Lend Your Voice to the Beverly Hills Complete Streets Plan

Several years ago Metro added a condition to the transportation grants the deep-pocketed agency makes to localities: money is contingent on a Metro-approved complete streets mobility plan in place at the local level. Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan won’t cut it, so City of Beverly Hills city stepped away from a decade of talk about a plan update and instead chose to focus on a brand-new complete streets plan. That planning process is under way now. Mobility advocates please lend your voice!

We need you to participate in the Beverly Hills complete streets planning process by both taking the city’s online complete streets survey (tell our complete streets consultants about your mobility preferences!) and attending one of the city’s complete streets public events. The first workshop was held in mid-March (read my recap) and the next scheduled event is Earth Day on Sunday, April 15th at the Farmers Market. Check the city’s complete streets website for more upcoming events.

Some Backstory on the Complete Streets Plan

So Beverly Hills has embarked on a complete streets plan process. Why now? The city kept an outdated bike plan on the books for four decades and made no other multimodal concessions aside from a few bike lane segments. Then the city heard that regional transportation agency Metro requires localities to have an approved complete streets plan if a local agency wants to tap Metro grant money. The city will receive not one but two Purple Line metro stations, so the city saw the light: adopt a complete streets plan or do without Metro’s pot of grant-funding gold.

Metro may be best known here for sparking the heated debate about a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School, but there can be no debate that Metro is the good guy when it comes to multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills: the agency forced the city’s hand where we bike types failed.

Multimodal advocates have dogged City Hall for years about safe streets  (and specifically the lack of safe facilities for those who ride a bike) but we were out in the cold. At least until found strong support among three councilmembers: Lili Bosse, John Mirisch, and Bob Wunderlich (now in office just a year). Bosse, in fact, was committed to multimodal back in 2016 when she forged (bare) Council consensus to make it a Council ‘A’ priority. The following year she garnered City Council support for a complete streets plan (her first official action as Mayor). And notably those three councilmembers supported a bright green high-viz bicycle lane for Santa Monica Boulevard too!

In the end Council support was unanimous, and last year the city selected Iteris engineering as lead consultant on the complete streets plan. It was backed by Nelson Nygaard and Alta Planning as subcontractors. Theirs wasn’t the most imaginative proposal, but the team is experienced and Alta has some bike plan bona fides. If this plan fails it is because we-the-people didn’t step up to make it our priority. Indeed the plan and the implementation program will be less the measure of our consultants than a reflection of our city’s commitment to the principle of complete streets: the ‘complete’ street is one that is safe and accessible for every road user regardless of age, ability or travel mode.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one reflected the disrepair of Santa Monica boulevard as well as the city’s disregard for cyclist safety on that corridor.

Will the final plan be a leading-edge example of multimodal planning? Time will tell, but don’t sit this one out. We’ve come this far, over too long a time, against too much city-side opposition, to simply leave it up to staff and consultants to shape a draft plan for Council consideration this fall.


Interesting side story.

Caltrans, the state transportation agency, handed to City of Beverly Hills control over North Santa Monica Boulevard back in 2005. The boulevard was a shambles, so Caltrans forked over about $5M for repairs. Beverly Hills sat on that project for nearly ten years as bicycle riders endured clearly unsafe conditions. When it came time for a top-to-bottom reconstruction the city eschewed any outside money for the estimated $13 million job. Why? The city wanted no conditions attached to that money; the city didn’t want Caltrans or the Federal DOT requiring bicycle lanes or other complete streets design features.

Well when the city did finally reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard (wrapping up this June) it will have a bicycle lane; and it will have high-visibility crosswalks. Because the city belatedly acknowledged that such features on a corridor like Santa Monica are required for bike and pedestrian safety.. They needed only glance at crash data to understand. Thing is the city was left holding the bag when the cost projections for Santa Monica reconstruction soared to $24 million and we could tap not a dime of outside money for it.

