City Council Study Session: Complete Streets Mentioned

Visualization of a bike lane and active transportation corridor on Santa Monica BoulevardAn update following today’s City Council’s April 17th Study Session. In our earlier review of the draft request for proposals (RFP) for the Santa Monica Boulevard conceptual design, we noted that RFP language seemed to slight the bike lanes option. We also noted that it presumed community opposition to boulevard expansion for lanes, and we also observed that the draft RFP failed to include Complete Streets principles. We argued that because the RFP establishes bidder expectations, it’s important to craft it carefully. Councilmembers agreed and sent it back for revisions. Here’s the recap.

In presenting the draft RFP, Transportation Deputy Aaron Kunz was quite neutral on bike lanes – somewhat in contrast to the RFP that discounted lanes among “enhancement options” open to Council. Aaron also noted that there is substantial rider interest in on-boulevard (Class II) lanes, which we know because the city hears that via the Bike Route Pilot program outreach currently, and because participants in the Westside Cities Council of Governments regional ‘gap closure’ outreach also identified Santa Monica lanes as a priority.

Councilmember Bosse spoke up first in defense of making our city more hospitable to cyclists, and in particular keeping bike lane options open for the boulevard. “The RFP lacks some imagination, I agree,” she said. “Bike-friendly is a goal for all of us, and the language in the RFP should be, ‘It’s a priority for our community.'” Councilmember Bosse also addressed the presumption of community opposition rather than confirmation. “Those conversations [about expansion] were in the past. [The question] ‘Is there a way to add a bike lane?’ wasn’t studied. We need better input from the community.”

Vice-Mayor Mirisch also spoke up clearly in favor of re-crafting the RFP.  His remarks suggested that bike lanes were a priority for him too. “Let’s look for ways to say yes to bike lanes in both directions rather than a reason to say no,” he said.

Councilman (and former Mayor) Brucker, who led the city to its sustainability plan [pdf] in 2009, acknowledged that part of the Beverly Gardens Park (appx. 20 feet) is “part of the streetscape” but noted sensitivity to sacrificing it. “It’s green space, and we’ll need a lot of communication with our residents if we’re going to create [from it] space for a bike lane. Everybody’s goal is to be bike-friendly,” he said, “and the community’s goal is not to give up green space.”

Mayor Brien, while not committed to seeing lanes on the boulevard is nevertheless aware that other cities are moving forward with bike facilities. He referenced the Westside Cities Council of Governments efforts to close bike facilities gaps and to bring the greater Westside around a common bike share platform and vendor. (Read our COG meeting recap.) Perhaps he can be persuaded…

A real surprise was our City Manager, Jeff Kolin. Long rumored to be an avid cyclist, he’s never spoken up in any city meeting where bike improvements were referenced. Today he spoke up to support bike infrastructure. “I’m very supportive of complete streets and supportive of bike lanes,” he said. He then put an end to conjecture about how much green space might be needed. “Our preliminary analysis suggests to widen [the boulevard] by 5 feet for lanes in both directions.” (That’s more than we expected, but it is better to have a known figure than to argue with imprecision.) He echoed Councilmember Brucker when he added, “We’re facing competing interests in our community.”

His remarks raised two questions: Does that 5 feet include that landscaped median that is identified as an optional “enhancement”? And are there really competing interests at play here? Every planning decision involved competing interests; policymaking is about balancing them for the greater good. (We at Better Bike believe that mode-separated traffic is safer for cyclists, less aggravating to motorists, and is above all a step forward into the multimodal future that our plans describe.)

Complete Streets Finds a Place in Beverly Hills

Perhaps the most significant outcome from today’s Council discussion is that Complete Streets principles may yet find expression on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. The support was clear for including Complete Streets in the guidance we give to bidders. Councilmember Bosse:

Complete streets is missing in the RFP. As a city we’re late in the game; we’re trailing with regard to bike mobility. Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood [are ahead of us]. We want to be the best. We need to make it a priority, and the RFP doesn’t show it…We can do a better job. The RFP needs to be refined.

Vice Mayor Mirisch directly engaged that omission when he asked Aaron, “What is the city’s engagement with Complete Streets?” Aaron replied that the concepts are in the General Plan’s circulation element (if not the actual language). “We’re continuing to educate ourselves,” he said. “It’s not in this RFP but we’re paying full attention [to the principles].”

(Note: the term ‘complete streets’ is not explicitly invoked in our Circulation Element. Nor is the underlying principle – equity in access for all road users regardless of age or ability – substantially represented in it.)

