Is a Mandatory Bike Helmet Law the Answer?

State Senator Carol LiuState Senator Carol Liu recently introduced a bill that would require every bike rider regardless of age to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Though a well-intentioned safety measure, SB 192 and its helmet mandate has spurred a backlash among some riders and several established statewide bike advocacy organizations. Why the opposition? Why not mandate helmets for adults?

On first look, helmets can only increase safety by wrapping the noggin in plastic. So it might seem like a common-sense safety measure to require riders to wear them. Accordingly, SB 192, if it became law, would “require every person, regardless of age, to wear a bicycle helmet when operating a bicycle… [and] require a person engaged in these activities in the darkness to wear retroreflective high-visibility safety apparel….”

Proponents argue that if all riders wear a helmet, we could reduce the too-high incidence of bike-related crash fatalities that can surpass 150 (statewide) on a particularly bad year. Of course, even one crash fatality is too high, we believe, but is a mandatory helmet law the means to getting to vision zero? After all, if children benefit from head protection (as required under existing law) shouldn’t adults benefit too?

Of course it’s not that straightforward. In fact, the California Bicycle Coalition says that this bill “sends the wrong message about bicycling” and the mandatory use of helmets would “discourage bicycling.” The bill, they note, makes it a ‘crime’ to violate the provisions. Is it appropriate to criminalize helmet-less riding when so much more threatening driver misbehavior goes unpunished every day? From their call to action:

There are proven ways to make our streets safer while encouraging bicycling — reducing speed limits on key streets, building protected bike lanes and bike paths, and educating motorists and bicyclists on how to drive or ride safely, to name a few. A mandatory helmet law is not one of them.

It’s not helmets per se that has advocates so exercised, as many riders already wear them. Nor is it the proposed $25 fine that goes with the misdemeanor citation. That’s a relative pittance compared to running a stop sign, say, which many riders despite the possible penalty of $300 (or much more with court costs) and license points. Even the bill’s nighttime reflective clothing requirement isn’t a deal-breaker as many riders already take measures to increase their visibility. (Reminder: state law requires a headlight and side reflectors.)

No, behind the opposition to this bill is concern that other crash factors are far more important to rider safety than a plastic helmet. For example. speed kills, we’re told by law enforcement. In any collision, the chance for injury and death actually outpaces the increase in vehicular speed. So nobody should be surprised that on wide streets that are seemingly designed for vehicular speeding, riders do die with much greater frequency than they do in areas (like Beverly Hills) where congestion, say, might keep a lid on speed. Those wide streets are dangerous by design, according to a report by that name from Transportation for America, and that there is an opportunity for lawmakers to take the initiative.

Reduced speed limits for motor vehicles increase bicycling in two ways: by increasing the speed of bicycling relative to the speed of driving, and by increasing the safety of bicycling. Most studies, though not all, show an increase in bicycling with lower automobile speed limits. per purcher infra programs paper

Then there’s the paucity of safe bike-friendly improvements. Here in Beverly Hills, despite our congestion and relatively high crash injury rate, only two streets boast a bicycle lane that separates riders from motor traffic: Burton Way and North Crescent. And each includes just a few blocks of lanes. We’ve got some sharrows on Crescent too, but riders lived with poorly-placed sharrows there that guided us right into the scrum of fast-moving motor traffic. (It took us six months of prodding to get the city to fix it.)

Bicycle lanes and even safety signage could really address the threat of harm on our most congested crosstown corridors. And for years we’ve pressed our city to take such a step. But the opposition to bicycle lanes suggests the challenge of realizing a more bike-friendly Beverly Hills. One of our busiest corridors, North Santa Monica Boulevard, for example, is a transit corridor and designated truck route; it carries about 50,000 vehicles daily. Yet both policymakers and staff opposed lanes there. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps Beverly Hills one of the more dangerous small cities in California for riders. (Recently we gained some traction in the North Santa Monica lanes campaign, however.)

For advocates smarting over policymaker inaction, the notion that riders should have to protect themselves from dangerous streets with a plastic helmet is pretty galling. And then there’s the argument made by bill proponents that helmet use is effective in reducing crash fatalities. Hogwash!

Are Helmets the Answer?

Helmet laws were first adopted in the United States by state and local governments in 1987; today 21 states require young riders to wear a helmet (typically children under age 16). But there is no existing model for Senator Liu’s legislation: according to the Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report (2014), published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, no state yet has adopted an adult helmet law.

With no law in place, we can’t compare before & after adoption fatality rates through a study of the data. But we can look to other places to see how they minimize fatalities. For example, European countries show much lower injury and fatality rates. Yet helmets are rarely used there at all. “In the Netherlands, with the safest cycling of any country, less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets,” say John Pucher and Ralph Buehler in Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from Europe (2008). The solution in those places appears to be streets engineered for user safety.

Even worse, Pucher and Buehler say, mandatory helmets may work against our policy objective: safer cycling.

The Dutch cycling experts and planners interviewed for this article adamantly oppose laws to require the use of helmets, claiming that helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable and less fashionable. They also mention the possibility that helmets would make cycling more dangerous by giving cyclists a false sense of safety and thus encouraging riskier riding behaviour. – Pucher & Buehler

Another study offers some support for that proposition. “Where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact,” says Piet de Jong in The Health Impact of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws (2012). “In jurisdiction where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer.”

Whether or not academic studies find merit in helmets, does local data support Senator Liu’s argument for mandatory helmet use? Thankfully a Beverly Hills rider looked at the state data. Yet he saw no correlation between bare-headed riding and the likelihood of dying. And not only is there no evident correlation; there is considerable noise in the state data as about one-fifth of all bike-involved fatality crash reports don’t even record whether a helmet was worn (or not).

