Update: Where Things Stand in Beverly Hills

ballot box illustrationBetter Bike over the last week has met with three of our five City Council members (including the Mayor) and touched base with our contacts in Transportation, at the school district, and at Library to assess progress toward a more bike-friendly city. During these dog days of August (and aren’t we grateful it’s not been very doggy?) we can report that progress is not very positive to date, but can turn on a dime with policymaker support. Here’s a rundown of our initiatives and an overview of where we are (or aren’t) starting with the good news.

The library rack corral. Nancy Hunt-Coffey, Deputy Director of Community Services and overseer of the library, reports that the library’s concrete pad should be poured any day now, possibly on Saturday. This is the best news we’ve had. Not just because it will be the city’s only new rack in years – a modest win that our cycling community has campaigning for over the past two years – but because it is a significant and conspicuous sign that our city does value alternative transportation.

We hope that the library’s new corral will be a stepping stone to additional bike facilities and improvements. (But we’re not holding our breadth.) Stay tuned for news of the big pour! (Thanks to Friends of the Library for relieving our parking operations fund of the obligation.)

Moving Beverly Hills toward being the Sustainable City it wants to be. We met with Mayor Barry Brucker to talk about the potential for active transportation to help close the gap between a city where the car plays a too-dominant role o the exclusion of other forms of personal transport, and the aspirational goals and objectives as enumerated in the Sustainability Plan (2009). That document explicitly mentions cycling and strikes many of the right notes we’d like to hear.

But meeting those goals will be a challenge, especially as our city has not taken a step toward elevating active transportation in the sustainability priorities ranking. Beverly Hills has enacted a green building code (required by the state) and is taking steps to install solar on city buildings, but a few calls around the city shows that progress on the sustainability front is not shall we say organized.

We noted the noble values in the Beverly Hills Sustainable City Plan (2009) [pdf] to the Mayor and talked about how our town could implement pro-bike improvements. We suggested sharrows and signage for Charleyville; programs to raise awareness (another Plan objective), and lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. The Mayor was open to further input and we’re following up, but the Boulevard lanes will be a heavy lift.

Getting City Council on board. This is essential if we want to move anything in this city. We met with Councilmember John Mirisch and Lilli Bosse to suggest our ideas for a more bike-friendly and pedestrian-oriented Beverly Hills. Councilmember Mirisch was elected in 2009  as somewhat of a dark horse candidate. A somewhat bruising campaign suggests his reformer bona fides. Councilmember Bosse is newly seated this year – a fresh breeze blowing though City Hall, most observers seemed to think.

Both councilmembers were raised in Beverly Hills (as was our Mayor) and both cycled as kids and want to see cycling return to our city. Both appear on board with active transportation as a mobility solution and in favor of bicycle improvements generally.

Councilmember Mirisch is particularly interested in SE Beverly Hills revitalization as an issue. That area (parts of Robertson and Olympic) are currently underutilized (as planners say) and stores are vacant. This could be a test-case for integrating local cycling and economic development into an holistic means to address the problem. Let’s help the Councilmember put cycling into the local transportation mix. (Think Portland or SF.)

The importance of the political aspect of our campaign cannot be overstated. Next year three City Council seats are up for grabs, and we’ll want to see a more pro-active-transportation council in place, whomever are the candidates.

Beverly Hills Unified. The district has a new superintendent and a master plan taking shape that’s just begging for active transportation improvements. Our Mayor reminded us that when he was at Beverly Vista, there were hundreds of bikes just like his at the racks. These days? Maybe ten. The school district may be our best opportunity. We’ll meet with the Superintendent on September 1st and the facilities chief hopefully soon afterward. Stay tuned.

Santa Monica Boulevard Lanes.  Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation and one-man band when it comes to community outreach for this important division of the city’s Department of Public Works.  He said that the Transportation Division will be releasing a request-for-proposals for SM Boulevard reconstruction. If we don’t suggest our interest NOW, folks, the best we’ll get are eastbound lanes – the proposal the city has always been pushing because it’s loathe to chip away even an inch into the Beverly Gardens Park on the northside for a westbound lane.

Knowing that this is an opportunity we don’t want to miss, we highlighted our interest in participating early lest the cycling community get totally boxed out, stuck at the public comment mic only to bemoan the fait accomplis. Tell Transportation what you think.

As it turns out, there is a next meeting scheduled for the Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee scheduled for August 29th at 5 pm. PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR. This will be our opportunity to make our case to the committee that includes Commissioners from the key advisory commission on Transportation issues. We need to turn out for this one.

Other improvements. Aaron Kunz also said that the city is trying to engage a planning intern to take the reins on bike improvements and programs. “We have a lot to do – bike racks, a pilot project – we want to get someone in-house who can take this workload.” The good news is that Transportation recognizes we can move forward on low-hanging fruit while we refine the 1970s-era bike plan. The bad news is we’ll have to put pressure on to get any kind of a workplan or timeline out of them.

Look forward to a meeting in early September with Transportation and the City Manager – the first such meeting we’ve been invited to in over a year of bending their ear about pro-bike measures. “I understand your frustration,” Aaron said. “Let’s get together to clarify your expectations.”

Any thoughts on what that means for cyclists and cyclist safety in Beverly Hills? We could take that a couple of ways, right? In the meantime, keep an eye out for Mark Elliot’s regular column about Beverly Hills governance in our ‘hyperlocal’ news outlet, Beverly Hills Patch.