Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan: Will It Ever Be Updated?

Bicycle-Master-Plan-coverWhile we wait for word about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, we’re wondering if there’s any effort to make Beverly Hills as a whole more bike-friendly. One sensible first step is to update our 1970s-era Bicycle Master Plan. It needs a refresher. And since the 2010 General Plan process left that bike plan behind, City Hall has talked about revisiting it. Yet we’ve seen no action. Before we embark on bike-share or install bike lanes, why don’t we properly plan for citywide bike routes like it says in that old plan?

The city knows that our Bicycle Master Plan is out-of-date. It dates from the great bicycle renaissance of the 1970s. Despite the four decades that have passed, it says all the right things about making our community bike-friendly: we should connecting the parks to neighborhoods and make sure that kids can bike to school. It proposed a citywide bike route network to integrate cycling into the city’s transportation system. It’s a great foundation to build upon.

Nearly five years ago, the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission created the ‘bicycle ad hoc committee‘ to begin that update. The committee was to collect material, meet with the community, and make recommendations to the commission. But aside from a few early meetings (in 2010-2011) there’s been precious little action on that update, and little has been heard from the committee otherwise over the past couple of years.

So we visited the Traffic and Parking Commission’s website to check on the plan update and to learn more about the committee’s work to make cycling safe in Beverly Hills. Spoiler alert: the committee, and this commission generally, is not doing very much to make cycling more safe.

For one thing, the content on the committee’s webpage is stale and insubstantial. The most recent posted documents date back to 2013. Likewise the referenced City Council priorities date to the 2013-14 fiscal year (which closed last June).

In the continued effort to meet the FY12/13 and FY13/14 City Council Priorities for a Citywide Bike Plan, in November 2012 the Beverly Hills City Council approved the development and implementation of pilot bikeways on Burton Way and North Crescent Drive, and a bicycle rack program.

The pilot bikeways referenced on the ad-hoc committee’s webpage were installed back in 2013. As for more recent developments, there is no mention of the ongoing discussion about North Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes. The page is silent on the city’s study of a bike-share system too. The webpage seems not to have been updated in more than a year. Stale!

As for substance, the page doesn’t note the changed roster of ad-hoc committee members. All three members then serving on the committee (in 2013) are no longer Traffic and Parking commissioners. Which is unfortunate, because two of them – Alan Grushcow, Chair of the ad-hoc, and Jeffrey Levine – were responsive to riders’ concerns where the entire commission isn’t. Even worse, this past January Alan Grushcow passed away,  but he is still listed as the committee’s leader.

Ad-hoc webpage screenshotThe remainder of the webpage serves as the city’s bicycle rack program request form (where one can request that a free rack be installed at a sidewalk location like in front of a shop, say). The form duplicates material on the Transportation Division’s ‘bicycles’ webpage.

Changed Priorities, Missed Opportunities

With an update of that 1977 Bicycle Master Plan, our city would have an opportunity to rethink how we want to move ourselves around Beverly Hills in the future. Our Sustainable City Plan (2009) tells us to bicycle more and drive less, for example, in order to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Our General Plan’s circulation element (2010) envisions ‘multimodal mobility’ for tomorrow’s Beverly Hills. But there the progress stops, short of an update of that old bike plan.

If we were to take a cue from the 1977 plan, we’d think about a citywide bike route network to safely connect neighborhoods, parks and schools. Here’s how extensive that proposed network was (or ‘is’ because the plan is technically in force):

1977 bicycle master plan map with parks

There are many good suggestions in that plan that can be simply carried over into a new bike plan. Like a southside crosstown bike route on Gregory Way, for example. That’s pictured on the map above. When City Council considered nearby Charleville for the route it was rejected as a nonstarter. Yet the need for crosstown travel between parks and our high school keeps the old bike plan’s vision relevant 35 years later.

