Celebrating Geography Awareness Week, We Look at Some Bike Maps

Existing and Planned lanes leading to Beverly Hills map

Beverly Hills has no plans to meet most of these proposed and existing bike lanes.

To mark the close of Geography Awareness Week (which began Monday) we’re offering a few maps that highlight the varying commitment of local governments to ensuring safe, multimodal mobility.* Each highlights bike lanes and designated bike routes that we know make riding more safe, but also tend to increase the appeal of cycling as a mode of transportation. Let’s start with Beverly Hills as a reference point.

Under a ‘pilot program‘ a couple of years ago, the city striped class II bicycle lanes along several blocks of North Crescent Drive and a few blocks of Burton Way. The city also installed several blocks of shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) south of Burton. But City Council stopped way short of what bike advocates asked for: instead of the five rider-recommended signed and/or protected routes, staff recommended just one of them – and then added a second one which politically was the easiest lift of them all.

Of course, the pilot, by definition, is a temporary program, so the city allowed the paint to fade on these installed lanes and sharrows. And sometimes it simply installed sharrows incorrectly but took months to rectify it.

Here is our map of the two final routes (note that the city produces no bike routes map on its own).

Pilot routes map illustration

Not quite the citywide bicycle network envisioned in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan!

MUTCD bicycle signs 2014That is the extent of the city’s bike route network! Just two routes – and neither of them highly trafficked or even a key business district street. The irony is that these improvements made little difference in terms of increased safety for riders.

It gets worse. Beverly Hills has hung no share-the-road or may-use-full-lane sign (right); or created a publicity program to remind motorists to look out for riders; nor has it sponsored a bike safety class (or even created a website) for rider safety education. Perhaps that’s why riders flout stop signs, as our policymakers like to remind us when they turn their back on bike-friendly improvements.

Yet other cities do continue to invest in multimodal mobility, and it  does make a difference: streets feel safer to ride and that leads to greater enthusiasm for cycling. These cities reap the benefits. Let’s have a look!

Santa Monica Takes the Lead

City of Santa Monica offers the most pointed contrast. The city has rolled out bike lanes and sharrows like its multimodal transportation policies depends on them. (It does.) Look at this bike map! Beverly Hills riders can only dream of this kind of citywide network.

Santa Monica bike map illustrationNot only does Santa Monica walk the talk, it codified it too in the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – which actually identifies as a policy goal the generation of no new motor trips in the downtown area. To reach that goal, it has been first out of the gate with a bike station, a 500-bike bike-share program, and of course these miles of bicycle lanes and routes. Bravo!

Culver City

Not all cities can have Santa Monica’s mojo. Our neighbor Culver City is a bit slow out of the blocks like Beverly Hills, and it too didn’t immediately embrace bike lanes. But Culver City is a very different city than either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in that it hardly revolves around its downtown; instead it serves as a crossroads for key arteries like Culver, Washington, Robertson, Jefferson, and Venice boulevards.

Aside from City of LA’s bicycle lane on the north edge, Culver City is not yet well-served by protected facilities like a bicycle lane. But the map suggests that it is beginning to roll out routes along the corridors.

Culver city bike map (2010)

Culver City’s incipient network will prioritize the key through routes.

With so much pass-through traffic, and now an Expo Line station too, policymakers have gotten the message. Former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells really got it, and she positioned the city to make positive changes to embrace multimodal mobility. That’s another key difference compared to Beverly Hills. The city adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011.

West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is not only farther along in its bike planning than Beverly Hills or Culver City, it takes the whole concept of multimodal mobility more seriously. City Council some years back formed a bicycle task force to make recommendations about which corridors to prioritize for facilities. And more recently the city undertook a process to update its new mobility plan. So we’re seeing an elaboration of new bike facilities and the beginning of a true citywide network of protected lanes and designated routes.West Hollywood bike map

Burbank and Glendale

Hard up against the Verdugo Mountains, the cities of Burbank and Glendale are well on their way to creating their own citywide bike route networks. Burbank adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011 and appears to be laying the foundation for a citywide network.

Burbank bike mapBut Glendale got the earlier start. In the mid-2000s the city partnered with the LACBC to undertake their Safe and Healthy Streets Plan (2009). Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under its PLACE Program (Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments) the plan anticipated a city where “residents live safer, healthier lives by walking and riding a bicycle for both transportation and recreation.” (Read the Action Plan for more information.)

The plan puts at its center the complete streets vision of transportation “that meets the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and people of all ages and abilities,” says the plan. (“As well as motor vehicles.”) That philosophy is borne out by its rapidly-expanding citywide network of bicycle routes.Glendale bike map

Given the challenging topography of the City, Glendale is making rapid strides toward knitting together the whole!

So What Does This Comparison Say About Beverly Hills?

Beverly Hills is dead last in the installation of bicycle facilities and it pulls up the rear when it comes to intent to make our streets safer to ride. That’s because Beverly Hills policymakers continue to grasp at auto-era solutions to our post-auto era problems.

Consider congestion. Today, crosstown boulevards handle nearly 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday; and our major intersections can’t handle the capacity we throw at it (most are level-of-service ‘F’). It strains our streets and will only get worse as more intensive development comes tomorrow.

Consider multimodal opportunities. We’re a compact city for the most part. With excellent transit connections. Of course that suggests we shift more trips to transit and bicycles. Yet policymakers stubbornly resist. Our Bicycle Master Plan dates from 1977 and there is no intent to update it. Our transportation officials are largely unacquainted with the new, multimodal thinking, and staff declined to recommend to City Council that we include bicycle lanes when the city reconstructs Santa Monica Boulevard next year. So we won’t be including them.

Consider the potential of the bike-friendly business district. Our small business task force seemed unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bicycle-friendly business district’ when it issued its findings to City Council. No surprise: our city still demands (now discredited) excessive, code-required off-street parking. We simply prey a developer will come along to dig down deep – in the ground and in the pocket – when building anew so we’d get a few additional parking spaces. Spaces that will never satisfy demand, which only increases with our continuing policies that facilitate reliance on the auto.