City Hall made no such mistake when it comes to Metro’s Measure E pot of grant-money gold. Transportation officials here may continue to view mobility exclusively through the windshield (they never did recommend bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard even though we got the lanes anyway) but they know a pot of grant money when they see one. With two Metro stations coming to the city we needed a complete streets plan post-haste.

Complete Streets workshop #1 Recap

Complete streets workshop #1 flyerThe first Beverly Hills complete streets process community workshop was held on Monday, March 12th, to kick off the drafting of the city’s complete streets plan. This is the first step in the creation of a complete streets plan. More workshops and city meetings will follow, but this event suggested that Beverly Hills is ready for complete streets. Here’s my recap.

Complete Streets workshop #1 overviewJohn Lower, Associate Vice President of Iteris, the consultant to the city that secured the complete streets project, opened with an overview of complete streets principles: improved street accessibility regardless of age or ability; infrastructure upgrades to improve safety and efficiency for all users; and the opportunity to employ new technologies to improve mobility safety and efficiency. Technology is playing a key role in this process because mobility options like bikeshare and Bird scooters are becoming popular and City Hall is warming to autonomous vehicles (perhaps for a citywide taxi system as championed by Councilmember John Mirisch).

Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation was somewhat dry; it was also light on vision. Which is unfortunate because a complete streets planning process encourages people to imagine what urban mobility could look like: high-visibility and/or protected bicycle lanes, world-class crosswalks, road diets to calm traffic, and policies to encourage active modes of mobility over auto use. Complete streets principles are best illustrated with before and after imagery, but Mr. Lower’s presentation was heavy on schematics and tables that are difficult to read in a large room. It was a presentation shackled to today when what we want stakeholders to do is to image tomorrow.

Still, Mr. Lower only had to set the stage for the main event: the roundtable breakout groups. (For more information on complete streets see the consultants December PowerPoint.)

Complete Streets workshop #1 postersLydia Kenselaar, a planner with an Iteris subcontractor, Alta Planning, then took the mic to suggest participants identify values and goals that should guide the planning process. She then suggested strategies to inform the draft complete streets plan. But she was asking us to imagine tomorrow’s ways of moving about the city without visual cues. And if one doesn’t know about the variety of measures that contribute to a complete street, one can only recall places like Europe (and Santa Monica!) to inform some recommendations. My table did draw on examples elsewhere and no one referenced the content of Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation.

Roundtables

Each roundtable included 6-8 participants and was facilitated by a consultant’s staffer. Around the tables hovered city staffers, Traffic and Parking commissioners and, notably, public safety representatives. Also attending were councilmembers Bob Wunderlich and John Mirisch (both multimodal mobility supporters). My table was fairly representative of the entire room of about forty stakeholders: aged about fifty, on average.

Complete Streets workshop #1 breakout tableThe breakout tables were charged with identifying guiding values and goals in about 45 minutes. The exercise would feel familiar to those who have perhaps participated in the drafting of local plans: the urge to participate; round table with a poster to mark-up; some spirited conversation and a group member ultimately chosen to present the table’s ideas to the room. Then other tables follow suit, followed by a wrap-up statement. Everyone goes home and feels good about the process.

My table showed some collective interest to move beyond auto-era problems and into a future where mobility is safe, efficient and (for lack of a better term) ‘modern.’ As one of my tablemates said, “We want people to feel good about how they pass through the city.” That seemed to sum up the spirit at the table.Complete Streets workshop #1 my table

Breakout Tables

I’m not sure if my table was representative, but over the next 45 minutes my tablemates Melody, Kathy, Tom, Giada, Susan and (Traffic commissioner Pam Hendry) talked only briefly about goals. Issued included:

  • Crosswalks are dangerous (“I need to wear a reflective vest to feel safe”);
  • Few areas feel safe to ride a bicycle so we can’t reduce our car use;
  • Motorized bicycles present a safety issue to pedestrians;
  • Inaccurate maps and Waze-like apps prompt drivers to make unlawful turns; and,
  • Hotel black cars and limos hog meters south of Wilshire and disabled residents can’t park.

