Remember the attempted murder & hit-and-run on a cyclist in Beverly Hills back on April 3rd? You’d think a crime like that would garner significant media attention seeing as it was captured by CCTV video. That it would generate concern among commissioners on the Traffic and Parking Commission. That the body receiving a standing monthly police report on collisions and citations would bother to ask. Today we tuned into the live commission broadcast to learn that commissioners wouldn’t be wrestling with this threat to public safety because they had other pressing business. Like the assault never happened.
Sgt. Mader delivered the department’s monthly report to the Traffic and Parking Commission. He’s got the unflappable demeanor of Joe Friday with a matrix of monthly collision injury and citation data. “Our numbers are up across the board,” he said, referring to March figures. And with that overview he then took questions from the commissioners. What he left unsaid was the fact of the department’s highly unusual media alert just a week prior. That advisory described an intentional hit-and-run in which a motorist went out of his way to make a U-turn in an alley in order to strike a rider. In the event, the rider was pinned up against a trash dumpster and the alley wall by a large sedan. Then the driver fled. Seeing is believing.
Shouldn’t a singular significant event like attempted murder on our city streets find a place in the BHPD’s monthly police report to the transportation commission? And shouldn’t our commissioners have a question or two for Sgt. Mader? Could it be that even given the belated media attention to the crime (which remains unsolved, and about which the department remains mum) the Traffic and Parking Commission views the crime as simply not worth remarking on?
Indeed the Commission quickly turned to its usual concerns: tour buses, parking, and taxi regulation. Chair Julie Steinberg said, “My two favorite words are ‘tour bus’” as she asked about speeding and right-of-way violations. Those tour buses are indeed a menace! Commissioner Lester Friedman deep-dived into the issue. Are the chop-topped models safe? Are they properly inspected? Indeed, don’t they look dangerous? Commission Chair Alan Gruschcow is also concerned about public safety. He was happy to see citation trends on the rise, he said. (We earlier remarked on the precipitous enforcement decline in 2012.)
What Do the Data Say?
Yes, let’s talk safety. Had commissioners looked at the data for 2012 in detail they would see that bike riders in Beverly Hills are disproportionately likely to suffer collision injuries in Beverly Hills. The figures reflect the findings across the Southland: though riders number far less that 1% of all non-pedestrian road travelers, we comprise a disproportionate share of the injuries. Here in Beverly Hills that amounts to 11% of total collision injuries. With all the motorists zooming around our city, the 39 riders who contacted the police were that much more likely to report an injury than a motorist.
Those 39 in 2012 were actually a step backward. Looking back over the past five years, an average of 35 riders are injured every year; rider injuries have amounted to fully 9% of all injuries throughout the period. Early April’s hit-and-run is unusual only in the degree of evident motorist depravity and the fact that it was caught on camera at all. In Beverly Hills, 8 more riders were injured in collisions on Beverly Hills streets in the first three months of 2013 and more than fifty motorists involved in a collision fled. Motorists flee the scene after a collision on average 300 times every year in our town.
Shouldn’t that warrant the attention of the Commission? It is the city’s counsel to the police and charged with finding “ways and means to improve general traffic conditions in the City,” according to the commission’s webpage.
If public safety is our most pressing concern and injuries are a key measure, do the data suggest any improvement recently? Not where riders are concerned. In 2012, more riders were injured relative to users of other modes of transportation (an increase in total injuries by 8% over 2011) while the proportion of bike injuries as a share of all injuries also swelled (by more than a third). During that time we saw driver injuries decline 12%. Looking at the first quarter of 2013 alone, we’ve made no gain here either. Rider injuries only held steady over first quarter 2012 – no decline.
Shouldn’t our commissioners ask the police why we’re not making any progress on safer streets for those who choose to ride a bike? Yes. But the one sure-fire way not to improve road safety for those who choose to ride a bicycle is not to even discuss it.
Traffic and Parking Commission Chair Grushcow and commissioner Levine also sit on the bike plan update committee. They attended every meeting with cyclists as part of Pilot program planning. They heard our stories. But they’re not speaking up. Neither for example asked, “How close are we to catching the guy we caught on video?” Or, “What is the department doing to ensure our streets are safe for cyclists?” No commissioner even brought up the attempted murder that happened right in the center of town.*
Unfortunately we already expect radio silence from the BHPD, so we weren’t too surprised that Sgt. Mader’s standing report said nothing about the crime. (That’s why we tuned in.) In the actual event, you’ll recall, the police only notified the public three weeks after the fact – enough time to let crucial leads slip away. (It’s not the first time the police have failed to pursue an investigation in a timely fashion – even when it concerns a hit-and-run with very serious injuries.) Notice of the crime wasn’t posted to the department’s Twitter feed either.
So word of the crime appeared nowhere in our local media. In early April we read the police blotter and learned about assaults burglaries and thefts; about a bomb scare in Rite Aid; and about crucial progress on the hunt for Tom Cruise’s burglar. We tuned into Patch for recipes and opinion. But we read not a word about attempted murder with a motor vehicle. Why not? We asked the BHPD’s public information officer. Before he ended the conversation about investigatory generalities, we asked, Did the department reach out to the public at all in this case at the time? He replied, “No we are not going to discuss our investigative techniques with you.”
So much for safe streets and the institutions charged with delivering them to all road users. In Beverly Hills, even attempted murder and CCTV footage may not help you. See the meeting for yourself when it’s posted to the Commission’s archive page.
*The ad-hoc committee was formed three years ago and no bicycle master plan updates have emerged. You’ll remember that plan because it dates to 1977 when there were far fewer cars on the road but the need for a citywide bicycle network was as pressing.