Beverly Hills has all of the advantages. Our city of 35,000 is the smallest in population and the second-smallest by land area (after Culver City) among the cities we’ve reviewed here.  Off the hills we’re a compact city, and we are not grappling with a challenging periphery (as does Glendale) or a non-grid center city (like Culver City).

And we’ve got the money: Beverly Hills households have the highest median income of all these cities. Led by our ‘golden’ business triangle, we ring up more retail sales than any other city (fully one-third more than runner-up Santa Monica). If we didn’t dump $5 million every year into marketing, why we could have the gold-standard facilities instead of grubbing a few bucks from clean-air grants for fewer than 30 bicycle racks. We clearly have the resources to invest in multimodal mobility but we simply choose not to make the investment.

*City of Los Angeles is the region’s big gorilla, of course, but here we look at smaller cities (populations under 200,000).

BHPD Trying to Identify Road-Raging Motorist (Updated)

Road rage videoBeverly Hills Police Department have issued a media advisory yesterday concerning a vehicular assault occurring April 3rd 23rd at 5pm in an alley off the 9000 block of Wilshire. ‘Road rage’ hardly does this justice: in a continuation of a prior argument (in which the rider struck the motorist), the motorist actually doubles back to run head-on into the rider and pin him against a dumpster. With the rider hanging on to the door, the motorist then drives in reverse to dislodge the rider. You have to see it to believe it.

Given the prosecutor’s recent decision to prosecute Victoria Chin in a hit-and-run incident near City Hall in Beverly Hills two years ago, we fully expect that this driver will face the law too. After all it’s on video.

In the earlier incident, biker Paul Livingston was gravely injured, but the BHPD’s ‘investigation’ was lame: the driver seemingly got off scot-free even after refusing to answer any police questions or produce the vehicle. Here we have what appears to be clear intent to do severe bodily harm and perhaps even kill the rider.

What does the law say about this kind of behavior? First, under the law it doesn’t seem to rise to attempted murder. Murder is distinguished from manslaughter by ‘aforethought’; manslaughter, by contrast, is the “unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” Aforethought and malice are key; gross negligence and passion are mitigating factors that suggest a charge of attempted manslaughter instead of murder.

But manslaughter comes in several flavors. From the facts presented in this police advisory, a reported preceding violent incident visited upon the driver by the rider might suggest the driver acted “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” – a provocation that mitigates culpability. Voluntary manslaughter “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” is a crime is punishable (per section 192 of the California Penal Code) by imprisonment in the state prison for 3, 6, or 11 years. Could the charge be ‘attempted voluntary manslaughter’?

Then there is attempted vehicular manslaughter, which describes “driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence”  (per section 191.5 subsection A). Punishment for vehicular manslaughter is “imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years” – a significant break from the longer term for voluntary manslaughter.*

Again there is sentencing latitude, and a stint in the County clink probably would amount to just a few days and then house arrest. But even with a sentence in the state penn, the imperative to reduce the prison population might kick the offender back to County lockup anyway.

More importantly is an add-on that reflects the legislature’s dim view of the disappearing offender: “A person who flees the scene of the crime after committing a [vehicular manslaughter] violation, upon conviction, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed, shall be punished by an additional term of imprisonment of five years in the state prison.” That might add some heft to a sentence. And stay tuned for the civil suit!

This case may well shape up not as a test of the BHPD, which is likely to pursue the investigation as suggested by the advisory, but of the prosecutor. Prosecutors enjoy significant leeway in charging a defendant, and in the past have not been particularly supportive of the cycling community in vehicular assaults. This will be a good case to watch.

Our take: As a rider, it’s difficult to imagine coming to blows with a motorist over any kind of road dispute. But a willful attempt at harm might suffice. That’s because in our experience, it’s not unheard of for a motorist to behave aggressively, even demonstrating clear intent to harm with a vehicle. And we can see how that can get out of hand as riders subject to abuse are known to be confrontational on occasion. But even if the rider does amplify a dispute with violence, which we can’t excuse, there is simply no justification for waging war on a rider or pedestrian with a two-ton weapon.

Here it was caught on video. Often it’s not. So it’s not difficult to imagine that vehicular assault and attempted voluntary manslaughter occurs more often than we know simply because, like Paul Livingstone, often the rider is left for dead.

Update: Sgt. Max Subin of the BHPD clarified that the incident was reported April 3rd but the department decided to put out a public alert when the motorist to date has not been identified from the city’s CCTV and business surveillance cameras. The incident began a few blocks away with a verbal altercation that resulted in the rider throwing a punch, with the motorist reportedly then chasing the rider while threatening to hurt and kill him. “We see it as attempted murder,” Sgt. Subin said, urging anyone who saw any part of the dispute to come forward. Some tips have come in, he added.

Update 5/1: We spoke with BHPD detective Hyon who is investigating the case, and when asked about the three-week delay between the reported crime and the department’s release to the media, he referred us to Lt. Lincoln Hoshino, the department’s Press Information Officer. Lt. Hoshino was terse in responding to our questions about the delay. He had no idea about the cause of the delay (“I’m the media person”) and spoke generally about how investigations proceed. We mentioned that we’d expect that an attempted murder in Beverly Hills might make it to the media and show up in the crime blotter – as might a jewelry store holdup, say, even without any injuries. For some reason that the Lieutenant couldn’t be clear about, this attempted murder hit-and-run did not make it into the department’s blotter feed. Why not? “No we are not going to discuss our investigative techniques with you.” Can we talk with Detective Hyon about the investigation? “Only if you have a tip.” Case closed? We’ll attend tomorrow’s Traffic & Parking Commission meeting to ask that the commissioners clarify when the department should report on this significant a crime in the city.

Update 7/11/13: Lt. Hoshino reports that the case “has stalled” but that it remains open. “No active leads,” he said.

Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to contact Detective Eric Hyon of the BHPD at 310-285-2156 or the Watch Commander 310-285-2125. The rider has not yet come forward. For updates, check the BHPD twitter.

