Traffic Citations Reach Record Lows in Beverly Hills in 2016

In my last post I charted police department collision injury data to show the extent to which collision injuries continue to mount in Beverly Hills. From 2008 (when the department made data available) though last year, police report that 3,805 people have been injured on city streets in collisions. Most concerning, the data show that the most protected travelers, auto occupants, suffered record-high injuries – so many that it pushed the overall injury totals to record highs too. In this post I crunch police data for citations to show that enforcement of traffic laws has withered on the vine.

All Major Traffic Enforcement Trends Show a Steep Decline Since 2008

For your consideration here are the enforcement trends from 2008 through 2016. I plugged nine years of Beverly Hills Police Department data (download the reports) into a spreadsheet and generated some charts to visualize the trends. When 2017 data becomes available in February I will follow up with a year-end analysis of that data too.

The number of overall signed citations has plummeted since 2008. Last year officers issued half as many citations for speed, stop-sign, signal, pedestrian and cell-phone violations than they did in 2008. Indeed they issued the fewest tickets for those offenses in total during 2016 than at any time since the police began to report the data to the Traffic and Parking Commission. This chart makes it clear.

Chart: Signed citations by category 2008-2016All citation categories are clearly trending downward. Cell phone citations in particular show a marked decline since BHPD began ticketing in 2009 after the state imposed a ban the year prior.

Chart: Cell phone citations 2009-2016I presume that as grants for targeted cell phone enforcement diminished so did the department’s efforts. That’s often the way it works: grants fund enforcement campaigns but, once the money runs out, so does the enforcement.  The result: inconsistent enforcement priorities and, as we see, very few citations for cell phone use in recent years. (See note #1 below.)

From the peak year (2011) the number of cell phone citations issued annually decreased by about 85%. In recent years the number of citations decreased by about 20% on average every year even from relatively low levels. The takeaway: where officers had once written nearly 100 tickets each day, today they write only 12 or so on any given day. Yet diminished interest in enforcement coincides with what seems to be an increased prevalence of handheld phone use (my anecdotal observation finds).

Moreover, the drop in citations comes as US DOT has issued warnings about injuries and fatalities that result from distracted driving. The overall trend downward is set to continue into 2017: year-to-date data (though October) show that citations are down  another 15% from last year.

Red-Light Runners Can Violate the Law With Impunity

Citations for cell phone violations is among the most steep and consistent declines among all categories. Yet one one key traffic enforcement category rivals it: the collapse in citations for running red lights. Between 2008 and 2016 citations for running a red light dropped by a whopping 83%. Eighty-three percent!

Chart: Signal Violations 2008-2016So steep has been the decline that citations in the category dropped by half from 2011 to 2012 and then again by half the following year. To put that in perspective, officers in 2008 issued five red-light tickets every day but last year such citations averaged not even a single ticket per day despite the outrageous prevalence of drivers running red lights.

Arguably the reason why we have high-and-rising collision injuries overall is because we see lax enforcement of traffic laws. But divers who run red lights – especially when speed is excessive – present a clear-and-present danger to all road users. But they seem to be injuring other drivers more than ever as my chart of auto-occupant injuries shows.

Chart: Auto-occupant injuries 2008-2016It seems clear that these trends are connected: fewer signal violators nabbed probably means more injurious collisions at signaled intersections where speeds are greater. And that means more injuries among our best-protected road users. That should trouble both our police and our Traffic and Parking commissioners but they appear untroubled.

Patrol Officers Issue Fewer Citations

Both patrol officers and traffic division officers write tickets. As I understand it, the traffic division is charged with enforcement of the traffic laws while the patrol division is simply out on patrol looking for law-breakers. What I don’t understand is why patrol officers are finding fewer traffic law-breakers than ever before.

This chart shows the annual tally of citations issued by patrol officers (exclusive of traffic division citations) since 2008. The overall tally has fallen by 55% between 2008 and 2016.

Chart: Signed patrol and traffic citations 2008-2016Not only did officers on patrol last year issue fewer than half the tickets they did in 2008; the year-over-year declines can be quite steep too. Last year patrol officers wrote one-third fewer tickets than they did in 2015, for example, which amounts to just six tickets a day for any offense. So in a city of 40,000 people that swells to more than double that on any weekday our officers can find only six violations? How many of those were issued for signal violations? Probably zero.

The chart not only shows the absolute decline in patrol tickets; it also shows clearly the relative decline: that is, the proportion of patrol-issued citations out of all signed citations. Patrol citations is a shrinking proportion.