We looked at that data and see considerable variability in rider fatalities from one year to the next too – variation that can’t be correlated with helmet use. For example, the year 2006 saw a ten-year-high of 155 rider fatalities; just three years later in 2009 the number dropped to a ten-year low of 107 fatalities. But those years the proportion of riders who donned a lid remained constant (just above one-fifth). Why did so many more die in 2009 despite the consistent use of helmets?

Moreover, look at the trends in helmet use among crash victims in California: they’re moving in a positive direction. The number of fatal crash victims not wearing a helmet is on the decline while the number of victims wearing a helmet is on the increase. Does this suggest that helmets are necessarily working to prevent fatalities? Or in light of the upward trend in helmet use, that we need a law to mandate it?

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Now take a look at the proportion of those killed while not wearing a helmet: it too is one the decline.

Chart of Californa crash victims (helmeted versus non-helmeted)

Ratio of non-helmeted to helmeted victims in California crashes from 2001 to 2012. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Indeed in 2012, the most recent year for which fatal crash data is available, more than one-third of those killed wore a helmet. That’s well in excess of decade’s average of 21% and suggests that we don’t need a law to compel helmet use. Perhaps an outreach campaign can increase the proportion to much more than one-third to appease the pro-helmet folks.

Looking again at the numbers, to what extent is the helmet working to prevent crash fatalities among riders? That same year of 2012 saw a record number (49) of California riders killed while wearing a helmet. And despite an upward trend in helmet use, the state recorded a record number of fatalities (146) that year, which is considerably higher than the 20% decade’s average.

If riders appear to reach more often for a helmet than they used to, but wearing a helmet seems not to attenuate the number of fatalities, is there sufficient correlation to support a mandatory helmet law? For us to support it we’d like to see a much stronger correlation between bare heads and fatalities in crashes.

Advocates seize on the weak support of the state’s data. “Whatever comes of Senator Liu’s legistration,” says local rider Brent Bigler, we should make sure that incomplete data don’t lead to bad statistics used to justify bad policy enshrined in unhelpful laws.” We agree!

We can focus our attention on other contributing collision factors, however, like speeding. Consider that we’re not taking the necessary steps to ensure that we’re keeping riders safe, as has European nations. According to the Alliance’s Benchmarking Report, California dedicates only 2.4% of federal transportation money to bicycling and walking infrastructure projects. That put us near the middle of the pack among US states. Can’t we do more to create safer streets before we explore a mandatory helmet law?

Federal dollars for bicycling and walking via Alliance (2014)

Reprinted from Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report, published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

The Gall!

Michelin Man helmeted

If Senator Liu has her way, under state laws all riders will one day dress like the Michelin Man for our own safety.

One aspect of the helmet policy debate that really galls bike safety advocates is the hypocrisy of legislators who are charged with making our streets safe. While they are quick to prescribe one or another obligation for riders (like mandatory helmets or rider licensing or liability insurance), they generally fail to take action.

Now Senator Liu in the past has been a supporter of safe streets policies. Perhaps she can move a bill that would create a standalone statewide bicycle master plan (as 13 states already have).

In looking at the helmet issue, the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee agreed that policymakers should first focus on other opportunity areas, such as rolling out bicycle-friendly infrastructure (like bike lanes) to separate non-motor from motor traffic, among other measures.

While we wait for legislation that will make streets safer for riders, each of us can do ourselves a favor by at least knowing the rules of the road and educating ourselves in safe-riding practices. We recommend the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Bicycling Skills Workshop series. It’s free for LACBC members ($35 for the general public) so join as a member and RSVP here! The next one is focused on women and will be held on March 14th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at LACBC Headquarters, 1st floor Edison Room – 634 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. A mandatory helmet law might not keep you from becoming a statistic, but riding with skill most likely will.

Beverly Hills OKs Bike-share Feasibility Study

Santa Monice bike-share system promoBeverly Hills City Council recently gave its preliminary OK to city bike-share and authorized a feasibility study to explore the merit of a 50-bike system. We’re following Santa Monica’s lead here: it has tapped vendor CycleHop to implement a ‘smart bike’ system (as we previously reported). Should we piggyback on that contract, would this be a significant step forward for mobility in Beverly Hills? Or would it be only a tourist amenity for the ‘golden’ triangle?

The Beverly Hills system that got the preliminary OK from City Council warrants some optimism. Framed as a transportation measure rather than a recreation amenity, the bike-share system reflects the spirit of our city’s plans. We’ve made multimodal mobility a policy goal, and our plans (especially our Sustainable City Plan) encourage us to ride rather than drive in order to reduce both road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. (Read the staff report to learn more about our incipient system.)

While we welcome City Hall’s support for cycling in whatever form, City Council is looking at a relatively small system – just 50 bicycles citywide – than can be considered a practical transportation option. Back in January, staff presented Council with three size options – 50, 100 or 150 bikes – but in the meantime the proposal was scaled back, and we’re now looking at only 50 share bikes. We’d term that a ’boutique’-sized system.

Scale matters when it comes to transportation convenience; this smaller rollout may hinder widespread embrace of bike-share as an everyday option for residents, workers and visitors. But it’s early days yet. Council has yet to discuss (much less decide) key program aspects such as bike placement.

On placement, a small system will likely be concentrated in the business triangle with an emphasis more on tourism than on overall transportation needs. For example, a boutique-type system just for the business triangle likely won’t reach travelers outside of the central business district in the city’s several other commercial areas.