*The Penal Code, it’s worth pointing out, gives a hefty break to those who commit grave injuries with a motor vehicle as long as they can point to some other mitigating factor. Even driving with gross negligence can be semi-excused under the law if ‘aforethought’ or malice can’t be demonstrated. That’s a get-out-of-jail card for the weapon-wielding driver if we’ve ever seen one.

LACBC ‘Beverly Thrills’ Ride a Success!

Ride start: the John Wayne statue on Wilshire & La Cienega

Photo by Colin Bogart, LACBC.

On Sunday we joined the LACBC for the latest ride in its great Sunday Funday series: the ‘Beverly Thrills’ 13-mile ride though the streets of Beverly Hills. This easy ride brought over fifty riders to our well-tended blacktop. Short of the Gran Fondo or Amgen rides, it’s a record. (For the record those rides kept riders out of the hills.) For this ride we traversed the boulevards and stop signed sidestreets to visit Greystone mansion. But was a thrill was in the offing, it was the steep descent back down. We worked up a sweat and wicked it away. Here’s the recap!

Pickfair in postcard viewThink about Beverly Hills and what comes to mind? Rodeo Drive’s boutiques. Celebrities  like the all-American Will Rogers. Landmark estates like Pickfair (left), the famous home of silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. And the hotels like the Beverly Wilshire & Beverly Hills Hotel.

Beverly Hills has its darker side too. Though we’re too banal to lay claim to the savory history of noir, we’re on the ‘death tour’ for a few untimely departures at the Hilton recently. And on this ride we breezed past the Menendez home, where a notorious double-murder kept Court TV in business for years. Beyond notoriety, though, no tour would be complete without a nod to celebrity. We’ve had our share, but recently they are regarded less for their civic duty than for cracking up cars and simply being famous. Celebrity ain’t what it used to be.

Pickfair post renovationThe city has changed in other ways too, and not always for the better. For one thing, Pickfair is long gone, of course, replaced by a newer version (right). Done in by collusion between officials disinclined to protect historic properties and property owners eager to remodel, Pickfair suffered the ‘scrape’ rather than the scalpel. C-list crooner Pia Zadora felt that Pickfair needed a rehab and, well, like so many TV renovations, it just made more sense to start anew.

And then there’s the bread & butter: how City hall earns its keep. The city once staked growth on resource extraction; oil and cultural production were a rich vein to tap, so to speak. Today, however, we depend on tapping people to pay for our outsourced services, and to plug our forecast $20-40 million public parking garage deficit. Sales and occupancy taxes are king today. We’ve exiled our high-profile oil rig to pasture.

You heard that right: our famously insular city so insensitive to external concerns depends on out-of-town money to keep us afloat. And rather than invest in facilitating new modes of mobility, instead we invest in accommodating the motorist’s choice by furnishing a rather expensive place for them to park. Often for free. Why? Our thoroughfares are more congested than ever. It’s like a civic heart disease where vehicular slogging hobbles the circulatory system of the central Westside. Beverly Hills is the coronary that every day sends our region to a trauma center.

Perhaps it was appropriate then to make the pinnacle (literally) of our journey the Edward Doheny’s Greystone mansion, nestled into the foothills above Beverly Hills. For one thing, the mansion is huge, and was simply a gift from the oil tycoon to his son. So it is a testament to the remunerative opportunity that is big oil. Proof positive that wealth trickles up through the class strata in American society (we could say “gushes” in this case). But it also shows that privilege courses down through the bloodline – a gift that keeps on giving.

But here too the picture is complicated: Greystone itself has its historical baggage: Doheney’s son was reportedly killed in the house by his secretary, both of whom were implicated in the Teapot Dome scandaltrail later that year. The city bought the grounds in 1965. Greystone, here we come!

How Open are Cities to Public Records Requests?

Public records actGovernment code section 6250-6270 (a.k.a. California Public Records Act) requires that public agencies (broadly construed to include cities, counties, school districts, and boards, commissions and agencies) make available to the general public and other agencies all records generated in the course of conducting public business. But how well do public agencies implement the public records law?

Making the law known to the public and providing some guidance for requests is key to shining a light on the people’s business. After we filed our own public records request in Beverly Hills, we wanted some basis of comparison for our city’s public records request page. We had a look at nine regional cities (plus the County of Los Angeles) to see how they serve the spirit of the California Public Records Act.

We found that they fell into one of three categories: local governments that actually promote accessibility; those that merely acknowledge the law by posting information about it; and those that provide little or no information leaving the public out in the cold. One local government – Culver City – achieves some distinction by neither posting information nor acknowledging an email sent to the City Clerk about the law. That’s a FAIL!

Los Angeles County gold medalAnd the winner is….County of Los Angeles! Surprisingly, the least-representative governmental body in the country is also the gold standard where promotion of the records act is concerned. The County’s information page promotes disclosure in spirit, explains the legislation, and includes the actual statutory language. It also mentions the availability of cost-free inspection (few cities do) and allows for decentralized records queries (no need to go through the Clerk). The County also charges the least ($.03/page) for copies if they’re needed. As an added bonus, it is the only one to explicitly stipulate an exemption for media requests. (Bloggers take note: copies are free!)

Los Angeles & Glendale tie for the Silver honor.

City of Los Angeles and Glendale are both high scorers for posting information pages that also promote access to records. Glendale trumps Los Angeles by linking to the state legislation and making its request page findable from the city’s homepage search box (few do). At the same time, Los Angeles, and not Glendale, mentions the availability of cost-free inspection. That’s key because cost, particularly copy costs that can accrue with the collection of records, can dissuade a public records request. And we don’t want that. (Note that neither city links expressly provides for a media exception, however, though it may exist but not be disclosed.)

Of the other seven local governments we examined, only two of them post substantive information about the availability of public records: West Hollywood & Beverly Hills. Each posts an information page findable from the search box. Both, for better or worse, centralize requests through the City Clerk’s office (perhaps because they’re smaller cities). But West Hollywood distinguishes itself by mentioning that all-important cost-free inspection. Beverly Hills makes no mention of cost-free inspection, and its schedule of copy fees implies that cost-free inspection is not optional. Beverly Hills also provides scant information on its How to Request Public Records page.

