SM Boulevard Project In Flux But Bike Lanes Are Still on the Table

City Council discussing bike lanes
Photo: Nancy Laemmle

City Council in study session today received some answers from city staff to March 4th questions about ballooning cost projections. But councilmembers unhappy about imprecision and dissatisfied with past staff candor turned the project back with even more questions. Today much remains in flux: cost projections, financing options, and traffic mitigation measures, to name a few things. Consequently there is no resolution on project scope, much less even a firm position on bicycle lanes. Given the uncertainty, that’s good news: that option remains on the table for Santa Monica Boulevard.

We’ll be updating this recap shortly, but suffice to say we may have turned a corner in the discussion. At the outset of this process, for example, the bicycle lane (a Caltrans-approved traffic control device) was dismissed as a “giveaway” to outlaw bikers. Or it was inexplicably derieded as a safety threat to riders. And to those inclined toward a parochial perspective, bicycle lanes on Santa Monica would be nothing more than an undeserved convenience for outsiders passing through our city.

Today, however, we’re hearing policymakers acknowledge the hazards that riders face and they’re beginning to talk substantively about how to accommodate those who bike city streets. Though we’re still very early in this process, at least the tone and tenor of the discussion has changed. Even hard-and-fast opponents of losing “one blade of grass” for  boulevard expansion prefaced their public remarks by expressing support for cycling and riders. (The most dyspeptic NIMBYs didn’t speak up.)

At the risk of overstating it, this new direction opens an opportunity to talk about other bike-friendly measures we can take even before we decide anything for Santa Monica Boulevard. For example we can finally begin an update of our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. That would allow policymakers some guidance when they finally set out to identify streets suitable for bicycle lanes. We’re having that debate on an ad-hoc basis now precisely because there is no bike plan to look toward.

There’s even a long-shot chance that we’ll take this opportunity to talk more broadly about road safety in our city. That’s a discussion we’re loathe to entertain despite collision data that clearly show the hazards that motorists and riders in Beverly Hills face. Let’s hope that this process prompts the Traffic and Parking Commission to address these things sooner rather than later.

Notably absent from today’s discussion was a single word from our consultant, Psomas, which has declined to recommend the inclusion of bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Psomas has done no favor for any rider navigating that corridor today and into the future. Please remember that when Psomas comes to your city asking for a million dollar mobility planning contract. Beverly Hills should have tapped Snyder!

Keeping Eyes on the Prize

That brings us to perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this reconstruction process: the bicycle lanes question has continued to dominate every meeting from Blue-Ribbon Committee to City Council. Whether any councilmember or public speaker has cursed, praised or simply acknowledged this essential traffic control device, lanes continue to be the focus. Even today, the cost discussion almost took a backseat (so to speak). Our counclmembers agree that we’ll see more riders in the future; it seems like we as a city can’t any longer dodge planning for it, they say.

That’s thanks to the persistence of multimodal mobility advocates and bicycle lane proponents throughout the process, as well as the many public speakers and institutional representatives who stepped up to the mic. You all have really changed the lanes debate from “no!” to “where?”

Thanks Are in Order

We want to acknowledge LACBC’s Eric Bruins for policy guidance today; planning consultant Ryan Snyder for providing a larger mobility context for Council’s discussion; Tish Laemmle, Eric Weinstein and Michael Scheinberg for their reasoned arguments in favor; and especially we tip the hat to the irrepressible Victor Omelczenko, who gave a command performance in how to relate to City Council with an impassioned argument for encouraging cycling.