First Bike Facilities Hit Beverly Hills: The Good, Bad & Ugly

It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Cyclists have been anticipating the city’s first-ever bicycle lanes for several years and finally they have arrived. With Class II bicycle lanes now installed on Crescent Drive (north of Santa Monica) and Burton Drive (east of City Hall to Robertson), finally we have a designated space on the blacktop. The city’s ‘Pilot’ program also installed shared-lane markings (aka ‘sharrows‘) on Crescent between Santa Monica Blvd. & Wilshire to indicate that motorists must share the road with those who ride. Where do these steps leave Beverly Hills relative to other cities, and what next steps can be taken to make riding safe?

The Good

Let’s celebrate the good: this past fall our City Council agreed to implement the city’s Pilot program with two initial bike routes. That’s an achievement given some of the preposterous statements made to our Traffic and Parking Commission by the community in opposition to modest measures on already-wide streets. Here’s a map of the current improvements:

Approved Pilot program bike routes map
Routes approved for bike-friendly treatments by City Council

Here are some snaps of the new bicycle lanes before and after on Burton (left) and North Crescent Drive:

Burton and Crescent before painted lanesBurton and Crescent after painted lanesHere’s a view of a sharrow along the Crescent Drive corridor between Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards:

Crescent Drive sharrowAs much-needed as these improvements are, unfortunately the Pilot program overlooked some low-hanging safety fruit. For one thing, Crescent Drive South of Santa Monica is loaded with potential conflict points for cyclists headed southbound toward Wilshire. There are three controlled intersections (Brighton, Dayton and Clifton) that could benefit from upgraded crosswalks and bicycle boxes (which allow cyclists a bounded, protected place to queue up at the limit line).

Whole Foods driveway
The Whole Foods driveway cries out for brightly-colored pavement markings to indicate riders are present.

The greater risk to the rider are the multiple public parking garage driveways near Whole Foods and mid-block north of Brighton. These are busy garages and motorists are often frustrated. Yet there is no signage or any markings to suggest to motorists that riders pass by unprotected.

Consequently the risk is on the rider. Signage and brightly-marked pavement could have indicated such conflict points and alerted the rider and driver alike.

We’ve heard expressions of support from three of five City Council members for measures to increase the safety of those who ride. So we’re confident such measures will come in time. Mayor John Mirisch, for example, has consistently supported our work and notably called for bike-friendly streets when southeast Beverly Hills is given the urban design treatment. The Vice-Mayor has been vocally supportive of Better Bike at every turn. And Councilmember Krasne expresses support for cyclists from the dais and has, on several occasions, remarked on the courage needed among those who choose to ride in this city. Tell Council what you think.

While Council is on balance supportive, we haven’t been able to count on our transportation and Public Works department officials. From them there has been scant leadership or imagination. In fact, until we spoke up to Council last fall to suggest that complete streets principles must be incorporated into the city’s Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction, neither the request for proposals (RFP) nor any other city plan included the words ‘complete streets.’

Having just reviewed the bids, however, our work was not in vain: each of them referred in varying degrees to ‘complete’ or ‘livable’ streets concepts as well as bicycle lanes for the corridor. That is an accomplishment.

On that note, perhaps the stars will indeed align this year for those much-needed Class II bicycle lanes on Santa Monica. The conceptual design will be selected by the end of this year with construction to conclude in 2015. In fact, the city is celebrating its centennial next year, and we believe that a plurality of the Council will be interested in showing to the world that Beverly Hills welcomes visitors and residents who ride a bicycle. Keep your fingers crossed.

The Bad

The bad news is that progress comes slowly to Beverly Hills. We’re essentially a conservative city led by non-partisan part-time policymakers. We’ve been terribly laggard in recognizing that safe streets add to the bottom line for local retailers. So we’re quite stingy with sidewalk bicycle racks and our development policies embrace none of the forward-looking parking regulations or required bike facilities as we’ve seen embraced by other cities.

Wilshire & SM intersection aerial viewOur transportation engineers have incorporated zero intersection improvements for cyclists even though officials have been notified that existing markings undermine rider safety. Nor have we improved our busiest intersections that achieve no more than an ‘F’ grade for congestion but where riders must negotiate (at their peril) heavy and unpredictable traffic flow. There are no signs apprizing motorists to share the road, nor any sign that communicates to riders that they may take the whole lane. There’s not even a single sign to guide cyclists through challenging intersections like the one above.

High visibility bike lanes through an intersection
This city cares about its riders!

There are models out there in practice, including brightly marked lanes like this one to guide cyclists.  Neighboring cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Los Angeles have each taken big steps to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, including zebra-striped crosswalks.  Indeed our state’s roadway design manual includes many such examples. Perhaps we can attribute the oversight here in Beverly Hills to a failure of imagination?

The Ugly

There is one step that can be taken by our transportation officials to improve safety for riders today: repair the horrendous pavement on Santa Monica Boulevard. We’ve heard it time and again in incidental conversations with cyclists around the region, and in comments to our Traffic and Transportation Commission right here at home: Please give us safe passage across the city.

Backbone missing piece map

Santa Monica Boulevard is not only the key crosstown connector that links Santa Monica and West Los Angeles to West Hollywood and beyond; it’s a missing link in the region’s Backbone Bikeway Network. Our city is a black hole in the kind of network of bicycle lanes that will get us out of our car and into the saddle. Our city plans say that we want to encourage cycling, so why the resistance?

Witness the Santa Monica Boulevard of today:

Santa Monica Boulevard conditionsSanta Monica Boulevard conditionsSince we took control from the state in 2006 (along with a pot of improvement money), we’ve hardly spent a dime to better it. And that choice hits cyclists right in the seat of the pants ever time we ride it. Moreover, we have to deal with lanes too narrow to share, making it a Darwinian battle with bus lines that ply this route. We dodge tire-eating grates squarely in our path. And potholes, pavement irregularities, and all manner of debris drive us out into the traffic flow to make riding this corridor a singular nightmare.

We’d consider taking the sidewalk, but there is all manner of impediments that make passage difficult or impossible:

Santa Monica Boulevard sidewalk conditionsWrap Up: We can’t overemphasize how long a road it has been to achieve a single bike-friendly improvement in Beverly Hills. We first approached the city in early 2010 when we realized that our Bicycle Master Plan was demoted and not updated as part of our General Plan process that January. (It dates to 1977.) We then waited year after year for the city’s ad-hoc Bicycle Plan Update Committee to get to work. But it hasn’t acted, so we’ve simply re-presented that old plan to city commissions as the best option we have to make our streets safer for riders.

Don’t get us wrong: we want to see more Pilot program improvements hit the streets. But there is much that our transportation officials and policymakers can do today to make our streets safe – even without re-opening the Pilot for changes. After all, when a one-year bicycle injury collision map looks like this, why wait?AKA Hotel proximate collisions map