So we’ll grudgingly give the Bronze to West Hollywood. Grudgingly because its information page states without enthusiasm, “It is the goal of the City of West Hollywood to comply.” So much for the spirit of the law!

Santa Monica, Burbank, Malibu and Culver City make no information available. Santa Monica provides only a Building & Safety records request form, but an emailed response from the Clerk did make a standard request form available. In our view that’s not upholding the spirit of the law, though.

Comparing the Local Governments

Agency Award Describes the act? Includes the law’s language? Notes free inspection? Links to form?
Los Angeles County Gold award! Thorough explanation of the law and includes the language. Yes Yes Yes No
City of Glendale Silver award (tie). Glendale provides a brief description but does link to the state legislation and includes a form in page. Makes the page findable from homepage search. Yes No Yes Yes
City of Los Angeles Silver (tie). Restates the spirit of the law in a thorough manner but doesn’t state the law’s language. Yes No Yes No
City of West Hollywood Bronze. Grudging nod to the law but does note free inspection and provides contact phone numbers too. Can find it from the search box. Yes No Yes Yes
City of Beverly Hills No medal winner. Only somewhat informative but doesn’t even note the state law. Dual links variously point to the request form and a generic city email contact page. Yes No No Yes
City of Malibu Only links to a fillable form but does note free inspection and helpfully provides a fee schedule for copies. No No Yes Yes
City of Burbank Not much here – just a link to a form. City Clerk position is vacant. Not a good sign! No No No Yes
City of Santa Monica Disappointment: there’s not even a description page for the records act. The form supposed to be posted really wasn’t. No No No No
Culver City Culver City is so lame that it posts nothing and can’t even be bothered to respond to an email query. FAIL No No No No

Note that none of these cities have been tested for response times or effectiveness. Our purpose here was to know whether local governments erected barriers (either implied or explicit) to the disclosure of information in accord with the law. We found none of commission, but somewhat disappointingly we did find that four of nine local governments sinned by omission in not providing information.

Public Records Act Award Winners

  • Gold practices award: County of Los Angeles for promoting the California Public Records Act & expressly noting a media exception.
  • Silver award: City of Glendale & City of Los Angeles for raising public awareness about the California Public Records Act.
  • Bronze award: City of West Hollywood for at least mentioning cost-free inspection.

The raspberry goes to Culver City for posting nothing and not even responding to a query!

Our Public Records Request

Public records actWhen Traffic & Parking Commissioners discussed bike improvements in May, we saw that commissioners who met with bike advocates spoke up in support while others who hadn’t harbored misconceptions. And as deliberation proceeded, it was unclear how well city staff in Transportation had informed the commissioners about facilities, bike-involved collisions, or even past public comment. We wanted to know more about how the Commission arrived at its May 9th recommendation to Council so we’ve filed a public records request.

Government code section 6250-6270 (a.k.a. California Public Records Act) requires that public agencies (broadly construed to include cities, counties, school districts, and boards, commissions and agencies) make available to the general public and other agencies all records generated in the course of conducting public business. It is part of California’s ‘sunshine laws’ that might be called our last gasp at progressive-era good government. (Sacramento is certainly no shining example!) Read more about the Public Records Act and process in our overview.

The text of our request:

I would like to request to inspect material records that informed or that helped to inform the Beverly Hills Traffic & Parking Commission’s recommendation to City Council concerning proposed Bicycle Pilots Routes program. The recommendation motion was passed by Commission on May 9, 2012. In order to understand how the Commission arrived at its decision, I request of the Transportation Division of Public Works (or appropriate city departments or agents):

  • Staff direction to consultant Fehr & Peers Pilot regarding selection and analysis of candidate Pilot routes;
  • Materials produced by consultant Fehr & Peers Pilot and provided to staff and any commissioners concerning selection and analysis of candidate routes;
  • Staff recommendations provided to the Traffic & Parking commission or any commissioners concerning the identification of candidate routes (including but not limited to email to the commission);
  • Minutes, notes or summaries of ad-hoc Bike Plan Update meetings including comments from the public (five meetings: 6/8/11, 8/29/11, 11/16/11, 1/18/11, 3/21/12);
  • Minutes, notes or summaries of Pilot Bicycle Routes Community Outreach meetings including comments from the public (April 11 & 25 2011);
  • Minutes, notes or summaries of public testimony at the May 9th meeting;
  • Public safety data concerning bike-involved collisions as summarized, digested, or provided in tabular form;
  • Public safety data concerning cyclist behavior, including cited offenses and frequency;
  • Studies related to bicycle use in Beverly Hills such as a bike count or census;
  • Study materials prepared to summarize or illustrate infrastructure or facility improvements or innovations (for example, shared-lane markings/sharrows, bike lanes, and designated bike routes.)
  • Material currently posted to the ad hoc Bike Plan Update Committee (as of June 21) need not be collected of course.

The objective is to learn the extent to which our Transportation staff prepared the commissioners to evaluate bike improvements under the city’s Bike Route Pilot Program, and to see for ourselves how seriously Transportation staff approached the input provided by cyclists over many hours of meetings with officials.

When the commissioners on balance declined to support sharrows and lanes for our more highly congested streets, it was clear that safety played no part in the deliberations. In fact, safety data (provided by the BHPD for 2009 and 2010) was mentioned only briefly, and from the deliberations it was clear that past collisions weren’t the justification for making  improvements but rather a basis for not providing them. Where collisions are too many, let’s not put bike safety treatments.

Yet commissioners thought that sharrows on Beverly Hills streets would disorient our drivers. We see sharrows on streets in city after city in the region, and indeed two of the commissioners, Alan Grushcow and Jeff Levine, noted that drivers seem to handle them just fine. Commissioners also opined that sharrows could convey a false sense of security to riders, which seems unsupported by data, cyclist testimony, or even anecdotal accounts.

