Fighting for a bike-friendly Beverly Hills and a safer Santa Monica Blvd

I’m not a fan of Beverly Hills.

Aside from the over-the-top pretension of Rodeo Drive — where I have yet to see a single bull rider and which I strive to avoid at all cost — I’ve long been angered by the city’s complete and total lack of biking infrastructure.

To the best of my knowledge, Beverly Hills does not currently have a single inch of bike lane within its city limits. Look at any local bike map, and it might as well read Here There Be Dragons, as bike routes disappear without a trace into the undiscovered cycling country of 90210.

And the recently approved bike plan — which I’m told is nothing more than the 1977 plan, repeatedly re-approved with little or no change for over 30 years — calls for placing bike lanes in the alleys of the downtown triangle, lest they remove a single lane of parking or let bikes sully the city’s pristine image.

So when Mark Elliot contacted me recently to include a link to a new group of bicyclists fighting for a more bike-friendly Beverly Hills and to make Santa Monica Boulevard safer for cyclists, he had me at hello.

But instead of merely adding a link, I thought the issue was important enough to let him have the floor today. And ask him explain to you why Beverly Hills needs your help.

And what you can do about it.

………

If you’re a two-wheeled veteran of the Southland’s mean streets, you know that we take our life into our hands every time we settle into the saddle for some not-so-good-natured give and take with motorists. Not that it’s always negative; on the best days we can pantomime mutual agreement that all road users are entitled to the blacktop. Whether motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian, the arrangement is that we respect the rules of the road and get where we’re going safely.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. Studies show that we not making substantial progress on reducing cyclist deaths and injuries as a result of traffic collisions. If you are a regular rider of the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor through Beverly Hills, you don’t need studies to tell you how dangerous it is to ride this missing piece of the proposed regional bike backbone. Now’s your opportunity to make change: join with Better Bike BH to make Santa Monica Blvd. a bike-friendly through-route connecting the bike lanes in West Hollywood and Century City.

Policymakers like to talk about safety, but Santa Monica Boulevard is symptomatic of a broader problem: cyclists are second-class citizens on our roads with possible dire consequences for those who take to two wheels.

According to the National Highway Transport Safety Administration’s analysis, 716 cyclists were killed nationally in 2008 in collisions with an additional 52,000 injured. Two-wheelers were both 2% of all traffic fatalities and 2% of injuries too. Since only one-half of one percent of us mounts a bike regularly for transportation, cyclists seem disproportionately represented among the dead and injured in collisions.

That number killed has not appreciably changed in a decade! Worse, kids under 14 were 11% of those fatalities, but comprised more than one-fifth of all collision injuries in that age group. Now, the good news is that kids 14-and-under fatalities dropped substantially over the decade – falling to near one-third of the 1998 level. The bad news is that overall deaths have not diminished, meaning that older folks are making up a larger proportion of those fatalities.

Consider that the average age of cyclists killed in traffic collisions has marched steadily upward and now is 41 years of age (NHTSA data as of 2008). Even at my ripe old age of 45, I can’t rest easily. While I’m over the statistical hump, I use my bicycle for much of my everyday transportation and ride recreationally, so I’m on the road much more than the average cyclist.

And I am riding roads that are much less-safe than roads nationally. I start and end most of my rides in Beverly Hills where I live. Our fair city is a particularly dangerous place to ride because the population increases by a factor of four when weekday commuters flow in. Key east-west corridors of Wilshire and Olympic accommodate about 25,000 vehicles per day on average – routes so heavily traveled because we are a key piece of the Westside transportation network.

Moreover, Beverly Hills is the Westside’s third largest employment center and it’s growing rapidly. Motorists compete for an increasingly scarce resource – road capacity – and in that mix of harried commuters, older drivers, and notoriously dangerous younger drivers, we cyclists are literally marginalized. We’re pushed to the edge.  Also a hazard are the relatively short blocks and many intersections. Add a dollop of entitlement and a sprinkling of road rage and, well, you see the problem.

Actually you feel the problem. Intimidation and harassment are constant companions on the streets of Beverly Hills (and much of the urban area too). I have to look out for myself because my city’s not looking out for me. There are no bike lanes, share-the-road-markings, or signage that, at a bare minimum, would remind under-educated motorists that I have a right to the road.

