The Bumpy Road to a Failed Mobility Planning Process in Beverly Hills

The effort to update the Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan (1977) hit a snag recently when a few NIMBY naysayers were allowed to derail a two-year mobility planning process. Despite hundreds of supportive comments across three complete streets workshops and two city commission meetings, it took only a few human scarecrows to intimidate city officials into bottling-up a perfectly good draft plan.

The Backstory

The complete streets planning process kicked-off in 2017 with a $200,000 budget and three transportation consultants. After 18 months of community outreach (including numerous Traffic & Parking Commission meetings where public comment was invited) the city released a draft plan for review. It is a very good draft plan that includes:

  • Priority bike routes to connect schools, parks, business districts and neighborhoods;
  • A bus-priority lane for Wilshire;
  • Street design guidelines informed by NACTO to minimize conflict among modes at intersections;
  • A bike-parking ordinance and new requirements for bike parking at major employers and community destinations;
  • Metrics and benchmarks to measure progress in mode-shift; and,
  • Enforcement of traffic violations (and benchmarks) because unlawful driving behavior threatens all other road users.

There is much more to like, including traffic calming treatments, bicycle-friendly business districts, bus shelters, and pilot program for shared-use mobility devices. The draft plan is an effective roadmap for the future of mobility in Beverly Hills. View the draft Complete Streets Plan and the draft Action Plan over at the city’s complete streets pop-up website.

The draft complete streets plan was the product of numerous public workshops. Public comment was taken in-person at workshops, online and provided directly to city officials at commission meetings.

There is nothing controversial about ‘complete streets.’ The term is used as a handle for a coordinated effort to design and build streets that prioritize user safety and equity-in-access regardless of the traveler’s chosen mode of travel.

Nor is complete streets an exotic concept. State law since 2008 has encouraged localities (including Beverly Hills) to ensure that key streets include facilities that make traveling safe for people walking and riding a bicycle. Since 2010 our own city plans have recommended that we travel by foot, bike and transit when possible. The goal? To reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Our city council even made complete streets a policy priority back in 2017!

Moreover, money hangs on having an approved complete streets plan: Metro makes grant funding contingent on an approved plan. Most localities in our region already have one.

Where We Are Today

The draft complete streets plan was last presented at a special meeting of the Traffic & Parking Commission that December. The format was town hall and the draft plan received an overwhelmingly positive response. It wasn’t just safe-streets enthusiasts (the folks who read Better Bike) but also city residents who simply want to feel safe while riding a bicycle or scooter on our streets.

However at that December commission meeting a few NIMBYs spoke up against the plan. They said it was all a plot to make driving impossible in the city. They said city officials were conniving to take away their curb parking. And they accused city staff of ginning-up the plan in secret, even though numerous complete streets events over the prior 18 months were widely noticed and even reported in the local media.

Still, the NIMBYs emerged like zombies from the crypt. And this being Beverly Hills, it took literally only four NIMBY voices to put a stop to a $150,000 mobility planning process underway for two years under the guidance of two very experienced consulting design & engineering firms.

Since December the complete streets draft plan has been bottled-up. Month after month we were provided with cut-and-paste ‘updates’ devoid of any update whatsoever. It is not surprising that city staff retreated into a bunker; transportation officials like department director Susan Healey Keene and deputy director Aaron Kunz have NEVER supported multimodal mobility.

But City Council is the problem now too even though an updated bike plan was made a council priority years ago, and complete streets in particular got the green light. Since NIMBYs spoke, only one councilmembers has stepped-up to support complete streets: Vice-Mayor Bob Wunderlich.

Wunderlich was elected in 2017 and promptly cast the decisive third vote for high-visibility bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. As the current Vice-Mayor he has championed ‘open streets’ for the city that would prioritize non-motor mobility over vehicles for the duration of the pandemic (but got scant support from city council).

Getting Complete Streets Back on Track

Vice-Mayor Bob Wunderlich is our only hope to get the complete streets planning process moving again. He is one of two councilmembers (along with Julian Gold) assigned as council liaisons to the Traffic & Parking Commission. Along with the chair and vice-chair of the commission, Wunderlich and Gold will likely determine the next step in the process. The Traffic & Parking Commission liaison meeting is a ‘tele-meeting’ available online on Tuesday, August 25th starting at 9 am. View the agenda. Please consider tuning-in and even submitting a comment. (More on that below.)

We have a small window to get complete streets back on track and here’s what we suggest.

First, we who reside in Beverly Hills must communicate our support for safer streets to city council and to the parking commission. The reality is that we can turn out a couple of hundred comments on a good complete streets draft plan — and we have! — but it takes only four NIMBYs to outweigh that broader support. Incredible but true. Please speak up to support a solid complete streets plan. Contact Mayor Les Friedman and the city council at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org.

Second, Beverly Hills residents should submit a comment in advance of the August 25th 9am Traffic & Parking liaison tele-meeting. This is where the next decision on the complete streets plan process will be taken! So send an email to the commission liaisons at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org and call for a robust complete streets plan. You will be sharing your thoughts with the Traffic & Parking Commission liaisons Vice Mayor Wunderlich, Councilmember Julian Gold, commission Chair David Seidel and commission Vice-Chair Nooshin Meshkati.

Third, Beverly Hills residents with an interest in safe, complete streets can contact Better Bike to let us know you are want to be involved. That could include contributing to a revised draft plan and keeping in touch about next steps in the process. Use our contact form.

Again the focus throughout this process is city residents. We don’t agree safe streets is for residents only, but we’ve heard time-and-again that city officials only care about what residents think. And time-and-again we see that they care most about what a few older homeowners think. They won’t help us deliver safe streets. So we have to speak up if we are to out-shout uninformed NIMBYs.

More About Vice-Mayor Bob Wunderlich

Newly-elected Bob Wunderlich in 2017 was the crucial third vote (with Lili Bosse and John Mirisch) to guarantee that Santa Monica Boulevard would provide Class II bicycle lanes. A less-enthusiastic Councilmember Julian Gold and (current) Mayor Les Friedman got on board once it was clear the lanes would go forward. To date they have shown no particular interest in complete streets.

Vice-Mayor Wunderlich is battling the same inertia that safe-street proponents always face in Beverly Hills like elsewhere. There are the NIMBY zombies, a city council reluctant to take the lead on mobility, and transportation officials who view complete streets as grant vehicle only but want none of the prescriptions or infrastructure.

Vice-Mayor Wunderlich rides a bicycle and so does his wife. And so do his grown kids (one of whom is riding cross-country right now). He believes in multimodal mobility and values safe streets for all road users. And he has the courage to say so when so many other city officials stay mum.