To our list of distinguishing features Beverly Hills policymakers can now add another: our intersections rank among LA County’s most dangerous. At least according to a detailed mapping of state injury data by the Los Angeles Times. It mapped intersections where pedestrians were more likely to be injured or killed and found those proximate to the business triangle, and particularly along Santa Monica Boulevard, most dangerous. We hardly need empirical evidence: here you know you’re taking your life into your hands!
You know it by the seat of your pants so to speak: you’re in a losing battling with motorists when you ride a bicycle across North Santa Monica Boulevard at Wilshire. It’s one of the worst intersections in Beverly Hills. That it’s a gantlet for riders is no accident, however; that’s by design. The intent here is to maximize the throughput of vehicles. And despite that effort, this juncture retains its LOS grade of ‘F.’ It cannot accommodate traffic demand given its vehicular capacity. In fact, our city steadfastly refuses to re-stripe this intersection to facilitate safe passage for those on a bicycle. You can see here the poor rider has no guidance through a nightmare:
As a pedestrian, too, you know you’ve entered the danger zone because simply crossing either North or South Santa Monica at Wilshire begs the assistance of a crossing guard. That’s because because no crossing here has been improved. The highly-visible ‘continental’ style crosswalks used in other cities simply find no home here.
The city’s failure to improve these intersections for both riders and walkers despite clearly dangerous conditions is evidence enough of official disregard and indeed negligence. yet the legacy of harm here has never been addressed by the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission. Every month commissioners receive the tally of rider, pedestrian and auto-involved collision injuries in the city. But seldom do they ask a question like, “Where are these crash injuries happening exactly, and what can we do to prevent them?” Instead the commission busies itself with parking districts and valets.
Should officials want actual empirical data, though, they can just turn to the LA Times, which has examined crash data as part of its focus on street safety. Contrast that with the reticence of the two Beverly Hills newspapers (the Weekly and the Courier) which hasn’t the gumption evidently to touch a topic like street safety (despite our entreaties).
The Times analysis looked beyond the top-line numbers (total reported collisions per intersection) to identify intersections that are not only dangerous in absolute numbers of crashes but disproportionately dangerous for pedestrians relative to intersections across the county. The Times called these “statistically dangerous” because they emerged in the analysis as outliers.
The analysis began with crossings where more than ten pedestrian-involved collisions occurred over the eleven-year period (583 in total). That was an indication of frequency. Then the analysis identified intersections where pedestrians were involved at a disproportionately-high rate. For example, the Times found 309 intersections with just three incidents but all of them involved pedestrians. That suggested conditions particularly unsafe for walkers (if not for motorists). And of course the analysis looked for fatalities as an indication of extreme danger: the places where a pedestrian if hit was more likely to be mortally injured.
The Times then mapped those 817 “statistically dangerous” intersections (out of 25,821 total that registered a crash in LA County). “More than 15% of all pedestrians accidents occurred at or near these locations” over the eleven year period examined, says the Times.
But the analysis went further to include intersections with at least one pedestrian-involved collision. While not of high frequency, when mapped these could suggest problem corridors or danger hotspots.
Then the “statistically dangerous” intersections were layered atop a heatmap that illustrated the degree to which intersections departed from the mean in terms of overall hazard. So the map shows specific outlier intersections; danger hotspots; and then problematic corridor segments and clusters that should warrant attention from policymakers and transportation planners.
What did the LA Times find? To nobody’s surprise, perhaps, Beverly Hills is distinguished by the Times analysis of local collision data as home to no fewer than six of the 817 “problematic intersections” County-wide. (These outliers themselves constitute just one-third of one percent of all intersections that counted at least one crash during the study period, and Beverly Hills is home to six of them!)
Beverly Hills: The Problematic Intersection Outlier
The analysis identifies a Wilshire – Santa Monica cluster of intersections as among the most dangerous in the County, with the Wilshire – South Santa Monica crossing in particular as one most dangerous for pedestrians. At this crossing, one-third of all collisions involved a pedestrian. That’s in the top half of all problematic intersections according to the Times analysis.
(More incredibly, in one-fifth of the total crashes here, the culprit hit-and-run. Keep in mind that this is no rural road; Beverly Hills congestion ensures that someone fleeing the crime might not get far. Still they run.)
Why is this intersection so “problematic” for pedestrians? Perhaps the perennially-faded crosswalk markings here (at right) contribute to the safety problem. The city will go years without repainting the markings and for some unknown reason won’t use thermoplastic for enhanced durability.
Further down the South Santa Monica corridor is the city’s third most dangerous intersection. At Bedford nearly half of all collisions involved a pedestrian. The LA Times analysis ranks this one in the top quintile (20%) of outlier intersections for its overall hazard.
The North Santa Monica corridor emerges as a problematic corridor in the analysis too. And it is not just the Wilshire intersection (at right), which, like the adjacent South Santa Monica crossing, is also poorly-marked. (Nearly one-quarter of all collisions here involved a pedestrian.)
No, this intersection is part of a problem corridor according to the Times analysis. Farther east, between Bedford and Canon, where tourists tread, the data show a string of lower-frequency but “statistically dangerous” crossings (per the analysis) that create a kind of linear cluster of harm-causing intersections.
What Should City Officials Take From This Analysis?
The prevalence of problematic intersections throughout the city should be instructive for Beverly Hills officials: fix these crossings before more walkers and cyclists get hurt. Yet the city, armed with the same data – the data generated by our own police department it’s worth pointing out – has taken no action. In fact, North Santa Monica Boulevard is in the exact condition in which we received it ten years ago from state control (along with a pot of millions in fix-it funds we never spent).
If you think the city disregards the safety of cyclists, consider how they’re putting in danger the many tourists who cross between the business triangle and Beverly Gardens Park to have their picture made with the famous sign.
And looking ahead to bike-share operating in Beverly Hills by the end of the year, we will also see many two-wheeled tourists attempting to navigate these same dangerous crossings. We mapped past reported bike injury collisions for a one-year period a couple of years ago when one of our hotels inaugurated its own bike-share amenity. The findings weren’t good!
So no wonder City Council is concerned with city liability: if you don’t fix street hazards, just be sure you’re insulated from the harm generated by them. That seems to be the prevailing view in City Hall.
Most frustrating is the way the city puts in harm’s way a defenseless pedestrian. Consider the city’s designated ‘pedestrian-oriented area.’ The LA Times map shows that three “statistically dangerous” intersections (Brighton Way at both Beverly Drive and Bedford, and Roxbury Drive and Wilshire) lay within the pedestrian area. Add in the three other danger hotspots (near Wilshire & Beverly Drive) and you have a cluster of probable harm.
The city will get right on this, right? Our transportation planner has probably already looked at locations where collisions most often occur and focused remedial attention on the hazards. Wrong. The city will likely take no significant step to address these issues. We know one well-intentioned stakeholder who has begged the city to address the intersection at Beverly Drive & Olympic for two decades because of a high incidence of car crashes there. But there’s been no indication from City Hall that the city will ever reconfigure it. Two decades and no action!
Former Mayor Lili Bosse recently signed-on our city to the US DOT’s Mayor’s Challenge to improve street safety. Does that augur some positive action? We’re not optimistic: when we asked what the city might do to meet the challenge, we received this anodyne boilerplate: “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements.”
I know I’ll rest easier knowing that City Hall is doing all it can to make streets safe for walkers and riders!