When Traffic & Parking Commission declined to recommend safety improvements for cyclists on Beverly Drive, one of our heavily traveled streets, commissioners argued that cyclists don’t obey the law. They said that sharrows might give cyclists a “false sense of security.” They even said that sharrows might cause drivers to panic. I had this in mind when a careless Cayenne driver broadsided me right on Beverly Drive on Saturday near the Art Fair, even as I was riding legally and prudently and without the harm of sharrows. What does the commission say to that?
It is every cyclist’s nightmare: the roar of the engine catches your attention and you turn to see a huge vehicle bearing right down on you. And it doesn’t stop. What flashes through your mind is that you’ve waited patiently for the green light, you are traveling in the proper lane, and you’re in full compliance with the law. Still no matter how prudently you ride, you see a beast with an impatient driver behind the wheel and she’s stomped on the gas to make a hasty left-hand turn across your path.
I walked away from this broadside collision (never say ‘accident’) without serious injury, which itself is a miracle. But there have been other riders right here in downtown Beverly Hills who haven’t been so lucky. They’ve been mowed down by a careless motorist because they have no refuge in a bike lane anywhere in the city. Or perhaps felled in an intersection because our blacktop offers no guidance to cyclists. Our city allows defenseless cyclists to duke it out with two tons of steel block after block and our elected officials simply don’t care enough to make our streets safer.
Why should they care? According to our Traffic & Parking commissioners (read the recap), when you ride a bike in Beverly Hills you’re not in the motorist majority. To you a majority of our commissioners feel no obligation. You’re not a northside homeowner in whom elected leaders invest disproportionate political influence, for example. And you’re not needing to park a car, which would count you as a constituency to whom parking officials feel particularly obliged and for whom officials can’t possibly spend enough from the public purse to accommodate. Why, if you mattered to our officials at all, our City Council’s small business task force might have thought to mention, just once, the value of your purchasing power, or acknowledge how bike hipsters in other cities make or break commercial submarkets. They didn’t. (Read our take.)
Think about your reward for spending money in our shops, or the benefit of commuting to work here on two wheels: You will find yourself honked at and shouted at because there is not a single sign anywhere in town to remind motorists that you are entitled to the blacktop too. That’s the law. Of course you can’t miss parking-by-permit signs, though, because our Traffic & Parking Commission spends most of its effort on it while expending exactly zero effort on road safety for cyclists.
We feel that the task of the commission should be to ensure that cyclists, like motorists, can travel safely on city streets. We believe that commissioners should emphasize to aggrieved homeowners that roads are for all road users. Indeed our plans say that officials should encourage cycling for daily transportation. Yet putting these concepts together was a stretch for commissioners. They preferred not to speak not from data, studies, or even reflect on public testimony from about forty cyclists to date, but instead to speak from the gut as motorists, their perspective ever-framed by the windshield.
When the Gut Rules…
Because the Traffic & Parking Commission has firsthand knowledge about our mobility challenges here in Beverly Hills, commissioners should know how cycling functions in an urban transportation system. Yet in their May 9th discussion neither safety data nor existing city plans were ever referenced in any meaningful way.
Had they bothered to look, they would see that the outline of a bike route system is already on our books. The city’s Sustainable City Plan suggests that residents to “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible” and to “organize errands to avoid multiple trips.” The plan also recommended specific steps to get us to think more broadly about mobility, such as urging “implementation of land-use and other strategies that reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.”
That plan, adopted by City Council only three years ago, was bullish on the prospects of cycling. “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available,” it continued, “then people will bicycle more.”