I’ve been riding in urban settings for many years and am confident in my own skills, but it is the unpredictability of my encounters with motorists that leave me sometimes shaken. We all have my anecdotal stories, but one of my favorites recalls the driver with whom I shared a long descent down Benedict Canyon. First the driver nearly clipped my leg on a particularly fast stretch, but because of stop lights, he had two more bites at that apple. After the third (!) very close call I took him to task.

Cyclists shouldn’t have to literally argue for their safety. It’s the responsibility of transportation planners, engineers, and law enforcement to ensure that the roads are safe for everyone. Though I’m not necessarily uncomfortable in the vehicle mix, I do wish that my city recognized me and my fellow cyclists as first-class road users.

What can be done? For starters, let’s pick the lowest-hanging fruit. Santa Monica Boulevard is an obstacle course of hazards for the cyclist. Dips, troughs, and moguls force the biker into the left third of the lane, which undermines the laws’ requirement to ride to the right and plunges the cyclist into the path – and ire – of the harried motorist. The corridor receives twice the volume of Wilshire and Olympic (50,000 vehicles per day on average) and would seem to be ideally positioned as a bike-friendly through-route connecting the bike lanes in West Hollywood and Century City.

We have an opportunity to offer our vision of a bike-friendly Santa Monica Boulevard because Beverly Hills is about to undertake improvements over the next 2-3 years. Scoping is just now underway, and we want to kick off the process with good ideas and models of success.

How can you make a difference? Join up with the ‘Better Bike BH’ effort to that includes cyclists rather than literally marginalizes them. We hold meetings every Sunday at 4 pm at Peets Coffee (258 S. Beverly Dr.) in Beverly Hills. Join the Google Group to receive meeting notices and follow our progress on the Better Bike BH project wiki. We’ll need your help to put in place the missing piece of the region’s bikeways backbone. With your participation, we can make Beverly Hills safer and more enjoyable for cyclists of all ages, and ensure that alternative transportation users can get where we’re going safely too.

6 comments

  1. Will Campbell says:

    During Franklin Avenue blog’s 2008 “Great LA Walk” that passed through BH, I was surprised to come along a “Bike Lane Closed” sign near the easternmost section of then-under-construction pathway through the park that parallels SM Blvd from Doheny to Wilshire.

    I found it very telling that the City That Never Shleps would disingenuously present the pedestrian access as a bikeway for two reasons: 1) it’s composed of bike-unfriendly dirt, and 2) block to block there’s not a single apron ramp from the curbs of the many side streets that connect with SM Blvd.

    Here’s a pic I snapped: http://tinyurl.com/28md287

    I always encourage cyclists to take Carmelita, one block north of SM Blvd. It’s quiet graceful arc through the upscale residential secton from Doheny to Wilshire is almost worthy being called Beverly Hills Bike Boulevard.

    • bikinginla says:

      Great photo, Will. Makes you wonder where they even got that sign, since they don’t have any bike lanes to close.

      You’re right about Camelita, it’s a great alternative to Santa Monica. I also make use of Charleville, which runs one block south of Wilshire, from just east of Century City to near La Cienega.

    • PlebisPower says:

      I second the use of Charleville – it’s an onramp to the Century City bike lanes if you’re heading west. What this neighborhood street needs is sharrows and ‘Idaho’ stop signs!
      FWIW, BH transport folks seem to think that a recreational bike path and safe travel for commuting cyclists are the same thing. They’re not, of course, but the former makes helpful cover when you don’t want to implement the latter.

  2. BB says:

    If the article photo represents a narrow lane why not encourage cyclist to take the lane?

    It’s something you can do today@

  3. [...] I personally have yet to see a single sign post or pavement marking that acknowledges the existence and the rights of cyclists in Beverly Hills.  Indeed, not a single inch of bike lane. [...]

  4. fellow angeleno says:

    i completely agree with you. i commute my car to ucla from koreatown thru wilshire. ive considered commuting by bike this summer but noticed the total disregard for cyclists esp near beverly hills. esp the parts with no bike lanes or sidewalks. Comon Beverly Hills! get your priorities in check. Still maintaining red light cameras when the rest of LA county ditched this program yet not investing in a bicycle infrastructure?

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