Beverly Hills Doubles Down on Dangerous Streets

South Beverly gets repaved
South Beverly motorists get the love. What about cyclists?

Recently Better Bike received a notice [pdf] from Transportation that South Beverly Drive was to be resurfaced. That caught our attention, and not only because it’s right around the corner. Because just a week later, City Council would be briefed on the Bike Route Pilot program’s four possible routes – and one was South Beverly. So why resurface and re-stripe this corridor now, we thought, when the city might make it more cyclist-friendly in the coming months?

The short answer is that the city never had any intention of making this key commercial corridor more safe for cyclists. City Council declined to comment on the Pilot when it came before them in study session, and that means that Transportation can move ahead in whatever fashion it likes. [Read our recap.] In sum, as we’ve observed, it seems like bike planning is pretty much a non-issue for officials in Beverly Hills.

It’s not that the city isn’t hip to the opportunities. Transportation officials sat with members of the bike community for four Bike Plan meetings over the past 9 months. In those meetings, we consistently called South Beverly a priority route – and highlighted the prevalence of road conflict on South Beverly and elsewhere – yet Transportation officials only feigned interest in making improvements, or so it seems.

South Reeves: Ripe for Rethinking

South Beverly offers room for bikes
South Beverly offers room for bikes, but pull-in parking is problematic!

With repaving of one of those identified Bike Route Pilot corridors on the table, why not wait a couple of months for the City Council to provide some direction for South Beverly? Or, in the meantime, why not introduce some changes to make it flow more safely for cyclists?

Today the intrepid cyclist who visits small shops or a coffeehouse here, or those who commute via this key corridor (and some do), must negotiate for a share of the asphalt with some of the nearly 25,000 vehicles on average day that ply these lanes. And pitting twenty pounds of frame against two tons of steel is an unfair negotiation in anybody’s book.

But it’s more than just the traffic flow: it’s the constant in & out of pull-in parking at the curb. In this arrangement, cyclists are always in the motorists’ blind spot. And if that weren’t enough, the public garage on the 200 block introduces yet more potential traffic conflicts because all day cars turn across traffic to enter and then impede flow to depart. It’s not a great situation for walkers either: sidewalk cross-vehicular traffic is made for a transportation worst-case case study. But that’s not all: the city will soon add a second garage on this same block.

Repaving the street presented a perfect opportunity to remedy this bad situation. But the city chose not to make it better for cyclists. Instead, Transportation re-striped the old markings without a single thought to making it safer. Is it that one department doesn’t know that another department is holding Bike Route Pilot program meetings? It’s all the same department: Transportation. Had it not occurred to officials that now is the time to re-think the way vehicles flow here? It must have, because we asked about it before re-striping commenced.

The Sidewalk Work-Around

These issues add up to a real problem for cyclists taking South Beverly Drive. So it’s not surprising given the evident peril that most cyclists simply take to the sidewalk. That is illegal in a commercial area under Beverly Hills ordinance (see our Laws pages). Yet every day we see cyclists from kids to deliverymen zip down our busiest sidewalks here on South Beverly (it is the spine of our city’s designated pedestrian area). Even bike-mounted meter patrols ride on the sidewalk. And why shouldn’t they?

South Beverly repaved before striping
Take the cars off of South Beverly and it's the perfect N/S bike route!

Once the paving crew cordoned off the street to get to work, cyclists immediately came off the sidewalk to ride the blacktop. Without motorists to make their journey a hazard, our city suddenly found a new bike route! Just like bike advocates have been recommending in meeting after meeting.

The answer would have been to think outside the box by, say, introducing a curb-proximate bike lane with standard parallel parking. Yes, we’d lose a few spaces. But we’d create a new pathway to encourage even greater bike use. It’s as simple as looking at another city, copying a design that works well in practice, and then applying it here through new striping. It can’t happen overnight, but that’s what thinking about new bike routes is all about, right?

Well, not so fast! Days before the work commenced on South Beverly, we called Transportation engineer Juan Martinez to ask about the Reeves project and the possibility of new striping, but he told us that no change in striping was indicated by officials. (He’s the engineer.)

Olympic & South Beverly: Overdue for an Overhaul

South Beverly awaits striping
Waiting for the new markings - same as the old markings.

We also asked about the Olympic & South Beverly intersection, which is a complex and dysfunctional juncture for cyclists. (This intersection was brought to the attention of officials last October and highlighted on Better Bike back in November after cyclist Erik Mar suffered an injury collision there last summer.) But he said there was no change planned there either. If a change was made later, he added, the city could re-stripe it.

We then followed up with an email highlighting our concerns. We asked Transportation to re-stripe the problematic intersection with cyclist safety in mind. But to no effect: Transportation’s Aaron Kunz indicated that change, if any, would come only sometime into 2013 “as part of a study of potential improvements to the overall intersection.” That’s a long time to wait for an upgrade to an intersection that the city already knew was a problem, and which was discussed nearly two years ago in the Traffic & Parking Commission as a problem. Change may well never come to Olympic & South Beverly – especially change that values cyclists.

Small business task force findings reportIf civic leaders viewed cyclists as positive contributors to our local economy, for example, we might have warranted a mention in a recent Small Business Task Force report (right) delivered to Council last week. (We weren’t mentioned.)  Even the Chamber itself has not replied to our letter asking how could cyclists support these small shops. Officials seem not to recognize an untapped market for greater foot traffic when they see one.

It is not clear what it will take to get our civic leaders to recognize the value of cyclists and the long term wisdom of encouraging cycling.

We would like to think that the city has been discussing bike improvements in good faith, but it’s awfully hard to feel it anymore. Members of the bike community have sat down with Transportation officials four times now, and in each meeting we’ve indicated problem areas and suggested fixes like those we see implemented in other cities. Again, to no effect.

We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re everyday residents and visitors who simply choose to bike rather than drive. And we’re allowed to choose because the law says so and both federal and state policy support it. What’s do difficult to understand about providing the on-street facilities that will increase safety? Isn’t that the transportation official’s job?

2 thoughts on “Beverly Hills Doubles Down on Dangerous Streets

  • March 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    After reading this blog for a few weeks, I have seen a pretty pathetic portrayal of the city council, and it makes me angry how terribly mismanaged this city is.

    Is there anyone on the city council that is taking up this cause?

    I’ve felt Beverly Hills has been falling from its peak for years, and your blog is doing nothing to prove otherwise. While communities in Santa Monica and West Hollywood have created visitor and pedestrian friendly spaces, the residents of Beverly Hills are marginalized to an outdated image of city planning. It is a shame that it has gotten this way, but after reading, I can see why.

  • March 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Oh, heavens, are we behind the curve on planning. Our General Plan, though, says some of the right things. But like many aspects of city government in Beverly Hills, execution falls by the wayside. The real challenge is imagination. Here I think that city staff has a responsibility to policymakers, who are not career folks. With regard to transportation, for example, innovation is missing in action in BH. So we double-down on the auto because it’s what we know, and no staffer evidently has suggested how it could be different. Thanks for your comment!

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