Collision Injuries in Beverly Hills Sill Reach for Record Highs in 2017

Nearly 5,000 road users have been injured on Beverly Hills streets in the eleven years that our police has been disclosing monthly traffic data. That’s about ten crash injuries every week – enough for the state’s Office of Traffic Safety to rank our city among the most dangerous small California cities for those who walk, bike and drive. And it is especially dangerous for seniors. This dubious distinction reflects the both city’s lack of multimodal planning and the declining enforcement of traffic laws.

In this post I’ll look at police department crash injury & fatality data for 2017. Last year I assessed the harm from crashes and the declining enforcement separately, so expect a subsequent post to look at enforcement for 2017. Spoiler: the current crash data show that existing trends continue: crash injuries are still at record highs and citations show 11-year lows. Might these trends be related?

Pedestrians

The overall state of traveler safety is perhaps best illustrated by the high incidence of pedestrian injury over the past 11 years. Almost 700 pedestrians were injured in crashes and 8 were killed – this in a city of only 5.7 square miles (and half of it is hillside and canyons where few pedestrians roam). The harm is likely concentrated in business districts and our higher-speed corridors like Olympic, Wilshire and Santa Monica.

Indeed three years ago the Los Angeles Times examined Los Angeles County crash data to find that several Beverly Hills intersections were disproportionately dangerous for pedestrians. Even after controlling for traffic volume and traffic speed these ranked among the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles County. The Times identified a ‘cluster of problematic intersections’ around Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire.

LA Times 2015 analysis map BH detail

In 2015 this Los Angeles Times study of crash injuries did Beverly Hills a service: showing where our disproportionately unsafe intersections are located. City Hall has taken no action to improve any of them.

Our police and transportation officials have never released, much less analyzed, geo-located crash data to identify the most problematic areas for pedestrians in Beverly Hills. I’ve never heard this Los Angeles Times study even referenced in any city meeting.

With little attention to the problem, it’s not surprising that our city has made no progress in reducing the number of pedestrian injuries.

Over the period between 2007 and 2017 the number of pedestrian injuries has stayed relatively high. Last year the toll was 59 pedestrians injured; that was only three fewer than the 11-year average (62 injured annually) and down considerably from the 11-year record of 69 pedestrians injured in 2016. As this chart shows, the data may vary year-to-year but the overall trend is flat: there is no progress in reducing the harm.

Pedestrian collision injuries 2007-2017

Pedestrian collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

However the number of pedestrian fatalities has been on the increase. Over the past five years we have seen more annual fatalities and last year two pedestrians were killed in a business district.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Pedestrian fatalities 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 2
Bicyclist fatalities 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Auto occupant fatalities 1 1 0 0 2 2 1 0

Pedestrians are injured and sometimes killed while walking in Beverly Hills because traffic law-breakers get a pass from police. Instead police tend to point to pedestrian behavior and focus one-off enforcement efforts (when they happen) on pedestrian activity rather than, say, the more significant hazards for pedestrians: excessive vehicular speed, red-light violations and reckless driving (all prevalent at all hours of the day).

Bicyclists

Bicyclists also fare poorly in Beverly Hills. Last year’s crash data show that injuries to bicyclists was up nearly 40% from a decade ago. However the injures are fewer than other categories and the data vary year-to-year. For example, last year’s 32 injured bicyclists was down one-third from the 48 injured in 2014 (which was a peak over the 11-year period). Regardless, this chart of annual bicycle injuries shows a clear upward trend over time.

Bicyclist collision injuries 2007-2017

Bicyclist collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

Bicyclist injuries in absolute numbers have come down in recent years, though, and for 2017 bicyclist injuries ran 8% below the 11-year average.  Proportionately speaking, bicyclist crash injuries make up a declining share of all crash injuries, as this chart shows.

Bicyclist collision injuries proportional 2007-2017

Bicyclist collision injuries as a proportion of all injuries for the period 2007-2017.

Still, bicyclists have represented about 9% of all crash injuries on city streets over the 11-year period despite bicycle riders making up less than 1% of all wheeled travelers. That is an over-representation of NINE TIMES (at least) relative to bicyclists’ numbers on the road. To me the suggested rate of injury shows clearly that Beverly Hills are not designed for safe, multimodal mobility.

If street design is a contributing factor to the elevated representation of bicyclist injuries in Beverly Hills, officials might want to identify the hotspots that show the greatest frequency of crash injuries. For example, where are the most dangerous intersections for riders? That’s a question that City Hall has never asked. For those of us who do ask, the police department provides no geo-location data on bike-involved crashes nor discusses primary or contributing factors.

While we don’t have the data necessary to prioritize a fix, I can say confidently that the city has taken no step to reduce the harm generally. We have few on-street bicycle lanes and zero safety signage that would remind drivers that bicyclists may use the entire right-hand lane in most circumstances.

Auto-Occupants

Auto-occupants suffer the most crash injuries due to the high traffic volume on city streets and the prevalence of aggressive driving. The figures should be no surprise: about 3,500 auto-occupants have been injured over the past 11 years (almost one each day including weekends). Why are the best-protected road users, those who  travel in a steel box, so vulnerable?

Because drivers in Beverly Hills ram each other with increasing frequency. Crashes injured an average of 6 auto-occupants each week in 2007 but last year those injuries reached nearly 9 every week. That’s a 35% increase driven by an average annual rise of 5% year-over-year throughout an 11 year period. Indeed the crash data for auto-occupant injuries often shows double-digit gains.

2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Auto occupants 39% -30% 6% 13% 30% 15% -2%

This chart shows the rapid climb in the number of auto-occupant injuries.

