Update to the 1977 Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan is No Longer a Priority

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation
Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, discusses the non-priority bicycle master plan update.

Every year, City Council establishes policy and program priorities. And for the past four fiscal years, the long-overdue update of our Bicycle Master Plan was one of them. The plan dates to 1977. Yet even as other transportation priorities have moved forward, the city has taken no step toward revisiting a forty-year-old plan that’s still on the books. At the November 5th Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we learned why from transportation chief Aaron Kunz: the plan update is not really a city priority after all.

Everyone agrees that our Bicycle Master Plan is irrelevant to the challenges of 21st century mobility. For one thing, the plan can’t tap into today’s thinking about solutions to transportation problems. It dates to the era of discos and the long-forgotten national bicentennial. That was four decades ago!

And for another thing, this plan is completely ignored by City Hall. Our old bike plan says all the right things about bike route networks to connect schools and parks and all that; in fact it illustrates the enhanced multimodal objectives of our General Plan and Sustainable City Plan. But city officials are simply resistant to making the city safe to ride. So the plan goes unmentioned, and its vision unacknowledged by City Council and committees. As if it simply doesn’t exist.

“The Plan is How Old?!”

Five years ago, fresh off a close call with a motorist on Beverly Drive, we phoned Aaron Kunz to ask why the city has on its books a bike plan that appeared to be thirty-five years old. That is, decades out of date. Kunz, our city’s Deputy Director for Transportation, not only acknowledged it was long in the tooth; but noted that it had been re-adopted by City Council just a few months earlier during the General Plan update, and without any substantive change.

Incredible! Is there legal precedent for adopting a thirty-five year old plan? California law requires circulation plans to be based on solid data and updated regularly. Turns out that when re-adopted in 2010, our Bicycle Master Plan was demoted; today it’s merely an item in an appendix. It isn’t even included in the circulation element; instead it’s an appendage to the open space element. In other words, the Beverly Hills General Plan doesn’t regard cycling as a matter of transportation.

As if to put a fine point on the bike plan’s irrelevance, when asked the city couldn’t even find a legible copy of the plan’s maps. (We were shown photocopies.)

But Kunz noted that an update to the bike plan was in the works, and that the Traffic and Parking commission had formed a Bicycle Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose. So we waited. And waited. The committee never did embark on an update. (Today that committee is practically moribund.) Seeing no action, we brought the old plan to the attention of the commission; we apprized City Council; and we spoke to transportation staff. A transportation planner said that when the time came, we’d have a few minutes at the mic to comment.

Arnstein's ladder of participation
Degrees of participation from Arnstein’s ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ (1969)

We went to planning school. That’s pro-forma participation, not substantive participation; it makes no difference to the outcome. It’s low on the public participation ladder.

City Council Makes the Plan Update a Priority

The only thing we can show for our efforts is that City Council made the update of the old Bicycle Master Plan update a priority. That was back in fiscal year 2012-13. It was a second-tier (‘B’ level) priority, mind you, but still. It was in the queue for action. In fact, it was targeted for completion in 2014.

City Council priorities 2012-13 excerpt bike planBut the Bicycle Master Plan from 1977 wasn’t updated. So the city put it on the next fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2013-14 excerpt

That completion date too slipped. So the city tacked it onto the next 2014-15 fiscal year’s priority list:

City Council Priorities 2014-15 excerpt

But a funny thing happened between that year and the next (2014-15) fiscal year: the priority item’s emphasis shifted. No longer was it “prepare a comprehensive plan to create bicycle paths”; now the action item was to “develop acceptable enhancements to bike mobility.” That’s a bit of sleight-of-hand! Think about the change in intent. From development of a citywide “plan” to simply implementing “acceptable enhancements.” And what does acceptable mean, exactly? And of course there were also the missed deadlines.

