My gosh, are we still campaigning for bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard? On Tuesday, City Council again discusses Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project (which kicked off in January of 2010!) to provide direction on boulevard options and design. At the top of the agenda is the question of whether or not to expand the boulevard the few feet. Will councilmembers ensure we have the width necessary for bicycle lanes? Will Council even say that lanes should be included in this project?
When Beverly Hills City Council last discussed Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction this past January, it kicked the can down the road where bicycle lanes is concerned: the decision was simply deferred to the later design phase. Attribute it to political friction. The boulevard would need to be expanded to about 63′ in order to accommodate Class II bicycle lanes (the state-recommended width is a minimum of 5′).
But bicycle lane opponents opposed giving up ground beyond the north curb face in order to accommodate lanes. Evidently they’re still chafing at a decades-old proposal to add two additional traffic lanes to the corridor. But really it seems they don’t want bicycle lanes on the boulevard at all.
But supporters wanted to find the few extra feet necessary so that lanes wouldn’t be forever precluded, so in January we suggested a land swap: add one foot of grass to Beverly Gardens park on the north side between Canon and Doheny in exchange for an additional two feet of boulevard width along the shorter stretch between Canon and Wilshire. That would allow a uniform 63′ wide boulevard for bicycle lanes yet result in no net loss of park land.
We called it the ‘Beverly Hills Greenway,’ and the concept gained traction in the media (and among the public) because it made sense. Indeed, supporters packed Council chambers, and, in written comments along with advocacy organizations and neighboring cities’ officials, urged Council to stand behind it. Here’s what it looked like:
But our Greenway concept put councilmembers in a tough spot: should they choose multimodal mobility for the corridor or cave to bicycle lane opponents – the folks who cried “not one blade of grass lost!”?*
“We Found that Few Feet After All”
No doubt after some diligent study, consultant Psomas found room to tinker after more than a year of insisting that there was no room to expand the boulevard to the south. As summarized in a notice to stakeholders:
At the January 6, 2015 Study Session, Council directed staff to return to City Council at 50% project design with recommendations to widen the roadway on the south side in the 60-foot section between Wilshire and Canon Drive up to 3 feet and/or configuring the lane widths to potentially accommodate multi-modal uses (vehicles, buses and bicycles). The design team is prepared to proceed with designing a 62’-4” roadway in this section pending City Council’s direction. As a comparison, the existing roadway between Doheny Drive and Canon Drive is currently 63 feet. – Study session emailed notice
As summarized by the staff report, this Tuesday afternoon City Council will decide whether or not to expand the boulevard by that extra couple of feet. It is important that we take this step now rather than to lock in a future corridor too narrow for bicycle lanes. You can let City Council know that you support a wider boulevard.
Where Will the Additional Room for Boulevard Expansion Come From?
Why the change of heart? And where will this extra space come from? Let’s take a look at the situation.
The entirety of the North Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project corridor stretches from Wilshire to Doheny, but the section we’re concerned about here stretches from Wilshire to Canon – about seven blocks where boulevard width is only 60.’ It is too narrow to fit four travel lanes plus a median and dual bicycle lanes. See this segment map:
While councilmember Nancy Krasne long urged the city to look for space beyond the south curb, our consultant Psomas thought it impractical. Bicycle lane supporters seemed to agree.
Said Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, just an additional 2 feet 4 inches would allow for a 63′ wide roadway that “can accommodate 4’6″ bicycle lanes.” While state law requires five-foot bicycle lanes (a 4’6″ lane would be considered substandard), deviations are allowed with permission from the state DOT. How would it work in practice? We would put the bicycle lane up against five parking garages west of Canon.
Check out our animated graphic to see how a a bit of space might accommodate a bicycle lane:
Placing a bicycle lane so close to the parking garages may not be ideal, but practically speaking this half-loaf of bread is better than having no bread at all. We will be in Council chambers this Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to support the expansion of Santa Monica Boulevard to accommodate bicycle lanes. (Consult the agenda.)
But A Wide Boulevard Alone Won’t Ensure That We have Bicycle Lanes!
Even with the necessary width now available, safe passage along this key regional route depends on installing a bicycle lane too. This is a designated truck route, and multiple bus lines ply it daily. Not least, North Santa Monica accommodates an average 50,000 autos on any given weekday. It is critical that Santa Monica be reconstructed with bicycle lanes to ensure the safety of bicycle travelers on this busy corridor.
