A Hovenring for Beverly Hills!

Hovenring illustrationThe Netherlands has created what may be the most spectacular bike facility ever: the Hovenring. This lighted, suspended parallel interchange facility hovers atop a roadway interchange but does much more: by literally and figuratively elevating bike travel above car travel, the Hovenring completely inverts the American approach to transportation and makes rider safety paramount. Could the Hovenring be appropriate to move riders safely through the awful Santa Monica and Wilshire intersection in Beverly Hills?

Northern Europe enjoys a well-deserved reputation for bike-friendly streets. Protected bicycle lanes and bike signals seem de rigeur in every major city in Denmark and the country is rolling out protected  inter-city bike highways. Are riders finally enjoying some parity when it comes to transportation infrastructure investment? Let the Hovenring in the Netherlands answer this question!

Hovenring overviewUnlike every other piece of mobility infrastructure we’ve seen, the Hovenring (‘hovering ring’) demonstrates a total commitment to safer cycling in the Netherlands. The roundabout safely separates bike traffic from the junction of a busy motorway and a collector street below. The Hovenring also puts the state’s imprimatur on non-motor mobility; here  it’s as legitimate a form of transportation as any other.

How to use the Hovenring? Like any conventional roundabout: approach, yield to oncoming traffic from the left, then circle counterclockwise and exit. But unlike other bike-friendly roundabouts this one does so with considerable imagination. Yet the Hovenring is not alone in literally (and figuratively) elevating riders above the motor traffic. Behold UK architect Lord Norman Foster’s proposal for London bicycle infrastructure: The Sky Cycle:

Sky Cycle by Norman FosterThe Sky Cycle would  accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour on  cycleways elevated above existing railway lines. Riders would enter and exist via via 200 entrance points, according to Cycling Weekly, which wasn’t impressed. The publication lambasts Sky Cycle for failing to address the “dysfunctionality, screwed priorities and inhuman scale” of the London urban environment.” Copenhagenize dismisses the megaproject out of hand. Arch Daily says, “It will never work.”

We’re sympathetic; we believe it is far better to incorporate multiple modes of transportation into our existing circulation system. But is it simply pie-in-the-sky? Consider that urban planners have long embraced the elevated walkway (Los Angeles has a few skyways) and Foster has an excellent track record planting his fanciful designs in cities across the world. If it doesn’t come first to London it may well surface in Dubai (where they would do well to air-condition the system).

Even if the Sky Cycle is never realized as a standalone system in the UK or elsewhere, it baits our imagination concerning what is possible. Yes, it’s an aspirational proposal but it is one upon which we can draw for inspiration.

A Flyover for Beverly Hills?

We look at the Sky Cycle and marvel at the Hovenring. We can’t help but wonder, can’t such innovations be deployed here in Southern California? Why not start our real multimodal mobility planning efforts at the worst intersection on the Westside – Wilshire at Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills – where our city officials haven’t lifted a finger to improve the experience for riders. Indeed here’s what road users negotiate today:

Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection

The complex juncture of North Santa Monica, South Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards tests the patience of rider and driver alike!

We’ve called it an intersection that simply fails because riders are put squarely in harm’s way on approach from any direction. As the Brits would say, this intersection is “not fit for purpose.” Consider:

  • Wilshire riders face a long slog across both North and South Santa Monica boulevards (it’s a particular challenge for slower riders to make the light heading westbound, which is slightly uphill)
  • North Santa Monica eastbound riders are squeezed between the #2 lane and the turn lane (which also doubles as a bus stop). No bike lane or even dotted lane markings guide us, and no bike box gives us a head start. And,
  • North Santa Monica westbound riders must negotiate dual right turn lanes  at Wilshire, which sow confusion because most riders are unsure where to wait safely for the green light to continue straight.

The westbound rider who hugs the right-hand curb to the right of the dual lanes finds it impossible to cross because motorists turn right at high speeds on both the solid green and the green arrow. So the rider waiting for the solid green is trapped as cars zip past. On bike count day we saw rider after rider start across but then get hemmed-in by those turning vehicles. Forced to turn right, riders then circled back to try again. Frustrated riders anticipated the green arrow by dashing as the last of the cross-traffic passed. It was madness. Don’t our transportation officials see it? You bet. Heck, we’ve told ’em.

It is nearly as dangerous to wait in the #2 lane. This lane allows traffic to continue straight and to turn right and would seem to be recommended. But pity the rider who waits in the #2  lane for the solid green: she’s strafed by moving traffic turning right at speed even from her lane behind her. So as she waits for the solid green to proceed, drivers  eager to make the turn risk her life and limb to squeeze by. Beverly Hills has chosen to do nothing to address this hazard.

How Do We Do It?

Tunnel concept via ThinkBike's Richard ter Avest

The tunnel concept provides cyclists with a down under solution to road conflict.