Perhaps it’s the City Council that needs to re-think its vision. Turns out that changed City Council priorities will keep the 1977 Bicycle Master Plan from getting the facelift it so desperately needs. Back in 2013 Council identified as a B-level priority the creation of a new bike plan.

City Council Priorities 2013-14 excerptThe next year Council had other concerns, however. The firm commitment to a new plan was degraded into vague language about “acceptable enhancements.”

City Council Priorities 2014-15 excerptWe presume that means politically-acceptable enhancements. Whatever the intent, the term “enhancements” itself is puzzling because there’s not much implemented to actually ‘enhance.’ Does it mean additional identified bike routes; marked bike lanes or sharrows;  safety signage; or new policies to promote multimodal mobility? What about an updated and more informative website at least? These are opportunity areas for City Council if it made safer streets for cycling a priority.

The good news is that we sometimes hear councilmembers say they support cycling. our Mayor Bosse hails progress-to-date. A few on Council even seem open to including a bicycle lane on tomorrow’s North Santa Monica Boulevard. And we’re expecting a feasibility study for bike-share this spring.

The not so good news is that stalled progress on the 1977 bike plan update doesn’t suggest any real commitment to bike safety in Beverly Hills. And the downgraded B-priority for bike planning generally only formalizes that lack of resolve.

We can’t say it’s not for lack of awareness. We’ve attended many City Council and Traffic and Parking Commission meetings to highlight the language in our own plans to campaign for safer streets. We even spoke up at the latest priorities meeting last fall to advocate for this plan update. But progress comes slow to Beverly Hills (when it comes at all) and if it never arrives, we can likely trace it not to the language in our plans or the words emanating from the Council dais, but to the shortage of political will to do the hard work of making streets safe to ride.

News Flash! City Council Keeps Bike Lanes on the Table

Greenway organizers at City Council

Co-organizers (L-R) Kory Klem, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, Better Bike’s Mark Elliot and Rich Hirschinger in Council chambers.

A more detailed update will follow shortly, but let’s get to the good news straight away: bike lanes are still on the table for North Santa Monica Boulevard, according to City Council. Just before Council sent the $24M reconstruction project on to the design phase, councilmembers heard from no less than 33 bike lane supporters that this multimodal mobility opportunity is too important to squander. Safety for those who choose to ride a bicycle is too important to sacrifice, we said, particularly on the symbolic “not one blade of grass” argument heretofore made by lane opponents.

What happened in today’s study session? Council listened…and listened. And then listened some more as we presented our last-minute compromise proposal called the Beverly Hills Greenway and a veritable parade of 33 speakers supporting bicycle lanes followed on. In fact, Councilmembers effectively cleared the rest of the afternoon’s agenda to talk about the agenda item – construction mitigation – but with a healthy dose of discussion about how we could eek out another half-foot (or more) out of this relatively narrow corridor to fit bike lanes. (Talk about safe mobility consumed three-quarters of the meeting if not more.)

In the Council discussion we saw hardened positions soften a little and a metaphorical space was found to talk about the prospect of lanes. And if ambiguity about the ultimate outcomes remains as councilmembers discuss design over the coming months, we believe that progressive mobility solutions can happen in Beverly Hills. As the Mayor said, “We can get there – we can find a way.” And we’re prepared to work with the city to make that happen.

Beverly Hills Greenway profile

Our proposal: The Beverly Hills Greenway. We can have bicycle lanes yet lose no green space!

Make no mistake, the clear winner today was street safety. But we are all victors too in a sense: the quality of the public process today reflected the best City Hall has to offer.

We want to thank our fellow advocates and lane supporters of all stripes who worked together to bring this Greenway proposal to Council: Drew Baldwin, Eric Bruins, Kevin Burton, Ron Finley, Mahala Helfman, Rich Hirschinger, Sharon Ignarro, Lou Ignarro, Lou Karlin, Kory Klem, Tish Laemmle, Greg Laemmle, Barbara Linder, Ellen Lutwak, Taylor Nichols, Alison Regan, Richard Risemberg, Danielle Salomon, Samuel Spencer, and Eric Weinstein.

