Santa Monica Leads, Beverly Hills Hardly Follows

Santa Monica continues to be a regional leader when it comes to supporting multimodal mobility and enhancing street safety. It has installed many miles of bicycle lanes (included protected bikeways) and has emerged as a municipal leader with development policies crafted to put a lid on new vehicle trips downtown. Not least, City Hall is working with the community advocates to bring Vision Zero principles to bear on the transportation planning process. What about Beverly Hills?

Where is Beverly Hills?

Our city plans say the right things about multimodal mobility and greenhouse gas emissions. The General Plan Circulation Element (2010) includes policy goals that would make streets safer for those who walk and ride. Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) encourages our shift from vehicle travel to other modes for public health. But it is all shelfware! Our city lags far behind regional neighobrs when it comes to proactive measures that get these things done.

Take for example the Beverly Hills complete streets plan process. Underway for 18 months, it ran aground this summer despite two consultants and $150k spent. The draft plan presented to the community was a simple menu of policy goals and slate of ambiguous measures with no clear timetable for implementation.

In fact the document appeared intended only to win Metro’s approval for future grants. That draft plan was simply rubber-stamped by our Traffic & Parking Commission. (Currently the draft plan is in turnaround after City Councilmember Bob Wunderlich tapped the brakes. It should come back to the commission in November.)

Then just last week the Beverly Hills Planning Commission considered a change to the means used by our city to analyze traffic impacts during environmental reviews. The state requires all localities to move from the outmoded level-of-service (LOS) framework to the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) mode of analysis. That applies to any project not exempt from CEQA review and a locality can choose to embrace it for all projects undergoing review even outside of CEQA.

However our planning commissioners doubled-down on the old method. Under CEQA we are required by law to use VMT because it gives a fair shake in the analysis to all modes. But in every instance other than CEQA we will continue to apply the old LOS method. It is the classic means of measuring driver inconvenience rather than a way to gauge overall mobility impacts. (Watch my comments to the commission.)

It’s not just traffic analysis. Many will remember a long and hard-won campaign to stripe bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was an uphill battle against city transportation staff that never did support those lanes. Recently we went to the mat again to force the city to fix the poorly-striped westbound Santa Monica segment west of Wilshire Boulevard. (Read our memo.)

Beverly Hills continues to take retrograde steps on mobility while the rest of the region moves ahead because city transportation officials simply can’t wrap their minds around multimodal mobility. It’s still all about the car for Community Development Director Susan Healy Keene; Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz; and even transportation planner Martha Eros. Their collective lack of imagination is our greatest hurdle.

Even our elected leaders are calling for change but where the proverbial rubber meets the road — plans, policies and programs — even city councilmembers can’t gain traction with the staff in place today.

Santa Monica: What Leadership Looks Like

In Santa Monica elected leaders and city staff are on the same page with community advocates where it comes to reducing vehicle miles and making streets safe for those who choose not to drive. City Hall works with Santa Monica Spoke to promote pro-bike city events (imagine!) and the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element takes the brave step of limiting new downtown car trips to zero over the coming years.

Wilshire Safety Study bannerThis spring Santa Monica kicked-off a ‘Wilshire Safety Study’ to make that problematic corridor more safe for those who choose not to drive. It began with a community meeting in June to “listen to the needs of the local community and [suggest] design solutions that keep everyone safe.” And it was organized like a real planning session.

The most recent workshop was held on October 17th at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium on Main Street. And In fact the October Wilshire Boulevard workshop was organized as a special Planning Commission meeting (where any tangible transportation-development policies should originate). There is also an interactive map where issues can be flagged.

Santa Monica interactive planning mapThe study will conclude in February 2020 with the development of short and long term options to improve traffic safety on Wilshire Boulevard. “We need your help to identify issues on Santa Monica’s roadways,” the city tells participants. “This is your opportunity to provide your expertise on the streets you walk, bike, take transit, and/or drive everyday.”

Just IMAGINE a Beverly Hills transportation official uttering those words in earnest!

Why can Santa Monica approach mobility and street safety so constructively when Beverly Hills remains stuck in the past with 20th century thinking? Perhaps it is some combination of imagination, ambition and innovation — three terms we won’t ever hear mentioned in the same breath as the phrase “Beverly Hills transportation.”

Public Communication is Key

For Santa Monica, the Wilshire effort is part of a broader effort to define desirable outcomes and put in place the necessary performance measures to guarantee that the city gets there. That has already included an Office of Civic Wellbeing (really!) to create a framework and an Office of Performance Management to track progress. What in Beverly Hills compares?

Coming in November is an all-day Wellbeing Summit where the community gets its say. What should living in Santa Monica be like in the future? You may not get a real voice in the future of Beverly Hills but you can have your say along with our neighbors to the West. (Register here).

Santa Monica is all about encouraging its residents to “get engaged and stay informed” (as the city’s slogan goes). To that end residents routinely hear from City Hall via a regular email newsletter and a daily City of Santa Monica news blog. The city’s nationally-known City Manager, Rick Cole, posts there regularly on issues like climate change and civic well-being.

When do Beverly Hills residents ever hear from our own city manager? Do you even know his name?

Beverly Hills may be a customer-service driven city with a staff responsive to resident complaints, but that is all about assuming a reactive posture. And indeed that is exactly the city’s problem when it comes to mobility and street safety.

  • If we fix a street it is because our transportation staff has been embarrassed into making an improvement;
  • If we plan for multimodal it’s because Metro has required we have on the books a certified complete streets plan;
  • If we reform our transportation policies (like shifting impact analysis from LOS to vehicle miles traveled) it’s because Sacramento has forced our hand;
  • If on occasion we summon our collective imagination to envision 21st century mobility principles it’s only because the community brought the idea to City Hall.

Where is our Office of Civic Wellbeing? Where is our Wilshire Safety Study? Where is the single occasion when our transportation officials dared to step out of their collective defensive crouch in order to proactively recommend any measure to make our streets safe for those who walk or ride?

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. Continue reading

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-song

What 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.

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.