First we turned to the Danes. What would they do to improve this intersection? Architect Richard ter Avest, who was in town to attend the LACBC’s ThinkBike conference a few years ago, practically sighed. It’s a mess, he said. He proposed separating the grades by elevating the vehicular traffic or tunneling for bikeways. But elevating the roadway is an expensive proposition and tunneling has its own detractors (for safety reasons).

We needed another approach. The flyover? We’ve talked before about the opportunity to use a flyover for bike traffic at this intersection as part of the Gateway overlay zone discussion. We get to thinking: perhaps the Hovenring offers a model for grade-separating the modes? So here’s our conceptual illustration what a Beverly Hills Hovenring:

Wilshire-Santa Monica hovenring

The Beverly Hills Hovenring

What recommends a Hovenring at this intersection in particular? Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards are both among the busiest Westside thoroughfares (a combined near-100k vehicles on average daily). This intersection is among the worst, too, for congestion (with a level of service grade of ‘F’). With more development on the horizon, and without successfully shifting more traffic to other modes (as it says we should in our city plans), we’ll see rider safety  further compromised. We need either a full-on rethinking of how we handle surface traffic here or….

Wilshire-Santa Monice hovenring visualizationWe need to start thinking big. Hovenring big. Sky Way big. And there’s a good argument for it: city leaders want to make a big statement here at our western Gateway.

In fact, we’ve heard it time and again our policymakers debate development here and call for a signature project for this intersection. What better statement to make than a Hovenring? It’s a win-win: an attention getter that gets motorists out of riders’ way.

More on the Hovenring

The Hovenring is a dedicated bike facility in the major southern city of Eindhoven (off the E25 autoroute to Utrecht and Amsterdam). From the Hovenring site:

The bridge comprises a 70-metre high pylon, 24 steel cables and a circular bridge deck and is made out of circa 1.000 tons of steel. The cables are attached to the inner side of the bridge deck, right where the bridge deck connects to the circular, concrete counter weight. This way, torsion within the 72-metre diameter bridge deck is prevented.

Opened in 2012, the Hovenring has already placed in the Dutch Design Award contest and secured a spread in National Geographic for designer ipv delft. But the Hovenring is more than an eye-catcher; it’s a statement about taking responsibility for road users. We need some of that here in Beverly Hills. Why not start with building our own Hovenring?

Hovenring design

Hovenring design. All facility images courtesy designer ipv delft.

Beverly Hills West Gateway Liaison Meeting [Recap]

Gateway site aerial view

Gateway parcels to the west of Wilshire Boulevard: a golden opportunity for active transportation found and lost.

We’ve followed the Gateway overlay zone planning process for two years because an impending policy change could well foreclose any opportunity to realize Santa Monica Boulevard as a signature active mobility corridor for Beverly Hills. When the City Council recently sent the proposal back for reworking, it seemed a reprieve to argue again for vision.

But last week’s liaison meeting suggested to project applicants and their lobbyists to expect a pretty sweet developer giveaway – at the expense of cyclists, walkers and nearby residents. Continue reading

Gateway Update: Still Under Council Consideration

City Council meeting July 26, 2012For those who have followed the progress of the proposed Gateway overlay zone for the western end of Beverly Hills, closure is still not at hand! We’ve covered this most significant rezoning policy change in many years for the past 18 months because it has clear transportation implications – and they’re not good. So we’re not disheartened that City Council held off on a final decision this past Tuesday. The slow progress of the policy change through the Hall pipeline indicates that we’re not the only concerned stakeholders! Continue reading

LACBC ‘Beverly Thrills’ Ride a Success!

Ride start: the John Wayne statue on Wilshire & La Cienega

Photo by Colin Bogart, LACBC.

On Sunday we joined the LACBC for the latest ride in its great Sunday Funday series: the ‘Beverly Thrills’ 13-mile ride though the streets of Beverly Hills. This easy ride brought over fifty riders to our well-tended blacktop. Short of the Gran Fondo or Amgen rides, it’s a record. (For the record those rides kept riders out of the hills.) For this ride we traversed the boulevards and stop signed sidestreets to visit Greystone mansion. But was a thrill was in the offing, it was the steep descent back down. We worked up a sweat and wicked it away. Here’s the recap! Continue reading

Gateway Goes to Council Tonight

Planning Commissioner Rosenstein gives an overview

Planning Commissioner Rosenstein gives an overview of the Gateway conundrum.

With the hoopla surrounding the Sustainable Parking Standards Act of 2012 (AB 904), we note that the Beverly Hills City Council tonight [agenda] will hear a proposed high-density overlay zone for the city’s western gateway. This timely because the proposed state legislation would require all California cities to adopt reduced parking minimums in “transit-served areas,” while the ‘Gateway’ overlay is crafted in no small part to require developers to over-provide off-street parking – that is, even more parking than is required by the current code. How do we accomplish that? By trading too much height & bulk and by upzoning the old railroad right of way while asking for too little in return. Continue reading

Brace Yourself: The Gateway Overlay Zone is Back!

