Beverly Hills Puts the Brake on Shared-Mobility Devices

Beverly Hills City Council adopted a total ban on shared-mobility devices effective immediately. The sweeping action came at a special meeting called 24 hours prior. The ad-hoc regulation targeted device companies like Bird and Lime but would ban all ‘dockless’ devices (including motorized bicycles). The action prohibits any device from being placed in any public right-of-way or on public property, operated in any public-right-of-way or on public property, or offered for use anywhere in the City. Penalties include impound and fines. Read the press release.

City Council is ambivalent about shared-mobility devices. On one hand, nearly all councilmembers acknowledge that emerging devices like scooters could be a means to reduce auto trips and get the city to a more environmentally-friendly footing. They are also less impactful where congestion is concerned, councilmembers say.

But there was some concern that scooters simply displaced walking trips (rather than substantially change a traveler’s mode choice). Councilmember John Mirisch observed that walking was a “healthy intervention” in the context of Westside mobility, and wondered if scooters are helpful in that regard. In a discussion punctuated by no data but plenty of anecdotes, the one recurring theme was of underage teens joyriding on sidewalks without helmets.

Of somewhat greater concern was that dockless devices present a clutter problem if not properly regulated. As the user can simply leave a device anywhere, including on sidewalks and private property, they can pose a hazard for pedestrians. Clearly that problem was already on the mind of councilmembers and the community members who spoke of the need for regulation. There was concern expressed about danger to dogs on the sidewalk. The latter anecdote was a reminder that the discussion is really animated by device use in our most congested areas like the business triangle and south Beverly Drive.

How to manage these devices when much of the responsibility falls to the user? As the Traffic and Parking Commission’s earlier discussion touched upon, the introduction of dockless devices outside of a regulatory framework suggests no obvious answers to key questions that would concern a municipality. Can scooter ‘chargers’ enter private property to retrieve them? What is the city’s authority to impound scooters when left on public property? What is the city’s liability for a carelessly-discarded Bird?

Of greatest concern was safety: what recourse would a pedestrian have if a scooter operator caused an injury and simply fled? Is that a hit-and-run? And even if the operator didn’t flee, who’s covering medical expenses, if any?

None of these questions occasioned by a haphazard rollout of shared-devices is unique to Beverly Hills. Indeed other cities have grappled with the unexpected presence of a novel mode that is catching on quickly. Complicating the issue is that Bird, for its part, says it has not rollout out service in Beverly Hills. The company claims it does not deposit scooters on city property. It holds a business license, but claims not to do business here. That was a matter of some dispute as trips can originate and end in Beverly Hills (at least until the ban took effect).

Then again, that’s precisely why there was such vehement pushback from all of the councilmembers. The problem of managing (to say nothing of regulating) a shared-mobility device like a scooter falls to City Hall. And the associated impacts and safety hazards were not addressed beforehand by the companies even though the issues and hazards were already known to the device providers.

Ambivalence Yields to a Ban

Mayor Julian GoldThree of five councilmembers appeared ready to slap a ban on operations at the outset of the discussion. They revealed their position with no uncertainty at the top of their comments. “six months, a year, forever, whatever it takes,” said Mayor Gold of a proposed ban. Clearly he was leading the charge. There were two votes to hold off on a ban. John Mirisch didn’t favor a ban for practical reasons, he said. Can the city ban the use of scooters while only passing through the city? The supporter of autonomous vehicles didn’t see how a ban would meet the city’s goals for multimodal mobility either.

Councilmember Bob Wunderlich is also a supporter of multimodal mobility (and was the third needed vote to stripe Santa Monica Boulevard with a high-visibility bicycle lane). He initially opposed a ban, but ultimately supported one because the city had been given no time to prepare, and because our infrastructure is not ready. Wunderlich’s vote was the necessary 4th (an swing) vote the urgency ordinance needed. But his was no hasty capitulation; his positions are always well-considered and his position on the ban evolved over the course of the 2-hour special meeting.

