Concerns About our Complete Streets Process

Here I present my letter to our Traffic and Parking Commission about the state of our complete streets planning process as I see it. There will have gone ten weeks between the last event (the walk audit) and the upcoming workshop on August 22nd without any substantive communication with the public. Has public input to date effectively informed the process? Has the participation component been just a check-the-box exercise that hews to the city’s request-for-proposal? The RFP wasn’t a particularly imaginative document and it seems like we have a singularly unimaginative complete streets process on our hands.

July 12, 2018

Chair Nooshin Meshkaty
Vice-Chair Jay Solnit
Members of the Traffic & Parking Commission

Dear Commissioners:

Thank you for your continuing attention to the complete streets plan process. I appreciate your participation in the workshops and walk audit. I hope this commission will continue to play an active role through the adoption of the final complete streets plan this fall.

The Traffic & Parking Commission appears to be an outlier among commissions, however. No other commission seems to have actively engaged in what should be a broad civic conversation about the future of mobility. The General Plan Circulation Element (2010) and the Sustainable City Plan (2009) recommend we encourage active modes of transportation but it seems like most of our commissions have yet to find the means to help us reach that goal.

At least as far as engaging in the complete streets process goes. These commissions are not discussing issues relevant to complete streets. Most commissions have dispatched no participant to the plan process events as far as I can tell. I suspect it is because ‘complete streets’ appears as an information item and not an action item.

I believe that our commissions should have been explicitly invited to join this civic conversation about the future of mobility. Perhaps our commissioners could have benefitted from some help to recognize the relevance of complete streets to their commission mission.

For example, the Health & Safety Commission could have been asked to suggest measures that would raise public awareness; or invited to recommend the continuation of city-sponsored bike-safety classes in partnership with the school district. Recreation & Parks, too, could have been asked to reconsider the ban on bicycles in city parks. The commissioners could have reprised their discussion a about whether larger parks should feature a separate bicycle path. (Unfortunately, just as the complete streets plan process was kicking-off the commissioners elected not to make bicycling issues a priority.)

Likewise I’m sure the Planning Commission was not invited to review the city’s Transportation Demand Management program. TDM has long mandated nonresidential developments larger than 15,000 sq. feet to include bicycle maps and related information. Developments over 25,000 sq. feet were required to provide bicycle racks and enclosed secure bicycle parking. Has TDM yielded any benefit in that regard? Should it be expanded to residential developments too? (The coming 9200 Wilshire Boulevard project – 54 condominium units – presents an opportunity to have that conversation.)

The City Council’s standing committees also could have had a role to play in the complete streets plan process. Consider the Green City and Autonomous Vehicles committees. Wouldn’t they have something to talk about? Our consultants are talking about connected vehicles, after all, and it may be time to revisit our green building standards too. The Next Beverly Hills committee should have received a formal invitation to participate too, in my view. Kory Klem and I talk-up complete streets to those relatively young committee members but I’m not sure many have even completed the online survey.

Your commission also has a role here. I wish I had suggested that you revisit the bicycle rack-on-request program. Inexplicably the program always focused on business needs; shouldn’t it have targeted end-users – the riders who use the racks? I also should have suggested the commission discuss a ‘bike valet’ program. Bike valets promote attendance at city events while encouraging attendees to leave the car at home. It is in your wheelhouse: your remit includes oversight of valet car parking of course.

All of this comes to mind when I ponder the gap between what our complete streets plan could be, and the limitations of the process that will ultimately generate it. Many weeks will have gone by between the walk audit and the presentation of the draft plan. And maybe our capable consultants have it in hand. But it feels like the process and purpose has receded from the collective consciousness. A recent email via the website about it wasn’t even acknowledged.

What I’m missing is a robust civic conversation about the inevitable transformation that personal mobility augurs. Scooters are only the latest sign that we are not yet prepared for the future.

As always I thank you for your time and effort you put in month-after month. It is appreciated!