What is the impact of so few patrol citations? I expect that drivers can brazenly run red lights without the fear of getting pulled over. Even when a black-and-white police cruiser sits waiting at the same stoplight these drivers are rarely if ever pulled over. (Indeed several times I have watched as drivers blow through a red signal but the police cruiser right there in front of me at the scene gives no chase.) What’s more, not once in 15 years here have I seen a driver ever pulled over for running a red light. The slight chance that it might happen looks ever more slight today.

Traffic Division Numbers are  Up

Here is the good news: the traffic division has issued more citations in recent years than a few years ago, but it’s not translating into higher numbers across enforcement categories. It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about the traffic division numbers, though. There are citations for violations outside of the categories broken out in the BHPD monthly report; indeed the monthly tally for traffic division citations adds up to many more than are broken out across the major traffic offenses like signal, pedestrian, speed, and right-of-way violations.

Despite the late increase in traffic division enforcement, I can’t recall targeted campaign to catch those who run red lights. Not to say it hasn’t happened, but I don’t recall a press release announcing one, and I’ve never seen such a campaign in action. Not even on South Beverly! The area is a designated pedestrian district yet crosswalks there feel very hazardous. (And they are! This year a pedestrian lost his or her life there.)

The question is why we don’t we more targeted enforcement campaigns. Or do they exist and we simply don’t know they’re happening? Occasionally we see them, as we did after a Rexford Drive resident complained to the Courier about right-of-way violations near Beverly Vista. Soon after, there were motor cops on the; corner looking for violators.

But what about red-light stings at intersections where the most serious injuries probably occur? We just don’t see the targeted enforcement for that violation.

Instead our police department outsources red-light enforcement to automated cameras. Easy! This year red light cameras are on track to issue a near-record number of citations at the relatively few intersections where they do operate. Last year our robocops issued eighty-two times as many signal violation tickets as did human officers. (Read more about red light cameras in note #2 below.)

What about that the later surge in traffic division citations? Years 2015 and 2016? I think there’s a story there. For years BHPD offered various excuses for lax traffic enforcement: officers were injured or out sick; the ranks were depleted by retirements; officers were on diplomatic duty; and tough hiring standards allowed few officer candidates to make the cut. All were dubious but maybe there is merit to them. Perhaps putting those challenges behind has allowed the department to get back to work and hopefully the numbers will continue to rise. But be that as it may, the overall trend is clear: in 2016 the traffic division’s officers issued just one-third as many tickets as they did in 2008. And year-to-date data suggest that 2017 will show another decline.

I welcome any insight as to why signed citations vary so much year-to-year when law-breaking does not take a breather.

Fewer Hit-and-Runs is the Only Real Bright Spot

I want to close my analysis of Beverly Hills Police Department data on a positive note: hit-and-run collisions are on a clear downward trend. Here the trend is going in the proper direction!

Chart: Hits-and-run 2008-2016Hopefully 2015 was an anomaly and we will see the decline continue, from last year’s  27% drop from the year prior to this year’s anticipated further drop of 15%. Where a hit-and-run once occurred every day on average in 2008, today we’re seeing three per week. Better!

But how can police drive down that number even more? That’s not so clear. For one thing, we simply see too many collisions in Beverly Hills. We don’t even know how many because injury data doesn’t capture non-injury collisions (of course). So the tally of total collisions is unknown as is the magnitude of the problem. Not surprisingly, if we don’t have the data then we can’t see what fraction of collisions found perpetrators running off afterward.

In light of the limited data and the nature of the crime, perhaps the best strategy is a campaign to emphasize our individual responsibility to other road users and to society as a whole. The hitch: many people who pass through Beverly Hills are not residents. I’d wager that those who do flee a collision most likely don’t live here. Anyway, the challenge is not only to reach them but to persuade them.

My Recommendations

The Traffic and Parking commission and the Beverly Hills Police Department must coordinate on a response. Traffic and Parking Commission is the only oversight body we have when it comes to traffic. It must be a part of the solution. And the department must step up in more than a symbolic way: we need officials to coordinate on a plan or program to reduce collisions, injuries and deaths on Beverly Hills streets.

The monthly traffic report should provide context and analysis. Interested commissioners want to see trends rather than struggle to find patterns in a matrix of monthly figures. Generating at-a-glance charts for key indicators is a no-brainer!

