City Council Gives Tacit Nod to Bike Pilot

Promo circulated by the free parking advocates in the 2011 March initiative. They got what they wanted: two hours free. What about cyclists?

The City Council’s marathon study session last week (3/6) ended on an anticlimactic note: Councilmembers gave a tacit nod to Transportation to move ahead with the Bike Route Pilot Program, and the bike racks and rack-on-request program will move ahead too. But in approving these consent items, our City Council didn’t take the opportunity to discuss bike improvements generally – much less express support for safer streets. What we were looking for was a sign of commitment to cyclist safety from our decision-makers, but we didn’t get it in this study session meeting.

It’s not like we didn’t wait for it. At about hour 3.5 of this 4.5 hour meeting, Santa Monica cyclist Eric Weinstein and Better Bike figured that the item might not be heard at all. Time was running short, and with no fewer than 12 items to discuss, the Council had its hands full. This rather hearty appetizer to the Council’s formal meeting later that evening touched on several items of interest:

  • The Small Business Task Force findings that seemed to totally ignore active transportation (and cyclists in particular) when talking about boosting small-business economic prospects (Better Bike spoke and referenced our post on it);
  • The Parking Operations $40 million, 10-year deficit, which will likely suck $5 million per year from our general fund (and sap city services) merely to pay for public parking for motorists [staff report]; and,
  • Whether the city should commission a study to see if our managers and staff are compensated in line with the private sector.

That last item precipitated a rather curious discussion. Former city Treasurer Eliot Finkel chairs the city’s Pension Task Force. Salaries and benefits are in the spotlight in Beverly Hills, and have been since the summer of 2011 when the local Courier extracted (under protest) the city’s 2010 salary figures. If the Beverly Hils Weekly’s 2011 analysis of that data is to be believed, our employees are much more richly compensated in pay and benefits, which should itself suggest the need for a study.

But at this meeting, the Council (sans member John Mirish, who was out but had advocated for the study) played a bit of round-robin about: how much a study would cost; what would it show; and indeed whether it was even necessary. As we have no comparable salary data in hand yet, it seemed premature for Task Force Chair Finkel to suggest that maybe a study wasn’t necessary after all. It would simply confirm that our staffers are not over-compensated, he suggested. But if the Council did proceed, he added, it would provide some cover by showing that we’re not out of line with private-sector compensation.

Compared to these agenda items, the bike improvements information item was small potatoes. Reviewing an audio file later, Better Bike was not surprised to learn that the No. 9 item, “Community outreach program for a Pilot Bicycle Route project along three corridors and update on bicycle planning efforts,” was not discussed at all.

Next Steps

Pilot feasibility study map for Beverly Drive
Pilot feasibility study map for Beverly Drive showing conditions and opportunities.

So Transportation will move forward with their program to install bike racks at civic locations and city parks (the latter in conjunction with the Recreation & Parks dept.). Timing is not clear as yet, however. (We’d like to think we will see some bike racks before August!)

Stay tuned: we’ve offered to map commercial area locations most in need, and you’ll see that data here first. (Access the Transportation division’s presentations here.)

Later this month, the Pilot should be rolled out to the larger community in a public outreach phase, which will linclude three public meetings late-March through April. And Transportation planner Martha Eros also said that the city’s update to our 1977 bike master plan is still on the to-do list (as it has been since early 2010 – talk about go-slow!).

Yet there is no time line attached to the plan update because Transportation seems interested in getting some improvements on the ground first. We may well not see any action on the plan itself before mid-2013. (Contact Martha with any questions about the plan, the racks or the Pilot – and let us know what you found out!)

Let’s Not Forgo the Discussion!

These bike initiatives deserve to be debated because our policymakers have taken no public stand on bike facilities at all, ever, to date. Until now it’s simply been ministerial action through the Transportation division with direction from the Traffic & Parking Commission (by way of its Bike Plan Update Committee). Do they support an expanded rack program? Do they see bike lanes on our streets? Can they envision cyclists making a positive contribution to our city and its economic base? For now we just don’t know.

We would like to see discussion on the substance of these initiatives too. In our January recap, we highlighted the questionable process behind the city’s feasibility study, which included changing the Pilot route evaluation criteria without the community’s input. (That change essentially precluded bike lanes on the yet road segments where cyclists need them most.) In our recent communication to Council we highlighted our concerns and urged Council to direct Transportation to revisit the Pilot routes evaluation criteria so that we can expand, not restrict, possible safety treatments. But the Council declined to provide such direction at this meeting.

We were hoping to learn how Councilmembers feel about the bike rack programs that we recapped in January. (We gave them a preliminary thumbs-down for incompleteness, but Martha has suggested that lessons have been learned – even if the presentations as posted remain unchanged.) Needless to say, Council is not on record on our current call for Santa Monica Boulevard bike lanes, though our Western Gateway planning will have a direct bearing.

But now with a tacit nod from Council, Transportation will continue as planned: figuring out where to put new bike racks; developing a rack-on-request program for rollout to commercial & business areas sometime in fiscal year 2012-13 (which begins in August); and moving ahead on the city’s first-ever bike facilities. It’s been a long wait, and that wait ain’t over yet, folks.