Auto-occupant collision injuries 2007-2017

Auto-occupant collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

Injuries to auto-occupants have so outpaced other injuries that the category now accounts for 75% of total crash injuries and a whopping 87% of all injuries (among autos, bicyclists and motorcyclists) as this chart shows.

Collision injuries proportionally by mode 2007-2017

Collision injuries in Beverly Hills are shown proportionally by mode (excluding motorcycle riders) for the period 2007-2017.

Indeed 2017 was a near-record-high for auto-occupant injuries: 422 were injured, just below 2016’s record 430 injuries. Not only are auto-injuries trending up, but the increase is accelerating, as this chart shows, despite a marginal decline last year.

Collision injuries for three modes 2007-2017

Collision injuries in Beverly Hills for three modes for the period 2007-2017. Chart by Mark Elliot.

No wonder that the Office of Traffic Safety calls Beverly Hills the most dangerous small city in California for road users! The only category that shows an exceptional decline is hit-and-run crashes. Last year 132 drivers fled the scene compared to a whopping 431 in 2007. That is a 70% decline over the 11-year period as the chart shows.

Hit-and-run collisions 2007-2017

Hit-and-run collisions in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

The decline in hit-and-run crashes is a head-scratcher. Are just so many fewer drivers fleeing the scene? Has the collection of data for these crashes changed? Could it be because our heavy traffic congestion simply prevents a clean getaway? We can’t know because the monthly data snapshot comes with no additional context.

Step One in Harm Reduction: See the Problem!

BHPD monthly traffic report exampleBeverly Hills Police Department has provided monthly summary crash injury data for the past eleven years. But a tabular data snapshot like the monthly traffic report won’t show context and it cannot reveal trends. It is an exercise in pro forma reporting.

But if we don’t see context we can’t begin to conceptualize the problem (much less formulate policy to address it). Perhaps that’s why our Traffic and Parking Commission could receive these traffic reports every month for eleven years but never ask, not once, Are the trends moving in a positive direction?

More recently, though, commissioners have taken more of an interest in street safety and that is a good thing now that the city is undertaking a complete streets planning process. Indeed participants in public workshop #1 said safety was a top priority and said they were very interested in additional multimodal options.

It is important to understand how policing priorities contribute to the problem of excessive crash injuries, and my next post will look at the precipitous decline in traffic citations over the past eleven years. But I can only infer the correlation between diminished enforcement and the rising number crash injuries because the police department is not likely to help us assess the citation data it provides – much less communicate department enforcement priorities. No city commission exercises oversight of the department or policing priorities, and the department has historically not been interested in sharing.

In summation let me underscore just how many auto-occupant injuries we see and how precipitous has been the recent increase. Here I present again the chart of auto-occupant injuries, but this time I will scale it to be proportional to the two earlier charts showing pedestrian injuries and  cyclist injuries. If we aligned these charts to a common baseline we would see the Y-axis (injuries) is comparable across the three charts. That begins to suggest how steep is the climb in auto injuries relative to other injuries. The takeaway? A steel box will hardly protect us on Beverly Hills streets!

Please download 11 years of monthly BHPD traffic data or see my summary table for an overview of the figures.

Auto-occupant collision injuries i2007-2017 rescaled

Auto-occupant collision injuries in Beverly Hills 2007-2017 re-scaled for parity with the bicyclist and pedestrian injury charts.

Mark Your Calendar: Complete Streets Workshop #1

Better Bike invites you to attend the Beverly Hills complete streets visioning workshop tonight, Monday, March 12th at 6:30pm. This event kicks-off a planning process for which our alternative mobility community has long waited: the preparation of an actual complete streets plan 40 years after the city adopted our first, and only, Bicycle Master Plan.

Complete streets workshop #1 flyer
Finally the city is getting into gear! Tonight’s workshop is a high-level exercise where planning consultants Iteris and Alta will invite your ideas for safer streets in Beverly Hills. It is intended to inform the process with our values and goals looking ahead to a final complete streets plan. (Two subsequent workshops will drill down to the details, such as key nodes and priority projects.) “The workshop will include a variety of interactive stations, table top exercises and visual presentations,” says the city’s press release.

City of Beverly Hills lags behind many localities in the Southland (and indeed all of our Westside subregion peers) for having taken no significant step to make our streets safe and accessible regardless of mode, age or ability. Four decades ago (in 1977!) the city adopted the bicycle master plan. It was the height of the American bicycle renaissance and that plan recommended a citywide network of bike routes to connect parks and schools. But that plan simply sat on a shelf ever since, a red-headed stepchild among city plans.

We need to hear from you because the city still evidently does not consider street safety a guiding value: there was no such direction provided to bidding consultants, and, even today, when city staff talk about this process, they never frame it as a safety effort foremost.

This workshop is our opportunity to inform our values about street safety and mobility policy. I welcome your attendance at this workshop and two subsequent workshops. Can’t make it? Then at least respond to the city’s complete streets survey. Tell our consultants and policymakers that we need streets that are accessible to all road users.

I welcome you to keep in touch with Better Bike. Any concerns suggestions for this process you can bring to me and I will take them forward.

Later this spring look forward to the opening of Santa Monica Boulevard’s new high-visibility bicycle lanes. That was another hard-won battle that suggests the corner may have been turned when it comes to multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

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!

Santa Monica Boulevard Bicycle Lanes Come Back to Council

Back in 2014 Beverly Hills City Council disappointed riders, active transportation boosters and safe-street advocates when it could not summon just three votes to incorporate bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite hundreds of written comments and scores of speakers, all calling for lanes to increase rider safety on the city’s busiest transit corridor, councilmembers John Mirisch and Lili Bosse then could only hope in vain for a third vote to stripe a bicycle lane. Lanes seemed to be off the table for Santa Monica Boulevard. But hold on! Continue reading

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? Continue reading