Moreover, an inter-operable bike-share system that operates across city boundaries could reduce solo-occupancy vehicle travel between Beverly Hills (accomplishing our policy objective of reducing congestion) but wouldn’t make much of an impact if share bikes are not racked outside of the triangle. That wouldn’t be ‘citywide’ system, now would it? Nailing down these details will await the feasibility study (already underway).

Lili Bosse bike-share tweet

Mayor Bosse appears to be a fan of bike-share!

On the funding side, corporate sponsorship is expected to complement user fees to support system operations. But what will corporate sponsorship look like? And how much of operations will it cover? That’s not been discussed in substance. The Citybike system in New York was referenced as a model for its ‘branded’ bikes, but Council also expressed concern that we should not be bound by promotional arrangements made by neighboring cities. That might be a complicating factor as we sign onto the existing contract’s terms.

Nevertheless, every member of City Council expressed support for the bike-share idea albeit with caveats as to how it would work in practice (like the sponsorship issue for example). Let’s look at the proposal in a little more detail.

The Beginning of a Regional Bike-Share System?

Of course the advantage of rolling out regional bike-share is interoperability: borrowing a bike in one city and returning it in another makes bike-borrowing a practical inter-city mobility option. Uniform hardware and software makes it possible by eliminating a ‘Balkanized’ situation where small cities each run its own independent system.

Santa Monica is expected to be just the first locality to roll out bike-share on the Westside. West Hollywood appears close to signing a deal too, and both Culver City and Beverly Hills are considering the CycleHop system.

The Westside regional system idea emerged in the Westside Cities Council of Governments (COG) under then-Chair (and Santa Monica Mayor) Richard Bloom. With strong support from COG reps Pam O’Connor and Kevin McKeown (former Santa Monica Mayor and current Mayor, respectively), it’s no surprise that Santa Monica has taken leadership on the initiative, and the Beverly Hills proposal piggybacks on a contract signed between City of Santa Monica and CycleHop – a vendor of ‘smart bike’ systems.

The so-called ‘smart bike’ technology rides with the bike rather than be anchored at the station. With each bike geo-tracked, users can simply locate the nearest available bike (via smartphone, say) without concern that the bike belongs to a neighboring city’s system. Pricing is also standardized across localities. And another practical advantage is that the complimentary low-tech racks are inexpensive to roll out and easy to reposition as necessary (unlike hardwired bike stations).Cyclehop bike-share technology illustration

Costs

The regional approach brings some cost certainty too. Under the Santa Monica contract, the cost per bike is $1,500 with another thousand bucks for setup and a nominal $300 investment per rack (about the cost of a single ordinary sidewalk bike rack). The flat rate means that startup costs scale directly with system size, which is good for the budget folks.

Of course, the flat rate also means that there is no cost efficiencies to be had as the system scales up in size. There is no decrease in unit cost at the margin, for example, as illustrated in this cost matrix presented to Beverly Hills City Council.

Bevery Hills bikeshare costs chartThe flat-rate ‘smart bike’ system benefits a smaller city like Beverly Hills in that it minimizes  investment across a smaller system as there is no large fixed-cost element to capitalize. And with a phased rollout we can hedge our bet in case bike-share doesn’t catch on with the public. (Indeed Council discussion suggested some concern that the city wait to see how bike-share performs here and across the region before expanding it.) With a small rollout, too, we can measure early how much of the annual operating cost is recouped through sponsorship and fees (a question anticipated by the feasibility study).

But there are intangible costs to going too small. A smaller system will undermine the utility of implementing a system citywide. Anchoring a bike-share system in the triangle, for example, won’t help the outlying commercial districts – which were found by a city Small Business Task Force report to suffer what it called a ‘parking deficit.’ Where parking is a challenge (like in the Southeast and Western Gateway commercial areas) we could use bike-share to offset the parking demand that comes with foot traffic, but not if a smaller system never reaches these areas.

A small system by definition also will provide less capacity needed to cushion against spikes in demand. Every needy rider wants to find a bike when she needs one, and additional capacity makes it more likely to find an available ride. By just meeting (or possibly falling short of) demand, a small system with fewer available bikes may force travelers to turn to other travel options.

And finally, a small system is less conspicuous to the general public. In cities that have rolled out prominent systems and backed them with significant promotion, share bikes seem omnipresent – at least in the areas served by the system. It’s a reminder that there IS an option to taking the car. Visibility is crucial to success too.

We worry that a smaller system, perhaps one located only in the business triangle, will be viewed less as a transportation option than as a tourist amenity. Our concern was piqued when Mayor Bosse suggested that helmets be made available through the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which handles tourism promotion for the city. That made us wonder if she views bike-share in Beverly Hills as something primarily for tourists.

How Small is Too Small?

Studying the two larger size options would have allayed our concern about a too-small system. Consider that a 50-bike system puts just marginally more rides on the street than the number of sidewalk bike racks in place today citywide. Where are those racks when you need one? They are hard to find.

Is 50 bikes too small? Well, compare our commitment to that made by Santa Monica. On a per-capita basis, even the largest 150-bike option would still fall short of what’s on offer for Santa Monica. In fact, that option would have provided only three-fifths the number of share bikes per capita that Santa Monica will roll out in its program. (See the map at bottom for the breadth of that city’s system.)