We also want to thank those who took their time today to persuade City Council to keep this option on the table. In addition to the above, they include Susan Eisenberg, Jay Slater, Bruce Phillips, Susan Gans, Josh Padget, Marisa Schneiderman, Jim Pocras, Zachary Rynew, Kevin Winston, Paul Hekimian, Josh Kurpies, David Eichman, Jeff Jacobberger, Jon Weiss, Mel Raab, Kate Rubin, Jerry Sue Ginger, Nina Salomon, and Jennifer Wright.

We also want to thank institutional supporters Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the City Council from the City of West Hollywood, Mid City West Community Council, Finish the Ride, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and others. And a special thanks to Blue Ribbon Chair Dr. Barry Pressman, who listened to reasoned argument when few did and came to be a key boulevard bike lanes advocate.

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

Photo: KristaNicole Carlson

Passing Safely: It’s the Law!

Give Me Three posterCalifornia’s Three Feet for Safety Act went into effect in September. For the first time a law codifies what ‘safe passing’ means for those who ride a bicycle: drivers now must allow a minimum of three feet when passing a rider (or else slow to a “reasonable or prudent” speed when passing. [FAQ] While disregarding it may incur only a $35 fine, should an injury crash result then the penalty jumps to $220. If sanctions are rare, this law is at least proving its value in one key arena: it sets a standard for local governments when they build new roads.

Here in Beverly Hills we’ve seen the new law, AB-1371 Three Feet for Safety Act (Bradford, D-62), invoked long before it even took effect. The Blue Ribbon Committee that reviewed design concepts for the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project recommended a wider corridor and striped bike lanes precisely because the new law’s safe standard of   3-feet could allow riders to slow motor traffic. (We recommended a wide boulevard and bike lanes for safety too.)

Existing law also required drivers to take due care when passing, of course. Prior to the Three Feet for Safety Act the state’s vehicle code described ‘safe passing’ this way:

The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…. (Sec. 21750)

While the law didn’t identify a ‘safe passing’ distance, drivers were obligated to pass with some margin for rider safety. But the lack of a ‘safe passing’ standard made it difficult to enforce the law. And how often did drivers actually take the care necessary to pass safely? Not often enough. When we leave ‘safe distance’ to the judgement of a driver piloting a big steel box from the left-hand side as he hurtles down the road at speed, there will be close calls and, no surprise, many would-be riders are frightened of sharing the road with drivers.

(Keep in mind, however, that the law allowed, and still does allow, riders to use the entire lane if it’s too narrow to share with larger vehicles. Read more about your rights under the state law and local ordinances.)

Revision of the vehicular code to set a ‘safe passing’ standard was long overdue. Consider that only a few paragraphs after Section 21750 we see this passage that calls for a higher degree of care when passing livestock:

The driver of any vehicle approaching any horse drawn vehicle, any ridden animal, or any livestock shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signaled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding or in charge of the animal or livestock in order to avoid frightening and to safeguard the animal or livestock and to insure the safety of any person driving or riding the animal or in charge of the livestock. (Sec. 21759)

It will come as no surprise to any of us who ride in Los Angeles that a farm animal is probably safer on a city street than is a cyclist. (We’re animal lovers, but we think that parity at a minimum is appropriate.)

The new law also implicitly acknowledges that disproportionate harm is suffered by those who bike: riders are injured in collisions at a disproportionately higher rate than are motorists considering the relatively small number of riders on the road. But still this law was no slam-dunk for the Governor: two bills prior to AB-1371 died with a stroke of Jerry Brown’s veto pen despite relentless advocacy for the safe-passing standard by the California Bicycle Coalition. (This year, Brown vetoed a raft of hit-and-run laws he didn’t like.)

