Death Blow to SM Blvd Lanes Likely Tomorrow

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard buses allow little room for riders

On today’s Santa Monica Boulevard, riders are mere luncheon meat in a sandwich of big rigs and the curb.

Beverly Hills City Council will very likely deal the death blow tomorrow to hopes for striped bicycle lanes on the city’s section of Santa Monica Boulevard. Before Council is a recommendation developed by two council members to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard at its current, irregular width, which would preclude adding a striped bicycle lane for decades. Is the fix in? Only three councilmember votes are needed to give the go-ahead, so only one additional councilmember is needed to rubber-stamp this proposal. For those who support Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, this is likely the bitter end to a two-year campaign. And it could be a death blow to anybody who envisions a safe corridor for all road users.

The recommendation from the Council’s own Ad Hoc Committee (a two-member body comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and Vice Mayor Julian Gold councilmember Willie Brien includes two components: traffic mitigation alternatives that would reduce congestion during the construction phase; and a recommendation to reconstruct the boulevard at its current width. The prescription is made on page 3 of the staff report:

SM BLVD existing width text blurbThe mitigation alternatives are of no interest to us here, so let’s move on to the width issue.

The boulevard today ranges in width from 60 to 63 feet.* At its widest, on the eastern segment east of Beverly Blvd, a rider and driver can share the right lane comfortably (poor pavement conditions notwithstanding – sections rate only 3 out of 100 points on the ‘pavement condition index’). The boulevard in this section conforms to the state’s ‘standard’ lane width.

But the central segment of the corridor narrows to 60′ west of Canon Dr. which acts as a choke on efforts to ensure safe passage for those who ride a bicycle. If we can’t expand beyond the 60′ we can’t include bicycle lanes – or even provide a right-hand lane wide enough to share. It seemed that we were on the cusp of a real discussion about multimodal mobility in the Spring, but back then in a March meeting City Council punted on the boulevard’s future design.

You see, costs had ballooned and traffic mitigation plans were under-developed by a staff ill-equipped to serve Council properly. Yet at that time Council ill-served the larger community too: it sidestepped the work (and recommendations) of the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee, which had voted in January not only to expand the boulevard but also to stripe bicycle lanes. Council in March also waved away the twenty speakers who showed up at that meeting to support bicycle lanes. And almost without comment, councilmembers effectively dismissed the nearly 200 public comments (90% in favor of lanes) as the work of bike nuts or outsiders. (Disclosure: Better Bike was appointed by Mayor Bosse and participated in that process. Read our notes.)

Fast forward to today. We’re looking at a proposal ginned up in the intervening months by Mayor Bosse and Vice Mayor Gold councilmember Brien who together met as an ‘ad hoc’ committee to develop a recommendation (to be heard by Council in study session on December 2nd) not to expand the boulevard even a foot. Here’s why riders throughout Los Angeles should be alarmed.

More About the Recommendation to Keep to Today’s Boulevard Width

The recommendation before Council would keep at its current 60′ width a key section of Santa Monica Boulevard between the Wilshire-SM intersection and Canon Drive. That would preclude both the installation of bicycle lanes (someday) and even the safe sharing of the right lane (when reconstruction’s finished).

In the staff report there are two scenarios for that 60′ segment: either maintain today’s lane striping, which affords a few feet of space in the right-hand #2 lane – but only for the westbound rider; or else redistribute the lanes within that 60′ right-of-way to narrow the #2 lane to ‘substandard’ width in both directions.

Both of these options fail the safety test. Here’s option #1: maintain the same lane widths as today:

SM Blvd alignment proposed 60ft width as existingNote that the westbound #2 lane (at right) is 15′ overall, the ‘standard’ minimum and wide enough to share. But eastbound riders today use a lane too narrow to share with SUVs, trucks and buses, which creates an immediate hazard as the rider is forced to either marginalize herself near the curb or else command the entire lane to the disgust of impatient drivers. Reminder: state law is clear on the rider using the entire lane. But you won’t find a sign advising as much in Beverly Hills (much less a driver inclined to follow the vehicular code).

The other option is even worse: redistributing the lanes across the same 60′ width to deprive riders of a sharable lane in both directions:

SM Blvd alignment proposed 60ft width as restripedHere the problem is that 14′ wide #2 lanes will force drivers into lane #1 to pass a rider. The fact is that riders fear sharing narrow (or ‘substandard’) lanes because many drivers don’t give the requisite margin. And that discourages cycling. But the city sees another side: it would “have a negative effect on the capacity of the eastbound lanes,” according to the attached discussion:

SM BLVD 3ft discussion text blurbOf course the discussion says nothing about the safety of riders in such circumstances. (We expect nothing more from Beverly Hills.) The reality is that wedging riders into a narrow lane with drivers is a recipe for danger and inconvenience. It is for this reason that the Blue Ribbon Committee voted to incrementally expand the corridor and stripe bicycle lanes. Safety aside, making the right lane sharable would simply increase capacity. That seems to not have been persuasive with the two-member ad hoc committee.

