of course. And about those racks? An intern has finally started working on it, Aaron said. No word on program readiness.

It’s worth noting that advocates have consistently called for a range of improvements to make cycling more safe. But the city prefers to focus on racks alone rather than the facilities and programs that would encourage cycling in Beverly Hills. For example, there has been no progress on bike safety information at all – even though the city agreed to work with Better Bike to develop it. We never got that call.

We’re not heartened because our meetings end with the same promises, but it appears that the city is simply loathe to actually commit staff time or funds to making our streets safe for all road users.

Then there’s the process. The ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee has never organized its work as a formal workplan – a tool that the city normally uses to set priorities. Nor has any Transportation staff report been delivered to the committee (much less the community), which is ordinarily how departments communicate with committees and commissions. It seems that in the range of concerns to the city, delivering safety for cyclists is truly an ad-hoc process.

Consider how low-hanging the fruit is that we’ve been discussing with the Committee:

Transportation sinks tens of millions of dollars into public parking (putting the Parking Operations budget $2.4 million in the red) while back racks cost about $200 each (installed). We’ve asked for nearly two years for sidewalk racks yet not a single one has been installed in that time.

Beverly Hills spends $250,000 on Rodeo Drive holiday decorations annually yet has not installed a single traffic sign to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists or advised motorists that cyclists are entitled to an entire lane under most circumstances.

Our city will fund the Convention and Visitors Bureau to the tune of $180,000 for a handful of surveys and studies, yet hasn’t funded a single bike transportation study or even updated the data underlying our shamefully outdated bike plan.

And despite a handful of city officials earning collectively more than $500,000/yr to communicate online with stakeholders, not a single page has been posted to address cyclist safety, or to encouraged parents to send their kids to school on a bike.

If we can’t install some simple bike facilities, we can forget instituting bike-friendly policies.

Beverly Hills (alone among Westside cities) hasn’t undertaken a bike plan update nor addressed deficiencies in our municipal code, the language of which actually discourages cycling rather than encourages active mobility. Our plans have mandated no bike parking and our policies offer no development incentives to provide secured parking, bike lockers, or showers – the facilities that we know encourages bike commuting. Other cities have developed such policies, however, and they’ve seen cycling mode share increase over time.

How can the city take so long to simply pick this lowest-hanging fruit? City Hall prides itself, after all, on hiring the best and the brightest and pays above average (relative to comparison cities) for staffers as a matter of policy. (For more read this analysis of how our city compares.) Yet getting a bike rack, a simple sign, or a pavement stripe is like moving a mountain in our advantaged little city. It ain’t Los Angeles after all, but that city’s making strides.

Given the utter lack of progress and uncertain prognosis for bike improvements going forward, we can’t say that your time won’t be wasted if you attend November’s Bike Plan Update Committee meeting. But it should begin to resolve a few open questions, namely, will our city commit to the facilities, programs, and policies that will make our streets safe, or will it continue the shell game where progress is eternal but accomplishments forever on the horizon?

[Updated 11/13/11]

Beverly Hills Bike Plan Update Progress Report

We caught up with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, for an update on the Beverly Hills bike plan update process. In a wide-ranging recap we discussed the timetable and process for reconstructing Santa Monica Boulevard; opportunities for adding on-boulevard bike lanes to that corridor to support regional connectivity; progress on bringing a bike rack program to the city; and next steps on the pilot program. Here’s the recap – first the corridor reconstruction then the rest.

Where We Were

Recall that the Traffic & Parking Commission had formed an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee in mid-2010. In two meetings with advocates, the three commissioners heard an earful about our city’s inhospitable conditions for cyclists. The lack of lanes or other facilities to separate transportation modes, combined with no guidance for cyclists or motorists alike on sharing our congested roads, advocates said, suggested insufficient attention to the needs of active transportation road users.

The Commissioners in the first meeting had identified low-hanging fruit for action: mapping existing business triangle bike maps; marking those racks with a decal to make them more conspicuous; and creating safety education materials to reach road users with a ‘share the road’ message. Cyclists training was also mentioned.

Map of proposed Plot Program routesProgress on even that limited agenda was uncertain, however, so in our second meeting with city officials we focused on identifying four candidate routes for lanes, sharrows, and/or signage in a pilot project suggested by the Transportation division. Chosen were Carmelita, Charleyville, South Beverly, and Crescent (see the map).

The city has preferred to keep the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction on its own separate track. Today, the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor is a chaotic mess of vehicle congestion and substandard road conditions that make it perilous for cyclists. Santa Monica Blvd pavement irregularitiesSince the city took over the corridor from the state in 2006, it has done little to improve it, and certainly nothing to make it safe for cyclists.