How Three Feet Affects (or Doesn’t Affect) Transportation Planning in Beverly Hills

The Blue Ribbon committee back in January heard that the new law provided a means by which riders could claim that 3′ of blacktop in order to pass safely, and committee members feared that riders in the travel lane would slow traffic inordinately. So the committee recommended a wider boulevard and the striping of lanes.

More recently, in December, Beverly Hills transportation staff presented a new set of concept options for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. And the staff report included a cursory supplementary analysis in light of the Three Feet for Safety Act. And what it found was that a boulevard less than 63′ would pinch the #2 lane to make safe passing impracticable. For example, maintaining a 60-ft width would allow only 8′ to pass, according to this city diagram:

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn't offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state's 3 foot passing law).

Though the city wants to keep the narrow section of the boulevard at 60 feet, it acknowledges that even restriping the section wouldn’t offer riders safe passage in both directions (per the state’s 3 foot passing law).

By contrast, a 63-feet wide blacktop would provide sufficient room for motorists to safely pass a cyclist in the #2 lane, which we feel is demanded on a busy regional corridor that serves 50,000 vehicles a day. That’s why the Blue Ribbon had earlier recommended an even wider, 66-ft wide boulevard with striped lanes: that’s what’s necessary to maximize safety, it agreed by a wide margin, and nearly 200 road users who commented agreed.

Even our staff, led by Susan Healey Keene, Director of the Community Development Department (which has responsibility for transportation planning) agreed – and recommended the wider boulevard (albeit without striping lanes).

So why would our transportation staff now now recommend constructing this key regional corridor at only 60-ft, rider safety be damned? Simply because it’s more politically palatable to our City Council.  (Stay tuned: a final decision on boulevard width will come on January 6th.)

No Net Loss Proposal: 62-Feet Allows Bicycle Lanes

We need not sacrifice rider safety on the altar of political expedience. A proposal to standardize (or rationalize) the entire boulevard at 62-ft with narrower lanes and striped bicycle lanes will be soon be presented to Council. As a bonus, those narrower travel lanes will slow traffic too. Win-win! We’ll discuss this proposal at a Monday (12/22) meeting at 7pm in the south meeting room of Beverly Hills Public Library (444 N. Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills).

Santa Monica restriped at 62 feet

Santa Monica at 62 feet restriped for bicycle lanes is possible!

The Three Feet for Safety Act provides street safety advocates with leverage we didn’t have prior. Before AB-1371, ‘safe passing’ was not defined; now it is defined as a three feet buffer around the rider. Transportation planners must take the new standard into account when, say, planning new roads or reconstructing existing ones (like Santa Monica). The law demands that rider safety be put on par with concerns like traffic throughput.

Beverly Hills will not have heard that message if City Council decides to construct Santa Monica Boulevard to a 20th century standard. At 60′ our segment of the boulevard will be too narrow to ever include bicycle lanes. Then we’ll not only have the impediment to traffic flow that Blue Ribbon committee members had feared; we’ll have a standing example of how our city, faced with the task of accommodating to new modes of mobility, simply disregarded our own plans and stuck our heads in the sand despite knowing better.Give-me-three Logo



LOL: “Under the leadership of the City Manager, Jeff Kolin, Beverly Hills City employees aspire towards a performance environment of excellence and innovation. The ultimate goal is to provide unparalleled municipal services by being ‘the Best of the Best.'” We wish him well in his pending retirement.

Are Fading Beverly Hills Bike Facilities a Metaphor?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The pilot program as approved by City Council: just two routes out of five under consideration.

In 2013 City of Beverly Hills chose two corridors for bike facilities under the city’s (very) limited ‘pilot project.’ Several block segments of Crescent Drive and Burton way were identified by consultant Fehr & Peers as suitable for class II bicycle lanes, while Crescent (south of Santa Monica) was also deemed suitable for sharrows. A year on, our facilities are showing their age: Burton Way bike lanes are disappearing before our eyes; and an ill-advised realignment of sharrows on Crescent Drive now puts riders at risk.

