City of Beverly Hills has finally adopted a complete streets plan. City council finally gave the nod on Tuesday, April 20th after having bottled-up a very good draft plan for eighteen months. We can now move forward on some of the first-year projects identified in the associated Action Plan: bikeway corridors, model bikeway design guidelines and the hiring of a mobility coordinator. Could safer streets for bicyclists be just around the literal corner?
Complete streets supporters turned out yet again to make a persuasive argument for policies, programs and facilities to make Beverly Hills streets safe to use for everybody. With an adopted Complete Streets Plan in hand we look forward to realizing the goal of the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan: a citywide bicycle route network connecting parks and schools. In the 45 years since that plan was adopted a citywide network would be only the second real pro-bike measure in Beverly Hills (the first being the city’s high-visibility bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard).
The council meeting was a bit anticlimactic. As residents metaphorically rushed the gates with cogent arguments in support of the plan, the door to swift adoption simply swung open. It was a 4-0 vote to adopt the plan (with one member absent). Perhaps council waived it through only to anticipate the battles over substance later? Watch the video and decide for yourself.
Bumps on the Road to Complete Streets
Indeed there will be challenges to making Beverly Hills streets complete. It will take political will, namely. Councilmembers may have adopted the plan by unanimous consent, but there was not a substantive discussion about the measures necessary to make our streets complete.
The political headwind ahead was suggested by Councilmember Gold (never an enthusiastic supporter of multimodal mobility) when he said the Action Plan should be revisited. He then pointedly added that public outreach would need to happen block-by-block. If supporters had hoped that an approved plan meant the city would actually back that plan with political muscle, well, we may have to rethink it.
More likely we will be tasked with persuading older homeowners to accept bicycle lanes even though the NIMBYs can’t even articulate a coherent argument against bicycle infrastructure. Only a few such voices put this process on ice for a year. A taste of the challenge was previewed during the city council election in 2020. Both Lili Bosse and Julian Gold were running for reelection. In response to a homeowner question about bicycle lanes, each pledged not to remove curb parking in front of residences for bike infrastructure.
Another challenge is city hall ambivalence regarding multimodal mobility. Beverly Hills, like many places, has a proven track record of adopting plans that may express our aspirations but don’t actually commit to undertaking the work that makes change. The Sustainable City Plan, for example, was adopted in 2009. It urged us to reduce auto travel by bicycling to local destinations. The plan gained little traction with policymakers or department officials, however, and it has influenced no transportation policy or decision.
The Sustainable City Plan has sat on the proverbial shelf for more than a decade. Will the same fate befall the Complete Streets Plan?
Another challenge is follow-through. City hall can move nimbly when it likes. When it concerns travel and tourism, or conditions in the business triangle, the policies and actions come swiftly. But complete streets has already languished in the years since city council made it a priority. City interest did perk up when Metro made grant money contingent on an adopted plan. With that box now checked, will the city actually follow through on the polices, programs and infrastructure?
These challenges augur for the city putting complete streets on the back burner while policymakers focuse on tourism, business, and real estate development. After all this is Beverly Hills! We will always revert to form. It is up to us to persuade city council to keep it on the front burner.
Some Reasons for Optimism
Despite political headwinds and city hall ambivalence there are reasons for optimism. Our council is led today by Mayor Bob Wunderlich, who is a walker and a bicyclist. He has single handedly kept this complete streets process on track. Also supporting complete streets is Councilmember John Mirish who views multimodal mobility (and autonomous shuttles) as means to reduce traffic congestion. Mirisch is undaunted in taking unpopular positions. He will likely call-out NIMBYs as they stand in the way. Both Wunderlich and Mirisch are up for reelection in 2022.
Organizationally speaking, Beverly Hills is now better positioned today than at any time in the past to follow-through on complete streets. The transportation division has found a better fit at Public Works after years languishing at Community Development. The marriage of transportation and land use makes perfect sense on paper, and it might have paid a dividend in another city, but here in Beverly Hills it was a formula for inaction. Poor department management and a transportation division hostile to multimodal mobility kept safer streets off the city agenda.
But transportation division leadership has improved. The outgoing Deputy Director for Transportation, Aaron Kunz, has been replaced by Public Works engineer Daren Grilley. He proven himself to be both knowledgeable about complete streets and collaborative in nature.
Speaking of staff, the Complete Streets Plan adopted by city council includes a recommendation that the city hire a mobility coordinator. Mobility advocates suggested it. And the Action Plan includes it as a goal: “Request funding for a Mobility Coordinator staff position to work on implementation of the Complete Streets Action Plan with a focus on the active transportation elements (goal B4 p. 5).
Alas, that goal will not be met in the first year of Action Plan implementation due to the city’s hiring freeze. However having Grilley stand in for the departed transportation division director Kunz makes the need for a new coordinator less pressing than, say, securing pro-bike infrastructure.
The city’s mobility challenges won’t be solved by a mobility coordinator, our new transportation division official or even a few friends on city council. It will take commitment, money and focus.
The real bump in the road on the way to safer streets is the culture of Beverly Hills itself. In city hall the bias toward motor-mobility is baked-in across departments and management staff.
In order to change, city council would have to acknowledge that safe streets is a responsibility and not an option. City commissioners would have to recognize that each commission owns some piece of complete streets because mobility touches nearly every aspect of city operations. Department staff must begin to incorporate multimodal mobility concerns into every policy proposal and decision. We are a long way from that today.
In the past, our leaders have been unwilling to follow the lead of our municipal neighbors who are making that change. “We’re not West Hollywood,” said former councilmember Krasne as she led the opposition to bike lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. That was only four years ago. The current council overturned that decision and made the lanes high-visibility to boot. So change is possible.
Will the adoption of the Complete Streets Plan secure safer streets for all travelers in Beverly Hills? Time will tell. But without tangible improvements where the rubber meets the road — infrastructure! — our best-laid plans and aspirational goals won’t get us to complete streets.