Yet bicycle lanes on Santa Monica is hardly a fait accomplis. City Council may well choose to expand the boulevard but instead of striping lanes the city may simply create extra-wide 15′ right-hand lanes. Make no mistake: this approach has nothing to do with rider safety but everything to do with getting riders out of the motorists’ way. That’s because under state law a ‘substandard’ width lane (accepted as less than 15′ wide) would allow riders to claim the entire right-hand lane. And that makes City Hall nervous for it may slow motor traffic.
What are the odds that Beverly Hills will put the brakes on bicycle lanes? We think the odds are good that the City Council will direct our consultants not to stripe bicycle lanes. After seeing the staff report for the Tuesday meeting we’re confident. Why? The report makes only one passing reference to bicycle lanes. And it adds a caveat: “if desired.” When 15′ lanes were last discussed back in January of 2014 during the Blue Ribbon Committee process, staff proposed that bicycle lanes be left out.
Why create the conditions for lanes but not stripe them? We heard no good argument to support the choice then, and it makes no sense now. According to federal transportation policy guidance, an extra-wide right lane without a separate bike facility is not safe and US DOT advises against it.
Second, the staff report talks a lot about design choices like medians and landscaping, but in illustrating the various options it never depicts a bicycle lane on the boulevard (at right). To put a fine point on it, one illustration depicts garage landscaping exactly where a bicycle lane would go.
One doesn’t need a crystal ball to foretell the future: City Council wants no bicycle lane on Santa Monica boulevard. Indeed we have no ‘complete streets’ principles or such language in any of our city plans. But If we don’t stripe bicycle lanes now, we surely won’t be striping them later – perhaps not for another decade or generation.
If you want to advocate for striping bicycle lanes as part of the reconstruction project you can join us this Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. for the City Council study session. Or contact City Council and make known your interest in safe streets in Beverly Hills.
What About Ensuring Rider Safety During Construction?
That is another reason to contact City Council: it should not turn its back on rider safety during the lengthy construction phase. Yet from the mitigation discussions to date in the Traffic and Parking Commission, which focused exclusively on resident inconvenience, it appears that in City Hall is not much concerned with riders.
State DOT is concerned, and it identifies “considerations in planning for bicyclists in temporary traffic control zones” in chapter 6 of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. These include:
- A travel route that replicates the most desirable characteristics of a wide paved shoulder or bikeway through or around the TTC zone is desirable for bicyclists.
- If the TTC zone interrupts the continuity of an existing bikeway system, signs directing bicyclists through or around the zone and back to the bikeway is desirable.
- Unless a separate bike path through or around the TTC zone is provided, adequate roadway lane width to allow bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side through or around the TTC zone is desirable. (6D.101CA Bicycle Considerations)
- When the roadway width is inadequate for allowing bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side, warning signs should be used to advise motorists of the presence of bicyclists in the travel way lanes.
We sent our own letter to the Traffic and Parking Commission to remind them. Have a look at this stretch of Santa Monica west of Wilshire (adjacent to the Waldorf Hotel construction site) to understand what it means to the rider navigating a construction zone. Motorists routinely travel this stretch at 50 mph yet there’s no opportunity for a rider to escape.
We’ve asked again and again since January: Can’t we at least see a single ‘may take full lane’ sign? But we’ve yet to receive a satisfactory answer from Aaron Kunz. “Our building department is evaluating your suggestions for bicycles during construction of the Waldorf,” he replied to our most recent query. “We’re also checking on applicable signage. Am hoping to get an update within the next couple of weeks.” That was the reply in January too!
With the mitigation discussion moving to City Council on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in City Council study session, have a look at the staff report and come prepared to comment!
*Turns out that “one blade of grass” slogan from bicycle lane opponents rings hollow. Given the drought, Beverly Hills is taking unprecedented measures to reduce the irrigation burden, which will likely mean a trim to many blades of grass at Beverly Gardens Park. And how’s this for irony: members of the same “not one blade of grass” community north of the Boulevard signed onto a campaign to get the city to remove forty – forty! – mature ficus trees from park-adjacent Park Way. Why? “They drop berries,” said the homeowner leading the effort. And the city agreed to create a tree replacement plan to cull forty mature ficus trees!
[This post has been updated to include material from the just-released staff report.]