Are our city’s first-ever bike facilities installed under the pilot program (read the feasibility study) an indication of bike-friendliness, as our Mayor says? Or do they telegraph our city’s true regard for the safety of two-wheeled road users in Beverly Hills as revealed by councilmembers this past summer? In short, are these pilot improvements a metaphor for the slippage of bike improvements from a Council ‘B’ priority to off the agenda entirely?

Consider the bicycle lanes installed on several block segments of Burton Way. They were striped with ordinary paint. As a result, the pilot program bicycle lanes have faded – really faded – to the point of disappearing before our eyes.

Beverly Hills and Los Angeles bike lane striping on Burton Way

Witness the difference between the faded bicycle lanes on Burton Way in Beverly Hills (left) and the markings on that same corridor in adjacent Los Angeles (right).

Faded crosswalk at Wilshire & Santa Monica South

Pity the poor pedestrians who cross every day at this major juncture of Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard South!

Yet the city appears to have no appetite to restripe them. And to be fair, it’s a citywide problem: many of our crosswalks have faded to the point of putting pedestrians in danger. They take on a ghostly quality, which is surely not appropriate for a traffic control device. So you see it’s not just cyclists that get the back of the hand. That’s why Beverly Hills leads small cities in California in pedestrian collision injuries.

Will our bike lanes be restored to their original luster? Our deputy director for transportation was non-committal when asked. (Stay tuned for an update as we have another query into the division.)

Another problem area with regard to the pilot program is the sharrows implementation on Crescent Drive (below Santa Monica Boulevard North). Heading northbound on Crescent approaching Brighton Way, the sharrow is correctly positioned in the right lane. North of Brighton approaching Santa Monica South, however, the sharrow has been relocated to the #2 lane adjacent to the double-yellow. That puts passing motor traffic to the right of the rider crossing over the next intersection. But then north of the Santa Monica South intersection the sharrow again shifts back to the right lane, forcing a rider merge with that passing traffic.

Sharrow placement on Crescent Drive infographicAdd to the obvious safety implications the fact that passing traffic has an incentive to speed along this segment in order to make both the Santa Monica South and Santa Monica North green lights and you have a recipe for serious rider injury.

This was brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, in early August. Of course transportation staff should have recognized the problem; for many months these sharrows have been misaligned But neither the plain evidence or even our communication has made the slightest bit of difference: riders still navigate this hazard as city hall takes no action to correct it.

City Hall: No Passion for Action on Road Safety

This pilot program in our opinion was too little, too late anyway. It was not intended to be much more than a gesture toward a bike-friendly claim. Indeed it doesn’t bolster our confidence that councilmember Julian Gold has appeared anxious for this pilot program – by definition it’s not permanent – to come back before Council for reevaluation. But to approve it and then wholly neglect to maintain it? That’s spitting into the eye of every rider who would follow our own city plans’ advice to opt whenever possible for bicycle travel over auto travel. You know – to reduce auto congestion and emissions!

Santa Monica's thermoplast bicycle lane markings

City of Santa Monica not only embraces thermoplast but pays more for pre-templated bike lane markings.

Thankfully we do have better examples on offer in neighboring cities. Both Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles, for example, are rolling out bike facilities citywide. They’re installed to be permanent – not as part of a pilot – and they’re installed according to Caltrans requirements. Moreover, these cities use thermoplastic, not regular paint, to ensure that such state-approved traffic safety measures stick around for more than a year. Santa Monica goes one better: new bike lanes there are high-visibility and some of them even buffered from adjacent motor traffic.

Calling ourselves bike-friendly and making Beverly Hills streets safe and welcoming to cyclists are not the same thing. We find the faded lanes and misplaced sharrows on Burton and Crescent to be an apt metaphor for city hall’s fading concern for rider safety as well as the future of the pilot program.

