Complete Streets Workshop #2 Recap

City of Beverly Hills has hosted the second in a series of complete streets outreach events. At workshop #1 general concepts were presented and key concerns identified. This workshop was rubber-meets-road as participants hovered over city maps to drill down on opportunities for pedestrian and bicycle networks and ‘vehicle technology streets.’ Good ideas came from five roundtables. Read on!

This workshop opened with a presentation from consultant Iteris, which reminded us that the ‘complete’ street is one that is accessible to all road users. We recapped the findings from Workshop #1 where top concerns included street safety, pedestrian improvements, enhanced quality-of-life, and mobility efficiencies.

Findings from Workshop #1

Workshop #1 participants valued street safety and quality-of-life.

Complete Streets Workshop #1 values and goals
Values and goals as identified by Workshop #1 participants and charted by the city.

At the Earth Day pop-up visitors identified their preferences for mobility improvements and complete streets elements.

I find it notable that from workshop #1 participants safety was the top-identified value followed by quality-of-life. (Read my recap of the workshop). We’re still awaiting on data from the online complete streets survey.

Complete Streets Earth Day suggestions
Visitors to the Earth Day pop-up had some clear ideas on what to prioritize!

Likewise, Earth Day visitors identified as their top focus the pedestrian network. Vehicular and bicycle network improvements followed as key foci. Bicycle riders are but 1% of road users and we are punching above our weight if the general interest in bike network improvements (12%) has so closed the gap with improvements to the vehicular network (17%). As for complete streets elements, pedestrian crosswalks and crossing warnings together was a top concern followed by bicycle lanes (which ranked 2nd!) and then traffic calming measures.

Interestingly, technological approaches like ‘smart vehicles’ placed far down the priorities list. Perhaps it is too abstract as yet to fire up the collective imagination. A demonstration of autonomous vehicles or network-enabled traffic efficiencies would go a long way to pushing technology solutions up the priority ladder.

Workshop #2 Focus

The workshop them proceeded to roundtables to discuss three focus areas: the pedestrian network, the bicycle network, and ‘vehicle technology streets.’ In part the framing was intended to address the ‘last-mile’ problem of getting people to/from transit options. Personal mobility solutions would help move local trips from single-occupancy vehicles to other modes that contribute less to congestion (in accord with existing city plans).

As for recommended treatments like safer crosswalks, pedestrian ‘scrambles’ (all-direction crossings), bicycle lanes, and traffic-calming strategies like curb bulb-outs, we already have examples in the Beverly Hills CBD. It is a mini complete streets demonstration project and the city is now adding scrambles to South Santa Monica Boulevard too. People need not image what safer and more accessible streets look like; they’re already here  albeit in a limited area.

As for technology-related innovations, Beverly Hills has embraced the autonomous vehicles concept but we’re still waiting for a concrete sign of commitment. There is a lot of interest in networked vehicles using so-called smart sensors, too, that would move traffic more efficiently. I surmised the introduction of the concept here at the workshop was more about priming the pump than soliciting ideas. Few of us have seen any of those innovations implemented anywhere.

Workshop Format

Workshop #2 mapAt each table were maps that came pre-loaded with suggestions for possible bicycle routes and even a suggested circuit for an autonomous shuttle: north from the future Rodeo metro on Rodeo, then east across South Santa Monica, then down Beverly to the station.

Suggested bike route possibilities included Sunset, Elevado, Charleville, and Gregory — the latter identified as a potential bike route in the city’s 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. (Yes, it’s still on the books!) The routes were wisely chosen in my view to complement the east-west bike lanes on Burton and (soon!) North Santa Monica.

After the presentation, 25 participants maybe 25 participants plus 17 (!) city staffers (in addition to consultants and four planning commissioners) sat around at five roundtables were tasked with recommending their own improvements. We had about an hour to talk and mark-up city maps (one for each of the three focus areas) then each table was invited to share the findings.

Workshop #2 my tableNow, I’m not sure if my table was representative but we touched on a variety of improvements including additional mid-block crossings; corridors suitable for bike facilities generally and east-west through bike routes specifically; and roundabouts or traffic diverters to calm traffic.

Workshop #2 other tableMy own suggestion was to expand our only designated pedestrian zone (currently limited to the business triangle and a couple of blocks of South Beverly) to wherever we see a high incidence of pedestrian activity today. I feel it’s preferable to have a portfolio of options many of which must be employed wherever we see significant pedestrian activity rather than pick-and-choose on an ad-hoc basis. That’s the way transportation engineers approach road improvements: volume and prevailing speed dictate the measures.

The plenary feedback included these highlights:

  • A preference for a “handful’ of high quality, striped bicycle lanes over more bike routes of lesser-quality;
  • More mid-block crossings (on Robertson and South Beverly for example);
  • Bike racks at key commercial destinations;
  • Additional pedestrian scrambles (for example at Beverly & Charleville);
  • Bus service permanently relocated to South Santa Monica Boulevard.