Regardless of size, bike-share for Beverly Hills might make a significant contribution if it puts in the saddle tourists who are unfamiliar with the city and are maybe less-experienced with urban riding. It may sound crass to say, but inevitably some will crash, and one significant injury could force into the foreground the safety issue – and by extension the city’s long neglect for street safety generally. City Council didn’t touch on that in the bike-share discussion, but it will have to confront City Hall’s blunt indifference to bike safety sooner or later.

Santa Monica CycleHop system map

Santa Monica’s relatively larger system will do a pretty good job of covering the seaside city.

What is a smart bike graphic

TPC Commissioner Alan Gruschow Passes

We are very sorry to hear about yesterday’s untimely passing of Beverly Hills Traffic and Parking Commission member Alan Grushcow. In our experience working with transportation officials at City Hall, Commissioner Gruschcow distinguished himself as a near lone voice for bike safety in the city. And he was always a voice of reason on the commission dais.

A couple of years ago, riders and advocates worked with Mr. Gruschcow to identify ‘pilot’ bike routes for lanes and sharrows. Along with commissioner Jeff Levine, he was a member of the two-man ad hoc Bike Plan Update Committee. With their support we got those improvements (if not the actual plan update) and in follow-up conversations he continued to support the expansion of bike-friendly measures  – even while he expressed prescient concern that our city would have to move slowly.

We regret that the ad hoc committee (and the commission) has lost a sharp thinker and vocal supporter of multimodal mobility. And of course we’ll miss our neighbor here on the south side of the city. Funeral services will be held this Sunday, January 25 at noon at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley.

Bike Share for Beverly Hills?

Santa Monice bike-share system promoIn study session this week, City Council deferred to February a discussion about our city’s possible participation in a regional Westside bikeshare program. (Ours would piggyback on the coming Santa Monica system.) It’s very early for a substantive discussion about our participation, but that the question even comes up might herald a new approach to multimodal mobility for Beverly Hills. With new(ish) bike lanes on Burton and Crescent and Mayor Bosse strongly behind a bike-friendly city, are we turning the page on our auto-centric past?

City of Santa Monica will be first out-of-the-gate with a LA-area bike-share system. With grant funding already in hand, the city gave the nod back in November to what could be a $10.4 million system of 500 ‘smart bikes’ and 1,000 racks. First in line, the city might well bring along in its wake other localities (like Beverly Hills). Santa Monica’s commitment to multimodal mobility reaches back more than a decade to the city’s sustainability initiative.

But it finds full expression in the city’s innovative Land Use and Circulation Element. That update to Santa Monica’s General Plan in 2010 envisions no-net-increase in car trips as the city develops. And to meet that (relatively) ambitious goal, the city has doubled-down on bicycle lanes of literally every conceivable stripe and installed innumerable bike racks citywide. A downtown ‘bikestation’ opened in 2011.

A Westside Regional System?

The prospect of a regional Westside system emerged from  the Council of Governments (COG) in 2012. The member-city organization meets every other month to exchange information and tackle regional problems (so it says). But mobility hasn’t been much on the agenda at the COG; indeed the substantive policy discussion was less the focus than the free lunch. (Join the COG for its next one January 22nd at noon in West Hollywood.)

Mobility was ushered back on the COG agenda under then-Chair Richard Bloom,* Mayor of Santa Monica. Under the COG umbrella, member cities collaborated on the development of a proposal for a shared system; Santa Monica’s issued a request-for-proposals to get the first city system off the ground. (While Bloom put a fire under the COG,  Santa Monica councilmember and present-day mayor Kevin McKeown co-moved local authorization for the city’s bike-share program.)

The COG effort predates Metro’s current proposal, and it’s very different. Metro would tie bike-share into its transit system by anchoring bike hubs at major transit stations and (one day) allowing the bike borrower to use the agency’s TAP card to authorize the transaction. The Metro system would not rely on sponsorship but instead envisions a agency-city cost split (35% for Metro, 65% local). Rollout is limited to Downtown Los Angeles at present.

The Metro’s bike-share system was just approved by the board but won’t go live until 2016. Most important, Metro reserves the right to pull the plug on what it calls a ‘pilot’ program, which is none-too-reassuring to any city that might want to buy into it.

So a Westside system makes sense because the region has an interest in moving congestion-causing local car trips to other travel modes. And bike-sharing is a regional mobility solution. More, regional interoperability maximizes utility. Imagine even traveling from Beverly Hills to West Hollywood by bike-share without a single, interconnected system. Where would you drop off the Beverly Hills bike?

Santa Monica Takes the First Step

Santa Monice bike-share system promoSanta Monica in November committed $5.6 million for a 500-bike system, which is the first phase of what is anticipated to be a $10.4 million 1,000-bike program (if all goes according to plan).  The city calls this system “a model for the region.”

Cost per bike under the Santa Monica contract is $2,190 and each rack will cost another $300. That’s regardless of quantity: there is no economy of scale in purchasing hardware. The city would capitalize and own it. But the city contracted with a private operator, CycleHop, for an initial 8-year operations period. (See the Santa Monica staff report for more detail on costs, contract bidding and vendor selection as well as proposed rate structure and more.)

The system will be funded by a combination of general fund money, grants, sponsorship and user fees. Getting the ball rolling are grants from Metro ($1.5M) and AQMD ($360k) to which the city will add $361k in already-budgeted capital improvement funds. So the city has already stepped up with a capital funding commitment!

Then there is the in-kind match, which is grant-speak for, We’re giving you the money; what are you throwing into the pot? Santa Monica will provide at least one full-time staff position to run the system. That’s intriguing: will Beverly Hills do that too? Santa Monica has the staff and experience to run a bike program while Beverly Hills does not.