SM Boulevard Project In Flux But Bike Lanes Are Still on the Table

City Council discussing bike lanes

Photo: Nancy Laemmle

City Council in study session today received some answers from city staff to March 4th questions about ballooning cost projections. But councilmembers unhappy about imprecision and dissatisfied with past staff candor turned the project back with even more questions. Today much remains in flux: cost projections, financing options, and traffic mitigation measures, to name a few things. Consequently there is no resolution on project scope, much less even a firm position on bicycle lanes. Given the uncertainty, that’s good news: that option remains on the table for Santa Monica Boulevard. Continue reading

New York City’s Transformation

NYC bike rackOver the past decade New York City has been transformed from a hardscrabble city where motorists practically had the run of city streets (perhaps our greatest public space!) to a hardscrabble city where those of us who walk and bike have at least a fighting chance to survive. And while the playing field is not exactly level, the transformation of high-profile thoroughfares suggests the problem is recognized. With appropriate policies, better enforcement and continued infrastructure improvements, we’ll at least put non-motorists back on the scoreboard after a century+ shutout by motor traffic interests and an ongoing assist from unaccountable policymakers. Continue reading

Blue-Ribbon Winner: Public Input!

Melissa Antol speaking at Blue-Ribbon #3With the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee having wrapped in late January, our recommendations will go to Council for consideration as early as February 18th. Then we’ll know if tomorrow’s boulevard will be a replay of the last century or a break with the past. Let’s look back at the high and low points of this public outreach process as we anticipate Council’s direction. Continue reading

Small Town Advocacy in BH: Opportunities & Constraints

beverly hills city hallIf you want to advocate for a policy change in Beverly Hills,  take some comfort that we’re a small town at heart. You’ll see a councilmember at the farmers market now and again. City Hall is close by enough to touch, after all. Staffers will likely answer your phone call. What’s best is that good ideas don’t necessarily go to an early grave like they might in Los Angeles, where they’re lost in committee. Here your good idea will at least get an honest hearing in Council. So why is it that a family-friendly notion like road safety finds so little traction here? Continue reading

Measure J: We Can’t Support It

Measure J, the initiative on the Los Angeles County ballot to extend the voter approved half-cent transportation sales tax, has found support among transit advocates and some cycling advocates too. A two-thirds ‘yes’ vote on J would extend the ‘sunset’ of the 2008-era 30-year tax hike for an additional 30 years in order to generate $67 billion total for mobility investment across the county. (About $43 billion from the Measure J extension.) With Metro behind it, it’s tempting to go along because we do need transit options. But this initiative amplifies concerns that accompanied the original Measure R and is one of three tax-hike proposals on the ballot. It may not have sufficiently broad support. Already two key LA County Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich, have declined to endorse it. We join them. With 26 years yet to go on Measure R yet, we feel that leveraging a sales tax increase so far into the future for improvements not clearly specified (much less costed) begs voters take a pass. Continue reading

Wrench-in-a-Box: Getting Started in Bike Repair

Cartlandia Bike Rack for saleWhen I came across a for-sale listing on Bike Portland for a bike repair turnkey operation, I realized two things: it’s an awfully long way to go to buy out a business; and whatever the fantasy that a turnkey business offers – like a fully-contained wrench-in-a-box bike repair trailer – setting up shop in SoCal as a bike repair guy simply isn’t for me. Sure, I’ve got a few Park tools in a cabinet. Once in a while I like to turn a wrench. But a career in cycling isn’t for me. It could be a great opportunity for someone, right? Continue reading

Beverly Hills: Falling Down on Execution [editorial]

Beverly Hills Website early 2012

Beverly Hills says only Flash-based web browsers are welcome.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That tireless slogan is often uttered by policy pushers when they want to elevate political expedience above effectiveness. It’s the heads-up to recalibrate and ratchet down constituent expectations. Of course we can’t expect perfection; but too often we don’t even get the ‘good.’ For the past six months we’ve waited for Beverly Hills to refresh the city website. It’s been in the pipeline but it simply never materialized. Until now. Continue reading

Motorists: What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?