We’ll know more when the summary is released. Or check out the workshop video, set to be rebroadcast on Channel 10 on June 4th at 5:00pm; June 12th at 8pm; and June 18th at 7pm. Or consult the June BHTV schedule.

Bus Rapid Transit system in Mexico-City
Mexico City has retrofitted a Bus Rapid Transit system along one of its busy boulevards.

It seems to me that there is an opportunity at these workshops to talk about more significant mobility infrastructure like bus rapid transit. Cities have embraced BRT as an efficient, lower-cost complement to underground metros. It is a way to retrofit major boulevards (like Olympic perhaps) for efficient mass transit at a small fraction of the cost of a light rail line. In Mexico City, for example, buses travel in separate lanes and stop at island stations with ticketing kiosks. If we are talking about new innovations then I think that BRT should be on the menu too.

Bus Rapid Transit in Mexico City station
Boarding Mexico City’s Bus Rapid Transit line.

Despite all of the suggestions that came from the roundtables, the one that I found most intriguing was produced after the meeting almost on the back of a napkin. Mobility advocate and tech guy Kory Klem proposed that South Santa Monica Boulevard – which just got more curbside parking – be reconfigured for safety. Here’s his diagram.

Kory Klem's South SM Blvd proposal diagram
Diagram of South Santa Monica Boulevard east of Wilshire. Note the Iteris-provided depictions of back-in curb parking at bottom. Credit: Kory Klem.

Kory’s proposal would remove all curbside parking from the north side (where the sidewalk is narrow) and require drivers to turn right into one of the city’s five garages just behind the storefronts. Replacing the parking would be the westbound bicycle lane. On the south side of the boulevard, where curbside parking clogs up the flow today, would be an eastbound curbside bicycle lane and just beyond that reverse back-in parking. The benefit is threefold: a bicycle lane for safety; a greater buffer from the sidewalk from passing traffic (contributing to a village-like atmosphere); and greater parking capacity than curbside.

During the expected decline in vehicle use over the coming decade, the reconfiguration would keep street parking available but ensure that active transportation users on bikes and scooters would have a way to access the triangle safely.

Do you have ideas you want to share? Contact the consultants or take the survey. You can also speak to the Traffic and Parking Commission on the 1st Thursday (find the agenda here).

My Take on the Workshop

It’s really tough to make an event like this appealing to stakeholders, evidently, as city-side staffers outnumbered members of the public. Either that’s some serious hand-holding or it’s padding the numbers! Still, the consultants deserve credit for providing  key concepts and scoping the event to fit the 120-minute session. Was it successful? I’m of two minds. You can’t force people to attend, and the bare numbers suggest something less than a representative sample. At the same time, the city did its outreach and input was collected.

The constraint was time: we had three focus areas (pedestrian and bike networks and vehicle technology streets) and each could have taken 90 minutes. Anecdotes crowd out ideas and digressions eat up precious time. It seemed that when we were making progress it was time to rotate to the next focus area. Cramming them all into a breakout session is a tight fit.

The opening presentation presents its own challenge too. There are concepts that need to be communicated but the enemy here is also time. The longer it goes on the more it feels like a classroom. Perhaps what we need is a complete streets evangelist: a true believer who fires up the flock like in a tent revival.

Workshop #2 Jon Lower
Consultant John Lower and city transportation staffer Christian Vasquez were at my table.

Yet the city’s commitment is impressive. Our planning commissioners were here (technically it was a commission meeting) and every table had a consultant and a city staffer. By one count there were 19 city-side people (including police and fire) for 20–25 members of the public. Moreover outreach has historically not been the city’s strong suit, yet one can’t blame outreach here for relatively low turnout. Maybe it is the nebulous concept ‘complete streets’ that keeps people at bay.

Once seated, though, the broader challenge is to get participants to step beyond parochial concerns to envision a better city. That’s tough to do! We’ve heard about autonomous vehicles for years but we are still shocked when we see an autonomous vehicle in action. Cars that park themselves? Seems like science fiction! And who would have thought that GPS-enabled SCOOTERS would be the next public policy problem? LINK

Asking people to conjure up a menu of potential solutions to an age-old problem like gridlock in a dynamic environment for technological innovation is asking a lot. Ten or fifteen years ago were were talking about ‘European’ crosswalks and bike lanes like they were pie-in-the-sky. Today we have those crosswalks and in a couple of weeks we’ll have Santa Monica Boulevard high-visibility lanes. Ten years ago the purple line extension was a hypothetical. Now we’re planning for last-mile options around two stations. On top of it we are asked to think about ‘vehicle technology streets.’ What the hell is that?

We will learn more at the upcoming Complete Streets events. RSVP for the ‘walk audit’ on June 9th. Mark your calendar for the next workshop on August 22nd. Visit the city’s Complete Streets website for more info. See you there!


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