Now that Traffic & Parking Commission has recommended three of five proposed Pilot program routes, the action shifts to City Council where bike improvements should be discussed later in June. Council is not bound by the Commission recommendation, however, which is a good thing because cyclists got only three-fifths of the half-loaf of measures put before this Commission. With its work wrapped, let’s take a longer view of the process that got us here before we look ahead in an upcoming post.
As we listened to the Traffic & Parking Commission deliberate, we felt like we were in the bizarro world of the old Saturday Night Live skit: the two commissioners who had guided the Bike Plan Update Committee‘s overview of the Bike Route Pilot program (overview map below left) spoke out strongly in support, while the remaining three members held back on bike-friendly improvements. They even questioned whether safety measures like sharrows on busy streets identified in the Pilot like Beverly Drive [map] and Charleville [map] would actually impart a false sense of security to riders.
What was so surprising was that throughout the ad-hoc committee’s five meetings with the bike community, members Jeff Levine and Alan Grushcow sat mostly quiet as cyclists bemoaned the constant battle with motorists on our streets. Without a segregated cycling facility like a bike lane, painted sharrows, or even share-the-road signage, we said, we’re left on our own to duke it out with a motoring public that appears not to know that cyclists have access to all public roads. (Most Beverly Hills streets aren’t wide enough to share, meaning that cyclists are entitled to occupy the whole lane – indeed any lane besides the rightmost lane as long as you’re moving with the traffic.) As cyclists enumerated the problems, the two commissioners remained mostly mum.
And we at Better Bike expected the broader committee to respond to our expectations regarding safe passage, even if the committee members seemed unsympathetic.
Turns out that commissioners Levine and Gruschcow stepped up as our most vocal defenders while a the balance of the split commission sounded clearly skeptical that improvements could make streets safer for cyclists. The discussion suggested that some commissioners were even indifferent to trying. In the end, the commission rendered a split decision: they would recommend three of five routes for improvements but not recommend Charleville and Beverly, even though these two routes are already well-used by cyclists and despite evident road conflict.
One Problem Was the Process
The Bike Plan Committee‘s Pilot program process was from the beginning participatory in name only; facile, even cynical, gestures toward public engagement took the place of any real spirit of engaging the public. Meetings with the bike community that were routinely noticed as late as 5 pm the afternoon before, for example. Comments to the committee seemed to disappear into the ether as Transportation staffers made none of them available to the public. (We’re not sure that the full Traffic & Parking Commission received them.) And there seemed general disinterest to broaden these early meetings to include a larger cycling public. We called it ‘bad-faith bike planning.’
Another problem was scope. Under the aegis of the ad-hoc committee, Commissioners Levine and Grushcow, in concert with Transportation officials, imposed a key criterion on the city’s bike route feasibility study: “no change to traffic flow or parking.” That in effect shackled their consultant to the half-measures included in the study findings. Yet Fehr & Peers is a firm with experience producing better ideas, but those could not find a place in Beverly Hills because officials mandated no change to traffic flow or parking. Road diets work elsewhere, and are federally-recommended, we know, as do traffic circles and tweaks to parking patterns, but the committee seemed to brush them off.
And then there was the safety question: which of these key routes need immediate attention as suggested by the record of bike-involved collisions? For a discussion that frequently mentioned safety, it turned out that actual collision data played a negligible part in commission deliberations; it was brought up almost as an afterthought. And when the data was mentioned, it was somehow used to justify not making improvements. The majority on this split commission wanted to recommend only the safest routes for improvements – Burton, Crescent and Carmelita. Isn’t it counter-intuitive that routes suggested as most hazardous according to collision data were pushed off the table? But we don’t really know which are most problematic because the referenced collision data (from 2009-2011) was not presented to the public. (We’ve asked officials here for it.)
Indeed, our concern about the process was reawakened last week anew when we saw that the city had not even posted an online Traffic & Parking hearing agenda. A cyclist or resident interested to attend could find no announcement on a city website. Even the Bike Plan Update Committee’s own documents webpage didn’t post the agenda. Once Better Bike complained, the a hastily-revised agenda was posted the day before on the Commission’s site.