Sonya Dakar building

Western Gateway welcomes you to Beverly Hills!

The Beverly Hills Planning Commission will again consider an overlay zone proposal for the former Pacific Electric railroad right-of-way (ROW). We’ve covered this extensively in the past because the railroad land offers our last opportunity to re-imagine the entire Santa Monica Boulevard corridor for something other than motor traffic and banal office uses. In the last March meeting, the commission considered a change in tack toward form-based zoning: tell applicants what we want and let them figure it out. We’ll know it when we see it. Is that good enough? Can’t we find a better use for this land than another building just like this one? Continue reading

Bike Plan Update Committee #5

Eastern Gateway right-of-way visualized

Santa Monica Boulevard of tomorrow at the eastern gateway.

The Traffic & Parking Commission’s ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee met with a few representatives from the bike community on March 21st, the fifth meeting to date in the process of bringing bike facilities to Beverly Hills. Transportation planner Martha Eros presented an update on the two key initiatives currently underway: the Bike Route Pilot program and an effort to install new bike racks citywide. We also heard from Transportation director Aaron Kunz about the next steps in the reconstruction of  Santa Monica Boulevard, which could be reconstructed as a multimodal corridor (as shown here at the eastern gateway). This informational meeting broke no new ground, but here’s the recap. Continue reading

New Details Released on the Gateway Overlay Zone

Riding the right-of-way at the Western Gateway

Riding the vacated Pacific Electric right-of-way at the city's Western Gateway.

When we heard that Planning had convened a sub-committee meeting for the Gateway project last week, we were stumped: we’ve followed the process for the past year, and several times indicated our interest in being kept informed about Gateway-related meetings. But we weren’t notified, and indeed in the past we haven’t always been. And we’ve complained. What was this sub-committee meeting about anyway? Today we were able to connect with staff planner Michele McGrath who filled us in the details. In brief, no applicants were present and the staff and Planning Commissioners took the opportunity to nail down some proposed development objectives. Continue reading

Planning Commission Revisits the Gateway [Recap]

Planning Commission Gateway field visit looking east

We’ve followed the city’s Western Gateway planning process closely since early 2011 because we see a golden opportunity to integrate active transportation into coming development around the signature intersection of Wilshire & Santa Monica boulevards. So we eagerly anticipated the second site visit by the Beverly Hills Planning Commission on March 8th to envision new development and measure proposed setbacks. Like the Commission’s first visit, the Gateway welcomed an entourage with tape measure in hand to anticipate the major change that will turn this unsightly area into a signature gateway to the city.

Planning Commission Revisits Gateway

Planning Commission field visit 2/9/2012

The Beverly Hills Planning Commission will again revisit the city’s western Gateway – literally – via a bus tour during the next scheduled Commission meeting on March 8th at 1:30. [Agenda] Reprising their earlier January visit, the Commissioners will get another firsthand look at the Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard(s) intersection and continue to discuss the proposed overlay zone there. Read the staff report & show up if you’re concerned about bike lanes on the Santa Monica corridor.

Planning Commission Discusses the Gateway

Planning Commission in action

On Feb. 9th the Planning Commission met to continue an overlay zone discussion that was continued from January’s meeting. The overlay zone, if enacted, would be a newly-formulated land use designation specifically tailored to the city’s western gateway, where Santa Monica Boulevard enters the city and where a proposed project for the Starbucks corner (at Wilshire) is currently under review. This is no academic discussion, however. How the Commission formulates this policy will have a lasting impact on the future transportation uses of the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor.

Better Bike Pacific Electric Ride

Last weekend’s ride along the abandoned Pacific Electric right-of-way through Beverly Hills was an exploratory romp along the rails (so to speak) to put into historical perspective  the role of railroads in the development of Beverly Hills. The transportation patterns we follow today do originate with the rails, which first came to this area in the 1890s. By 1900 we had a station here, and in 1932 we got a second, larger depot. But by WWII it was over for passenger rail in Beverly Hills. Nevertheless,these early rails did establish a pattern for transportation that continues to this day, and will likely determine tomorrow’s transportation patterns will too. We took a tour to see how it looks today.

Policy Opportunity Arises!

On March 24th, the Beverly Hills Planning Commission (an appointed, quasi-judicial body) heard a zone change request for a development project on a key site near the city’s Western Gateway (seen at right). Located at the sharp, west corner where Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica North meet (aka the Starbucks site), the land under the proposed project spans parcels currently zoned either low-intensity commercial (C3) or transportation use (T1).