So often in Beverly Hills we like to talk the talk because it’s easy and cost-free.  But we prefer not to actually walk the walk because it’s harder and it costs money. Other cities make the investment in facilities and plan for a multimodal mobility future. Why not Beverly Hills?

Update: on Tuesday, 11/18 City Council will hear the staff recommendation to make these two paltry bike routes permanent and, if that’s approved, Public Works will presumably restripe them. After all, it allows the city to say they’ve done something for rider safety. Stay tuned.

CicLaVia Returns Sunday, October 5th

Ciclavia 2014-10-5 map smallThe vaunted closed-street bike parade known as CicLAvia returns to Los Angeles city streets this Sunday with a ride from Echo Park though Downtown and into East Los Angeles. This exciting route not only offers a window onto our region’s complex urban fabric; it also bids Westside riders to explore areas to the east which we are less likely to seek out. We’ll be there on Sunday and may even catch a feeder ride to Echo Park. Join us!

What Is CicLAvia?

What needs to be said about our region’s foremost celebration of the street as a public space? This Sunday morning, feel-good shutdown of traffic that otherwise rules is not only an opportunity to see our region from a different perspective. That’s important because we must refocus our attention from the reigning mobility paradigm, in which policies and priorities make motoring our first and most convenient choice, to a near-future wherein multimodal mobility offers real transportation options to those who don’t want to drive.

In fact, CicLAvia has been conceived as a bona fide social program to prompt us to reconsider our most overlooked public space resource: city streets. “Our streets are congested with traffic, our air is polluted with toxic fumes, our children suffer from obesity and other health conditions caused by the scarcity of public space and safe, healthy transportation options,” the CicLAvia folks say. “CicLAvia creates a temporary park for free, simply by removing cars from city streets. It creates a network of connections between our neighborhoods and businesses and parks with corridors filled with fun.”

We’ve participated in many of the CicLAvias and it’s always a blast. And you don’t even need to own a bike to enjoy CicLAvia. There are plenty of opportunities to rent a ride. And if you don’t want to ride, you can walk, run, skate, or scooter. By whatever means of conveyance, be sure to join us! And be sure to ride safe.

The Route

This ‘Heart of LA’ route will once again make Downtown LA a fulcrum of sorts for a cross-region ride. From the west, riders will gather in Echo Park and then follow the historic Pacific Electric route to downtown. From there we’ll thread through the Historic Broadway Theater District, where a relocated pedestrian zone will encourage mixing; then stop at the Festival of Philippine Arts & Culture (at Grand Park) before crossing the Los Angeles River to pass by Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on the way to the East Los Angeles. The official route terminates with a ‘kids zone’ at the East LA Civic Center.Ciclavia 2014-10-5 map

Grab A Feeder Ride!

Unlike recent CicLAvias, this weekend’s ride does not close Wilshire Boulevard so you’ll likely find yourself on a parallel route to downtown or to the route’s terminus at Echo Park. Fortunately you won’t have to think too hard about it: we have two good feeder rides to lead us to either the Echo Park terminus or the Downtown hub.

Ciclavia 2014-10-4 Santa Monica Spoke feeder route mapRiders in Beverly Hills can join up with not one but two ‘feeder’ rides to the downtown event. Santa Monica Spoke, that city’s premier bike advocacy organization, is hosting a ride departing from the Santa Monica Pier at 8:30 a.m. (come early for the free bagels). Their route courses through Beverly Hills along Santa Monica Boulevard South and Burton Way before it hooks up with LA’s 4th Street bike boulevard to the western Echo Park terminus.

Ciclavia 2014-10-4 I martin feeder route mapIf you make your way to Mid City, bike shop I Martin is hosting a feeder ride from that shop at 8330 Beverly Boulevard which will depart at 8:30 a.m. This feeder takes the same 4th Street route to downtown. With enough riders from the Westside, we can make it a defacto CicLAvia route east!

You need not ride the whole CicLAvia route or even ride to the event at all. Public transit has always been a key consideration for ride organizers. Find Metro rail stops all along the route! We’ll see you there!

