10 ideas for the new West Hollywood City Council
At 35,000 people, West Hollywood is a small city sandwiched between Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. At less than 2 square miles, you can literally walk the entire city in about 45 minutes. Despite its small size and solid finances, the City has done relatively little in terms of multi-modal infrastructure. With the addition of Chelsea Byers (a Streets For All supported candidate) to the council, progressives John Erickson and Sepi Shyne have the votes to continue pushing forward. It’s time to strike while the iron’s hot.
1/ Implement a protected bike lane network. I made this map in the summer of 2021, showing all the major bike opportunities in West Hollywood. The good news is that council recently approved protected bike lanes on Fountain (although we need them to get the “quick build” project in the ground faster than the 1.5 years it took to do the study!), and also approved studying protected bike lanes on Santa Monica Bl (still waiting on the staff report). However, there’s been no progress on Melrose (despite them doing a multi-million dollar improvement project, they didn’t implement any bike infrastructure — their own mobility plan calls for useless sharrows on Melrose). There also has been no progress on Robertson, San Vicente, Crescent Heights, Holloway, Sunset, or Fairfax. It would be great to get these projects in the ground, which would provide a true protected bike lane network across the entire city. And given how small the city is, many local trips could be taken by bikes or scooters, eliminating the pollution and noise of many cars.
2/ Advocate for expanding Metro Bike Share. West Hollywood has done a great job advocating for speeding up an extension of the Crenshaw Line north into the city, and with it we need need to give people non-car options to get to/from stations. Even sooner, the Purple Line extension will put two new stations less than a mile from WeHo’s borders. Since the demise of WeHo Pedals, West Hollywood has not been served a bike share program — the City should work with Metro and advocate for a Metro Bike Share expansion city-wide.
3/ Create an e-bike lending program for residents. E-bikes are a game changer, and electric cargo bikes are true car replacements. E-cargo bikes allow anyone to easily transport groceries, work tools, kids, etc. without having to use a car. The city could purchase 20 e-cargo bikes (to start) and allow residents to check them out for up to a month at a time. Many residents would fall in love with non-car transportation if they saw how easy (and fun!) it was to get around town. ActiveSGV prioneered this concept in the San Gabriel Valley with their GoSGV lending library. They currently have a 4 month (!) wait for e-cargo bikes. E-cargo bikes could be available at West Hollywood City Hall and be checked in and out there; additionally, the City could provide basic maintenance for bikes there, from changing a flat tire to a basic tune up.
4/ Create some pedestrianized plazas. Third Street Promenade is incredibly popular and generates 15% of the sales tax revenue for the City of Santa Monica. Santa Barbara closed down State St to cars during the pandemic and outdoor dining, entertainment, and active transportation boomed on the street (it’s still closed to cars today). Santa Monica has experimented with pedestrianizing Main St, and Glendale pedestrianized Artsakh Ave. The bottom line is that space for people — without the noise of cars whizzing by, polluting the air — is very popular! West Hollywood should create some of these plazas. A few ideas: Holloway between Santa Monica and La Cienega, Robertson between Santa Monica and Melrose (this was actually tried before), Crescent Heights and Santa Monica (kill the slip lanes and use that space on both the east and west sides), Melrose between Robertson and Doheny, and Almont between Beverly and Rosewood. In this spaces the city could add swings/slides/toys for kids, seating for outdoor dining, etc.
5/ Create better wayfinding signage for people walking, biking, and on scooters. An easy win — and one that would require zero compromises on street space — would be to have much better signage guiding people to/from popular destinations without having to use a car. Josh Vredevoogd and I created this project (we called it “Quiet Routes”) in 2019; you can view an overview here, and all the signs + map here. I managed to get it on the transportation commission agenda, where it passed unanimously, and then a modified version was passed by City Council in January of 2020. Unfortunately, nothing’s happened since then. I still think it’s a great idea and an easy win — visualizing to residents that biking/scooting/walking can often be faster than driving, when traffic and parking time is taken into consideration — can help change the status quo.
6/ Collaborate with the City of LA to create Barcelona-style super blocks. Many of West Hollywood’s neighborhoods are sandwiched between major streets, and otherwise quiet residential streets are often used for the convenience of drivers at rush hour. The City tried to address this on Willoughby with the Willoughby-Vista-Gardner Greenway project, and recently, with the pilot installments on Willoughby, which included a single diverter; these treatments were recently removed. The problem with just having a single traffic diverter is that it diverts cars to a parallel cut through street (in this case, Waring)— it’s just pushing cut through traffic around to a different residential street, not getting rid of it. What we need is a holistic plan, and that requires collaboration with the City of LA given the City’s borders. A good start would be to create a “super block” (where cars are permitted at slow speeds, and but are not able to drive completely through) with a series of diverters between Santa Monica, Melrose, Fairfax, and La Brea (the Mid City West Neighborhood Council, which borders WeHo in this area, and where I chair the Transportation & Sustainability Committee, recently passed a letter of support asking for superblock-style traffic calming).
7/ Prohibit right turn on red. Right turn on red was not legal in most places until 1975 (following the 1973 oil crisis), where the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 required states to make right turn on red legal in order for states to receive federal funding for energy conservation programs. The idea was that idling cars at red lights were wasting energy — and letting them turn on red would save energy. However, the energy savings turned out to be negligible (especially in today’s day and age, where many cars turn off and on — by design — when starting a stopping), but the safety impacts are huge. Pedestrians and cyclists are at greater risk from right turn on red. And while states are not allowed to ban right turn on red currently (without losing federal funding), individual cities can (and have — New York City is a prominent example). It would be a huge safety boon to vulnerable road users to ban right turn on red in West Hollywood. It would also make bike boxes possible, which are impossible at intersections that allow right turn on red.
8/ Eliminate parking minimums and consider parking maximums. The City of West Hollywood has a ton of parking! There are numerous city-owned lots and garages with over 1,151 public parking spaces (a public parking space for every 30 residents!). Despite this, the City still demands that developers build a minimum amount of parking, and has things like diagonal parking on Melrose which prohibits the installation of bike lanes on the street). Given the plentiful amount of public and private parking in the city, the city should be able to easily remove street parking on streets like Melrose and Santa Monica to make room for bike facilities. And the City should consider parking maximums near or on streets that are well served by transit.
9/ Add a bus lane to Santa Monica Bl. Santa Monica Bl is a key east-west spine, but lacks any accommodation for bus riders (the City of LA is about to install bus lanes between the 405 and Centinela on Santa Monica Bl). By getting rid of turn lanes and parking, the city could likely fit both a full time bus lane and protected bike lanes on the street. The WeHo Cityline shuttle could also make use of the lanes, as could Metro’s #4 bus.
10/ Move quicker! West Hollywood is a small, well off city. It has the resources to do projects (especially quick build, pilots) quickly. Unfortunately it doesn’t always move at that speed. It would be great for the incoming council to set specific timelines and goals, and set expectations so projects happen within months instead of years. The council could also establish binding targets; for example, 5 miles of bike lanes per year, 3 miles of pedestrian improvements per year, etc.
Overall, with its central location, progressive majority on council, and good financial position, the City of West Hollywood could be a shining example of how to make a city more livable, safer for vulnerable road users, and more enjoyable for residents, while helping to fight climate change. I have high hopes.