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?

Complete Streets Walk Audit Recap

Complete Streets Walk audit overview of the roomBeverly Hills conducted a Complete Streets ‘walk audit’ on June 9th. It followed on the first Community Workshop (read the recap), the Workshop #2 (recap) and an Earth Day Complete Streets pop-up (pic). After those earlier conceptual discussions and associated mapping exercises, this event was a hands-on opportunity for participants to evaluate our environment for accessibility and safety.  And of course to make recommendations. “Everything is on the table” in terms of improvements, said Aaron Kunz, Community Development Department Deputy Director for Transportation. Continue reading

Back on the Priority List: The Beverly Hills Bike Plan!

City Council pictured in 2013.Among the ignominious developments over the last year in Beverly Hills, surely the one of greatest interest to bicycle riders was City Council’s decision not to include a bicycle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. But on its heels came another decision that would have escaped notice if we hadn’t reported that the city had intended to step away entirely from an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. But we called it out, councilmember Lili Bosse took up the cause, and City Council agreed to make it a priority. Again. Continue reading

Update to the 1977 Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan is No Longer a Priority

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation

Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director of Transportation, discusses the non-priority bicycle master plan update.

Every year, City Council establishes policy and program priorities. And for the past four fiscal years, the long-overdue update of our Bicycle Master Plan was one of them. The plan dates to 1977. Yet even as other transportation priorities have moved forward, the city has taken no step toward revisiting a forty-year-old plan that’s still on the books. At the November 5th Traffic and Parking Commission meeting we learned why from transportation chief Aaron Kunz: the plan update is not really a city priority after all. Continue reading

Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders

You’re riding westbound on North Santa Monica Boulevard. You’ve made it though the dreaded SM-Wilshire intersection and you’re waiting to pick up the bicycle lane in Century City. You’re in the right-hand lane with a line of cars queued behind you waiting to pass. But you’re in a substandard-width lane up against a solid wall of K-rail to your right and speeding vehicular traffic to the left. You’re desperate for relief but far from the promised land: your own patch of blacktop granted by a bicycle lane. It’s a gantlet with no escape for the remainder of this corridor while you’re in Beverly Hills. Continue reading

Are Fading Beverly Hills Bike Facilities a Metaphor?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The pilot program as approved by City Council: just two routes out of five under consideration.

In 2013 City of Beverly Hills chose two corridors for bike facilities under the city’s (very) limited ‘pilot project.’ Several block segments of Crescent Drive and Burton way were identified by consultant Fehr & Peers as suitable for class II bicycle lanes, while Crescent (south of Santa Monica) was also deemed suitable for sharrows. A year on, our facilities are showing their age: Burton Way bike lanes are disappearing before our eyes; and an ill-advised realignment of sharrows on Crescent Drive now puts riders at risk. Continue reading

How NOT to Make a Street Safety Video

dangerstoppers video titleWe watched the new City of Beverly Hills video ‘Watch Your Walk,’ part of the Dangerstoppers series co-produced by the Beverly Hills Police Department and the city’s Health and Safety Commission, because we were curious what kind of safety advice City Hall dispenses. And true to this trouble-titled video, pedestrians are admonished to take extra care because drivers are off-the-hook for their bad road behavior. Continue reading

Santa Monica Blvd Recap & Update

Recently we spoke with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, about Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction and what to next expect in the process. Recall that back in March, the Council majority seemed unwilling to concede an extra foot of width to accommodate them. But the ballooning cost estimate stalled the project, and the Council deferred action pending more information about costs and traffic mitigation. Continue reading

Santa Monica Boulevard Comes Back May 20th

Santa Monica Boulevard looking east to WilshireDeputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz apprized us this week that no decisions have been made about bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard because staff and the contractor, Psomas, are still refining cost projections for the reconstruction project. Continue reading

Time for Beverly Hills to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy!

Chattanooga, Tennessee beat Beverly Hills in the broadband arena a few years ago with citywide 1gigabit-per-second Internet. Back then nobody paid much attention: Chattanooga is hardly on the minds of many Angelenos. But our own city dithered on broadband, which left Time Warner with a broadband monopoly. Now Chattanooga leaps ahead with a real complete streets policy to make travel safer for all road users. Yet our our “world class” city can’t seem to entertain a discussion about street safety or plan effectively for multimodal mobility. What gives?

Council Slaps Back: No Bike Lanes for SM Blvd [Recap]

Beverly Hills City Council Disses Road Safety, Slaps Riders in Santa Monica Boulevard Session A split Beverly Hills City Council last night dismissed the safety concerns of over two hundred riders (and twenty who showed up in person) to blithely wave off any prospect for class II bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Those of us who hoped that the corridor would close the regional backbone network gap, or perhaps illustrate the current thinking in complete streets principles, will be sorely disappointed. Living up to our reputation for insularity and parochial thinking, a majority on our City Council last night affirmed our city’s disregard for connectivity and road safety by ruling out bike lanes.

Council Hears Santa Monica Boulevard Options [Recap]

Beverly Hills City Council took a major step forward on Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction today when councilmembers agreed to create an appointed blue-ribbon committee to manage public outreach this fall. This move broadens stakeholder participation beyond the limited opportunities afforded by commission oversight and instead puts oversight of the process in stakeholders’ hands. In other developments, the Council  recognized that cyclists have a place on this key corridor and said safety was paramount. Let’s recap!

Bicycle Racks at Traffic & Parking [Recap]

Golden Triangle rack with decal

If you’ve been waiting for Beverly Hills to install bike racks, we’ve got good news and bad. The good news is that the city may move ahead on three initiatives: racks for city properties, installations in commercial districts, and a rack-on-request program. This week the Traffic & Parking Commission discussed the particulars. The bad news is that the Commission continued the discussion until September, which means we’re approaching three years since the Commission formed a bike committee to implement just this kind of improvement but with scant progress to show.

Beverly Hills Doubles Down on Dangerous Streets

South Beverly gets repaved

Recently Better Bike received a notice [pdf] from Transportation that South Beverly Drive was to be resurfaced. That caught our attention, and not only because it’s right around the corner. Because just a week later, City Council would be briefed on the Bike Route Pilot program’s four possible routes – and one was South Beverly. So why resurface and re-stripe this corridor now, we thought, when the city might make it more cyclist-friendly in the coming months?

Update: Where Things Stand in Beverly Hills

Better Bike over the last week has met with three of our five City Council members (including the Mayor) and touched base with our contacts in Transportation, at the school district, and at Library to assess progress toward a more bike-friendly city. During these dog days of August (and aren’t we grateful it’s not been very doggy?) we can report that progress is not very positive to date, but can turn on a dime with policymaker support. Here’s a rundown of our initiatives and an overview of where we are (or aren’t) starting with the good news.