Those of us waiting for Beverly Hills to update its Bicycle Master Plan may soon have cause to celebrate. On this, the 40th anniversary of the plan, which was adopted in 1977, the city appears poised to give it a refresh – and more! Rather than simply update the bike plan, the city will undertake a complete streets planning process.
The change in direction was announced in the spring with an information update to our Traffic and Parking Commission.
The Traffic and Parking Commission has been contemplating a Bicycle Master Plan update since 2010 and even once had organized an ad-hoc committee to do it. Ultimately the committee was tasked with installing bicycle racks (just 42 installed to date!). So the plan that was penned at the crest of the bicycle renaissance of the 1970s was left to age as an appendix in the city’s master plan. Instead the commission focused on the regulation of parking permits, valets, and taxicabs. (Fun fact: onetime chair of the commission, Lester Friedman, is now a sitting Beverly Hills councilmember.)
This complete streets effort traces its genesis to the City Council’s designation of a new mobility plan as an A-level priority in January of 2016. That initiative was spearheaded by current Mayor Lili Bosse, who remains the most vocal supporter of pro-bike improvements and safe streets on our City Council. Bosse had pushed that priority to the top of the city’s priority-setting exercise options list and then persuaded then-councilmember Willie Brien to get on board too. (Councilmember John Mirisch, who knows a complete street when he sees one, was already in favor.)
(Who did not step up for safe streets? Our current Vice Mayor Julian Gold. Like Brien he is a physician, and has presumably seen more than his share of two-wheeled crash victims, but he couldn’t make safe streets his priority.)
Then when Lili Bosse took the Mayor’s chair this past March, she quickly acted on that A-list priority and moved the one issue dearest to riders atop of the City Council agenda: striping Santa Monica Boulevard for bicycle lanes. In June Council unanimously agreed to stripe Class II lanes and even decided to make them high-visibility!
That was the most tangible sign of the city’s commitment to safe streets that I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve been hounding City Hall for it.
So, Beverly Hills complete streets planning process is soon to kick off. But why did it take so many years after surrounding cities adopted their own complete streets plans? After all, West Hollywood Culver City, Santa Monica and Los Angeles each adopted plans in 2011 or earlier; (West Hollywood and Santa Monica are now embarking on a round-2 updates.)
The roots go back even further to AB 1538, the California Complete Streets Act, which the legislature passed and the governor signed in 2008:
Commencing January 1, 2011, upon any substantial revision of the circulation element, the legislative body shall modify the circulation element to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of the streets, roads, and highways for safe and convenient travel in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.
That same year, California DOT released a directive titled, ‘Complete Streets: Integrating the Transportation System.’ The intent was to “provide for the needs of travelers of all ages and abilities” and to direct localities to ensure “opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers” across all modes. The directive recognized bicycle, pedestrian, and transit as “integral elements of the transportation system” and by mandated ‘complete streets’ principles be incorporated early, from planning through delivery.
It was a good time for complete streets but Beverly Hills wasn’t buying. The state’s Complete Streets Act was in place when Beverly Hills adopted its current General Plan and mobility element. The Act even required our city to include complete streets in it! But we put it off to the law’s deadline… which is now.
But there was an even more pressing reason we’re on board with complete streets right now. Metro requires a ‘certified’ complete streets plan of every locality as a condition of disbursing grant money for Metro-funded transportation projects. Beverly Hills had one.
Remember, Metro has a BIG pot of money, and Beverly Hills wants its piece. So, now we’re embracing complete streets! But we’re in body if not in spirit: our complete streets request-for-proposals (RFP) says almost nothing about the reason any locality should incorporate complete streets principles into plans: SAFETY!
What’s next in the complete streets plan process? Well, our complete streets RFP went out to bidders in June and eight proposals were received by July 1st. City Council is due to review them in September. But before it does, we want to be sure we get a look at those proposals so that we are prepared to comment.
First, we understand, the proposals will be vetted by a committee including the chairs of the Planning Commission and the Traffic and Parking Commission. That’s good for us! Both chairs (Gordon and Seidel) are excellent commissioners, and Seidel himself is a rider.
Next the proposals go to the Traffic and Parking liaison committee. Not so great for us. Gold sits on that committee, as does former TPC commissioner and current councilmember Les Friedman. Neither has exhibited much enthusiasm historically for complete streets. However the liaison is a public meeting and we will want to be prepared to address the merits of the plans.
One of the risks of the RFP process was that collective ambition for a complete streets plan could be scoped down and our imagination attenuated – leaving us with a weak plan and poor prospects for implementation. That is always a possibility. Thankfully Lili Bosse will remain our Mayor until March, when – we hope – the framework of the plan is established.
Until then, a handful of us have been at it since the draft RFP was released in the spring. And we will be there to see it through to City Council. That will be the ultimate test of the city’s commitment to safer streets and we will be there watching.
Santa Monica bicycle lanes, after all, was a great victory for mobility in Beverly Hills, but it was simply a down-payment on an overdue tab: safe streets for those who walk, ride and drive in Beverly Hills. We’d like to see that debt paid with interest!