Top Secret: Beverly Hills City Council Holds a Priority-Setting Session

City Council group shot 2013You would think it is top-secret: the city calendars a priority-setting exercise to craft policy-making for the coming fiscal year yet no press release promotes it. The website hardly mentions it. And our crackerjack communications team conducts zero outreach for an ostensibly stakeholder-driven process. Why not invite stakeholders? Do policy-makers & staff want the warm coffee and Costco cookies all for themselves?

We will break the silence simply by asking you to mark your calendar for Tuesday, December 15th at 2:30 PM when this year’s priority-setting exercise will get underway at Beverly Hills City Hall. We’ll be there (as we were last year) with our own talking points and an admonition for policymakers: it is your responsibility to make streets safe for all road users. Let’s make it a priority!

What is the ‘Priorities-Setting Exercise’?

Every December City of Beverly Hills establishes priorities for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July. Set by City Council, the priorities act as a road map for department managers and city commissions by suggesting work plans, objectives, and the allocation of resources. For City Council, too, these priorities are a reminder of which efforts are the most important to see through to completion.

City priorities are short-handed in a matrix. It identifies the program or initiative; the responsible department; and the estimated completion date (take the latter with a pinch of salt). Each priority receives a letter grade to indicate its relative priority. Here is an example from the latest (FY 2015-16) priority matrix highlighting the ‘B’ priority assigned to bike-friendly efforts. (See all of this year’s priorities.)

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan‘A’ level flags an initiative for completion (or significant progress) in the fiscal year; ‘B’ level indicates programs expected to be completed within 2-5 years; and ‘C’ level priorities are expected to bump-up eventually. As items are completed the lower-priority items bubble-up.

But it doesn’t always work that way. The ‘citywide bike plan’ priority, for example, first appeared as a ‘B’ in FY 2012-13. But it never escaped that second tier; it never bubbled-up to an A-level. And in the two most recent priorities matrices, the description of that item changed. Where it once read, “Prepare a comprehensive Plan to create bicycle paths throughout the City,” more recently the emphasis shifted away from the plan update to something more nebulous. “Continue to develop acceptable enhancements to bike mobility throughout the City,” it read in FY 2013. In FY 2014 the priority appended, “including bike sharing.”

Is Bike-Friendly a Priority In Beverly Hills?

Exactly how much of a priority is anything remotely supportive of the bike-friendly city in Beverly Hills? Not much of a priority. For example, there has been no bike-friendly “enhancement” anywhere in the city since aside from a few bike lane block segments that were installed back in mid-2013. With that the city simply called it ‘job done.’

The bike-sharing item was tacked to reflect the Council’s interest in a boutique-sized, tourist-focused system that is expected to debut in 2016. (To our knowledge, none of the many riders in touch with city staff asked for bike-share here.)

And of course the single most significant “enhancement” was sidestepped entirely this past July when City Council turned its back on hundreds of riders who called for bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard for greater safety. Many earlier suggestions for alternative bike routes and safety signage have simply been ignored.

Shouldn’t safe, multimodal mobility be a priority? We think so, and we told Council during the priority-setting exercise last December. We highlighted BHPD data that showed 36 bicycle riders were injured on city streets over the previous calendar year (2013). That is 10% of all crash injuries despite riders having made up fewer than 1% of road users in that (or any) year. There has been no decline in rider injuries over time either: that year, injured riders reached a near-seven-year peak.

Had preventing crash injuries been a city priority, we wouldn’t see enforcement nosedive in most categories as that year progressed.

Enforcement citation trendlines for 2013

Chart by Better Bike from BHPD data.

That changed ‘bike plan’ priority pictured above – the one that essentially removes any reference to the bike plan update – was reflected in the late news that the city won’t be updating our Bicycle Master Plan after all. It dates to 1977. The update had been a ‘B’ priority that simply fell off the priorities matrix.

Why Haven’t I Ever Heard of the ‘Priorities-Setting Exercise’?

A priorities-setting exercise should balance stakeholder demands and policymaker aspirations against the city’s finite resources. But here only stakeholders get the short shrift. We’re simply not invited to participate: no press release has announced the event since a press release back in 2008. No mention has ever been made in the city’s In Focus magazine, which is delivered direct to city households. And it’s not promoted on the city website as an outreach initiative; it’s calendared just like any other Council meeting. On a Tuesday afternoon. With only 72 hours notice.

With zero outreach to the community, Is it any wonder few, if anyone, from the public bothers to attend? Yet engaging stakeholders is identified as an ‘A’ priority in this year’s priority matrix.

Community Visioning priority in FY2015-16 matrixSo much for reaching out to “citizens not usually heard from”! In that 2008 press release – issued after-the-fact of the priorities exercise, by the way – then-City Manager Rod Wood was honest in his assessment of where the public fits into the priorities-setting. Nowhere.

Priorities setting exercise Press Release 2008For any member of the public who is interested to attend this year’s exercise, we encourage you to set aside Tuesday 12/15 at 2:30 PM. We’d love to be able to introduce you to this bit of local governance theater, but unfortunately there exists no record of past  priorities-setting exercises: no minutes, synopses or video.