Think about our options: one standard lane wide enough to share, or two substandard lanes that are hazardous to share. Put another way, what’s more beneficial to you as a rider: having a half-loaf of bread or no loaf at all? It is a trick question: under the state’s Complete Streets law this corridor should be incrementally expanded to make it safely accessible to all road users. We need not decide between a half-loaf and no loaf when it comes to road safety.

Bike Master Plan Bikeways system map (1976)

An ambitious 22-mile bikeways system for Beverly Hills in the Bicycle Master Plan (1977) shows how schools and parks should be linked by multimodal mobility facilities like bike lanes, paths and routes.

What makes the city’s proposed Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction traffic plan so outrageous is that the recommendation before City Council would not only preclude striped bicycle lanes on this major corridor for many decades; it would lock down the hazards that riders face today. It flies in the face of our own General Plan’s circulation element, which says nice things about multimodal mobility; it makes a mockery of our Sustainable City Plan, which urges residents and visitors to bike more often to reduce congestion; and of course it contravenes our Bicycle Master Plan, which dates to 1977 but is still on the books with an intelligent citywide bike network proposal that, yes, sees Santa Monica Boulevard as a key route.

Not least, Santa Monica Boulevard is no ordinary city street; it’s a regional backbone route with bicycle lanes already installed to the east and west. Can our city really proclaim itself ‘bike friendly’ if it merely recreates for tomorrow’s corridor the dangerous conditions faced by crosstown riders today?

Politics Rules

The lesson from this recommendation is that taking measures to increase road safety is simply not politically convenient for our City Council. Off the table is a 63′ option that’s already been proposed to remake the boulevard wide enough to accommodate riders with the necessary margin of safety (but not too wide to nibble much into the Beverly Gardens Park).

A second takeaway is that NIMBY community opponents from the Municipal League and Santa Monica Boulevard North Homeowners Association prevailed with their threats of a lawsuit and effectively torpedoed a key mobility initiative. Back in the March meeting the northside NIMBYS slammed the door on the 63′ option even though the additional width would have eased lane sharing for both drivers and riders.

A third takeaway is that the 4 out of 5 of our northside-resident council members will sacrifice the good of the larger community for its own local, parochial interests. That’s plainly evident in the disparate treatment that neighborhoods north of Santa Monica receive relative to the flats. Whether it’s beautification efforts, traffic enforcement, or stakeholder communication, the north side gets the preferential treatment every time – rest of the city be damned.

Discouraged? You should be. But you can still provide your own input to City Council. Reach councilmembers by email at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org or give your input in person on Tuesday, December 2nd at 2:30 pm in Chambers. It’s item #2 on the agenda. Note that you won’t find this proposal or even this meeting mentioned on the city’s own so-called ‘bicycles’ webpage.

Our view is that the fix is in. Two of the three votes necessary to direct our consultants to rebuild this corridor at the narrow width will undoubtedly come from the Mayor and Vice Mayor who together ginned up this recommendation in the first place. The third and/or fourth votes will likely come from councilmember Krasne, who’s expressed contempt for those who bike (calling us “organ donors”) and councilmember Willie Brien, who’s never imagined the far side of a creative proposal.

If you’re unhappy about this state of affairs, why not use our handy city contacting cheat sheet and drop our good city officials a line. Or contact the Mayor directly. She will like to hear from riders who share her concerns that Beverly Hills be the safest city™ in America.

[Errata: We regret that we mistakenly assigned Vice Mayor Gold to the ad hoc; in fact it was a two-person team of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien. The text has been edited to reflect the correction. As The Times says dryly, “We regret the error.”]

*That variable width is an irregular alignment that evolved haphazardly over time under state DOT management. No road engineer today, not even one from our consultants, Psomas and Iteris, would recommend maintaining it. Indeed in every presentation to the city the consultants described a single, uniform width for this corridor.

Blue-Ribbon Winner: Public Input!

Melissa Antol speaking at Blue-Ribbon #3With the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee having wrapped in late January, our recommendations will go to Council for consideration as early as February 18th. Then we’ll know if tomorrow’s boulevard will be a replay of the last century or a break with the past. Let’s look back at the high and low points of this public outreach process as we anticipate Council’s direction. Continue reading

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #3 [recap]

West Hollywood's long-range planner, Melissa Antol

West Hollywood’s long-range planner, Melissa Antol, addresses the Blue-Ribbon committee.

With the last of three Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee meetings now behind us, we can recap our work to date, take stock of the public outreach process, and finally look ahead to the next step for this 15-member Council-appointed body. And we will start with the last, because the next step will look much like the past steps. January 22nd we’ll continue our deliberation on width, features and boulevard enhancements. And still on the table – spoiler alert – bicycle lanes! Don’t count ’em out yet. Continue reading

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #2 [recap]

The public outreach process for the reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills continued with the second of three meetings of the blue-ribbon committee on December 10th. After a presentation from consultant Psomas, committee members continued our discussion about project design alternatives and which of them should be recommended to City Council in late January. Could the committee support bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard to enhance regional connectivity and rider safety? Here’s our recap. Continue reading