Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What?

MayorChallengeSignUpEarlier this year, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged American localities to make travel safer for bicycle riders and pedestrians. In March he invited US mayors to sign on, and Beverly Hills accepted the challenge back in February. But we’ve heard nothing from City Hall about it since then. Is our city doing anything to meet the Mayors’ Challenge for bike-friendly streets?

Back in 2010, then-Secretary of USDOT Ray LaHood issued a policy statement called Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations to support the creation of “convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities” on streets to encourage bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages to get out from behind the wheel. Crucially, the emphasis was placed on ensuring safe access to streets for people of all ages and abilities regardless of mode choice. Here is the policy statement section of the document (in full):

The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

The statement departs from age-old USDOT guidance in one important way: it explicitly references alternatives to the automobile. “Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate…people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.”

Moreover, it encourages local transportation agencies to “plan, fund, and implement improvements…including linkages to transit” that go beyond “minimum requirements.” In spirit it affirms non-motor transportation as an “integral element” of the transportation system. From a department of transportation perspective, that is practically heresy!

Then the statement concludes:

While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.

The policy was a springboard for the department’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative launched in the fall of 2014. The goal: to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety across the country. The initiative was the centerpiece of the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets in DC in March. Read the executive summary.

Mayors’ Challenge

Just as the Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation reminds local agencies of their responsibility to ensure safe access to roadways, USDOT Secretary Foxx’s ‘Mayors’ Challenge’ prods localities and their local agencies to actually commit to taking concrete (pun intended) steps to make streets safe for walking and cycling. Launched on January 22nd, it is a “call to action.” Localities would undertake one or more of the “challenge activities” organized around some aspect of enhanced multimodal mobility:

  • Employ ‘complete streets’ principles in design
  • Identify barriers to access that make streets less safe
  • Gather and track data on biking and walking
  • Deploy contextual street designs that go beyond minimum standards
  • Create and complete pedestrian and bicycle networks
  • Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road use behavior

Secretary Foxx would seem to have his work cut out for him in Beverly Hills with his Mayors’ Challenge!

Beverly Hills: ‘Challenged’ Indeed When It Comes to Safe Streets

Beverly Hills was among the first cluster of localities to sign on to the challenge in February. And oddly we find our city in the company of leading bicycle-friendly places like Davis and San Francisco, as well as bike-friendly tony precincts like Santa Barbara and Menlo Park.

Mayors' Challenge cities listWhat do we have in common with them when it comes to mobility? Beverly Hills has not taken any step to make our city more bike-friendly. And frankly our policymakers don’t appear inclined to enact any policy or create any program to support multimodal mobility any time soon.

Indeed we fought tooth-and-nail to keep bicycle lanes off of North Santa Monica Boulevard despite overwhelming support from the public and policy guidance from USDOT (no less) that recommends lanes there. Have a look at the city’s own project renderings for tomorrow’s corridor. You won’t see a bicycle lane or continental crosswalk or any other safe-street facility depicted.

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (east of Canon Drive)
Before and after views of North Santa Monica Boulevard. After $35 million spent, this corridor will be no more supportive of multimodal mobility than when it was constructed nearly 100 years ago.

The dearth of ‘complete streets’ principles is by design; you won’t find mention of the term in any city document nor will it pass the lips of any official here. (That is, with the notable exception of John Mirisch who, alone on the City Council dais, has consistently supported safe and complete streets.)

Now that former Mayor Lili Bosse signed us up, will we accept the ‘challenge’? We asked transportation planner Martha Eros how our city will proceed on the Mayor’s Challenge. “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements,” she said. We followed up for specifics. “Thank you for your patience,” Martha replied. “I have asked for an update on next steps re. the Mayor’s Challenge and will provide information when received.” There was no follow-up.

This week we made a media inquiry of Beverly Hills City Hall. “Has the city undertaken any of the measures suggested by the challenge?” we asked. “Or taken a step that might reflect the spirit of the challenge, such as addressing the barriers that make streets safe for all road users?” But we received no response.

Clearly the city has not taken the challenge as seriously as have other cities. A search for relevant documents on the city’s website, for example, turned up no documents.

Search returns for Mayor's Challenge on Beverly Hills website

Update: Better Bike received this reply from Public Information Manager Therese Kosterman:

When Councilmember Bosse was mayor, she had a highly successful Walk with the Mayor program that attracted hundreds of participants and highlighted the importance of walking as a part of the complete streets approach to local transportation. In addition the bike share program was approved under her leadership and is still moving forward, even after her term as mayor ended.

We’ll look forward to a complete streets initiative put forth by current mayor Dr. Julian Gold to meet the terms of the challenge.

But Santa Monica Does Take The Challenge Seriously…

Contrast our rhetoric-rich but commitment-phobic approach with that taken by the City of Santa Monica. City Council unanimously supported participation in the Mayors’ Challenge this summer. “We are vitally interested in safe streets,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said. “We want to further to emphasize our commitment to bicycle and pedestrian safety.” Councilmember Pam O’Connor agreed:

We are not backing down from what we want to do with pedestrian & bike safety and multimodal mobility. We need to be aggressive with the goals of vision zero – [that is] no tolerance for any loss of life…and to make our streets work for people of all ages.” – Santa Monica Councilmember Pam O’Connor

It’s fine to talk about embracing the challenge, but tangible action requires resources. Here Santa Monica City Council ponied up by backing Councilmember Gleam Davis’s suggestion for a fully-funded program coordinator. “It’s important that we not only affirm the ideas but make a budgetary commitment in staffing,” she said. And it was done!

The Mayors’ Challenge throws down the gauntlet to participating localities. And some, like Santa Monica, have indeed taken up the challenge. But in other cities, as our own experience suggests, local transportation officials and policymakers too often stand in the way. USDOT Secretary Foxx said as much: “While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.” Amen.

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