Then there are the records of meetings themselves. Because only skeletal city city notes for Bike Plan Update Committee’s meetings have been released (including this gem from November of 2010), we have no idea how much public from cyclists ever made it to the commission. We bike advocates attended no fewer than five meetings with the ad hoc committee, but only notes from the first June 2011 meeting has been released. Where are all of those good ideas that we gave them? We’re asking.

For these reasons and more we want to know how the Commission came by its knowledge of the cycling experience in Beverly Hills. This is a traffic & transportation commission after all, and we’d like to believe that that their mission includes protecting all road users and not only the Beverly Hills motoring public. Maybe a public records request will help us learn what staff provided this commission to inform deliberation.

Seen This Movie Before?

Frankenstein 1931 posterThe original Frankenstein (1931) film will screen at UCLA’s Wilder Theater this Friday evening at 7:30. Adapted from Mary Shelley’s moralistic fable, the film takes a sinister turn when the cobbled-together cadaver wreaks havoc in the Swiss countryside – a Freudian Id given material life by its maker – only to find townsfolk with torches in hand actually the greater threat. This gothic horror gem puts us in mind of theatrics closer to home here in Beverly Hills, where we have our share of torch-bearing townsfolk too.

You’ve probably heard about if not seen the film: a monster come to life threatens the town and instills blind fear in the townsfolk, who then set out to exact vengeance on the creature. It is a man-bites dog monster story as the crowd, blinded by fear, turns predator. The proto-humanist creation of Dr. Frankenstein runs for his life. It doesn’t end well.

It couldn’t help but bring to mind our own Beverly Hills monster mash: the Metro tunnel-under-the-high-school situation. Listen to local civic leaders and you would think that the tunnel means the end of home rule. Read the Courier coverage and you’d believe that the monster that we ourselves created, Metro, will snuff out our city. The PTA’s hyperbolic video aims to persuade us that we will literally go down in flames like Frankenstein itself.

The cautionary lesson is that we take away from the film is that mob action trumps best intentions when we let our own collective Id get away from us. You know, if we’re not attentive to the larger significance of our actions.

We tend to view Beverly Hills differently from how others seem to regard us. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceable hamlet nested in the foothills that extends a warm, welcoming hand to the region. We dispatch City Manager expertise to help cities in need (Bell) and sell off our community development block grants at a discount to needy communities (Hawaiian Gardens). Like this early still from the film we’re sensitive to the needs of our neighbors:

But the reality is much different. We were reminded recently that Beverly Hills is regarded as xenophobic and even racist, and that it stands as a  bulwark against regional cooperation generally and solutions to regional mobility specifically.

Invariably, when the water-cooler talk comes ’round to the subway extension, and the ugly public meetings and lawsuits it has begat here, we learn how other actually see us: we’re the torch-bearing crowd chasing the Metro monster with vengeance on the collective mind:

Frankenstein mob with torches

The question we hear most often when we meet transportation advocates is, What’s wrong with Beverly Hills? Well, Better Bike can’t begin to answer because we don’t understand mob psychology. But we see that it has taken hold of some of our most vocal community members. For some reason, those folks who can’t invest their energies into Safe Routes to School for kids but would turn back the subway if they could over alleged methane issues. As if there wasn’t an operating oil rig on that high school property for decades.

Now, we don’t doubt that some of our leaders have valid home rule concerns at heart. But they’re not leading this torches crowd, they’re following it. And they’d better be carrying a fire extinguisher.  When we look ahead to solving our transportation challenges, we see a marauding monster in our Swiss hamlet today. It is the psyche and its animus that consumes the oxygen we all need for solving the real problems (as we said in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times letter). Perhaps the monster has already turned on its masters?

Beverly Hills Reaches Out When It Suits City Hall

e-Notice screenWe received a press release yesterday from City of Beverly Hills decrying Metro for finalizing the Purple Line Constitution station. (“Scientific Data, Alternate Routes Ignored.”) School and city officials have fought bitterly tunneling under the high school, and this release virtually promises a suit. Whatever the merit, the release raised our eyebrow because City Hall never talks policy with the public. It’s a challenge simply to get City Hall to post timely online agendas, or to make city department documents available. Ironically, in this case we indicated a preference not to receive subway notices (right). But if it suits City Hall, the saying goes, Don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Oh the trials and tribulations of simply squeezing information out of the City of Beverly Hills! Over two years of bike advocacy here, more than half of our contacts with city officials concern not substantive issues around road safety but availability of public information and transparency in governance. That’s because City Hall holds onto public information with a clenched fist. For years, our city blocked search engines from crawling its website…until we called them out on it. We’ve berated the Transportation division of Public Works for not posting public documents generated for the Bike Plan Update Committee. And today, literally today, after two years of complaints, we yet again harangued City Hall to comply with the spirit of the state’s sunshine law, the California Public Records Act (a.k.a. the Brown Act).

The Brown Act [summary] is key to government transparency and timely notice of official actions and many cities go out of their way to exceed the nominal 72-hours notice for the posting of agendas. They make voluminous information available from city committees and commissions. Our neighboring cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica each maintain Internet portals that provide broad and deep reach into city business.

City Hall Must Put Its Public Face Forward

But Beverly Hills does not reveal its face to stakeholders; instead our government hides behind the ungainly Civic Center facade. Few departments, commissions and committees post much of substance about their doings, for example. To a safe streets advocate, that means a special request for a staff report or agenda-related materials. If you’re looking for a department work plan or priority list or staff roster, you won’t find it. As a city official will sometimes suggest, Make a public records request.

Well, stakeholders shouldn’t have to resort to records request. Meeting agendas should be posted at least 72-hours in advance at every posting location and on the city website too. (Since web posting is not identified by the city as an official posting location, often city bodies often don’t hew to Brown Act 72-hours requirements.)