The greatest opprobrium was heaped on Bird and Lime (as prominent examples) by Mayor Gold and councilmembers Lester Friedman and Lili Bosse. Gold stressed safety but appeared as incensed that the devices were deployed without any company reaching out to the city prospectively. There was no talk about an agreement, or a business license, or even an inquiry as to how these devices, and the technology, would find a place in the city’s mobility plans. Beverly Hills is currently undertaking a complete streets plan process which includes an emphasis on ‘networked’ vehicles.

The Council’s shared view in this regard was not helped by Bird’s representative who acknowledged that this kind of rollout is part of the business model: to force the hand of the locality. Councilmember Friedman picked up on the theme. “You can call that disruption, I guess,” he said, arching an eyebrow at the handle that has attached to shared-mobility rollouts in the past (think: Uber). “The city can be disruptive to your business model.” He liked the ban.

(Indeed Bird used the Uber playbook that same day: the company’s users generated several hundred emails to City Council, with one hundred and thirty of them coming in the 12 hours after City Council signaled a ban might be forthcoming, and those emails were mostly alike. Council was not persuaded.) Friedman, an attorney himself, was concerned with user liability. He asked a question not raised earlier: do such devices mandate the state minimum for property damage and bodily harm? (No answer was forthcoming.)

Councilmember Lili Bosse was as offended about the rollout and as vocal in seeking a ban. Commerce and tourism are her twin constituencies. After a video aired at the meeting showed a blizzard of scooter-users descending on the triangle late at night, unmolested by police, it was not a far leap to imagine our international visitor-shoppers similarly accosted during daytime. It wouldn’t be tolerated at Century City mall, be sure, and the prospect is a non-starter here too.

Both the Council’s afternoon study session discussion (video) and the evening session where the ban was adopted aired many questions presented by the marriage of cheap, plentiful devices and app-driven ride-share technology. The City Attorney did his best to address questions about city liability, damages for injury, and broader concerns about safety when devices are carelessly operated, or left, on the sidewalks. But in the end the discussion really boiled down to regulation.

The three councilmembers most in favor of the ban all had served on the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission. There the remit includes oversight of ‘general traffic conditions’ as well as regulation of taxi franchises. The regulatory framework, they said, was a necessary first step.

I also attended the Traffic and Parking Commission meeting where shared-devices were first discussed (watch the video). My take from that meeting was that these billion-dollar corporations tend to take a casual approach to the problems posed by their devices. For example, when problems were suggested they said fixes were underway or about to be taken; there was evidently no effort to take lessons learned elsewhere and apply them in the device rollout here.

More problematic was these companies simply not anticipating the politics of the issue. The tone and tenor of the  City Council discussion reflected the divide. As the Mayor said, shortly after calling for a long, “even punitive,” ban on the devices, “You can ask for forgiveness later, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.

Read the staff report and watch the Council video:

Here is the full text of the city’s press release.


BEVERLY HILLS TO PROHIBIT THE USE OF MOTORIZED SCOOTERS FOR SIX MONTHS
Beverly Hills, CA – During a special meeting tonight, the Beverly Hills City Council voted 4-1 to prohibit certain shared mobility devices, specifically motorized scooters, within City limits.
The ordinance prohibits the devices from being placed in any public right-of-way or on public property, operated in any public-right-of-way or on public property, or offered for use anywhere in the City.
The majority of the Council cited concern for public safety and a lack of any advanced planning and outreach by the motorized scooter companies as the primary reasons for the new ordinance.
Beverly Hills Police will enforce a zero-tolerance policy on the use of motorized scooters throughout the City. This will include impounding the devices and issuing citations related to vehicle code violations resulting in fines.
The majority of the Council expressed an interest in meeting with representatives from the motorized scooter companies to establish clear guidelines for possible future use of the devices within the City.
The use of motorized scooters in Beverly Hills has dramatically increased in recent weeks with the Police Department issuing warnings and citations for riders not wearing helmets, driving on sidewalks in a business district or not possessing a valid driver’s license. Police have responded to several injury involved vehicle collisions involving motorized scooters. Police have also removed scooters from sidewalks and streets that obstructed the normal movement of traffic and created a hazard.
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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

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? Continue reading

Bike Share for Beverly Hills?

Santa Monice bike-share system promo

In 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?

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!

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

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.