The bike plan update priority item remains on the current fiscal year (2015-16) list, albeit with a new bike-share measure tacked on:

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike planThe bike-share add-on represents the Council’s interest in rolling out a system in 2016. We’ve previously called it out for being boutique-sized (just 50 bikes) but we’ll take progress where we can get it.

On the plan update, however, there is no progress. It seems that while the priority remained on the list year after year, there never was a credible gesture made toward updating the plan. Eventually – and quietly – City Council evidently took the update off the table. Admittedly, we never noticed the change in emphasis.

Why No Progress?

So the lack of progress until now has been a mystery. But in this November’s Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we gained some insight. And it’s two reasons. First, Traffic and Parking commissioners don’t much care about rider safety. And second, we learned that the bike plan update wasn’t a priority after all.

On rider safety, it’s clear that there’s not sufficient regard for rider safety in Beverly Hills. But to be fair, the city holds in low regard the safety of all road users. Traffic and Parking commissioners every month receive a police tally of crash injuries, yet appear incurious as to why those injuries don’t ever decrease.

But riders feel the brunt of city indifference: over the past seven years, the number of injured riders has increased by 60%. Witness the trend.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)
Rider injuries are up 59% from 2008 through last year. (Chart generated by Better Bike from BHPD data.)

Yet Traffic and Parking commissioners never ask why; or wonder what can be done to reduce the harm. For their part, the police never flagged the increase (the city doesn’t evidently chart crash trends). As in the recent meeting, when the rate of crash injuries is mentioned at all, it is simply noted and accepted as a fact of life. (Then again, no member of the commission ever asks why our city leads the state in road injuries among small-sized cities generally.)

As for the bike plan update, Traffic and Parking Commission Chair Lester Friedman himself noted in the November 5th meeting that as a Council-identified priority it’s not gone anywhere even as other transportation priorities have moved forward. “The only ‘B’ priority [remaining] is the citywide bike plan,” he said. Was there finally an opportunity to advance it? No chance at all. “We have 3 A priorities already [underway], so the likelihood of us getting a 4th priority [going] is slim and none,” he said. “And the reality is we’ll have our hands full with Santa Monica Blvd. mitigation… I mean I’ll hear what [fellow commissioners] say, but I don’t see where we got any room on this one.”

Fellow commissioners Jeff Seidel, Jake Manaster, Jeff Levine and Andy Licht agreed: it wasn’t in the commission’s interest to make it an A-level priority.

Then it got interesting. Commissioner Seidel asked if work would later be accelerated in order to meet the target date on the existing ‘bike plan’ priority item. (The estimated completion date for is indicated as June 2016.) Transportation deputy Kunz replied, “I don’t know if we changed the date on that….” He then elaborated: “Our thought on it is that that’s really [about] bike-sharing… unless it’s raised to an A priority we would not focus on that outside of bike-sharing.”

Listen for yourself to the 4-minute meeting audio:

Turns out that the bike plan update has been off-the-table all along. The Community Development Department hasn’t been thinking about it since FY 2014-15 (as suggested by the priority item description’s change in emphasis). Good to know!

Many Good Ideas Die a Quiet Death in Beverly Hills

The tacit tanking of the long-overdue update to our 1977 bike plan reflects the city’s M.O. when it comes to making multimodal improvements: any suggestion to make Beverly Hills bike-friendly, for example, will be quietly sidestepped; it goes away, not to be spoken of again. Only a decidedly non-team Beverly Hills player (like Better Bike!) would dare bring it back up in a commission meeting, say, or at City Council.

You remember how Council effectively killed bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard this past July, right? City Council didn’t explicitly vote ‘no’ to deny the lanes but instead just let the question expire by simply not moving it forward at a crucial decision point. (Read more.)

That’s the way city officials have handled the forty-year-old Bicycle Master Plan too. During the General Plan update back in 2010, officials didn’t simply ditch the outdated document much less update it. Instead they tucked it away as an obscure appendix never to be heard from again. Much like dispatching a red-headed stepchild to live in the woodshed: out of sight, out of mind.

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