The Beverly Hills ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met on January 18th to update the bike community on several projects of concern to cyclists: Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction and several efforts related to bike facilities. Here we will focus on the Bike Routes Pilot initiative to create bike facilities on Beverly Hills streets. While promising, we feel that the process to date has fallen short of community-side expectations, however. Communication is largely one-way and attendee feedback seems not to make it into materials.
The Traffic and Transportation Commission formed the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee in early 2010 and appointed three Commissioners: Jeff Levine as Chair, and Ira Friedman & Alan Grushcow as members (three total). The Committee is ostensibly charged with bringing our 1970s-era bike plan into the present. The ‘ad-hoc’ part means that the Committee need not hold a public meeting or provide advance notice in accord with Brown Act’s required 72 hours (as with standing committees).
We can all appreciate that the bike plan needs an update. When the City Council and city departments were holding public workshops and conducting elaborate outreach for updating the General Plan’s elements, the bike plan was ignored: demoted to an appendix in the mobility element and simply readopted, in all of its 1970s glory, in January of 2010.
The Committee’s task should be to bring that document into the present by working with other relevant city commissions and departments to integrate active transportation into the city’s policy framework. That could include for example requiring bike parking of all new developments (Los Angeles is revamping its bike parking requirements) and developing a small-business outreach program like they’ve done in Long Beach. The LB Bike Friendly Business Districts program now counts more than a hundred local retailers as participants in its program. Since our City Council is acutely sensitive to promoting economic development, it seems like a good program for Beverly Hills too.
We also need street improvements to make cycling safer. And Commissioners and staff have honed in on a Bike Route Pilot to choose appropriate street improvements and also two programs to provide bike racks. Long Beach, for example, has created extensive infrastructure to encourage active transportation, and has planted 1,200 racks on city streets. Clearly we have some catching up to do.
Bike Route Pilot Program
- Four meetings have been held with bike advocates to date;
- Selected 4 pilot routes in conjunction with advocates in the 2nd meeting in September [Bike Routes Pilot Map];
- Commissioned the Bike Routes Pilot Feasibility Study which was presented in the 3rd meeting in November.
Going forward, next steps include:
- Staff will brief the Traffic & Parking Commission in
FebruaryMarch before the Pilot moves into an “extensive” public outreach phase;
- Pilot alternatives will be reviewed by the full T&P Commission (probably in
- Pilot will go to Council with a recommendation
(in May)(who knows?).
Our community will have an opportunity to comment on the alternatives after both the T&P review
in March and when they go to Council with the T&P recommendation in May.
The City Council will determine whether, and to what extent, bike-friendly improvements are put on Beverly Hills streets under the Pilot. As it is a capital improvement project, it will be included in the city’s budget for next FY. Martha said that they’ve worked with staffers from three city Commissions to identify funding sources. Martha also mentioned creating a website, which would be the city’s first bike-focused site.
That’s good news. We at Better Bike will wholeheartedly support the Committee’s work and Commission’s recommendations if they produce real improvements that increase safety for cyclists in Beverly Hills. We certainly look forward to working with staff to implement the best practices we see in other cities here too.
Our Perspective on the Pilot
While it’s critical to have the City Council on board with capital projects like bike lanes, as scoped in the feasibility study, there are few identified opportunities for bike lanes. That leaves other measures like share-the-road sharrows and signage that should be able to be implemented ministerially, outside of the city’s budget process. In other words, if we’re looking at sharrows only for routes like Charleville or Carmelita, for example, why can’t Public Works simply install them after Traffic & Parking Commission formalizes a recommendation?
There is an opportunity for bike advocates to work directly with the Committee Commissioners and with staff to identify measures that could be put in place tomorrow (more or less) rather than waiting until the next fiscal year.
From a process perspective, advocates have been relegated to a minor advisory role as the Pilot process proceeded largely behind-the-scenes. There has not been a lot for our community to work with: outreach has been scanty (“We’re keeping it to this core group,” Chair Jeff Levine said in November); meeting notes are available only for the June 2011 meeting; and t
here has never been an actual work plan presented a work plan was presented as late as this last meeting – and it’s available only on paper [scanned copy]. Even agendas are pretty bare-bones and provided the day before the meeting. There are no votes or shows of hands. Attendees have no real participatory role.