Put a trained transportation planner or staff analyst on the job. Let officers collect the data but somebody outside the department should work it. The commissioners will be able to more readily engage with the analyst if she is staff-side. Save the higher-level coordination for the monthly report or perhaps regular meetings between Traffic and Parking liaisons and police brass.

Ensure that any officer who delivers the monthly traffic report is able to answer questions. Can the department representative say something substantive about injury totals and trends? Where are the collision hotspots? Today we hear BHPD answer about department operations but there no context of insight provided to go with the monthly report’s data.

Identify data categories that would help our understanding but that are not currently included in the report. We can start with total collision figures and collision locations. These should be systematically reported. Unlike other departments, Beverly Hills publishes no crime or crash data for public consumption (aside from the occasional management report that never reaches residents). A public-facing department would be a positive change.

We all need to be comfortable talking about numbers. Law enforcement is data-drive; if the commission (and the public) are to keep an eye on it we need basic numeracy. Comfort with numbers is necessary to understand trends, distinguish patterns from anomalies, and, most important, frame pertinent questions for the department.

The city needs the department at the table. It’s one thing to crunch the data and talk anecdotally in commission about problems. We need law enforcement solutions. But we’ve heard too many pro-forma monthly reports that wastes everybody’s time. If the department can make a priority of coordinating with the commission on real traffic problems, then we would be getting somewhere.

Lastly, this commission should be cognizant of its capacity, and responsibility, to oversee general traffic conditions. To date that has largely been mission deferred. We have as well-equipped a commission as ever and a new Chair is coming in January. Let’s call it a new start!

In sum I’m cautiously optimistic that things will change. Our commissioners are asking more questions than before and the monthly traffic report format may evolve into something more useful. All to the good. If my charts and the elementary analysis behind them suggest the opportunities for action, then my effort to generate them will have been worth it.


Notes

Note #1. Cell phone citations appeared in 2009 the year after California banned the use of handheld cell phones. Over the first three years, the department issued nearly 3,000 tickets every year for the violation. That was more than for any other other violation. Soon, though, BHPD enforcement priorities evidently shifted. Ever since, the data show, there was a marked and persistent decline in law enforcement interest. The drop is representative of a continuing overall decline in traffic enforcement under the new Police Chief (at least as represented by citations) who took office in March of 2016.

Note #2. The decline in red-light citations (and the diminished enforcement priority it reflects) is only half of the story. The other is the city’s growing use of automated red-light cameras to catch scofflaws. After a brief hiatus in 2015, when Beverly Hills transitioned from a corrupt vendor to our current automated camera vendor, Xerox, today automated red-light camera citations are back on the upswing: year-to-date data for 2017 show the total may surpass twenty thousand (!) which is a 7-year high. If so many drivers choose to run a red light where they are guaranteed to get a ticket, how might they drive at intersections without any camera?

Collision Injuries Reach Record-Highs in Beverly Hills in 2016

The holiday season always makes me mindful of the year drawing to a close. It has produced some noteworthy developments, including the involuntary retirement of incumbent councilmember (and bicycle lanes opponent) Nancy Krasne. And the succeeding multimodal-friendly City Counci approved high-visibility bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. Some things don’t improve however: our streets are still hazardous to travelers. Here I look back at last full year of traffic data (2016) to suggest the trends that suggest our city has much more work to do to get us safer streets. Continue reading

Complete Streets Comes to Beverly Hills

Those of us waiting for Beverly Hills to update its Bicycle Master Plan may soon have cause to celebrate. On this, the 40th anniversary of the plan, which was adopted in 1977, the city appears poised to give it a refresh – and more! Rather than simply update the bike plan, the city will undertake a complete streets planning process.

The change in direction was announced in the spring with an information update to our Traffic and Parking Commission.

The Traffic and Parking Commission has been contemplating a Bicycle Master Plan update since 2010 and even once had organized an ad-hoc committee to do it. Ultimately the committee was tasked with installing bicycle racks (just 42 installed to date!). So the plan that was penned at the crest of the bicycle renaissance of the 1970s was left to age as an appendix in the city’s master plan. Instead the commission focused on the regulation of parking permits, valets, and taxicabs. (Fun fact: onetime chair of the commission, Lester Friedman, is now a sitting Beverly Hills councilmember.)

