Bootstrapping a Bike Plan

Hermosa Beach old postcardHermosa Beach is a lovely little beach city of 20,000 sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach. It’s perfect for a day away from the hustle-and-bustle. Hermosa Beach is well-insulated from the ugly ‘burbs that characterize much of the Southland, too. A visit rewards the ambitious two-wheeled day tripper with easy beach access, ocean breezes, and the historic quaint shopping area of Pier Avenue (pictured). Policymakers are revisiting the proper balance balance between auto transportation and active transportation. Are big changes coming to Hermosa Beach?

The Strand in 1967...
The Strand in 1967 - long after the car wias king - still had something to offer two-wheeled travelers on this asphalt shoestring along the beach..

Completed and adopted in 2009, the bike plan brings class III (suggested routes) and sharrows to city streets (punting on the more difficult issue of dedicated on-street lanes because streets are narrow and parking is a precious commodity). Sharrows, for example, are used where separate bike lanes aren’t possible.

Nevertheless, the planning process identified numerous routes for improvement (see map at bottom). While implementation to date is relatively modest (Pier avenue sharrows being the notable improvement) it is the process itself that is remarkable.

The Makings of a Plan

The Strand today, shorn of its romance...and the bicycles!

Julian Katz, a Hermosa Beach Public Works Commissioner, knew from experience that Hermosa Beach’s laid-back but traffic-clogged streets would benefit from a greater number of cyclists.

Bike advocates too were stepping up to jumpstart a planning process.  The time was right, it seemed, but Julian was also cognizant that merchants would object to sacrificing on-street parking for bike lanes.Was the public ready?

Julian, a founding member of the South Bay Bicycle Coalition, knew that the city needed buy-in – both the interest and investment of the public – to get the process off the ground. (To say nothing of buy-in from city departments.)  He worked the inside channels (with commissioner Brian Koch and two members of the Parks & Recreation Commission) to spearhead a Master Plan process.

Bootstrap It!

Hermosa Beach streetmapBut there was a challenge: funding. Were Hermosa Beach officials to hire a planning firm, a city that size might  expect to fork over at least $25,000 to get from drawing board to City Council with a finished plan. The answer was to bootstrap a plan!  Bootstrapping was a freebie.

In an interview, Julian said these elements were crucial:

  • Get out in the field and walk the ‘candidate streets’ to identify those most eligible for improvement;
  • Secure the cooperation and participation of city officials known to City Council, like Commissioners;
  • Educate transportation officials who may not be familiar with the latest bicycle infrastructure, signage, and safety regulations; and,
  • Don’t depend on the spandex crowd to sell it to Council – make it a broad-based effort.
Hermosa Beach bike routes
Hermosa Beach bike routes identified in the plan. Why drive?

“You have to sell it,” Julian added. “You can do it if you have a progressive City Council and a Public Works and Transportation Commission that buys into it.”

Julian Katz is now an award-winner for his efforts. He’s taken home the Environmental Hero volunteers award from VOICE, an environmental awareness organization located in the South Bay.

And what the Hermosa Beach effort has sparked! The city is participating in a $25,000 grant-funded effort (under L.A. County Bicycle Coalition staffer Marissa Christiansen) called the South Bay Initiative – a movement shepherded by LACBC to roll out bike-friendly cycling infrastructure throughout a seven-city South Bay area. An area largely hostile to cyclists.

The expected outcome is a set of bike plans for Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance, El Segundo, and other cities that will set a high bar for signage, safety improvements, and paths that connect this area’s cities. There are lessons to be learned here for Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills is a city of about the same size, and like Hermosa Beach, we have a lot of potential to shift folks to two-wheels for around-town errands. We too are potentially bike-friendly. But like Hermosa Beach back in 2009, we don’t have a decent bike plan. Nor do we have  a culture that recognizes cyclists as important contributing members of the community. We have our work cut out for us in Beverly Hills indeed.

In other ways, Beverly Hills is very different. We are a ksystone in the Westside bikeways network while Hermosa Beach is literally an outlier – a beach community abutting inland cities with little in common economically or culturally. It’s a destination. But it is connected to like-minded north and south communities by the Strand, and so should be integrated into a larger sub-regional network.

The lesson for Beverly Hills is that this city took the first step. This not only started the ball rolling but also set a template for the other six cities nearby to follow…and maybe Beverly Hills too.