The westbound intersection at Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills is the worst on my ten-mile bicycle commute. It has no crosswalks on its northern side, and its two right-turn lanes from Santa Monica onto Wilshire make it difficult for cyclists going straight on Santa Monica. For years, such cyclists have had to position themselves in the middle of a cacophony of cars. Here’s how it looks on Google Maps:
All these problems changed this morning. Overnight, the city removed the optional right-hand turn lane and replaced it with space off-limits to motorists. The change is most likely due to the city moving the westbound bus stop from the west side of Santa Monica to the east, requiring that buses have a way of getting back into Santa Monica traffic. That was difficult when there were two right-turn lanes to Wilshire. Now, with a single right-hand lane, the buses can navigate easier.
For me, this means the single most dangerous intersection on my commute has been removed. That wide space on the first photo below, marked by chevrons, is now space where cyclists can stop can breathe a moment.
1) Looking west on Santa Monica Boulevard. Where I’m photographing used to be an optional right turn lane.
2) Looking east from the other side of the intersection, a bus navigates back into traffic after picking up passengers
3) After the bus has left the intersection.
The Beverly Hills city council took up its “bike plan” twice last Thursday for the zillionth time since, oh, about 1975. If you want to listen to a dispiriting discourse on the status of current American bicycle thinking, you really should watch the study session. (Also, read Mark Elliott’s take.) I haven’t heard anyone rhyme “bi-cycle” with “pie cycle” since I talked to some old guy twenty years ago, but former mayor Barry Brucker uses it, and to this ear it makes him sound as if he were a late arrival to the invention, as if a bicycle were some new oddity threatening to invade our streets. Octa-cycle, anyone?
Of course, if it were just a matter of pronunciation, one shouldn’t be so particular, but the council session positively dripped with a great deal of caution, bordering on skepticism, towards the “introduction” of cycling into Beverly Hills. I suppose the most positive spin I could put on their attitude is that of quiet resignation. The council isn’t really interested in bicycles — do any of them actually ride? — but they sense they may be on the wrong side of history, and they want to make at least a small effort just in case.
Consider these contributions:
• Alan Grushcow (Traffic & Parking): “We’re not here to talk about specific bike routes. We’re really here to have an informed discussion about how bikes fit into this community, and how we should or should not take them seriously.”
• Julian Gold (council member): “Does sharing the road differently (with bicycles) raise the number of accidents [between cars]?”
• Barry Brucker (council member): “I support us looking (only) at the major arteries until we can be convinced that bicyclists will actually stop [at signs on side streets], and also that they will not look at [sharrows as a] perceived no-need-to-stop opportunity.”
• John Mirisch (council member): “In the [upcoming] renovation of Santa Monica Boulevard, we should do everything possible to try and fit in bike lanes there (rather than on side streets)…The schools want us to hold up, because they want to be able to develop routes that will allow the kids to bike to school.”
• William Brien (council member): “I don’t think you could safely ride a bike on Santa Monica Boulevard now (because of poor road conditions).”
• Jeff Kolin (City Manager): “This should be an incremental program.”
Ultimately, the council recommended provisions on just two of the five streets up for grabs, on Crescent Drive and Burton Way, and those only tentatively. From what I gather, somebody took a poll of residents and found considerable public sentiment against lanes elsewhere. (I live in Beverly Hills, too, but I never saw a poll. Who are these people voting against bicycles, anyway?!) Carmelita Avenue is probably no loss to anyone, as the street is wide, and the riders I know will continue using it, sharrows or lanes or not. But losing Charleville Boulevard is a shame, as it’s quite narrow and probably the most popular connector from Century City to parts east.
Brucker’s unwillingness to put anything on Carmelita and Charleville because cyclists run stop signs is the first time I’ve seen this sentiment lead to real consequences. It’s standard fare among Internet trolls, but I’ve never quite understood the logic. We don’t ask drivers to stop texting to repave roads, nor pedestrians to stop jay-walking in exchange for cross-walks. If anything, the attitude should be exactly the opposite; we should provide infrastructure that encourages all road users to do the right thing. Cyclists will stop running stop signs when the roads work for them, rather than against them, as they do now. If you’re reading these words, Mr. Brucker, this attitude just has to stop: please stop connecting behavior and infrastructure; infrastructure is not a reward, it’s a prerequisite.
