A Sobering Recap of Beverly Hills Bike Planning

What a Real Process Looks Like

Approaching this fourth meeting of the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee, let’s compare the Bike Plan Update process to the city’s elaborate Sunset Boulevard intersections redesign process. That initiative was undertaken last Fall in the same timeframe as the bike process. Like ours it is safety-driven: too many car collisions happen there, evidently. What distinguishes that process was that officials consider it a legitimate project (in the planning sense) and officials believe that it requires a plan.

Sunset Boulevard alternatives matrix
What a real planning process looks like.

The city invested a lot in that process. Four ‘open house’ meetings [flyer] were scheduled between June and October alone. Consultants were engaged to prepare presentations [pdf] that were chock full of traffic counts to explain the multiple alternatives (see the table at right). Outreach to the public was extensive, and three-quarters of the open house discussion time was allowed to give the public an opportunity to provide input to the Traffic & Transportation Commissioners (all of whom attended). In fact, the flyers say, “Your input will be valuable in determining if any improvements are needed and what type of modifications are appropriate….”

Most importantly, the Sunset Boulevard process allowed for an exchange of information. And that is Planning 101: Engage the public because there exists local knowledge within the community that could be valuable to the process. Pragmatically speaking, it’s just good to have the buy-in because at the end of the day, planning is a political activity. So the Transportation officials sent the right message. And they posted to a special page all of the presentations and meeting minutes and other relevant documents. Yet as elaborate as was the Sunset process, it’s telling that no cycling facilities were considered for the intersections reconstruction. We simply don’t matter.

Let’s compare the Sunset Boulevard effort with our own Bike Plan Update process:

  • Sunset Boulevard involved the community as more than token participants. There was an earnest effort to reach stakeholders because City Council knows it can’t get too far ahead of the public on plans. Not so for officials where those who bike are concerned. Transportation’s clear lack of motivation, as well as Chair Levine’s dismissive attitude, suggests that we’re no more than token participants to be placated or, at best, consulted. The chair himself acknowledged that the city did no prospective outreach to our community or any other. “We wanted to keep it to a core group,” he said.
  • Sunset Boulevard was a fully-formed process. It was trumpeted beforehand in a May press release and the public was kept informed at every step. But the bike plan update process is a well-kept secret. Meetings are typically noticed only a day or two beforehand. (Our upcoming Wednesday meeting isn’t even listed on the Beverly Hills city calendar.) There is no formal workplan provided by Transportation (despite several requests since last Spring) and community-side participants have no idea where this process is going.
  • Sunset Boulevard was intended to produce a legitimate planning outcome. It was a structured process with credible materials that suggested that the city took it seriously. The Bike Plan Update Committee process has proceeded in fits and starts without any structure. The feasibility study was intended to “give something to cyclists in the city…food for thought,” as the consultant’s representative said. Participants in the bike plan update process have never been presented with a statement of objectives nor any timetable, which makes providing constructive input impossible.
  • Sunset Boulevard generated solid recommendations that went before City Council in December. In the Bike Plan Update Committee process, it’s not clear that there will ever be a formal mechanism to provide input. Much more likely is that we’ve had our say, and the Commissioners will take it from here.

The bottom line is that despite our efforts to work with the city, for example to craft bike safety advice for its website or to advise on the placement of new racks, or even to work with officials on a rack-on-request program, there has been not a single indication from the ad-hoc committee’s Commissioners, or from the Transportation division of Public Works, that we can work together to make streets safe for cyclists. It’s all been window dressing.

The one thing that both processes do have in common is that they sidestep Complete Streets guidelines for public thoroughfares. Beverly Hills adopted its General Plan only months before California mandated that city general plans include guidelines and language that would create streets that are safe and accessible for all users. That approach, embraced in federal and state policy (and now in many city plans) finds no home in any Beverly Hills transportation document.

Prepare for More of the Same Placation

In Wednesday’s meeting, keep in mind that we cyclists don’t want “food for thought” but instead we need an action agenda to will create the kind of streets in Beverly Hills that keep all road users safe. We don’t want placation, but we do need a real planning process that will bring change in the policies & plans that govern transportation. We don’t want bread & circus presentations & PowerPoints but we do need our city officials to acknowledge that mobility is about moving people and not simply moving automobiles. From that simple assent, better plans will undoubtedly follow. We have our work cut out for us.

4 thoughts on “A Sobering Recap of Beverly Hills Bike Planning

  • January 16, 2012 at 11:08 pm
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    Charleville is just so obvious. It’s like the 7th street bike lanes in Los Angeles. It parallels Wilshire and is a safe street for cyclists.

  • January 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm
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    Yes, I bike this every day. With parking on both sides, it’s just a total squeeze. Or, as I advocate, the cyclist should take the whole lane – as allowed by law – and aggrieved motorists can lump it. We all have to pay a price for roads that accommodate all road users. We pay in risk; motorists pay in liability-related costs and time.

  • January 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm
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    As if to completely back up this article, I happened to read the following interview in Bevery Hills Weekly (which Streetsblog linked to): http://bhweekly.com/pdfs/642.pdf#page=8

    I notice the transportation commission is called the Traffic and Parking Commission, and the chair spends the entire time talking about Sunset. You wouldn’t know the city is even working on a Bike Plan. Sorry to say it, but as an outside observer, I think you guys are screwed!

  • January 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm
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    I too thought that interview conspicuous for not at all acknowledging that traffic & parking is about more than automobiles and motorists. When we’re talking about mobility, shouldn’t it be about people? To me, there is an opportunity here to enlighten, and we’ll continue to work with the Commission.
    Thankfully, I don’t know the incoming Chair to be an active-transportation naysayer; she’s been generally supportive of points I’ve made in my appearances before the Commission. That said, there seems to be a cultural predisposition toward the automobile on the part of city staffers. (By contrast, all Commissioners serve unpaid.) Not many have seen the light.
    That’s a cultural predisposition that I believe endures because our policymakers encourage no other perspective. We don’t have a ‘hire local’ policy, for example; many in City Hall commute an hour or more each way (distant-suburb dwellers, I’ve noticed).
    Trying to create some positive change here around transportation issues encounters that not-uncommon hurdle: our public employees don’t necessarily align their interests with ours as stakeholders. so it’s an uphill climb, if you will.

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