Complete Streets workshop #1 tabletopWe then moved quickly on to fixes. Recommendations made at my table included:

  • Busy commercial streets need a bicycle lane and better to place it between the curb and parked cars;
  • Create pedestrian-only streets or areas safe and enjoyable to walk;
  • Schools should be connected by bike routes to encourage bike-to-school;
  • Relocate 720 Metro bus service from North to South Santa Monica Blvd;
  • “De-prioritize vehicular traffic” on Beverly Drive and and add a bicycle lane;
  • Protect bicycle paths: paint is not sufficient (“in Europe they are raised to a different level from the street”);
  • Designate priority bike routes for a citywide bicycle network (like Berkeley) perhaps Charleville, Gregory and Carmelita;
  • Create a ‘flyover’ to allow riders and pedestrians to rise above busy, problem intersections like Wilshire-Santa Monica.

When breakout tables convened for the summation the top recommendations by table were

Table 1: Improve the quality-of-life, implement measures with a positive environmental impact, and reduce auto traffic though transit use.
Table 2: Reduce pass-through traffic & neighborhood spillover, improve pedestrian safety, and address driver aggression.
Table 3: Improve safety, improve the quality-of-life, and install bike lanes & facilities to make mobility more efficient.
Table 4: Improve safety & reduce collisions, improve quality-of-life (restore a ‘village’ atmosphere), and make on-street mobility improvements.
Table 5: Improve safety, better the environment by reducing auto traffic (via ‘active mobility amenities’), invest in ‘smart’ technology lighting & signals.
Table 6: Improve safety via protected bicycle lanes, calm traffic, and create more pedestrian areas incl. South Beverly. (Note: I was not a very active participant at my table #6 and these recommendations were suggested solely by my tablemates.)

Other suggestions included: make the business triangle pedestrian-only (which recalls one City Council candidate’s call to close Rodeo Drive to vehicles); separate pedestrians from traffic at the busiest intersections using flyovers; make city data public (which I suggested along with table #4); and implement a ‘vision zero’ program to reduce traffic crashes by improving the design of streets. There was something for everyone unless you are an Auto Club booster!

Wrapping Up

City Transportation deputy director Aaron Kunz brought the proceedings to a close quickly by commenting on the “great turnout” and noting the timeline for the complete streets plan process. It should conclude with a draft plan by early fall and be in the hands of City Council for a final vote by October. Of course it’s a long way from this workshop to a final plan. In the meantime there will be more workshops, online survey responses, monthly Traffic and Parking Commission meetings for additional public comments (first Thursdays), and one or more City Council meetings.

Was it worth attending? This kind of pro-forma community input event (‘workshop’) suffers from familiar shortcomings: an informational presentation that is not so informative; too little time to really talk in depth about the issues; table facilitators who may not be very experienced; and a volume of public input can seem overwhelming unless a wrap-up facilitator can properly organize it into a coherent framework. Without an experienced facilitator the tables produce a laundry list of proposals that may or may not survive the event. But in the end we have no choice to attend – and to press our electeds and officials through other channels too so that our streets become safe and more accessible (i.e., ‘complete’).

My Take-Away

There were a few things I took away from this workshop that I didn’t expect that suggest Beverly Hills may have turned the corner on mobility.

Most astonishing was the sense that Beverly Hills has collectively turned the chapter on auto-era mobility. Nobody suggested the city should expand a road or otherwise seek to make driving more convenient. Nobody spoke up for drivers period. No bike advocate needed to lead the discussion to focus on measures that support active mobility because the room was already there.