Why the emphasis on the agenda? An agenda highlights important policy issues and enumerates the issues up for discussion (and possible policymaker action). You must parse it and the associated staff reports and supporting material in order to understand in detail how official actions may affect you or your quality of life. The agenda also highlights the actions that a decision-making body won’t be taking: if something is not noticed that body can’t take action on it. Not a few public actions have been undone because meetings have been improperly noticed or actions taken that weren’t announced on the agenda.

Timely notice is key too, but in Beverly Hills even important agendas are sometimes not posted until barely 24 hours in advance (instead of the Brown Act’s required 72 hours). Last night’s Gateway planning meeting, for example, dealt with rezoning a significant part of our city, but the agenda (and voluminous associated materials were posted only the day before. And too many city meetings are noticed these days as ‘special,’ which precludes even the requirement for the bulletin-board style 72-hours legal posting.

How else could Beverly Hills promote public engagement? We should link meeting agendas directly from the city’s online calendar. Today, inexplicably, the stakeholder must dig though website menus to find the appropriate committee or commission and then hunt down the agenda. We should link the relevant supporting material to those agendas. Few agendas link to the staff reports today, which means that relevant EIRs, staff reports, and consultant findings can only be accessed in person at a single location – the library. When it is open. Let’s call it Smart Agenda™.

Mum’s the Word on Cycling in Beverly Hills

City of Los Angeles goes a long way to making bike-related information available. The city established a standalone Bicycle Services site with much information about routes, transit, safety, and parking. The city’s DOT has also established a Bike Blog to document the city’s ongoing efforts to lay down facilities, racks and bike rack corrals. Los Angeles is a big city, but the story here is not about size but culture change: after persistent, even relentless criticism, the LA ship of state is slowly turning, and they’re putting their best face forward to the public on the web.

Santa Monica is a much smaller city (double the population of Beverly Hills) but they’re punching well above their weight when it comes to sharing information. The small city’s Active Living bike portal for example covers the same bases and is notable for framing cycling as a fitness & lifestyle choice and generally encouraging folks to get on a bike.

Not so Beverly Hills. The city has yet to post an item – a single item – on riding skills, cycling resources, road safety, or even our own local laws. Our municipal code still requires bike registration (there is no such thing in California anymore) and outlaws riding on sidewalks in commercial areas without clearly defining what that means. (Good luck trying to parse ‘commercial’ from the muni code; our Transportation website doesn’t tell you anything either.)

We’ve been on this job for two years haven’t made a dent in the city’s disinclination to share safety tips or encourage safe cycling. The city won’t tell you, for example, that it’s legal to occupy the whole right-hand lane of ‘substandard’ with (<14-feet and/or insufficiently wide to share with a bus, say). Or that you may use any lane if you’re flowing with the motor traffic. We tell you on our Laws and Ordinances pages. But then we’ve got nothing to hide and we wear our agenda on our sleeve: we want you to ride, to enjoy riding, and to arrive safely.

Now only if City Hall would lift a finger to communicate with stakeholders on any significant policy issue besides the battle with Metro….

Traffic & Parking Commission Recommends Pilot Routes

Traffic and Parking Commission May 9th 2012

Traffic and Parking Commission deliberates over the five Pilot program bike routes.

Last week the Traffic & Parking Commission took public comment about the five corridors identified by the Bike Plan Update Committee for potential bike-friendly improvements. Today the full Commission met in special session to determine the committee’s recommendation to City Council. The good news: The 3-2 split Traffic & Parking Commission recommended three corridors for possible bike-friendly improvements. The bad news: the commission declined to recommend the two most congested routes, Beverly and Charleville, and the majority expressed concerns with even the three routes that they did recommend. Let’s recap this important advisory vote.

After a brief introduction by Transportation planner Martha Eros and a feasibility study presentation by Fehr & Peers engineer Sarah Brandenburg, the Commission turned the hearing over to public comment. Sixteen members of the public addressed the Commission (about two-thirds being residents) about the proposal for possibly improving Beverly and Crescent drives (north-south), Charleville and Carmelita (east-west), and a late add-on, Burton Way. On balance, eleven spoke generally or specifically in support of the Bike Route Pilot program.