Because it’s a key element of the region’s transportation network, and because it’s the one major transportation project that’s guaranteed to proceed, it’s critical that we active transportation advocates (both cyclists and walkers) participate in the design process if we are to secure continuation of the on-boulevard bike lanes in place today in Century City and West Hollywood.

The Boulevard Reconstruction Process

In our call with Aaron, we focused on the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project, which when completed will accommodate a center turn lane and two travel lanes in each direction. In particular, we’re interested in details from the city’s topographic survey of the corridor that specify the existing roadway’s width so that we know what will be required if we were to add bi-directional bike lanes.

For example, Aaron said that the existing roadway is about 60 feet curb-to-curb, but that’s an imprecise measure because the actual width varies along the corridor. The city owns right-of-way (land available for roadbed) that extends to 85 feet, mostly to the north but in some segments to the south of the present roadway. Aaron also said  that the preliminary thinking is for the reconstructed boulevard to be divided into lanes as follows (from south to north): |11|10| 10-ft median|10.5|11.5| with a possible 7-foot single-direction bike lane.

That is, a single bike lane. The city’s 85 foot right-of-way is much wider than the current 60-foot boulevard and can easily accommodate standard bike lanes in both directions. Should the boulevard need to be widened to accommodate bike lanes (or indeed other active transportation or mass transit enhancements) will we need six inches or six feet? We’ve asked for topographic survey findings because we need to know where we stand on that question.

Steps in the Planning Process

It’s crucial that our community understand how bike lanes can fit into reconstruction before the project is scoped and design alternatives presented to policymakers. Aaron described the process this way:

  • The City Council will discuss scoping in an early 2012 study session (these typically precede formal Council meetings) and provide direction to Transportation;
  • Transportation will contract design services based on that scope of work and return to Council with design alternatives;
  • City Council will discuss design alternatives and at that point make a policy decision about bike lanes or other facilities and proceed with reconstruction.

The public will have a chance to participate in the Council meetings, but as we know, a couple of minutes at the microphone is not sufficient to meaningfully shape any project, much less one as significant as this. It’s important that we’re prepared to talk in detail about what will be necessary to fit bike lanes in. Will we have to widen the boulevard, and by how much? Do traffic lanes have to be 11 feet wide, or can we experiment with different widths to open space sufficient for an on-boulevard lane?

Scoping is about nailing down the key aspects of the project before proceeding to design. If bi-directional boulevards are not included in council direction, we won’t have any opportunity to insert them later. Once the project is scoped and guidance provided by Council to Transportation, the division will work with a firm to translate that direction into design alternatives.

Design is the next crucial phase. We want to shape those designs to represent the needs of active transportation users. Will it be a bike lane or a full-on active transportation corridor with sidewalks and/or a running path? How will mass transit service integrate into the streetscape? How will traffic conflicts be managed at intersections?

Traffic engineers can provide answers to those technical problems, but it is the community that has to press our vision of a transformed Santa Monica Boulevard Corridor upon the policymakers. [More about the transportation planning process.]

Our Next Steps

Aside from the reconstruction, Aaron said that the city is interested in moving forward on a bike rack program. We’ve long advocated a rack-on-request program, and other cities already have such programs, and now it seems like Beverly Hills may too. Transportation division expects to hire an intern in the next week or two to work the program.

Aaron also said the city was finalizing a contract with an engineering firm to provide as-needed support for the bike routes pilot program. This should enable our short-handed division to move forward on identifying possible improvements for the four pilot project alternatives (see the map above) before selecting one or more routes for improvement.

Other areas for improvement include the city developing online materials for rider and motorist education; developing policies that would mandate the inclusion of bike racks in every public and private garage; and identifying reforms to the municipal code to encourage, rather than discourage, cycling in the city.

We have our work cut out for us. And make no mistake, making streets safe for cyclists is a political process throughout. Need it be so political? We need to have a broader discussion about why it’s not viewed as simply a matter of safety, which would make it squarely the responsibility of policymakers, transportation officials, and engineers. We’re ready to have that discussion.

In the meantime, look for the next meeting of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee in late October or early November, two months after our last, late-August meeting as was agreed. Sign up for our email newsletter to be kept abreast of progress.

Stakeholders’ Agenda for the 8/29 Ad-Hoc Bike Committee

When last we checked in with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation in the Department of Public Works in Beverly Hills, he sounded an optimistic note about future bike planning efforts here:

  • Monday’s meeting of the Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update committee was freshly agendized;
  • The city is seeking a paid intern to honcho bike improvements in the city, like the rack program now in the works; and,
  • We will be scheduled for a meeting with the City Manager, Jeff Kolin.

When we expressed skepticism, Aaron responded, “I understand your frustration,” but emphasized that now things are moving.  Are they? We’ll know more after Monday’s meeting with the Commissioners from the Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee: 345 Foothill Rd. @ 5 pm.