In November, for example, we received the feasibility study without an opportunity to review it ahead of time; we were not invited to respond in detail (nor could we have) but why not? Standing Commissions and Committees receive staff reports 72 hours in advance; why not participants in our process? (Just this past week, Planning Commissioner Cole objecting to reviewing material the day of her Commission meeting, so why should we be satisfied? It’s not good practice.)
It seems like attendee input also doesn’t make into staff presentations. “Your comments will be recorded,” planner Martha says, but it’s not clear if our feedback makes it into any record. Suggested innovations are not included in the single set of minutes to date or PowerPoint bullet points. Nobody takes notes on poster boards. Even for placation this seems like a half-hearted effort.
And for whatever reason, the Committee has stuck to a third-Wednesday, 5 pm meeting time even though it comes before the end of a typical workday and no Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition representatives are able to attend because the meeting time conflicts with the LACBC monthly board meeting. We asked for a later start. “No guarantees,” was the reply.
From a substantive perspective, Commissioners & staff have unilaterally changed the scope of the feasibility study, findings from which were presented in November. Now there were two all-important limiters in place: no change in travel patterns and no removal of parking. Not only did that take participants by surprise, but it took many worthy improvements off the table (such as road diets). Evidently the Committee simply decided that Beverly Hills wouldn’t see a road diet even though they are found to increase cyclist safety and attendees have recommended the approach.
But under the new criteria, only a couple of lightly-traveled road segments are available for bike lanes. High-traffic corridors (i.e., streets leading to where people want to go) won’t get improvements to separate modes of travel. No other city has taken such improvements off the table; indeed they are being rolled out now in many cities. As one attendee complained, “We’re giving lip service to options, but it’s not getting us anywhere if they’re not part of the process. Why are we here?”
“I’m Not Saying That We Don’t Take It Into Consideration…”
To objections that the options have been narrowed down and the process too behind-the-scenes, Aaron replied, “There will be refinement between now and when it goes to City Council, and we’ll keep options open for feedback.” Martha added, “We’ll keep it fluid.” Chair Levine added, “It’s the process. I’m not saying that we don’t take it into consideration,” he said, “but this may not be the best time to take [big changes] forward.” Committee member Grushcow added, “Your concerns will be met.”
With all due respect, and we do respect the Commission, our concerns will be met when we have safe streets and not when the process merely appears inclusive. But that’s what we’ve heard consistently for 18 months. As Chair Levine said, “We’ll take your comments.” While a structured process is important in making policy, as every planner knows, the process can itself become the end in itself. We want to affect outcomes, and our concern remains that emphasizing process over substance obscures the goal of creating safer streets.
Incidentally, this same dynamic is also playing out now in the Westside Council of Governments Bike Coordination effort. There, proposals for closing gaps in pro-bike street improvements are suggested by cyclists, but subsequently get worked-over by staff behind closed doors. Where is the collaboration? In the best light it’s consultative; but it could also seems placation with advocates used as cover for staff-decided measures.
So it goes in the Pilot, where we receive PowerPoints and pose questions but don’t really engage in a substantive, collaborative discussion. Bike advocates on the whole are very knowledgeable about good practices, but we’re not taken seriously when it comes to identifying solutions.
By Way of Comparison….
In the same timeframe, another planning effort has been underway in Beverly Hills: identifying design options for Sunset Boulevard intersections reconstruction. The Traffic & Parking Commission and Transportation staffers organized a credible process that really was about valuing public participation and translating that to outcomes. We haven’t seen that to date in Bike Plan Update process, which has yet to produce meeting minutes or any tangible outcomes – only presentations. Even the posted rack map is still a draft. But check out this nifty matrix. Where’s our matrix? You won’t find one on the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee’s page.
The next recap will address the rack programs, and part 3 will review the boulevard reconstruction.