Public Comment

  • Alexis Lantz, Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, bicycled across town from Silver Lake to hail the effort and to recommend that the city reconsider bicycle boulevards, roundabouts, and other traffic-calming measures not addressed here but that make city streets safer. (Full disclosure: Better Bike is a LACBC affiliate member organization, but we’d agree regardless!)
  • West Hollywood Transportation Commission member David Eichman praised the Beverly Hills effort as he spoke to support regional connectivity. He stressed the need for cooperation in “creating more safe bicycle routes” across the Westside and added, “We’re excited that you’re looking at making Beverly Hills bike-friendly, and a Carmelita route would pick up where West Hollywood lanes leave off.”
  • A north side resident urged the commission not to approve any routes because “they are very unsafe and are a threat to our property values” and would slow traffic. “A lane [sic] on Carmelita would create an unforeseen hazard at our driveway and invite outside people to use our private areas.” (Note: only sharrows were proposed for Carmelita.)
  • Another north side resident said that “parking traffic” spillover from the business triangle offices and a nearby church was a nuisance on Carmelita, and that tour bus traffic and motorists created “unsafe and dangerous” conditions as she pulled out of her driveway. “We moved here to be in a residential neighborhood, not a 24-7 bike route,” she added.
  • One north side resident said he “totally rejects all of these routes and disagrees with the findings,” calling school-related congestion at Rexford & Carmelita “dangerous” and said that sharrows on Carmelita would invite out-of-towners, cause accidents, and precipitate litigation against the city because cyclists don’t obey stop signs. “People would suffer a major loss of our property values,” he said.
  • A south side resident said that she liked Beverly Hills because “you can do errands by bike, but it’s terrifying.” Commenting on an earlier remark, she added, “Instead of concern for property values, I’d think they would want an environment that is safer where they could bike with their children and parents.” [Zing!]
  • One resident rejected property values as a criterion but bemoaned the “arrogance and self-entitlement” of cyclists. Saying he’d been “flipped off,” he concluded, “There’s no reason to provide these people with that attitude with bike routes.”
  • A south side resident said, “I live and work here and represent a community that doesn’t own a car, so [to us] bike-friendly is important.” Conceding that she herself was not an experienced rider, she said that she rode her bike to this hearing but called the experience “scary” and praised the Crescent route (though preferring a bike lane over sharrows) and added, “I don’t get why it turns down [Reeves] but that’s cool.”
  • A north side resident identified Crescent between Santa Monica and Sunset as “the most heavily-traveled corridor to and from the Valley” but objected to a bike route. “This is not a commercial district or mixed-use but a resident neighborhood already taxed with traffic – and we pay our taxes.”
  • A West Hollywood resident cautioned that he does stop at stop signs when he bikes to work in Beverly Hills but said that many do not. “Outreach and education for cyclists and motorists is important” and sharrows merely communicate to riders and drivers “what’s already in state law,” he said. He added, roads are made for all road users regardless of mode of travel and cited a study that showed property values actually increased with proximity to bike lanes.
  • One north side resident said he was “interested in bike lanes” for north Crescent and Beverly drives as an avid rider. Some drivers treat Beverly as a 4-lane thoroughfare, he said, so calming traffic and tamping down motorist misbehavior was a good idea. “Bike lanes there might take space out of the road.” Carmelita, however, was “unnecessary” given the light overall traffic there.
  • Another north side resident said she “won’t ride a bike but I’m for bike routes.” But she argued for a “reduced scope” for the Pilot, adding that north Beverly Drive traffic is too fast and tourists already detract from the beauty of the neighborhood. (“Reduced scope” was not described further.)
  • South side resident who “fully support bike lanes” said that cycle commuting was growing in popularity and she herself had experienced bike accidents when her business partner and cousin “were hit by cars.” She said lanes would encourage kids to bike, so “why can’t we create safe conditions for them?”
  • South side resident and self-proclaimed avid cyclist who understood the concern said that people will take their own route from A-to-B but that he prefers bike lanes particularly for routes “connecting through town.” He suggested we create lanes to join existing West Hollywood lanes with those in Century City.
  • One non-resident lamented what he heard to be a “bicycle witch hunt” and said that he finds the streets here to be inhospitable to cyclists in his decade riding here. “I’m a stopper, he said, asking, “Why Charleville? There are stop signs every 100 feet and many cyclists don’t stop. To cross town I’ll drop down Doheney to Olympic.”

Commissioners Jeff Levine, Alan Grushcow, Lester Friedman, Andy Licht, and Julie Steinberg (Chair) listened very attentively. (That’s the virtue of a small city.) With public comment wrapped up, we were off to the races!

Commission Deliberation

Commissioner Levine, from the Bike Plan Update Committee, started off with a brief overview of the Pilot process and noted that “many hours of work” went into it. “Unless there is some reason otherwise,” he said, “I believe that we should recommend as many routes as possible.” Commissioner Grushcow (the other commissioner from the committee) reminded the commission that City Council had already identified bike-friendly improvements as a priority. He then called bike-friendly improvements a “win-win” for the community and added:

It is 2012 and bikes are part of the discussion. Every single community is putting together studies – the City of Los Angeles has been for years now. We can’t avoid it. There is concern, support, even fear, but it has to be addressed because it’s on the table in every community. It is not about ‘the bikers’ or the drivers but it is about everybody, and we have to get along.

But the balance of the commission was not entirely persuaded, and by a 3-2 vote the split commission declined to recommend the five routes as a package. Before taking them individually, the commissioners expressed concerns about safety and effectiveness.

Safety

Commissioner Lester Friedman sparked the discussion by focusing on rider behavior. “The speakers indicated a lack of [cyclist] observance of stop signs. Would bike lanes or sharrows increase or decrease the likelihood of stopping?” Consultant Sarah Brandenburg replied that sharrows do increase the margin of safety because motorists are alerted to the presence of cyclists, and added that enforcement was one of the “three Es” (along with engineering and education) that the city should consider.

Chair Steinberg said she too was concerned about safety, and traffic flow. Without enforcement, she said, “we’ll be a place where people run stop signs.” And speaking of Carmelita Drive in particular, she noted that cyclists already cause motorists to “stack up” at the intersections and thus impede traffic flow. “[As Chair] I already get calls saying, ‘I almost hit a bicycle.’I would be assuaged if the bike community would stop at stop signs.”

Commissioner Friedman also wondered whether sharrows (the facility suitable for 70 of 80 route segments analyzed) give a “false sense of security” to cyclists who shouldn’t feel so secure on our congested streets. Wouldn’t cyclists actually be more cautious without them?

Commissioner Levine replied that no, sharrows didn’t detract from safety but rather “increase driver awareness and make each [road user] sensitive to the others.” Commissioner Grushcow agreed: “Sharrows help people to feel safe and they help to educate the community.” There was no real discussion of bike lanes, though Chair Steinberg did concede that as a driver she’s more alert to the presence of cyclists when lanes are nearby, as they are in West Hollywood for example.

Workability

When the discussion focused on South Beverly and Charleville, commissioners moved from the theoretical to the practical. They expressed the concern that any bike facility would negatively impact traffic.

Commissioner Friedman called Charleville “an absolute mess” and said that sharrows would only compound the problem. “Drivers will be driving in the center of the road” to avoid the sharrows, he said, and Commissioner Licht seconded that. “Charleville is narrow and it will get more narrow.” He then said that his kids are more aware of traffic without that false sense of security and choose to ride on the sidewalk. (Note: sidewalk riding in Beverly Hills is not legal.) Commissioner Licht then said flatly that there isn’t room for bike facilities on a street like Charleville – or indeed many others. “What streets have room for bike lanes? Certain streets weren’t designed for sharrows and bike lanes.”

He then asked whether cyclists wouldn’t ride if there were sharrows or not. Following that line of reasoning, Chair Steinberg questioned the demand for bike facilities. “I don’t think that there’s a huge number of bicycle riders [though] we do have a lot of cars.” Commissioner Friedman then got right to the zero-sum argument: “I’m torn on this because the majority are motorists and there are not that many cyclists,” he said. “Are we giving more to the minority and taking away from the majority?”