This complete streets effort traces its genesis to the City Council’s designation of a new mobility plan as an A-level priority in January of 2016. That initiative was spearheaded by current Mayor Lili Bosse, who remains the most vocal supporter of pro-bike improvements and safe streets on our City Council. Bosse had pushed that priority to the top of the city’s priority-setting exercise options list and then persuaded then-councilmember Willie Brien to get on board too. (Councilmember John Mirisch, who knows a complete street when he sees one, was already in favor.)

(Who did not step up for safe streets? Our current Vice Mayor Julian Gold. Like Brien he is a physician, and has presumably seen more than his share of two-wheeled crash victims, but he couldn’t make safe streets his priority.)

Then when Lili Bosse took the Mayor’s chair this past March, she quickly acted on that A-list priority and moved the one issue dearest to riders atop of the City Council agenda: striping Santa Monica Boulevard for bicycle lanes. In June Council unanimously agreed to stripe Class II lanes and even decided to make them high-visibility!

That was the most tangible sign of the city’s commitment to safe streets that I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve been hounding City Hall for it.


So, Beverly Hills complete streets planning process is soon to kick off. But why did it take so many years after surrounding cities adopted their own complete streets plans? After all, West Hollywood Culver City, Santa Monica and Los Angeles each adopted plans in 2011 or earlier; (West Hollywood and Santa Monica are now embarking on a round-2 updates.)

The roots go back even further to AB 1538, the California Complete Streets Act, which the legislature passed and the governor signed in 2008:

Commencing January 1, 2011, upon any substantial revision of the circulation element, the legislative body shall modify the circulation element to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of the streets, roads, and highways for safe and convenient travel in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.

That same year, California DOT released a directive titled, ‘Complete Streets: Integrating the Transportation System.’ The intent was to “provide for the needs of travelers of all ages and abilities” and to direct localities to ensure “opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers” across all modes. The directive recognized bicycle, pedestrian, and transit as “integral elements of the transportation system” and by mandated ‘complete streets’ principles be incorporated early, from  planning through delivery.

It was a good time for complete streets but Beverly Hills wasn’t buying. The state’s Complete Streets Act was in place when Beverly Hills adopted its current General Plan and mobility element. The Act even required our city to include complete streets in it!  But we put it off to the law’s deadline… which is now.

But there was an even more pressing reason we’re on board with complete streets right now. Metro requires a ‘certified’ complete streets plan of every locality as a condition of disbursing grant money for Metro-funded transportation projects. Beverly Hills had one.

Remember, Metro has a BIG pot of money, and Beverly Hills wants its piece. So, now we’re embracing complete streets! But we’re in body if not in spirit: our complete streets request-for-proposals (RFP) says almost nothing about the reason any locality should incorporate complete streets principles into plans: SAFETY!


What’s next in the complete streets plan process? Well, our complete streets RFP went out to bidders in June and eight proposals were received by July 1st. City Council is due to review them in September. But before it does, we want to be sure we get a look at those proposals so that we are prepared to comment.

First, we understand, the proposals will be vetted by a committee including the chairs of the Planning Commission and the Traffic and Parking Commission. That’s good for us! Both chairs (Gordon and Seidel) are excellent commissioners, and Seidel himself is a rider.

Next the proposals go to the Traffic and Parking liaison committee. Not so great for us. Gold sits on that committee, as does former TPC commissioner and current councilmember Les Friedman. Neither has exhibited much enthusiasm historically for complete streets. However the liaison is a public meeting and we will want to be prepared to address the merits of the plans.

One of the risks of the RFP process was that collective ambition for a complete streets plan could be scoped down and our imagination attenuated – leaving us with a weak plan and poor prospects for implementation. That is always a possibility. Thankfully Lili Bosse will remain our Mayor until March, when – we hope – the framework of the plan is established.

Until then, a handful of us have been at it since the draft RFP was released in the spring. And we will be there to see it through to City Council. That will be the ultimate test of the city’s commitment to safer streets and we will be there watching.

Santa Monica bicycle lanes, after all, was a great victory for mobility in Beverly Hills, but it was simply a down-payment on an overdue tab: safe streets for those who walk, ride and drive in Beverly Hills. We’d like to see that debt paid with interest!

Bike With Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse This Sunday!

Lili Bosse and bicycleBeverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse has notched a win for public outreach with her Walk With the Mayor initiative. You can’t miss 80-100 people wearing her favorite orange as we parade through the streets starting 8:30am every Monday.

Now our city’s most popular Mayor (ever?!) is literally rolling out the welcome to riders and would-be riders. Bike with the Mayor this Sunday, August 20th at 9 am at the Crescent Drive steps of City Hall. We will finish the ride at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market. (Didn’t know there was a Farmers Market here? All the more reason to join in!)