The evening following, at the Council’s regular meeting, Wolfpack Hustle gathered together a group of riders from all over to ask the city for better safety provisions. Their call to action was the case of Paul Livingston, whose hit-and-run incident last year was so badly handled as to shiver the best of riders off the road. I appreciate WH’s efforts, and hope for continued help, but we really need many more Beverly Hills parents like Danielle Salomon, who spoke about her daily commute by bicycle to UCLA, and then had her adorable daughters say a few words about their difficulties riding, too. One council member mentioned he had seen them on the road. As the Dutch will tell you, mobilized parents are a powerful force for change.
For the past few weeks my mailbox has been packed with slickly-produced campaign flyers, nearly all of them about the issue of free parking in garages owned by the City of Beverly Hills. There are actually two proposals on the ballot. The first, Measure 2P, was put on there by a group of local landlords, and would require the city to provide two hours free to everyone in all city garages. The second, Measure 3P, was put on the ballot by the city council itself in response to “2P,” and would give three free hours to city residents only.
The details of these proposals aren’t that interesting, and I’ll be voting against both of them anyway. I rarely use city parking anymore, which makes my decision easier, but it also makes sense from other perspectives:
■ Donald Shoup would point out the “High Cost of Free Parking,” and how it encourages unnecessary driving. He might then give some statistics on how much Beverly Hills spends per space (including the latest underground project on Crescent Boulevard), money that could otherwise be spent on projects with more impact.
■ The city council would rightly point out that 2P removes ability to use resources at its disposal to balance the budget, especially in a time when it is facing shortfalls, and sets an unfortunate precedent over who gets to make the rules in this city (3P wouldn’t even be on the ballot except as a “desperation move” in response to 2P).
■ I would point out that the proposals are a reminder of how inefficient California’s proposition politics has become; we’re very good at voting in benefits, and very bad at voting in ways to pay for them.
Business promotion is the main argument offered by 2P supporters, and comes up on all the flyers I’ve received. (I’ve yet to receive anything in the mail against the proposal, but there is some opposition.) Some of the flyers mention the increasing competition from areas surrounding Beverly Hills, like the three free parking hours that Westfield Century City offers, or the cheap parking at the Beverly Center and The Grove. While these comparisons may be accurate, I don’t think they’re justified, as most of the examples offered concern private garages in shopping malls, where mall businesses subsidize spots. Beverly Hills public parking is, instead, “socialized” by the taxpayer, and paid for by every resident who also pays property taxes. Parking is expensive. People should pay for what they use.
There is some question over the legality of Measure 2P, and that challenge is still in the courts. I believe the proposal will still hit the ballot, however, despite the outcome of that case, and my guess is that it will pass, and not 3P. Whatever. Allowing public policy to come to a vote is a recipe for bad results, and makes me wonder whether Hans Voerknecht (the Dutch “bicycle activist”) has a point: “Democracy is not about doing the will of the people; it’s about choosing the best men and women out of the people who make the wisest decisions.”
Whatever the outcome at the ballot box, I think Beverly Hills and its businesses are missing out on the bigger issue. If business is suffering here versus our neighbors, it’s not because of parking, free or not. Shoppers prefer Century City or The Grove because the shopping experience is better. These other places have restored the human dimension to space: they take cars off their ersatz “streets,” and give it back to pedestrians. (Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and Universal Studio’s City Walk do the same.) Shopping in Beverly Hills isn’t interesting or fun anymore. The model has become obsolete. The magic is gone.
A few years ago, Jimmy Delshad, who subsequently became mayor, proposed the idea of pedestrianizing Rodeo Drive. I don’t know exactly what came of the proposal, but Fred Hayman, the former owner of Giorgio’s and the “Pa Kettle of Rodeo Drive,” thought it wouldn’t work: “Exotic cars are part of the attraction of California.” I respect Mr. Hayman’s business acumen, but I can say with some confidence that no matter how much you may be enthralled by the odd Lamborghini that passes by, the noise and exhaust of cars eventually are going to wear you down. Who wants to dine outside with sports cars roaring by?