Besides grants and city money, Santa Monica expects corporate sponsorship to provide $250k-500k annually. User fees should kick in a whopping 85% of operations, the city says. The user fees as broken out in city’s projections:

Santa Monica bikeshare costs chart

Will riders pay $2 for every 20 minutes or pony up $15 to $25 per month to borrow a bike? That’s an unknown. The current cost of a Metro trip is $1.75. And it will take you from Santa Monica to Sierra Madre.

Sobi-smart-systemAs for technology, Santa Monica will use a ‘smart bike’ system (rather than ‘smart-racks’) as the borrowing technology travels with the bike rather than be integrated into a bike hub or kiosk. Santa Monica’s contractor CycleHop will use NYC’s Social Bicycles (SoBi) for the ‘smart bike.’ According to the  staff report:

…each bike is capable of accepting payments and releasing the bike-locking mechanism independently via a mobile, web and administrative software that interacts with the smart-bike hardware… Once registered, users can initiate rentals by walking up to any bicycle. – Staff report.

Where a hub-kiosk approach might be practical in high-density and high-demand neighborhoods, low-density cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills make hubs less practical. (Hubs/kiosks power bike-share systems in New York, London, Chicago, Boston, and Washington.) “Without need for a kiosk, smaller stations, consisting of as few as four racks, are feasible,” the staff report says. That suggests a benefit could be the rapid reallocation of racks according to demand. The ‘smart bike’ system’s integration with smartphone apps might actually recommend it to Beverly Hills, which is fancied as a ‘smart city’ with an app of our own.

Beverly Hills

Three aspects of the Santa Monica’s proposed ‘regional model’ suggest some questions for Beverly Hills City Council. Let’s look at start-up costs, operating costs and funding, and management of the system.

Start-up costs. First-year implementation costs for equipment, installation, and operation ranges from $327k (50 bikes) to nearly $1m (150 bikes), according to the staff report. (The figures include a 20% padding for contingencies.) Operating costs would range between $110k and $329k “less offset from user fees.” These three size tiers will be presented to City Council in February:

Bevery Hills bikeshare costs chartYou can see here that the system’s flat cost-per-bike means that start-up cost scales directly with the number of bikes rolled out. (The only significant cost to be amortized across the system under this proposal is the two ‘solar kiosks.’) Flat costs could benefit a smaller city like Beverly Hills. On the other hand, as a system grows it realizes no per-unit cost efficiencies. Here the per-bike cost declines very modestly with a bump-up in system size. Doubling units from 50 to 100 bikes realizes a 4.5% decrease, for example, while tripling the size of the smallest system to 150 units realizes only a 6% per-unit decline in costs.

Without economy-of-scale as incentive, would a smaller city like Beverly Hills choose to roll out a ’boutique’ system with only a few bikes in a handful of central locations? That would undermine the utility of bike-share as everyday transportation, of course, because the practical mobility option must be available and accessible wherever people need it. As proposed for evaluation, however, the larger system (150 bikes) on a per-capita basis works out to only 3/5 the size of the Santa Monica system. Can we afford anything smaller?

And then there’s the funding. Where will it come from? Per the staff report, only $150k in Air Quality Management District funds are now available for the capital costs; no other available grant funding is identified. Staff will look for more grant support in a coming (outsourced) feasibility study.

With only $150k in hand, Council will have to dip into the general fund in the next capital improvement program. So let’s look at City Council-identified priorities for this fiscal year (July through June).

Every fall the city sets priorities. In the fall of 2013 City Council chose to maintain “enhancements to bike mobility” as a ‘B’ level priority (per the priorities staff report). And this past fall, Council again directed that bike mobility continue to be a ‘B’ priority:

Priorities FY 2014-15-bike excerpt But a ‘B’ priority either reflects long term objectives (beyond a single fiscal year cycle) or identifies initiatives that would be completed “with the same staff resources after current ‘A’ priorities are completed.” This is very different than an ‘A’ priority, which is funded. Keep in mind that an update to our citywide bike plan (1977) has languished for years despite being a ‘B’ priority. And what does this year’s capital improvements budget say about bike mobility programs? We’d like to know, but inexplicably the city doesn’t post the most recent budget on the hard-to-find financial documents webpage.

Operating costs and funding. Aside from year one costs, the staff report is vague about ongoing support beyond estimating $109k for the smallest, 5-bike system. User fees are mentioned – and are estimated to recapture 30% of operating expenses – but that’s a big unknown. Santa Monica is proposing relatively high fees to complement expected advertising revenues. Whether Beverly Hills can sustain elevated fees or even begin to recapture costs with user fees (especially if we roll out a smaller boutique system) is an open question.

But experience from other cities shows user fees wouldn’t cover operations and, further, other systems have rejiggered fees once ridership numbers came in under projections. (As a transportation option, bike-share isn’t unique in this regard: the farebox hardly covers any transportation capital investments whether road, rail or bus.)

What about sponsorship of operations? Would city consider branding our system for a corporate partner? Will our municipal code even allow that kind of branding in the right-of-way? (That’s been an impediment to bike-share systems in other cities.) This staff report is light on specifics: there is no reference to other systems that are currently run by CycleHop, so we don’t see how such systems are supported. And there is zero data pulled from other cities to inform a Council discussion about user fees. The staff report defers much of this to “further study.”

Last there is the issue of management. The system envisioned by Santa Monica (and structured with participation from COG member cities) identifies CycleHop as the long-term private operator. But Santa Monica will devote a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee to manage the city’s end and add an additional .5 FTE for undefined ‘administration.’ Beverly Hills, however, identifies only a half-FTE for those jobs. Is that realistic?

