City Council Punts: Bike Lanes Deferred Again [Recap]
When City Council last considered bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in March, the question of whether to expand the blacktop incrementally to accommodate lanes became bogged down in a broader discussion about costs. Then this December 2nd meeting mostly focused on traffic mitigation. So again Council has kicked the bike lanes can further down the road. Yet Council and staff nevertheless appear to be on the same page: no bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. Let’s recap the meeting and look ahead to next steps and a new proposal.
[Update: scroll down for more information about our just-announced strategy session on December 22nd.]
We had ample reason to suspect that “the fix” was in even prior to the December meeting. As we detailed then, the 12/2 staff report recommended that City Council not expand the boulevard even an inch beyond its most narrow section at 60-ft. That would effectively preclude bicycle lanes for the foreseeable future. (Read more about the project.)
As Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz explained in his presentation (and illustrated in the staff report), much of the boulevard is 63 feet wide with one section between Wilshire and Canon that is only 60 feet. The latter is the choke point.
The 63’ section has room for 4.5 foot bicycle lanes on both sides… the 60’ section is narrower and cannot accommodate a bike lane on both sides without reducing lane width and impacting traffic…. Our analysis showed that the 63’ would provide adequate space for all vehicles, including 3 feet of clearance for bicycles, but the 60’ as it is striped now would provide sufficient space in the westbound direction but it would be limited space and tight [for bicycles]. -Aaron Kunz (emphasis added)
Did you get that? “Without reducing lane width and impacting traffic.” That precondition is simply presented as a given. But it is not set in concrete; in fact transportation advocates argue that narrow travel lanes actually benefit all road users as it slows motor traffic. Here it would allow the inclusion of a standard-width bicycle lane for cyclists too.
Given that the prospect of bicycle lanes is the single most politically-combustible aspect of the project (even more than cost) we expected at this meeting a robust discussion on the merits of lanes, plus some acknowledgment that a public process had already been conducted and that the vast majority of the 200+ comments to date are supportive of lanes. (It’s worth noting that the Blue Ribbon Committee formed for the purpose last September actually recommended a wider boulevard with bicycle lanes too.)
But we heard none of that today. First off, we were surprised but not shocked: the city’s decision not to include bicycle lanes was essentially footnoted on page three of the staff report:
That’s not a good sign as it seems a predetermined decision. Likewise, when the issue was teed up at this meeting by Community Development Director Susan Healey Keene, the conclusion about boulevard width was presented as a matter-of-fact. (Note that the staff report too is silent on the Blue Ribbon’s recommendations.)
Why? The question of whether to include bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard appears to be mooted: the two-member ad hoc committee (comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien) “agreed to proceed with the project designed at the existing road width” as Aaron noted. That was decided in July, well before the public could fully discuss the available options today.
Perhaps our ad hoc members heard from one particular community that evidently does matter to them: north-side homeowner association representatives and its members. They swing a lot of weight (and campaign contributions) and evidently they don’t care for multimodal transit. They also like to sue.
Though the agenda item was carefully focused on mitigation measures, supporters did have something to say. Speaking on behalf of the lanes option was Josh Paget, board member on the neighboring Mid City West Community Council and co-chair of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Streetscape committee. He said:
We are your neighbors… and we have drafted a resolution in support of bicycle lanes, and the board has voted to encourage BH to adopt bike lanes… We hope that you do that as a benefit not only to benefit your community, but also to members of our community who frequent Beverly Hills. – Josh Paget
He also noted that his board has endorsed both a neighborhood greenways proposal and Melrose complete streets project, the latter “complete with bike lanes because we believe it benefits our community.”
Next up, Allison Regan told the Council that Santa Monica is a “vital link connecting current or proposed lanes” in adjacent cities. She said:
As you know, biking as an alternative mode of transport – and as a preferred mode for tourists – is growing in popularity… [and] it is well documented that bicyclists bring dollars to cities with dedicated bike infrastructure. I encourage you to rethink the widening of Santa Monica, particularly when it would not encroach on usable park space to do so. The preference – the ideal – would be to create an entirely separate bike path along the boulevard, and you could do so by expanding the usable park space…[and] installing a separate bike path in the park. – Allison Regan
Then LACBC‘s Eric Bruins laid out the case for restriping more narrow lanes in order to slow traffic and to accommodate lanes on the boulevard. He referred to his LACBC letter to Council to observe, “Your consultants and staff are not using the best engineering standards for city lane design. They find that 60 feet wide does not accommodate bike lanes.” But it does if you use current NACTO standards, he added. Then he asked, “What are the aspirations here? Are we just trying to rebuild it? Or aspire to a healthier, safe and more sustainable community? We ask that bike lanes be carried forth into design [phase] so that we can preserve that option.”
Then the closer while holding up an image of a boulevard hit-and-run victim:
More important, this is Paul Livingston. He was hit a block from here on SM in 2011. He is among the many injured transported to Cedars Sinai because that street is currently inhospitable [to riders]. The Council can change that if we use the current best standards and do what’s possible in the right-of-way by striping bike lanes to make that street available to all people to use it. – Eric Bruins
Resident Kory Klem also spoke in favor of multimodal mobility and he came loaded with data:
More Angelenos are biking each year, with 8% growth in the past year alone. This number includes both Beverly Hills residents and the folks passing through our amazing community. LA has added 120 miles of bike lanes to support this growth. On streets with new dedicated lanes since 2011, the number of cyclists has doubled. New York’s protected bike lanes have led to a 45% reduction in all injury related accidents. We’re flanked immediately to the east and west by some of the best, contiguous bike lanes in Los Angeles. Please, let’s connect them.