  • What-do-you-do-songWhat do you do with the mad that you feel
  • When you feel so mad you could bite?
  • When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
  • And nothing you do seems very right?

I couldn’t help but think of the classic Mr. Rogers song, What Do You Do?, while riding Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills recently. With an impatient motorist on my back wheel and angst all around me, I chanted this stanza from the Rogers ditty simply to keep myself composed. Continue reading

Who Holds Beverly Hills City Hall to Account?

Beverly Hills seal

We’re simply not getting the best from our staff. Anyone who works with City Hall on a regular basis will tell you that. Enthusiasm is low, dedication is scarce, and across departments imagination is practically non-existent. We’re not progressing like other cities: where they integrate new modes of mobility on city streets and make real strides toward sustainability, we only talk the talk. Calls for safer streets are met with an impassive shrug, and why not? Staff can wait us out. Career tenure and generous compensation offer no incentive to work smarter or harder. Where’s the management vision that will take us into the 21st century?

Bike Wrenching: Craftwork for a Post Fix-It Nation?

wrench & bolt

The New York Times recently published an essay titled, A Nation That’s Losing Its Toolbox. The toolbox here is metaphorical: it’s not that we don’t have tools, we’ve simply lost our ability to use them. Home Depot caters to the needy homeowner with DIY classes, the piece notes, but we’ve culturally lost the will to wrench. Perhaps the shift from manufacturing to services has undermined American familiarity and facility with tools, and with the loss goes the mechanical ingenuity that long charted a course for our industrial and industrious nation.

Let’s Stop the Clock on Bike Routes in Beverly Hills [Editorial]

Stop the clock on bike routes? For two years we have urged City of Beverly Hills to move with dispatch on new bike routes because our streets are simply not sufficiently safe for cyclists. When the city finally put in place a process and identified three possible bike routes (before City Council for discussion today), we’re faced with either plowing ahead or applying the brakes. We chose the latter: we can do better. Rather than make a significant misstep, we urge Council to stop the clock and revisit the process in order to come up with a better bike route proposal.

As Beverly Hills Celebrates 100 Years, Lend Your Voice

Beverly Hills is now gearing up for an 18-month long (!) centennial celebration of “style, class and glamour” which will culminate on January 28th of 2014 – exactly 100 years to the day of the city’s founding. With retired Playboy executive Richard Rosenzweig chairing a Blue ribbon committee to gin up ideas, could we expect a ‘What Happens in Las Vegas’ style fete? Or a more sober affair characteristic of the self-congratulatory, irony-free backslapping that is our city’s stock-in-trade?

Beverly Hills Reaches Out When It Suits City Hall

e-Notice screen

We received a press release yesterday from City of Beverly Hills decrying Metro for finalizing the Purple Line Constitution station. (“Scientific Data, Alternate Routes Ignored.”) School and city officials have fought bitterly tunneling under the high school, and this release virtually promises a suit. Whatever the merit, the release raised our eyebrow because City Hall never talks policy with the public. It’s a challenge simply to get City Hall to post timely online agendas, or to make city department documents available. Ironically, in this case we indicated a preference not to receive subway notices (right). But if it suits City Hall, the saying goes, Don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Next Time it May Be You

When Traffic & Parking Commission declined to recommend safety improvements for cyclists on Beverly Drive, one of our heavily traveled streets, commissioners argued that cyclists don’t obey the law. They said that sharrows might give cyclists a “false sense of security.” They even said that sharrows might cause drivers to panic. I had this in mind when a careless Cayenne driver broadsided me right on Beverly Drive on Saturday near the Art Fair, even as I was riding legally and prudently and without the harm of sharrows. What does the commission say to that?