One wouldn’t know it from the congestion that chokes our streets, but change may be underway in Beverly Hills concerning our foremost transportation challenge: How to transport people tomorrow when we can hardly move motor traffic today.
Cities around us have reoriented their transportation mission to provide greater transit options. New improvements support people-powered mobility, like cycling and walking. What about Beverly Hills?
We’re still functioning with a 20th century mindset. Instead of delivering shoppers to shops and eaters to restaurants, our outmoded, auto-dependent approach to transportation merely delivers more cars to more parking spots. Of course, that requires the city’s parking operations to dig deep into our general fund to build and maintain ever-more garages (it is several million bucks in the hole) though we have not installed a single $200 bike rack in years.
We maximize vehicular throughput (and not very well at that) rather than help people actually get where they want to go. For me, I’d rather pedal to West Hollywood or Santa Monica for my needs because those cities accommodate me as a cyclist.
Isn’t there a better way to think about mobility? Say, making our roads welcoming to all road users? It’s called Complete Streets, and it has the federal and state imprimatur. I will touch more on that later, but here I wonder whether several new developments in January suggest that stars are aligning to put Beverly Hills at the cusp of change.
First, the incoming Traffic and Transportation Commission Chair Julie Steinberg has indicated that congestion will be a priority in her term. We welcome that renewed focus. At Better Bike (a local organization that I formed to encourage cycling for transportation), we feel that congestion robs our productivity and saps our soul. It’s also very dangerous to those, like us, who choose to bike and walk.
In the past, we’ve encouraged the commission to think expansively about providing more mobility options and to make road safety its priority. After all, it’s a precondition for getting people to bike. If we’re successful, Beverly Hills will join other American and European cities that have created more lively, less-congested, safer streets. Toward that end, we’ve invited the commissioners to join us on a casual ride about town. We hope they take us up on it!
Second, the commission has for the better part of two years conducted a Bike Plan Update process. An ad-hoc committee of three commissioners has met four times with cyclists to talk about opportunities. You probably haven’t heard about it because progress wasn’t being made (call us skeptics). Then last month we saw a good sign: the city was actually talking about installing bike racks and appeared to be moving ahead on a bike route pilot program to introduce bike-friendly improvements to several select routes in town. (Read more about racks and the pilot program on Better Bike.)
These days the demand for racks and safer travel cannot be overstated. People lock their bicycles to trees, sign posts and parking meters all over our commercial districts. So let’s provide for orderly bike parking with some low-cost racks. We believe that there is latent demand for bike transportation that we want to encourage, so let’s signal our welcome with a rack at popular destinations.
Safety is a far bigger concern, however. We hear from residents that it’s their No. 1 concern. Of course it is: Beverly Hills officials have done little to assure bikers that their journey will be a safe one. Indeed we learned of two horrible collisions in BH last fall that sent cyclists to the hospital. Both occurred when a car hit a bicycle from behind. One crash is attributed to a poorly marked intersection (still unimproved). Throughout the Southland, 70 cyclists have lost their lives when their bike collided with a car.
Yet we know from other cities and nations that when we make cycling popular, the death rate from such accidents declines precipitously. And when we separate modes of traffic, we take a giant step toward greater safety. It’s worth seeing how other places do it.
Third, active transportation to reduce vehicular congestion and promote clean travel is finally on the city’s radar. January discussions about development at the city’s western gateway put the issue on the agenda. Planning commissioners were shown to be surprisingly receptive to this desire for pedestrian connectivity, including bicycle facilities.
At Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, the panel will show where it stands when overlay zone particulars are finally nailed down for the empty land in the western gateway. We expect strong language in the zoning overlay that will encourage present and future developers to consider active transportation and to make the necessary accommodations that will move cyclists through this key city corridor safely.
Beverly Hills cyclists have long called for bike lanes on our city’s signature corridor, North Santa Monica Boulevard. We have emphasized to commissioners the value of making our commercial districts accessible from this throughway.
Last, the bicycle option is one that people already want. Better Bike is comprised of people who want to ride to work, shops and school but believe that it’s not safe to do so. Worse, some feel that they’re not entitled to ride on city streets. But we are entitled. The California Vehicular Code says so. Indeed, on 90 percent of our city’s streets cyclists are allowed to use the whole lane and motorists must wait. (What you can’t do legally is ride our sidewalks, though.) See the Better Bike Ride Smart page for more info.
What can we do to hasten our city’s path to change? Our civic leaders could invite cyclists to patronize our small shops and make Beverly Hills the kind of place that people from surrounding cities will want to visit. Auto congestion won’t do it, but energized folks coasting up on a nice ride will. (See: Portland.)
If the city wants to consider cycling as both a recreational activity and a legitimate means of transportation, it can start by providing bike racks and bike safety programs for people who want to ride safely. It can create safer roads by separating bike traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard and busy local streets. Beverly Hills can take a long-range view by changing its development and transportation policies to accommodate active transportation.
The measures I’ve prescribed comport perfectly with our city’s own general plan for biking in Beverly Hills:
In order to develop a system which is compatible with the heavy automobile use of major streets, a bikeway route system should be developed to encourage bicycling on less-traveled streets and thereby separate transportation modes and lower the probability of accidents. The bike lanes (exclusive routes) or bike routes (portion of street or sidewalk labeled for bicycle use) should connect facilities such as schools and parks—places between which children may want to ride bicycles. They should offer a safe pathway to and from the Business Triangle and other commercial or employment areas for adults. And they ought to connect into the systems proposed for the city and county of Los Angeles in order to allow Beverly Hills residents to ride safely into West Hollywood or Westwood, etc. Hence, the system would be capable of serving both recreation and transportation needs. –Beverly Hills General Plan, Open Space Element Goals and Policies No. 12, Development of a Bikeway/Route System (Updated January 2010)
In the meanwhile, though, we will continue to turn our streets over to big SUVs and harried motorists.
I’d like to believe that Beverly Hills is on its way to becoming a safe place to bike. But our civic leaders can’t make this happen without the community behind them, and we at Better Bike can’t advocate for it without your support. Drop by and tell us what you think!