Vice Mayor Mirisch echoed what seemed like a unanimity across the Council about the merits of explicitly including Complete Streets language in the RFP and design principles on the corridor. “I suggest, as Mr. Elliot said, that [the RFP] conform to Complete Streets principles.” And with that sentiment, the Council referred the draft RFP back to Transportation.

The next draft of the RFP should neutralize the language that discounted bike lanes; address the presumed community opposition; and explicitly include Complete Streets principles. “You have your direction,” the Mayor said to Transportation.

City Releases Draft SM Blvd. Reconstruction RFP

The city has released the draft Santa Monica Boulevard Reconstruction project request for proposals (RFP) for City Council review. The RPF will be reviewed by City Council tomorrow, on April 17th, prior to direction to Transportation and solicitation of bids for the conceptual design part of this $12 million project. How the city presents the project to bidders reflects what the city expects to see at project end, so we may know more about corridor bike lanes very soon. Continue reading

City Council Gives Tacit Nod to Bike Pilot

Promo circulated by the free parking advocates in the 2011 March initiative. They got what they wanted: two hours free. What about cyclists?

The City Council’s marathon study session last week (3/6) ended on an anticlimactic note: Councilmembers gave a tacit nod to Transportation to move ahead with the Bike Route Pilot Program, and the bike racks and rack-on-request program will move ahead too. But in approving these consent items, our City Council didn’t take the opportunity to discuss bike improvements generally – much less express support for safer streets. What we were looking for was a sign of commitment to cyclist safety from our decision-makers, but we didn’t get it in this study session meeting. Continue reading

Bike Lanes & Backlash, NYC Style

Prospect Park Bike Lane imageThere is an epic battle brewing in New York City over a humble bike lane along Prospect Park in Brooklyn. For a city that’s added a couple of hundred miles of bike lane in a few years, it’s curious that this new, protected bike lane (which displaced car parking off the curb, at right) would precipitate such a major brou-ha-ha. After all, Prospect Park is a post-gentrification neighborhood that is native terrain for cyclists and their ilk – locavore foodies, big-name fiction writers, ‘beard hats’ wearers (google it) and no small number of reporters for NYC-based global news outlets. Continue reading

Santa Monica Lanes Update

Beverly Hills logoBetter Bike followers will recall that establishing bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard is a long-standing objective of Westside riders and cycling advocates. Back in 2009, local cycling advocates teamed up with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition to measure the width of the boulevard at various points and develop a proposal to put lanes where there currently is none: on this busiest Beverly Hills corridor connecting existing lanes in Century City and West Hollywood. Continue reading

Update on the Ad-Hoc Commmittee

Beverly Hills logoCatching up with Aaron Kunz at BH Transportation brought us somewhat up-to-date on the next steps for the Traffic & Transportation’s Commission’s ad-hoc bike planning committee. This body was formed by three Commissioners last August to explore the next steps for fleshing out our city’s bare-bones bike plan (5 pages + old maps adopted in January 2010). Readers will recall that the Committee has only met twice and both times in closed session. There have been no posted agendas or minutes.* So we’re left making telephone calls to find out when the ad-hoc committee will meet next and what it will do. Continue reading

More Impediments to Fun Cycling

Charleville street viewSome mornings I like to stretch my legs with a tea run from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica for a bit of sea air & sunshine. I’m fortunate that my ride’s first mile or so takes me through relatively quiet streets heading west. Then an on-boulevard bike lane allows me to legitimately (in the eyes of motorists) claim my space through Century City and West Los Angeles. Then it’s the West LA Gantlet (Sepulveda, the 405, then the scrum of boulevard traffic to Bundy). Continue reading

Bootstrapping a Bike Plan

Hermosa Beach old postcardHermosa Beach is a lovely little beach city of 20,000 sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach. It’s perfect for a day away from the hustle-and-bustle. Hermosa Beach is well-insulated from the ugly ‘burbs that characterize much of the Southland, too. A visit rewards the ambitious two-wheeled day tripper with easy beach access, ocean breezes, and the historic quaint shopping area of Pier Avenue (pictured). Policymakers are revisiting the proper balance balance between auto transportation and active transportation. Are big changes coming to Hermosa Beach? Continue reading

Long Beach Innovates!

FHWA bikes may use full lane sign Getting in the saddle is only one part of the enjoyable cycling experience. An enjoyable and safe cycling experience begins with good planning: the lanes and provisions that ideally would keep motorists and cyclists separate. Indeed, traveling safely, finding a welcoming destination with secure parking, and resting easy that your city has your back when you’re on the mean streets are equally important. Nothing eases the mind of the cyclist like proper facilities. Here we look at some good examples of signage, markings, racks, and bike stations from around Long Beach. Continue reading