The Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commission voted July 1 to approve the final draft streetscape plan and design standards for “Connect Beverly Hills: Meet Me on Wilshire and La Cienega,” a 160-page compilation of recommendations for how to make the busy area surrounding the future Metro station more vibrant, safe, sustainable, and welcoming. The city hopes to implement a narrowed down list of recommendations by the time the station opens in 2023.
July 1 marked the last of six meetings that the Traffic and Parking Commission (TPC) devoted to the draft plan, since it was designated as the Project Advisory Commission that would study the project intensely before recommending its passage to the Beverly Hills City Council. The Council is expected to vote on the measure at its July 27 study session.
TPC Chair Nooshin Meshkaty told the Courier that the Council could still review the plan even if the Commission had rejected it, though she imagines they might hesitate since they selected the Commission to provide a recommendation.
The Commission’s vote was unanimous, but it was not completely enthusiastic. In fact, one could argue that the commission voted 4 ½ – ½ , rather than 5-0, to approve the draft, since Vice Chair Sharon Ignarro voted “Yes, with hesitation.”
Following a presentation from consultant Toole Design, Ron Shalowitz succinctly summed up Ignarro’s hesitation when he said, “I don’t have any more questions, other than I don’t know what I’m voting on.”
Indeed, the Commission’s July 1 vote will not result in any immediate or concrete changes, and the full cost of the project, and who exactly will foot the bill (Metro will cover at least some of it), is far from determined.
Instead, their vote is more of a symbolic seal of approval to the numerous recommendations and design options narrowed down from the Commission’s five previous meetings, and over a year’s worth of extensive feedback from the community and dozens of other commissions, committees, and stakeholders. If the Council approves the draft, that will mark the official go-ahead to move into the next phase of financial and urban planning.
Major proposals of the Wilshire/La Cienega revamp include new high visibility, raised crosswalks; ADA-compliant curb ramps;
new, aesthetically consistent planters and benches; exclusive pedestrian phasing (when all corners of an intersection have walk signals at the same time, so pedestrians can cross diagonally) and a people-centered “Mobility Hub,” located at the vacant, city-owned lot at the Gale Staging Yard about 600 feet east of the station. The Hub would feature transportation pick-up and drop-off, comfortable seating, a landscaped plaza, food and informational kiosks, public restrooms, a bike rack, and public art.
The draft plan extends well beyond that intersection, however. Connect Beverly Hills is also one of the pilot projects of a much larger plan, known as the Complete Streets plan (which the City Council approved during an April study session), that aims to make the city’s streets more aesthetically consistent, and friendly to pedestrians, bikes, and public transit. If the renovation of the Wilshire and La Cienega intersection proves successful, similar initiatives will be implemented around the future Wilshire/Rodeo station, and eventually in dense downtown areas all over the city. The current draft plan reimagines in detail five different “character zones”–or a collection of streets with similar characteristics and needs–up and down the Wilshire stretch of Beverly Hills.
“Our intent is that this project can serve as a template for developing future plans and future standards for other streets in the city,” Transportation Planner Jessie Holzer told the Architectural Commission during a March 17 presentation.
Since July 2020, Holzer has made the rounds among dozens of Beverly Hills’ official commissions, committees, and clubs at least twice, and often thrice, to provide updates on the streetscape plan and gather new feedback. That was only a fraction of the city’s robust outreach to gather as much input as possible for how exactly Beverly Hills wants itself to look, feel, and move in the decades to come. From April 14 to May 10 of 2021, the Transportation Department asked for public comment through the project website on the most recent draft of the plan and received approximately 250 comments. They also hosted a two-day virtual charrette–a design workshop in which planners, designers and residents work together in real time–and even a full-on virtual walking tour through different streetscape options.
So, how do a diverse cross-section of Beverly Hills residents recommend turning the future Purple Line escalators into veritable stairways to heaven? After synthesizing the reams of feedback, staff summarized some unmistakable trends.
Overall, residents want Beverly Hills to more fully live up to its “Garden City” moniker: they want more trees along the streets, fewer cars, larger sidewalks, more bike lanes, smarter crosswalks, and more attractive street furnishings following a unified, approved-upon aesthetic consistent with Beverly Hills’ identity.
On the relatively brief July 1 meeting, commissioners reviewed the most recent updates to the Wilshire/La Cienega area based on commissioners’ recommendations, which include either extended sidewalks with full-time parking along the road; the addition of a bus, shuttle, or bike lane; or the addition of a sidewalk-level bike lane.
Other updates included “expanded recommendations” of Beverly Hills streets, which include either expanded sidewalks, full-time parking, or shuttle, bus, and bike lanes along Wilshire, La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards.
The commissioners’ reactions were varied.
“It would be nice to have a slide that put it all together that says, this is what we’re recommending,” said Vice Chair Sharon Ignarro. “Because essentially we’re voting on streetscape, I thought, and I don’t see a cohesive streetscape here…we’re voting on the recommendations, and we don’t have them. It’s frustrating.”
“I fully support the project now and hope Council can wade through it,” said Commissioner Jay Solnit.
Chair Nooshin Meshkaty voiced high praise. “Today’s presentation was by far the best I have seen,” she said. “I hope to see City Council move forward, and I hope to see the first funding coming so that we can see the actual results of all the work put into this.”
To read the full draft plan, visit https://connect.beverlyhills.org.