Recapping the Recappers: How Local Media Covered SM Blvd

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills Could Soon Be Bicycle Safe.” That’s a real headline, not an April Fool’s day prank or The Onion having a laugh on you. That accurate (if optimistic) take on a recent Beverly Hills study session says it plain: City Council actually kept alive a chance that we’ll one day see bicycle lanes striped on Santa Monica Boulevard. has our respect for publishing a detailed recap and the best of the coverage among three local papers that we recap here. 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

SM Blvd Blue-Ribbon #4 [recap]

Blue-ribbon committee meetingBy a vote of 9-2 last night, the Beverly Hills Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee will recommend to City Council that tomorrow’s corridor should include a striped class II bicycle lane. In a fourth meeting marked by comity and good humor, resident appointees agreed that separating riders from motor traffic would facilitate flow and create safer conditions for those who choose to ride. Continue reading

Next SM Blvd Meeting: Wednesday 1/22

recommended 16-foot lane

Tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard: Is this any better than what riders deal with today?

The Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee meets for a fourth and final time this week to discuss design options and enhancements for the future corridor. From the committee dais (and from the sidelines) we’ve argued that complete streets treatments and class II bicycle lanes should be part of this project. But the committee has been more interested in vehicular traffic flow than a rider’s safety. This Wednesday the committee will vote on the lanes. Here’s what to expect. Continue reading

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #3 [recap]

West Hollywood's long-range planner, Melissa Antol

West Hollywood’s long-range planner, Melissa Antol, addresses the Blue-Ribbon committee.

With the last of three Santa Monica Boulevard Blue-Ribbon Committee meetings now behind us, we can recap our work to date, take stock of the public outreach process, and finally look ahead to the next step for this 15-member Council-appointed body. And we will start with the last, because the next step will look much like the past steps. January 22nd we’ll continue our deliberation on width, features and boulevard enhancements. And still on the table – spoiler alert – bicycle lanes! Don’t count ’em out yet. Continue reading

SM Boulevard Blue-Ribbon #2 [recap]

The public outreach process for the reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills continued with the second of three meetings of the blue-ribbon committee on December 10th. After a presentation from consultant Psomas, committee members continued our discussion about project design alternatives and which of them should be recommended to City Council in late January. Could the committee support bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard to enhance regional connectivity and rider safety? Here’s our recap. Continue reading

Council’s Agenda for Tuesday: SM Blvd Reconstruction

Backbone missing piece map

Beverly Hills: the missing link in our regional bike route network

Ride the Westside on Santa Monica Boulevard and you’ll know that something’s missing when you pass through Beverly Hills. Somehow the dedicated on-street bicycle lanes that deliver riders to our city from east and west disappear completely at our city’s gateways. With this corridor undergoing a down-to-the-gravel reconstruction by 2015, what potential will it hold for bicycle lanes in order to fix this missing link? 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

Uncertain Progress on the Expo Line Bikeway

Why can't safety begin with Metro?

On this past Saturday’s Bike Talk podcast we took the opportunity to highlight the ongoing challenge of creating a safe and functional bikeway alongside the new Expo Line. This multi-billion dollar project will link Los Angeles and Santa Monica by rail for the first time in fifty years so that when complete the traveler can depart 7th Street/Metro station Downtown to arrive at USC, La Cienega’s gallery row, downtown Culver City, the Westside Pavilion and the 3rd Street promenade. The need to move travelers from solo-occupancy vehicle to other modes of mobility found the backing of two-thirds of voters for Measure R, but are cyclists well-served by this investment?

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.

Beverly Hills: Bad-Faith Bike Planning?

Bicycle Master Plan cover

When our City Council in January of 2010 simply re-adopted our 1977 6-page bike plan without any kind of review, without conducting any new study or even attaching a legible map, we had from Beverly Hills officials an indication of their lack of commitment to cyclist safety. When the ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee was formed that Spring, it was acknowledgment that our plan, already decades out-of-date, was indeed insufficient. But was that step a signal to hope? Or another step to forestall demands for better cyclist safety?

A Sobering Recap of Beverly Hills Bike Planning

Ad-Hoc Bike Plan Update Committee at work

Looking back over the past year, it’s difficult not to be profoundly disappointed by the utter lack of progress in bike planning in Beverly Hills. Not a single new rack has been installed in any business district to accommodate bike-riding patrons. No bike lane or sharrow to ease our safe passage. No sign will remind motorists that we’re allowed to use the road too. And no ground gained on updating our 1970s-era bike plan. As we meet again with Commissioners this coming Wednesday, we need to ask what we can expect from the Traffic & Transportation Commission.

AB 345 Gives Us A Voice

From the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) comes a heads-up about an AB 345 that for the first time would open the Caltrans California Traffic Devices Committee membership to cyclists and other road users. Not surprisingly, the committee has been dominated by auto interests; he CBC reports that the only road users currently represented are the auto clubs of California and Southern California.

Why COGs Matter

Since last Fall, Better Bike been pressing the Westside Cites Council of Governments (COG) to take a more active role in active transportation policy and planning on behalf of its five member cities and constituents it represents. The time is right, especially considering the observed increase in cycling on the Westside; a cultural shift seems to be in the making.