Looked at another way, Santa Monica already has transportation staff knowledgeable about these issues, and we need that level of staff support too. We’d propose the city to hire a full-time equivalent multimodal mobility coordinator with half time devoted to bike-share management if implemented and the other half to mobility-related tasks that today fall through the cracks. Like that long-awaited bicycle master plan update, for example. Or the need to incorporate mobility concerns into our land use policies. We also need to revisit the municipal code to eliminate antiquated or inappropriate regulations that affect riders. That should keep a full-time coordinator busy.

City Council’s February Discussion: What to Expect?

Without much hard data on the table, City Council’s discussion about this bike-share system will likely suggest more about our mobility concerns generally than reflect concerns about this bike-share program specifically. A positive discussion would go some way toward walking-back some of the more parochial Council comments during consideration of Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes. It might even build on the relatively optimistic debate about lanes this past January, when some members of Council seemed to keep the option open. Heck, even this clause when included in a Beverly Hills document warrants some optimism: “As bikeshare is a form of transit….”

On the other hand, our plans say the right things about the role of multimodal mobility in reducing congestion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but officials in the past seemed loathe to acknowledge them though they are stated city policy goals. Bike-share might pull into the foreground questions such as: Do we see ourselves as part of the Westside congestion problem? Are are we prepared to recognize that we have obligations to the region to ameliorate it? A positive bike-share discussion could be a significant step forward.

And last, in Beverly Hills City Hall, the tendency is to frame initiatives as marketing or branding opportunities. For councilmembers looking to rationalize any system, the smaller boutique system when presented as a hospitality service (for tourists) might overcome their hesitation. We can imagine that program run not out of Community Development/Transportation but rather the Convention and Visitors Bureau – and that would be a mistake. We’ll know more when we hear councilmembers talk generally about bike-share for Beverly Hills.

We don’t expect much in the way of concrete commitment from City Council though. It’s  early in the process and there’s too little hard data provided to Council on which to make any definitive decision. Besides, the multiple unknowns present many opportunities for the skeptical councilmember to simply refer it on for “further study” if not shut it down. And perhaps one or more councilmembers might balk at accepting the contract as presented; not because they’re not workable, but because Council didn’t have a say in fashioning it.

Keep in mind that this proposal hasn’t even been presented to the Traffic and Parking Commission, which as a courtesy would be given an opportunity to advise Council. (The commission does have a dormant ad hoc bike plan update committee.) And of course City Council could simply wait to see how Santa Monica fares. As the staff report says, “staff will benefit from Santa Monica’s implementation process and lessons learned from their bikeshare model during planning, start up and actual operations.” That alone suggests a long and winding path for bringing bike-share to Beverly Hills.

Update: Mayor Lilli Bosse appears to be a bike-share fan!

bosse bike-share tweet*As our Assemblyman, Richard Bloom has backed bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills throughout our city’s boulevard reconstruction discussion. He even dispatched a district representative to address our Blue Ribbon Committee and City Council. Which begs a question: given Santa Monica’s lead on multimodal mobility, why is that municipality doing more for alternative mobility policymaking here than our own Beverly Hills officials?

Santa Monica Boulevard Meetup This Monday

City of Beverly Hills will reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard in the coming years. Do you believe the boulevard should be made safe for travel by bicycle? Do you agree that this regional backbone route should reflect ‘complete streets’ principles when rebuilt? Join Better Bike, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and local riders in organizing around a proposal to put bike lanes on Santa Monica. Mark your calendar: Monday, December 22nd from 7-9pm at the Beverly Hills Public Library south meeting room. Read on for more details!

Santa Monica Boulevard with bike lanes visualized

Santa Monica Boulevard visualized: bicycle lanes make this street ‘complete.’

We recently recapped the slow progress of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project. And we talked about how seemingly ‘the fix’ is in for a corridor constructed at too-narrow a width to ever include a bicycle lane. Now we need your help in getting the message to our City Council: the era of prioritizing motor mobility has closed, and those of us who ride a bicycle in Beverly Hills need streets engineered to safeguard us from harm.

The trouble is that City Council is more responsive to its core constituency – north-side residents who will oppose bike lanes wherever at any cost – than the interests of road users at large. Read up on the Santa Monica Boulevard project and catch up with the process to date, and then join us for a lively discussion and your input:

  • How best to reach City Council with our message about access and safety?
  • How to organize for pro-bike improvements citywide, including the city’s long-delayed update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan? And,
  • What should truly bike-friendly Beverly Hills might look like once a Metro bikeshare system debuts and eventually the Purple Line extension comes to town?

RSVP and read more about the meeting. Drop us a line with any questions you may have. Make some suggestions that we can offer at the meeting.

Monday December 22, 2014 at 7pm – 9pm at the south meeting room of Beverly Hills Public Library: 444 N. Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills (map)

Reminder: Police Reports Often Slight the Rider

Aside

In a reminder of our own experience that police crash reports can be biased against a rider (even if following the law), Chicago Bicycle Advocate tells how CCTV video provides a necessary correction to the drivers story as parroted in the official report: “A man on a bicycle struck her vehicle and hit her windshield.” Lesson: Never trust a PD report to reflect your own account of a crash; always verify it.

Gatto Introduces Hit/Run Amber Alert Bill – Again

Aside

Following on Gov. Brown’s veto of the same bill last year, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) has introduced AB-8 to “authorize a law enforcement agency to issue a Yellow Alert if a person has been killed or has suffered serious bodily injury due to a hit-and-run incident.” We’d like to see the Governor get serious about street safety, and signing this bill would be a start. (See Calbike’s Sacramento wrap-up for more on safety bills vetoed by Brown.)