Kory noted the breadth of public support for lanes, including boulevard churches like Good Shepherd and All Saints. “They are 100% for bike lines even at the cost of widening [the boulevard].” He then reminded Council:
You hired a consultant and they recommended widening and accommodating bike lanes… You then appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee and I watched them invert their support and evolve their thinking to actually recommend widening and bike lanes… So I implore you yet once again, please do the right thing, not only for today, but for generations to come…. The only people who should be opposed [the churches] are actually in support. – Kory Klem
Blue Ribbon Committee chair Barry Pressman, in a letter read into the record, said he reiterated the committee’s support; not only for expansion but also for striped bike lanes.
The Blue Ribbon Committee came to these conclusions after extensive investigation, public comment and deliberation… The present status is dangerous or potentially dangerous for drivers and cyclists alike. – Dr. Barry Pressman
Ad hoc committee member and councilman Willie Brien confined his remarks mostly to traffic mitigation. (That is, only how the Santa Monica Boulevard project might inconvenience motorists during construction). But on boulevard expansion and bike lanes he elided. He has previously stated diehard opposition, and facing the issue again today called this “a very early step” in the process. “There are no simple solutions to this problem… Nothing is off the table but we do need to move forward.”
But Brien did talk briefly about mobility beyond reconstruction, however, which is a welcome nod to an overdue discussion (the city’s bike plan dates to 1977):
We plan to come back and discuss specifically bike lanes and bike routes in the city. We hear the advocates, and all of us support bike safety to the fullest, and we’re going to look at those lanes and routes. – Dr. Willie Brien
Councilmember Nancy Krasne for her part said of Santa Monica Boulevard, “I don’t see a bike lane there – that is my preference.” But she evidently has a soft spot for folks who travel without a steel cage to protect them. “I worry about the safety of the bikers foremost,” she said, adding later, “I want my bicyclists as safe as my children.” (Yes, do it for the kids!)
When it comes to project prescriptions, however, she wasn’t entertaining bike lanes. “I always hear, ‘This is how we’ve always done it, so we’re going to stripe SM Blvd [for lanes].’ But I think that is a very foolish option.” (Never mind that that’s not how we’ve always done it in Beverly Hills.) She then again floated her proposal:
Let’s remove parking on Little Santa Monica and use it for local traffic and cyclists… As much as I hate giving up parking, if we could put up bollards to get Century City traffic off [it] and use it for local traffic and for bicycles, we will have a safer, better community… My concern is a healthier, safer and more sustainable community.
For what it’s worth, we agree. But that’s a non-starter. She can’t seriously believe that local businesses will give up street parking when they ordinarily fight tooth and nail for any single additional space they can squeeze out of the public realm.
Her opposition to lanes? It makes zero sense: a parade of riders has called bike lanes essential to a safer corridor. And despite studies available to her that attest otherwise, she maintains that state-approved bicycle lanes put riders in harm’s way. (Consult the state’s manual if you’re curious.) You can’t argue with facts if you simply don’t engage them.
As time in this study session ran short, Vice Mayor Julian Gold, councilmember John Mirisch and Mayor Bosse each made no substantive comments. Note that the Mayor didn’t speak from the dais in favor of, or against, bike lanes in this meeting, nor did she address it in March.
It would be a shame to reshape Santa Monica Boulevard for generations to come without meeting the spirit of the state’s Complete Streets Act of 2008, which requires localities to plan for multimodal mobility by making travel safe for all road users. And it’s disingenuous to collect input from road users – more than 90% of whom said they would feel safer traveling the boulevard in bike lanes – only to summarily dismiss the outpouring of support. After all, the city created a public process to evaluate conceptual options and came up with a recommendation to expand the boulevard and stripe lanes.
Our Proposal: ‘No Net Loss’ of Green Space PLUS Bicycle Lanes
Looking ahead, on January 6th our City Council is again set to decide the boulevard width issue. But as councilmember Brien implied in December, it’s already been decided: keep the boulevard “at its current width.” But that width varies today; should we reconstruct the boulevard at varying widths for the future? What if we could choose one width that both accommodates bike lanes while resulting in no loss of green space?
There does exist a solution that should satisfy critics who cry about a loss of green space while providing safe transit to bicycle riders. We’re calling it ‘no-net-loss’ because it would actually expand the grass area of Beverly Gardens park by a foot along two (eastern) segments of the boulevard, while taking away two feet from only a single segment (between Wilshire and Canon). When completed, the boulevard would be a uniform 62 feet wide – sufficient for 5′ bike lanes – without sacrificing any green space (hence no net loss) as depicted below. (Click to animate.)
Not only would riders gain safe travel lanes and park proponents keep the green space they like, drivers will also have to slow down because the new travel lanes would be narrowed. We call this a win-win-win!
City Council will ostensibly discuss the issue of boulevard width on January 6th, but before the bike lane coffin’s nailed shut, we hope our councilmembers will consider all the available options, including this one not put forward by our transportation staff or consultant Psomas. Join us in a strategy session at the Beverly Hills Public Library on December 22nd at 7pm. (For more information and to RSVP, check here.) We’ll talk plans and politics and organize to get our Council behind a compromise that will afford non-motor travelers sufficient space on the blacktop while meeting the demands of north-side residents for no loss of green space.