Bike Lane Plan in Beverly Hills Takes a Strange Turn

Update: 929 pm – When the consultants called the 16′ travel lanes “shared lanes,” I assumed they meant that the lanes would have Sharrows. I was wrong. They’re just proposing two 16′ mixed use lanes, which under state law cyclists have to stay to the right in.

Bicyclists, both those that live in Beverly Hills and those that bike through it, are hoping that a Blue Ribbon Commission that was formed to discuss the redesign of Santa Monica Boulevard will finally create the backbone of a bicycling network in Beverly Hills. However, a new report by consultants hired by the city makes that outcome less likely. The report was released just days before the Blue Ribbon Committee meets for the last time tomorrow to make recommendations to the City Council.

Design-concepts-stackIn truth, this wasn’t supposed to be a debate about bicycle lanes. The Commission’s goal was to redesign the street with an attractive median and not impact mixed-use traffic flow. When the consultants returned with a plan to change the road design so that there would be a planted median with two twelve foot travel lanes on each side, Mark Elliott, the organizer of Better Bike Beverly Hills who sits on the committee noted that the design could create problems for car drivers, as bicyclists would take the lane (as they are allowed to under state law) and cars would have to wait or pass them.

The widening of Santa Monica Boulevard has been controversial, but with safe passing and vehicle speed issues on the table, the city seemed willing to reconsider.  All of a sudden, bike lanes were on the table again.

“The reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake our signature corridor as a multimodal complete street. But that wasn’t on the table when the city began this process,” writes Elliott. “Were it not for our dogged support for multi-modal mobility and the support of riders, this corridor would simply remain a motor corridor like it is today.”

Elliott led a pretty impressive media campaign, getting published in all of the myriad of media sources available in Beverly Hills. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition also got involved, writing letters to the City Council and encouraging people to attend the three public hearings held on the street design. The first two meetings were dominated by bicycling advocates. The third is tomorrow night.

But just when it seemed that bicycle lanes would finally be added to the mix, the city’s consultants released their own recommended plan for city action.  The recommended plan does call for the widening of Santa Monica Boulevard, but oddly does not include bicycle lanes. Instead, the consultants outlined a plan for a 16 foot lane on the outside of the right of way.

In other words: a controversial road widening is doable. But bicycle lanes? What are we, Culver City?

“It seems pre-cooked: an end run around the many members of the public who addressed the committee and are seeking a striped lane simply to make it safe for us to ride a corridor where 50,000 vehicle ply it daily,” Elliott continues. “We have stoplights and sidewalks and crosswalks; why not facilities for safe cycling?”

While a strong turnout is expected at tomorrow night’s commission meeting, the final decision on the road design rests with the City Council. The Council is expected to vote on the matter in February, and could overturn the Commission’s decision, no matter which way it goes.”

Beverly Hills City Council’s votes are oft determined by a swing vote. Mayor John Mirisch and Vice-Mayor Lili Bosse are both vocal supporters of bicycle lanes. Mirisch spoke of the importance of creating a safe and inviting bicycle and pedestrian environment in his installation speech. Bosse appointed Elliott to the Blue Ribbon Commission. On a five member Council, only one more vote is needed to insure that bicyclists, both those in the city and those passing through, have a safe place to ride.

Tomorrow’s meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission begins at 6:oo pm in Beverly Hills City Hall.