Death Blow to SM Blvd Lanes Likely Tomorrow

Santa Monica-Beverly Boulevard buses allow little room for riders

On today’s Santa Monica Boulevard, riders are mere luncheon meat in a sandwich of big rigs and the curb.

Beverly Hills City Council will very likely deal the death blow tomorrow to hopes for striped bicycle lanes on the city’s section of Santa Monica Boulevard. Before Council is a recommendation developed by two council members to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard at its current, irregular width, which would preclude adding a striped bicycle lane for decades. Is the fix in? Only three councilmember votes are needed to give the go-ahead, so only one additional councilmember is needed to rubber-stamp this proposal. For those who support Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, this is likely the bitter end to a two-year campaign. And it could be a death blow to anybody who envisions a safe corridor for all road users.

The recommendation from the Council’s own Ad Hoc Committee (a two-member body comprised of Mayor Lili Bosse and Vice Mayor Julian Gold councilmember Willie Brien includes two components: traffic mitigation alternatives that would reduce congestion during the construction phase; and a recommendation to reconstruct the boulevard at its current width. The prescription is made on page 3 of the staff report:

SM BLVD existing width text blurbThe mitigation alternatives are of no interest to us here, so let’s move on to the width issue.

The boulevard today ranges in width from 60 to 63 feet.* At its widest, on the eastern segment east of Beverly Blvd, a rider and driver can share the right lane comfortably (poor pavement conditions notwithstanding – sections rate only 3 out of 100 points on the ‘pavement condition index’). The boulevard in this section conforms to the state’s ‘standard’ lane width.

But the central segment of the corridor narrows to 60′ west of Canon Dr. which acts as a choke on efforts to ensure safe passage for those who ride a bicycle. If we can’t expand beyond the 60′ we can’t include bicycle lanes – or even provide a right-hand lane wide enough to share. It seemed that we were on the cusp of a real discussion about multimodal mobility in the Spring, but back then in a March meeting City Council punted on the boulevard’s future design.

You see, costs had ballooned and traffic mitigation plans were under-developed by a staff ill-equipped to serve Council properly. Yet at that time Council ill-served the larger community too: it sidestepped the work (and recommendations) of the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee, which had voted in January not only to expand the boulevard but also to stripe bicycle lanes. Council in March also waved away the twenty speakers who showed up at that meeting to support bicycle lanes. And almost without comment, councilmembers effectively dismissed the nearly 200 public comments (90% in favor of lanes) as the work of bike nuts or outsiders. (Disclosure: Better Bike was appointed by Mayor Bosse and participated in that process. Read our notes.)

Fast forward to today. We’re looking at a proposal ginned up in the intervening months by Mayor Bosse and Vice Mayor Gold councilmember Brien who together met as an ‘ad hoc’ committee to develop a recommendation (to be heard by Council in study session on December 2nd) not to expand the boulevard even a foot. Here’s why riders throughout Los Angeles should be alarmed.

More About the Recommendation to Keep to Today’s Boulevard Width

The recommendation before Council would keep at its current 60′ width a key section of Santa Monica Boulevard between the Wilshire-SM intersection and Canon Drive. That would preclude both the installation of bicycle lanes (someday) and even the safe sharing of the right lane (when reconstruction’s finished).

In the staff report there are two scenarios for that 60′ segment: either maintain today’s lane striping, which affords a few feet of space in the right-hand #2 lane – but only for the westbound rider; or else redistribute the lanes within that 60′ right-of-way to narrow the #2 lane to ‘substandard’ width in both directions.

Both of these options fail the safety test. Here’s option #1: maintain the same lane widths as today:

SM Blvd alignment proposed 60ft width as existingNote that the westbound #2 lane (at right) is 15′ overall, the ‘standard’ minimum and wide enough to share. But eastbound riders today use a lane too narrow to share with SUVs, trucks and buses, which creates an immediate hazard as the rider is forced to either marginalize herself near the curb or else command the entire lane to the disgust of impatient drivers. Reminder: state law is clear on the rider using the entire lane. But you won’t find a sign advising as much in Beverly Hills (much less a driver inclined to follow the vehicular code).

The other option is even worse: redistributing the lanes across the same 60′ width to deprive riders of a sharable lane in both directions:

SM Blvd alignment proposed 60ft width as restripedHere the problem is that 14′ wide #2 lanes will force drivers into lane #1 to pass a rider. The fact is that riders fear sharing narrow (or ‘substandard’) lanes because many drivers don’t give the requisite margin. And that discourages cycling. But the city sees another side: it would “have a negative effect on the capacity of the eastbound lanes,” according to the attached discussion:

SM BLVD 3ft discussion text blurbOf course the discussion says nothing about the safety of riders in such circumstances. (We expect nothing more from Beverly Hills.) The reality is that wedging riders into a narrow lane with drivers is a recipe for danger and inconvenience. It is for this reason that the Blue Ribbon Committee voted to incrementally expand the corridor and stripe bicycle lanes. Safety aside, making the right lane sharable would simply increase capacity. That seems to not have been persuasive with the two-member ad hoc committee.

Think about our options: one standard lane wide enough to share, or two substandard lanes that are hazardous to share. Put another way, what’s more beneficial to you as a rider: having a half-loaf of bread or no loaf at all? It is a trick question: under the state’s Complete Streets law this corridor should be incrementally expanded to make it safely accessible to all road users. We need not decide between a half-loaf and no loaf when it comes to road safety.

