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?

Beverly Hills OKs Bike-share Feasibility Study

Santa Monice bike-share system promoBeverly Hills City Council recently gave its preliminary OK to city bike-share and authorized a feasibility study to explore the merit of a 50-bike system. We’re following Santa Monica’s lead here: it has tapped vendor CycleHop to implement a ‘smart bike’ system (as we previously reported). Should we piggyback on that contract, would this be a significant step forward for mobility in Beverly Hills? Or would it be only a tourist amenity for the ‘golden’ triangle? Continue reading

Bike Parking Opportunity: The Dayton Bike Corral

Silver Lake bike corral

Photo by LA Bike Blog

Bicycle parking is in short supply in Beverly Hills. Fewer than 30 bicycle racks have ever been installed on sidewalks citywide, and not one has hit a sidewalk in years. Yet demand is clearly there as people riding around town have to park somewhere. So we see bicycles chained to meter posts. Isn’t it time we took seriously the need to park bicycles, just as we afford a motorist someplace to park their car? Only a tiny fraction of our $5 million public parking operations bailout could fund many new racks and rack corrals like this one in Silver Lake at Sunset Junction. Continue reading

What Role Will the Westside COG Take on Bike Share?

Westside Cog logoWith news breaking that Santa Monica is embarking on a bike share program, we can’t help but think back to the Westside Cities Council of Governments (COG) meeting in May. Talk of a Westside-wide bikeshare program promoted by Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom captured the COG board’s attention then, and the board directed COG staff to formulate a Request for Proposal (RFP) and identify suitable vendors. But member City of Santa Monica seems to have jumped the gun with it’s own Metro grant-funded system. Whither the COG? Continue reading

How Open are Cities to Public Records Requests?

Public records actGovernment code section 6250-6270 (a.k.a. California Public Records Act) requires that public agencies (broadly construed to include cities, counties, school districts, and boards, commissions and agencies) make available to the general public and other agencies all records generated in the course of conducting public business. But how well do public agencies implement the public records law? Continue reading

Peets Bike Corral in Santa Monica: An Example to Follow

Peets bike rack corralGosh we wish we had a rack corral at our Peets Coffee on South Beverly. There’s not a single bike rack anywhere south of Wilshire, and boy could we use one: every day there are bikes locked up to meters outside the shop. And now there’s a good example to follow: Peets in Santa Monica has their own bike rack corral courtesy of the city!

The grand opening & ribbon cutting is Saturday, March 24th at 11am (tomorrow), so we’re a little late to inviting you to the party (just found out ourselves). We’ll likely drop by to see what the fuss is about, and then look forward to the day when our Mayor, like Santa Monica’s Mayor Bloom, the guy that’s championing a Westside bikeshare, actually stands over a bike rack with ribbon-cutting scissors!

LACBC affiliate Santa Monica Spoke will be there as a sponsor and as the city’s in-house advocacy organization. From their post:

You are cordially invited to the Grand Unofficial opening of Santa Monica’s first on-street bike corrals. So, join in on Saturday morning at the bike corrals between 11 and 12 for coffee, muffins, balloons, music, ribbon cutting, speeches, politicians, drum rolls, bike type activities, media coverage, lights, cameras. And more. Much more! It’s a party! Be there. Santa Monica Spoke, a sponsor of the Opening will lead a group bike ride from the Bike Center [1555 2nd St.] at 10:30am.


Sears Got No Bike Spirit!

Sears in Santa Monica

Not a rack to be found anywhere around Sears - though there's plenty of room for them

I dropped by Sears in Santa Monica the other day to fill an eyeglass prescription. Welcome to middle age, I know. Having held out this long with serviceable vision, I’m comfortably resigned to my toting around my new personal vision-enhancing apparatus. I figured that Sears would be accessible and affordable and probably have a decent selection of eyeglass frames. The spoiler: I didn’t get my glasses at Sears after all. Their price and selection was just fine. But shopping there was almost an alien experience. The onetime king of all dry goods retailing seems today so socially and physically disconnected from the surrounding community that it once served. Worse, I simply couldn’t find a place to hitch my bike. Continue reading