Santa Monica Lanes Update

Beverly Hills logoBetter Bike followers will recall that establishing bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard is a long-standing objective of Westside riders and cycling advocates. Back in 2009, local cycling advocates teamed up with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition to measure the width of the boulevard at various points and develop a proposal to put lanes where there currently is none: on this busiest Beverly Hills corridor connecting existing lanes in Century City and West Hollywood.

Proposed alternatives for SM Boulevard (courtesy Alec Friedmann)What those advocates came up with is a bootstrapped report (attached below) and plan with three mapped variations, including on boulevard lanes (shown at left). We believe that this is the best proposal for regional connectivity given that both West Hollywood and Century City have dual on-boulevard lanes. Otherwise known as ‘Class II’ lanes, they offer the cyclist a dedicated space for travel and remove cyclists from the motoring traffic.

An additional alternative has a bi-directional off-boulevard bike trail on the north side of the boulevard. It removes cyclists from vehicular traffic but would require dedicated spaceĀ  inside Beverly Gardens Park.

There is merit to each of these proposals, of course, and the variations each in turn recall some of the thorny issues that make this a complicated project. For cyclists, we generally prefer the most direct and most safe option. The bike trail is problematic because it puts opposing direction cyclists on the same piece of asphalt and, worse, has cyclists crossing well north of the usual boulevard curb cuts. For some that’s a non-starter.

What’s the Hold Up? Why Not Put in Lanes?

The issues that make the project complicated include north area homeowners who are opposed to any widening of Santa Monica north of the boulevard (though the city owns additional right-of-way) and vehicular cyclists who prefer dedicated lanes for efficient transit across this key east-west corridor. Not least, City Hall is institutionally risk-averse and unlikely to propose out-of-the-box ideas.

The crux of the issue is whether the city can accommodate its design objectives and lanes in a politically-palatable width. Re-striped lanes will give up some precious width for at least one lane, the city says, and some additional right-of-way may yield some additional few feet, but the devil is in the details. Getting that second lane may be literally a few more inches of right-of-way. But we don’t know exactly what those figures are.

Bike Backbone map

Beverly Hills - A missing piece in the Westside bikeways network.

The city’s interest in reconstructing the boulevard was sparked by the new Annenberg cultural center is rising at Santa Monica & Canon (adjacent to a publicly-funded parking structure). The project is still in its early stage, but it’s key to the city’s image. Remaking the boulevard in conjunction with the project is a priority. Look for a new median and a new name!

That makes it all the more critical that we have good measurements and our own plans in hand going forward to press the city for the best possible outcome.

We can look forward to bike lanes on this boulevard only if we organize to hold the city to safeguard our safety and if we can succeed in illustrating that safe passage for cyclists is better for us and better for drivers too.

Kind words were offered to cyclists at the installation of the new Council this month, which were again seconded by Aaron who observed, “You are effective – there’s more interest in bicycles these days” in City Hall.

Where Are We Now?

According to Aaron Katz, Transportation deputy chief in BH, who briefed Better Bike last week, the city is undertaking a topographic survey now. And the department is writing a request for design proposals now, with a public process to follow in the fall.

THAT WILL BE TOO LATE TO MEANINGFULLY AFFECT THE DESIGN PROCESS.

Standing at the mic in the Fall and saying that we don’t like the design options won’t get us a lane. If you are a bike lane supporter, it’s critical that we not wait but begin to nail down design alternatives.

The city’s project timeline (as communicated to Better Bike) is not particularly clear. The RFP may or may not emerge soon; there is no public roundtable scheduled; nor is a target date for Fall outreach in place. When asked, Better Bike was referred back to a document from this past Fall.

According to the staff report (attached below) prepared in September:

  • Topographic survey to be completed June 2006
  • Conceptual design developed between this July and July 2012
  • Project design identified and developed August 2012 to April 2013
  • Construction TBA!

With that timeline, funds won’t need to be committed prior to the FY 2012-2013 budget. That means concrete plans (so to speak) may be a ways away. In the meantime, Aaron mentioned that the city would like to undertake a pilot lane program. Better Bike can help develop suitable alternatives.

What Can We Do in the Meantime?

  • We can make ourselves visible and heard. We’ll have a booth at the Farmers Market April 10th for Earth Day. Drop by and chat with market-goers or suggest opportunities for us to make broader contact with our city family – including city commissions and officials.
  • We can be at the table early. Despite repeated requests, there is no meeting with cycling advocates currently anticipated by Transportation officials.
  • We can lobby City Council to actually put all of the options on the table. Former Mayor Jimmy Delshad said they were, but almost in the same breadth he backtracked. “We will not be widening the boulevard.” We can look forward to a new City Council with at least one new likely supporter.
  • We can hold policymakers to their commitments. All options on the table means <i>all options on the table. </i>We can’t allow policymakers or officials to sweep good ideas away. Safety, safety, safety.
  • We can demand information. Sharing has never been Transportation’s strong suit, so we have to be persistent and ensure that we don’t lose track of the timeline.

Plan to become involved or risk cyclist accommodations being squeezed out of this project.

With the Annenberg, the reconstruction of the corridor took on even more symbolic importance. New median, signage, and yes, a new name, will make the corridor a fitting gateway to the Golden Triangle business district. Trouble is, cyclists and bike lanes didn’t fit into the project vision. We can change that!