I’d really like the city of Beverly Hills to pick up this idea again, at least on an experimental basis. Close Rodeo Drive or Beverly Drive to vehicular traffic one day weekly. Maybe the city could move the Farmer’s Market from behind the courthouse to Beverly Drive on that day. Make the shopping experience unique, compelling, and fun again. Do this for a few months and see what happens. Otherwise, I am going to predict that Beverly Hills will continue losing shoppers, including me, to its neighbors.
Oh, and by the way, since this is nominally a bicycle blog, I should mention how bicycles fit in. Simply put, if we can pedestrianize the city center, the human-powered ways to get there have to be next. I don’t think there’s any great city that added bicycles to its transportation network without making pedestrians fit first.
Santa Monica’s repeal of its bicycle licensing ordinance last night prompted me to look at the rules for Beverly Hills, where I live. As it turns out — and much to my surprise — we still have a licensing provision on the books from 1962, under Title 5, Chapter 5: BICYCLES:
It shall be unlawful for any person to operate or use a bicycle, as defined in section 39000 of the Vehicle Code of the state, upon any street, public path or way, or other public property in the city unless such bicycle is licensed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
I called City Hall in hopes of finding out how I would go about getting a license. The City Clerk’s office forwarded me to the Police Department’s Watch Commander … who forwarded me to the Traffic department … who put me on hold to call the Finance department … who told Traffic to tell me that Beverly Hills no longer issues bicycle licenses. Whew.
Then I called the (only?) local bike shop, Beverly Hills Bike Shop, to see whether they knew anything about the ordinance. They should know about it, because it also requires them to “file a report with the director of finance administration of all new or used bicycles purchased or sold with the identification of the purchaser or seller within ten (10) days of such transaction.” The guy who answered the phone said the licensing law wasn’t enforced, although it used to be.
The ordinance also has a rather substantial rewording of the California Motor Vehicle Code Section 21202(a). The Beverly Hills Municipal Code states:
The operator of a bicycle shall operate such bicycle as near the curb as possible on any public street or highway.
By contrast, California code states:
Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway …
The difference between “as close as practicable” and “as near as possible” has spawned much discussion on the interwebs. The State statute is usually taken to mean that riders can “take the lane” and ride well out into the street, when circumstances dictate. The other formulation doesn’t have the same flexibility at all. I would argue, however, that the State statute overrides Beverly Hills’ ordinance, and renders the city ordinance a rather useless bit of law.
Of course, the city ought to remove these laws from its books, as they provide too much opportunity for a “rogue” officer to enforce them selectively. Contact the city council!
What is a bike lane supposed to look like?
Los Angeles mostly seems to think they should be to the left of parked cars and to the right of moving cars, with nothing but a bit of paint to separate them. This paradigm hardly makes riders feel safe, and really limits the kinds of cyclists who take to the streets. Other cities, many of them overseas, but more recently in Portland, New York, and a few others, have taken a different tack. They’ve separated cycling lanes from travel lanes. Sometimes they use a curb or sidewalk, sometimes they use parked cars, and sometimes they build a different path altogether. Here in L.A., though, we just haven’t done that, aside from the few “Class I” paths you’ll find scattered at the beach and rivers.
As it happens, Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills is up for a twelve-million dollar makeover. The city has expressed some interest in adding bicycle lanes on at least one side of the boulevard, probably the south side, with “all options open” for a second lane on the north side, or Carmelita Avenue, the next street up. Given the examples of the many non-
grade-separated protected bike lanes in this city, it was with some surprise that I heard this bit from Beverly Hills council member Nancy Krasne at a study session last week (around 33:30):
If you really, really want a bike lane on Santa Monica Boulevard, I suggest where the bike lane is, that we find a way to either raise it up at a higher level than the road, so that the bike lane is higher than the street — and it’s marked “Bike Lane” — and that somebody that starts to drift into it is going to be touching something … and the bikes are a little safer.
I was so delighted to hear this idea of a
grade-separated protected bike lane that I fired off a letter to Krasne today. Who knew that Beverly Hills, the “black hole” of bicycle infrastructure in our city, might have a real advocate for first-class lanes?!