Bike Master Plan Bikeways system map (1976)

An ambitious 22-mile bikeways system for Beverly Hills in the Bicycle Master Plan (1977) shows how schools and parks should be linked by multimodal mobility facilities like bike lanes, paths and routes.

What makes the city’s proposed Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction traffic plan so outrageous is that the recommendation before City Council would not only preclude striped bicycle lanes on this major corridor for many decades; it would lock down the hazards that riders face today. It flies in the face of our own General Plan’s circulation element, which says nice things about multimodal mobility; it makes a mockery of our Sustainable City Plan, which urges residents and visitors to bike more often to reduce congestion; and of course it contravenes our Bicycle Master Plan, which dates to 1977 but is still on the books with an intelligent citywide bike network proposal that, yes, sees Santa Monica Boulevard as a key route.

Not least, Santa Monica Boulevard is no ordinary city street; it’s a regional backbone route with bicycle lanes already installed to the east and west. Can our city really proclaim itself ‘bike friendly’ if it merely recreates for tomorrow’s corridor the dangerous conditions faced by crosstown riders today?

Politics Rules

The lesson from this recommendation is that taking measures to increase road safety is simply not politically convenient for our City Council. Off the table is a 63′ option that’s already been proposed to remake the boulevard wide enough to accommodate riders with the necessary margin of safety (but not too wide to nibble much into the Beverly Gardens Park).

A second takeaway is that NIMBY community opponents from the Municipal League and Santa Monica Boulevard North Homeowners Association prevailed with their threats of a lawsuit and effectively torpedoed a key mobility initiative. Back in the March meeting the northside NIMBYS slammed the door on the 63′ option even though the additional width would have eased lane sharing for both drivers and riders.

A third takeaway is that the 4 out of 5 of our northside-resident council members will sacrifice the good of the larger community for its own local, parochial interests. That’s plainly evident in the disparate treatment that neighborhoods north of Santa Monica receive relative to the flats. Whether it’s beautification efforts, traffic enforcement, or stakeholder communication, the north side gets the preferential treatment every time – rest of the city be damned.

Discouraged? You should be. But you can still provide your own input to City Council. Reach councilmembers by email at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org or give your input in person on Tuesday, December 2nd at 2:30 pm in Chambers. It’s item #2 on the agenda. Note that you won’t find this proposal or even this meeting mentioned on the city’s own so-called ‘bicycles’ webpage.

Our view is that the fix is in. Two of the three votes necessary to direct our consultants to rebuild this corridor at the narrow width will undoubtedly come from the Mayor and Vice Mayor who together ginned up this recommendation in the first place. The third and/or fourth votes will likely come from councilmember Krasne, who’s expressed contempt for those who bike (calling us “organ donors”) and councilmember Willie Brien, who’s never imagined the far side of a creative proposal.

If you’re unhappy about this state of affairs, why not use our handy city contacting cheat sheet and drop our good city officials a line. Or contact the Mayor directly. She will like to hear from riders who share her concerns that Beverly Hills be the safest city™ in America.

[Errata: We regret that we mistakenly assigned Vice Mayor Gold to the ad hoc; in fact it was a two-person team of Mayor Lili Bosse and councilmember Willie Brien. The text has been edited to reflect the correction. As The Times says dryly, “We regret the error.”]

*That variable width is an irregular alignment that evolved haphazardly over time under state DOT management. No road engineer today, not even one from our consultants, Psomas and Iteris, would recommend maintaining it. Indeed in every presentation to the city the consultants described a single, uniform width for this corridor.

Just a Few New Bike Racks Coming to Bevery Hills

We’ve just received an update on the too-little, too-late Beverly Hills bike rack installation program. The news is not so good: To the couple of dozen sidewalk racks installed last year citywide, we might add only a couple dozen more. That would total to 50 racks or fewer citywide in the five years since we first urged officials to provide conspicuous and convenient bike parking. By comparison, City of Santa Monica had installed 1,000 racks by 2010 and called for 2,500 more in that city’s Bicycle Action Plan (2011). Why can’t Beverly Hills take this smallest step to encouraging multimodal mobility? Phase I: Too Few Racks to Make an Impression To recap, Beverly Hills planned to roll out city-installed custom … Continue reading

Jerry Brown: No Friend to Vulnerable Road Users

Governor Jerry Brown has again proven his administration to be no friend to bike riders. He’s just vetoed four bills that would have increased accountability for those who perpetrate hits-and-run. And he’s stricken a bill that would provide added protection to “vulnerable road users” like bicycle riders (Mark Levine’s A.B. 2398). Recall that not long ago, Brown vetoed safe passing bills not once but twice (before signing the third – a victory we can only chalk up to the California Bicycle Coalition‘s persistence). Is this a governor who really cares about road safety? Here’s the roundup of the recent vetoed bills as helpfully summarized by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) in their recent email blast. Four would have … Continue reading

Three Feet for Safety Act Goes into Effect Today!

Give Me Three poster

At long last, those who ride a bicycle in California enjoy some protection as vulnerable road users under the state’s vehicular code. The new law, Three Feet for Safety Act (section 21760), for the first time specifies what ‘safe passing’ means to riders and drivers. When passing riders in the same direction, drivers must allow a three-foot margin. And if there’s not three feet available, the driver must slow and pass when there is sufficient room to present no danger to the rider. Recall that state laws allow bicycle riding on virtually every public roadway, and even allows the rider to use the full width of the right lane if it’s not wide enough to share. (For a refresher on … Continue reading