Human Relations Commission July 18, 2013 [Recap]

The Beverly Hills Human Relations Commission has been considering an expansion of its ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative to address uncivil conduct evident on city streets. God Bless, we say. But we wonder if riders will need more than a well-intentioned message to make our streets materially safer for those who do choose to ride. So we tuned in to hear transportation planner Martha Eros brief the commission today about the city’s new Pilot bike route program. We listened in as commissioners asked a few questions of their own. And here we suggest a role for the commission to play to make those streets safe.

You’ll recall that the Human Relations Commission has been debating how to expand the ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative (launched in 2010) in order to reduce road-borne conflict and preclude the schoolyard conduct we see in the streets. Under the initiative, one can nominate a role model for recognition and otherwise use the program as a model for our own civil conduct. The initiative fits well with the appointed body’s mission to “actively establish our city as a model of a just and equitable society.” Who could object?

Traffic report detail May 2013Of course we wondered what impact the ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative (flyer and nomination form) could have on the riding experience. Bike-involved collisions here in Beverly Hills are on the increase again (peaking year-to-date in May according to the latest figures, at right). And over the last year, too many collisions were reported to police [map]. Every day many riders practically feel the hot breath of impatient motorists as we ride our narrow streets. And sometimes we’re simply creamed by an enraged motorist.

Former Mayor Brucker’s ‘Take a Moment’ campaign failed to make much of a dent in community-wide incivility, and we’re frankly skeptical that overly-general messaging about civility will do much to change things for riders. The single most significant change would be to task city officials who recognize the need for safe streets with taking the concrete steps to achieve it.

Where cycling is concerned, commissioners had a few questions. Do riders have the same responsibilities as motorists?  Vice Chair Ginsburg asked. “They don’t always follow rule, regulations and laws…Rarely do they stop. And they slide through corners.” She added that it’s “scary for drivers” and we agree. We’d like to see more rider restraint.

Commissioner Iona Sherman agreed. “At Elm and Palm I saw a ‘triple hitter’: no helmet, she didn’t stop, and was texting.….Where do you reach those people?” She suggested posting bulleted safety tips at the city’s new racks (we’re still waiting for them). That struck us as a good idea indeed, but we’re only expecting a couple of dozen racks.

Sherman is a sticker. She noted that some riders don’t use a headlight and many don’t wear a helmet. “You open the car door,” she said, trailing off. “Is there a law about headlights? Is wearing a helmet the law?”

Martha responded that bike lanes give riders a designated place to ride and helmets are required for kids. But she wasn’t sure about headlights. (Yes, the law does require one “during darkness”- CVC Sec. 21201.) She added that staff is working with police traffic & parking commission on enforcement and other issues. Outreach, she said, will come through a “newsletter item” in the city’s In Focus publication.

The good news is that the Human Relations Commission sees an opportunity to play a role in making our streets safer. And clearly there is recognition that cycling is a legitimate transportation activity. The less-good news is that there seems no clear path for commissioners who want to make a difference. The commission has a broad mission (to make our city “a just and equitable society”) but ill-defined functions through which it could make some change.

We followed up with correspondence to the Commission suggesting several opportunities where it could make a difference:

  • Formally propose and/or recommend measures like bike rack-mounted safety tips, educational programming, and any other outreach campaign that will make residents aware of the law and safe riding practices;
  • Support the share-the-road signage that our Transportation division has been so reluctant to hang; and,
  • Take a stand on changes that will make the city more accommodating to multi-modal mobility (just like it says in our plans).

Our City Manager Jeff Kolin is rumored to be a cyclist but has exhibited zero interest in marshaling department resources to make streets safe for riders. City Council has expressed interest – and even added it as a priority – but Council establishes a general policy direction on these things and then it’s up to the departments to develop programs for Council OK.

How could this commission make a difference today?

Consider that our Public Works department is without executive leadership at present. And to date, the Transportation division of PW has not seemed inclined to think in terms of multi-modal mobility at all. It’s business as usual on Foothill Blvd. But the commission can resolve to urge the City Manager to make multi-modal mobility not only a priority but a criterion in hiring the next PW director.

We hope that the Beverly Hills Human Relations Commission finds success with the ‘Embrace Civility’ initiative. That would be all to the good. But we hope commissioners embrace safety, too, especially when our roads are most dangerous to those who choose to ride a bicycle for fun, utility, and environmental benefit – precisely as our own Sustainable City Plan advises.