Safety was the prevailing value. Of the six tables presenting, five cited safety as a top value or put safety at the center of the short-list of recommendations. That is truly remarkable considering that city officials never mention the increasing toll of crashes or suggest the need for a policy to address what residents have long complained about: feeling unsafe on city streets.

No business owner showed up to defend curbside parking or call for an expansion of curb parking. Yet that is what’s on City Council’s April 10th agenda: a plea from South Santa Monica businesses to expand curbside parking on the street once Santa Monica Boulevard construction is complete. No champion spoke up tonight for a proposal that would short-circuit the complete streets process by changing the function of that street in advance of a plan (which is supported by city staff).

NIMBYs stayed home. The not-in-my-backyard crowd has long exerted undue influence over city policymaking. That was evidenced in caricature fashion when northside residents turned out two years ago to try to tank SM Blvd bicycle lanes. Though recommended by the federal and state DOTs for improved safety for riders, and though championed by 100+ pro-lane speakers at City Council, those naysayers nearly carried the day. None showed up tonight.

Perhaps most significantly, there was no sense that complete streets is a zero-sum endeavor. New mobility measures need not come at the cost of any particular road user (for example motorists). Instead there seemed to be acknowledgement that mobility could be both safer and more efficient.

Complete Streets workshop #1 empty bike racksThe zero-sum argument (drivers vs. everyone else) has been trotted out again and again across the Southland to stymie efforts to improve street safety but tonight it carried no weight in this first complete streets community workshop.

The the next workshop I’m hoping that we’ll have more bike-minded attendees. Not too many showed up (notwithstanding the number of recommendations for pro-bike infrastructure). Witness the City Hall bike parking area. We need to see a few more bikes here next time!

Mark Your Calendar: Complete Streets Workshop #1

Better Bike invites you to attend the Beverly Hills complete streets visioning workshop tonight, Monday, March 12th at 6:30pm. This event kicks-off a planning process for which our alternative mobility community has long waited: the preparation of an actual complete streets plan 40 years after the city adopted our first, and only, Bicycle Master Plan.

Complete streets workshop #1 flyer
Finally the city is getting into gear! Tonight’s workshop is a high-level exercise where planning consultants Iteris and Alta will invite your ideas for safer streets in Beverly Hills. It is intended to inform the process with our values and goals looking ahead to a final complete streets plan. (Two subsequent workshops will drill down to the details, such as key nodes and priority projects.) “The workshop will include a variety of interactive stations, table top exercises and visual presentations,” says the city’s press release.

City of Beverly Hills lags behind many localities in the Southland (and indeed all of our Westside subregion peers) for having taken no significant step to make our streets safe and accessible regardless of mode, age or ability. Four decades ago (in 1977!) the city adopted the bicycle master plan. It was the height of the American bicycle renaissance and that plan recommended a citywide network of bike routes to connect parks and schools. But that plan simply sat on a shelf ever since, a red-headed stepchild among city plans.

We need to hear from you because the city still evidently does not consider street safety a guiding value: there was no such direction provided to bidding consultants, and, even today, when city staff talk about this process, they never frame it as a safety effort foremost.

This workshop is our opportunity to inform our values about street safety and mobility policy. I welcome your attendance at this workshop and two subsequent workshops. Can’t make it? Then at least respond to the city’s complete streets survey. Tell our consultants and policymakers that we need streets that are accessible to all road users.

I welcome you to keep in touch with Better Bike. Any concerns suggestions for this process you can bring to me and I will take them forward.

Later this spring look forward to the opening of Santa Monica Boulevard’s new high-visibility bicycle lanes. That was another hard-won battle that suggests the corner may have been turned when it comes to multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What?

MayorChallengeSignUpEarlier this year, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged American localities to make travel safer for bicycle riders and pedestrians. In March he invited US mayors to sign on, and Beverly Hills accepted the challenge back in February. But we’ve heard nothing from City Hall about it since then. Is our city doing anything to meet the Mayors’ Challenge for bike-friendly streets? Continue reading