Reflecting on the commissioners’ concern about sharrows on Charleville, Commissioner Grushcow, who lives on the south side of town, commented:

I’m in shock. I live in the world of narrow streets and it’s families and bike riders every day, and they’re not really impeding traffic. In that area they need bike routes and a choice [of transportation]. In the beginning I had the same concerns, but I’ve worked my way through this. We, as a community, have to adjust our driving and our thinking.

He waved it off Commissioner Friedman’s suggestion that sharrows were “a new experience” for motorists. “Everyone who drives here drives in other communities and drives over sharrows in those communities. They’re out there. People will accommodate.” He added that sharrows “fits into our [Pilot] strategy, our testing, and our ability to give everyone the heads-up – that the road is a shared resource and everyone has to use it with common courtesy.” Commissioner Grushcow offered the most clear and specific support for bike-friendly improvements of the evening.

How They Voted

The Commissioners first voted not to recommend all five routes as a package and then split on the routes individually. Only commissioners Levine and Grushcow – the two commissioners who attended the community meetings with cyclists – voted to recommend all of the routes. The tally:

Burton Carmelita Crescent Beverly Charleville
Levine Y Y Y Y Y
Grushcow Y Y Y Y Y
Steinberg Y Y N N N
Licht Y Y N N N
Friedman Y N Y N N

Our Take

Burton Way and Carmelita sailed through. Burton is sufficiently wide and runs through a multifamily area. And because the boundary with City of Los Angeles is staggered on that corridor, there’s not much mileage actually in Beverly Hills (good from the city’s perspective). Hooking up with Los Angeles future improvements there is a no-brainer. (Burton passed the commission by a 5-0 vote.)

Carmelita is relatively wide curb-to-curb and low traffic volume there means sharrows are not a challenge to implement. And in light of residents concerns, it turns out that no homes actually front on the boulevard anyway. (Carmelita got the nod on a 4-1 vote.)

But at this point, Chair Julie Steinberg began to express reservations. “I’m in favor, but how many bicycles will use these routes?” she asked. Crescent Drive highlighted the commission’s split: it squeaked by on a 3-2 vote, but both Beverly and Charleville fell on a solid bloc of ‘no’ votes from the three-member commission majority.

Commissioners Levine and Grushcow cited various reasons to support all five routes, including maintaining competitive advantage relative to other cities (Levine) and the need to recognize that planning for cycling is not only timely but unavoidable (Grushcow).

Their support was a surprise because we had no clear idea where they stood on safety issues related to cycling, and frankly we at Better Bike expected the worst. But we couldn’t have been more wrong; they came out strongly for cyclists even as the other commissioners in the three-member majority – Lester Friedman, Andy Licht, and Chair Julie Steinberg – refused to recommend routes that most affect cyclists. In fact, their comments most reflected the motorist perspective and didn’t particularly express concern for the experience of cyclists on our busy streets.

The split commission suggests the work that lies ahead for cycling advocates before City Council hears the Pilot routes (likely in late-June). Note that the Council is not bound by this recommendation (though the commission plays an important advisory role). At that time we will hear finally, and without ambiguity, which way the active transportation winds blow in Beverly Hills, so we should heed the suggestion of this early breeze and prepare accordingly. Read our recap of the process that got us here! And read more about the Pilot and our analysis of the feasibility study.

Proposed Business Retention Agreement Includes PE Right of Way Condition

Aside

Better Bike scrutinizes most Beverly Hills agendas, and a condition in a 15-year ‘business retention” agreement with a big Hollywood talent Agency (UTA) caught our notice: “…rezoning [former Pacific Electric right-of-way] shall be consistent with…provisions of the General Plan.” That ties the city’s hands should we want to zone it for, say, active transportation uses. It doesn’t belong in this agreement.

City Council Study Session: Complete Streets Mentioned

Visualization of a bike lane and active transportation corridor on Santa Monica Boulevard

An update following today’s City Council’s April 17th Study Session. In our earlier review of the draft request for proposals (RFP) for the Santa Monica Boulevard conceptual design, we noted that RFP language seemed to slight the bike lanes option. We also noted that it presumed community opposition to boulevard expansion for lanes, and we also observed that the draft RFP failed to include Complete Streets principles. We argued that because the RFP establishes bidder expectations, it’s important to craft it carefully. Councilmembers agreed and sent it back for revisions. Here’s the recap. In presenting the draft RFP, Transportation Deputy Aaron Kunz was quite neutral on bike lanes – somewhat in contrast to the RFP that discounted lanes among “enhancement options” … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

Traffic & Parking Commission Regular Meeting

Garage commemorative plaque

Better Bike dropped in on the Traffic & Parking Commission last week for an update on how the city will promote the upcoming Bike Routes Pilot meetings this month (meeting first next Wednesday and then on April 25th). While we couldn’t stay long enough for the bike update (often it’s pushed to the end of the meeting) we did learn a thing or two about bike collisions: four bicycle injury collisions have been reported in January, with four more following in February, according to Commission Chair Julie Steinberg. That’s too much for our comfort. Attending a Traffic & Parking Commission meeting can try the patience, but sometimes little gems come of it. Like the revelation that the city pays upwards of … Continue reading

Beverly Hills Mobile Apps Review

Visit Beverly Hills iPhone App

Beverly Hills has been working on an online map of the city’s bike racks for the past six months (update: it never happened) and promises to include rack locations in the city’s mobile apps. While we see 19 parking garages (!) enumerated in the new Mobile Beverly Hills iPhone app, we’re still waiting on those bike rack locations. In the meantime, let’s catch up with Mobile Beverly Hills to see what it’s all about. Every day we see legions of visitors come to Beverly Hills with phones in hand, photographing our landmarks and perhaps even scouting for that paparazzi opportunity. These are probably folks more comfortable with a phone than they are thumbing through a traditional travel guide, so a … Continue reading