Need wheels? The city is making a limited number of FREE Beverly Hills bike share rides available for the ride if you register in advance by email with your name, address and phone number. Send it to transportation@beverlyhills.org by noon this Friday.. (Note: only one bike per email address is allowed.)

Mayor Lili Bosse is not only the most accessible Mayor we’ve had (and maybe the only one to hop in the saddle); she’s also the biggest champion of complete streets our city has ever seen. So please put this on your calendar and RSVP to let the city know you’re coming. Better Bike will see you there. We’ve waited years to see City Hall step up in this big a way!Bike with the Mayor event flyer

Beverly Hills City Council UNANIMOUSLY OKs SM Blvd Bike Lanes

In an incredible turnabout tonight, all five Beverly Hills councilmembers agreed to include bicycle lanes on our segment of Santa Monica Boulevard. The unanimous vote demolished the specious claims put forth by NIMBY opponents. And it recognized the solid arguments brought forth by forty speakers and scores more comments from proponents of safe multimodal mobility. In sum, bicycle lanes not only make riders feel safe, they actually make us more safe.

In what amounts to a total victory, we not only gained five votes for lanes; we also have support from three councilmembers for high-visibility lanes. On that point, the only discussion concerned just how conspicuous we could make them. Councilmember Mirisch suggested a very specific shade of blue to pop out; even better, he said, let’s make any colored treatment self-illuminating. (Is this Beverly Hills?!)

Third, and most incredibly, it looks like we have Council approval to actually make an incremental reduction – yes, reduction – in the #1 (inside) vehicular lanes. Staff had inexplicably recommended 11-foot inside lanes, much wider than necessary, while whittling down our bicycle lanes to a bare-minimum 4’6″. Councilmembers asked, Why so wide? With some support from our transportation consultant, Iteris, it now looks like the boulevard’s #1 lanes may shrink to 10.5 or even 10 feet. (Pinch me. Where am I?!)

In a perverse bit of irony, that too-wide #1 lane recommendation included in the staff report might have allowed opponents to have their cake and eat it too. Three years ago they throttled the boulevard’s width and almost squeezed out bicycle lanes. (We barely got the necessary width back in January 2015). Yet now lane opponents claimed that the only bicycle lanes that would fit on a boulevard they worked so hard to narrow are simply not safe to ride. The balls of it.

But their argument was dispatched tonight with alacrity because, unlike opponents, our councilmembers actually reviewed the prevailing design guidance and agreed: 11 feet is too wide. Moreover, the Council majority embraced the notion that narrower lanes would calm Santa Monica Boulevard traffic. (Seriously, in Beverly Hills?!)

The incredulity expressed by councilmembers regarding our opponents’ flimsy arguments against bicycle lanes suggested two things as the evening progressed:

  1. Complete streets is a concept whose time has finally come in Beverly Hills. We’re embarking on a complete streets plan process now, and the embrace of safe, multimodal mobility makes all the difference between ginning up a pro-forma, check-the-box complete streets plan; and a real policy statement and implementation framework that would actually make our streets safe for all road users. It’s the difference between cynicism and optimism.
  2. The NIMBY zombie that has come back, time and again, to loom like a black cloud over every discussion of bicycle lanes in Beverly Hills has finally been banished. Not only could the opposition forces not muster the enthusiasm (let alone numbers) of years past; their arguments were transparently disingenuous.

For this we can thank Mayor Lili Bosse for her leadership. She made the bike plan a priority; then she literally put bicycle lanes back on the agenda; and finally, tonight, she proclaimed, “bike lanes everywhere!” John Mirisch, likewise is a solid ally and a complete streets supporter. He always has been. And rounding out the loudest voices for multimodal mobility, councilmember Robert Wunderlich is all about making our city bikable. (C’mon, man, this is Beverly Hills?!)

That’s just three votes, of course, but we got five for lanes. I trust that Vice-Mayor Gold and councilmember Friedman will come around.

If there was one outcome worth the many-years wait, it is that we in Beverly Hills have conclusively put to rest the fictions that have long-driven our transportation planning. That we could remain an isolated suburb in the center of a sprawling urban region with serious mobility and quality-of-life challenges; and that we could cling tight to a 20th-century car culture even as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

Thanks be to all of our friends and supporters who have been there from the beginning – and those that joined us tonight for the first time. You will get your due when this is updated with a full-on report! Onward!