Is there cause for optimism? Well, this was literally Aaron’s call. He picked up the phone to let us know about the meeting and the next steps – a positive change from begging updates. Second, we’ve met with three of five Council members. They see the problem and generally understand the need for bike-friendly improvements. We’ve also met with the city’s IT department who assured us that the city will in the future be more forthcoming with information like the public documents we need. (More on transparency….)

Is there cause for concern? The city’s track record on bike improvements and programs suggests that skepticism is warranted. The city still has not a word on bikes outside of the 1970s-era bike plan [pdf] re-adopted in 2010. Second, we don’t have in hand an official agenda for Monday’s Ad-Hoc meeting, and we may not even get a written work program for bike improvements (as we requested back in June). And most significant, bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard is very much a political heavy lift still, so we have our work cut out for us if we’re looking for true regional connectivity on the ‘bike backbone’ as we say.

A Stakeholders’ Agenda

Stakeholders' Agenda 8/29 Ad-Hoc CommitteeWithout an official agenda in hand we thought we should create our own. We don’t want to cover the same ground as in our last meeting with the Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. And we’ve expressed our displeasure with progress to date in our open letter to the Traffic & Parking Commission.

Here we outline a stakeholders agenda for much-needed improvements that we want the city to embrace. Call it a  down payment on the inevitable integration of Complete Streets principles into transportation planning and, at the very least, a basic road safety program to keep cyclists safe.

Read the recap of the last Ad-Hoc meeting and have a look at our meeting agenda. Drop us a line if there’s something that you want to add or leave it in comments. See you tomorrow, Monday 8/29 at 5 pm at 345 Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills.

 

 

 

Traffic & Parking Commission Meeting

Better Bike was in the house for last Thursday’s Traffic & Parking Commission meeting. Joining us were members Ron Durgin (of Sustainable Streets) and Aviv Kleinman, the latter a promising, motivated new member clearly interested in bringing change to Beverly Hills transportation. Ron spoke about the need to get bike facilities and education on the front burner; he should know, he’s a professional in both areas. Aviv is a recent graduate of Beverly Hills High School with an interest in robotics and politics. (No jokes please!) He lamented the lack of safe travel for students who would bike to school. That is a new focus area for Better Bike, which is trying to bring Beverly Hills United’s attention to Safe … Continue reading

BH Bike Rack Map: New & Improved!

The cyclist who searches for an actual bike rack in Beverly Hills is bound to be disappointed.There are just so few, and none of them where you’d need them. Want to latch up near your bank, cafe, or employer? You’re out of luck. Think you’ll find one in a public parking garage? Keep looking – there are only two such racks we’ve been able to find. But the city has installed a score of racks some years back as part of the Golden Triangle rehab. Those racks are of unconventional design are very difficult to spot, however. So the folks over at Transportation decided to affix a pictograph decal marking them as bike racks. And they decided to create a … Continue reading

Bike Plan Update Committee Meeting #1

The Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commission’s Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee met on Wednesday, June 8th for the first time in public. You’ll recall that the Traffic and Parking Commission is the advisory body that reviews, well, traffic and parking issues, but it’s also the commission that works most closely with the city’s Transportation division. This Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee meeting (agenda) invited a handful of Better Bike members to communicate concerns, gripes, and ideas that show our support for a real active transportation planning process and bike facilities. By way of review: The Ad-Hoc Committee was formed back in August to consider opportunities for updating the city’s outdated Bike Plan (technically an appendix to the city’s General Plan). The vintage 1970s … Continue reading

Update on the Ad-Hoc Commmittee

Catching up with Aaron Kunz at BH Transportation brought us somewhat up-to-date on the next steps for the Traffic & Transportation’s Commission’s ad-hoc bike planning committee. This body was formed by three Commissioners last August to explore the next steps for fleshing out our city’s bare-bones bike plan (5 pages + old maps adopted in January 2010). Readers will recall that the Committee has only met twice and both times in closed session. There have been no posted agendas or minutes.* So we’re left making telephone calls to find out when the ad-hoc committee will meet next and what it will do. As Aaron is our point of contact, he’s the go-to guy. Last week he filled us in. It … Continue reading

Ad Hoc Bicycle Committe Formed

You can’t say that your two minutes at the City Council microphone is totally wasted. After Better Bike members showed up in Council Chambers for a study session back in September to highlight the inadequacy of the bike plan, the city has taken the first step forward by creating an ad hoc committee to look at evolving it. This is a long-overdue effort that should have preceded the adoption of the General Plan this past January, when City Council stamped its approval on this 5-page skeleton of a plan – one without significant detail and with no implementation timetable in any case. In Council we expressed our concerns about putting bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, but this new effort … Continue reading