How NOT to Make a Street Safety Video

dangerstoppers video titleWe watched the new City of Beverly Hills video ‘Watch Your Walk,’ part of the Dangerstoppers series co-produced by the Beverly Hills Police Department and the city’s Health and Safety Commission, because we were curious what kind of safety advice City Hall dispenses. And true to this trouble-titled video, pedestrians are admonished to take extra care because drivers are off-the-hook for their bad road behavior.

We wondered, why has Beverly Hills suddenly gotten into the street safety business? For years the city has turned a blind eye to driver aggression streets (especially when it’s directed at those who ride a bicycle). Perhaps officials were prompted to act by the average six pedestrians injured every month on Beverly Hills streets. That rate has not declined over the past five years (as our own number-crunching of BHPD data shows, below).

All collisions 2008-2013 graphOr maybe the ‘Watch Your Walk’ video was occasioned by the two collision fatalities this past Spring [per the BHPD monthly traffic report]. That should be a wake-up call to take street safety seriously, and it was. Officials focused attention to long-existent problems in the hillsides. But what about the rest of the city? As we’ve earlier noted, the Traffic and Parking Commission receives BHPD data every month but doesn’t ask many questions about why people are injured so reliably on our streets. Presumably these commissioners chalk it up to ‘accidents.’ Well, we never say ‘accident’ because most often, collisions occur when someone fails to take due care on the road.

Unlike the commission, we’ve wondered why crash injuries continue at that high level. So we looked to data. And from our perspective, it’s no wonder why Beverly Hills remains on par with the worst of small cities in California where street safety is concerned: our officials themselves are not taking due care to prevent collisions. For example, faded crosswalks are the rule here. (We don’t even use thermoplastic like many cities do for its durability.) And few speed limit signs remind drivers to limit slow to 25 mph on residential streets. Most important, there exists near-zero police enforcement to sanction those speeders and red-light runners.

In fact, we’ve grown so concerned about the lack of traffic enforcement that we provided this supportive statement to the Traffic Safety Coalition, which is the red light camera trade association:

The single greatest threat to walkers and bikers in Beverly Hills is the driver who fails to stop at a red light. At every light change on major corridors, two, three, even four drivers run the red, and often sufficiently late to strike someone who’s entered the crosswalk or intersection… So who’s minding the store where safety is concerned? Perhaps automated enforcement is the only option left if our officials value the safety of our walkers and bikers as much as I do. – Mark Elliot, Better Bike

Unlike human officers, our automated enforcement is on the job 24-7 and issues 1200-1400 tickets every month within city limits. But witness the declining number of officer-issued citations:

Signed citations 2008-2013 graphOur police management chalks it up to under-staffing, to officers on temporary disability or vacation, to resource demands elsewhere. But such a steady decline over five years? Doesn’t that suggest some mismanagement of enforcement priorities by the City Manager, Jeff Kolin?

We welcome the Health and Safety Commission’s effort to prop up walker safety precisely where our Traffic and Parking Commission fears to tread. As we all share the road, and that makes it’s important for all of us to recognize our responsibility to keep all road users safe. But the problem with the Dangerstoppers video is that it heaps responsibility upon pedestrians; drivers get a pass. Have a look at the video, co-produced by the Health and Safety Commission and BHPD.

Dangerstoppers: The Cop

dangerstoppers video Office DowlingLet’s take a brief look at the key points made in the video, starting with the Beverly Hills Police Department’s Sgt. Scott Dowling, presented here as an expert. He begins:

I’m tired of responding to accidents involving vehicles versus pedestrians….It’s a two-prong approach: the first is a strict enforcement by law enforcement, the second is education. And I’m here to teach you.

He may be hear to teach, but from the chart at top we can see that his department is not going to strictly enforce. Yet Officer Dowling misinforms when citing the following “five common reasons” for accidents:

  • Pedestrians who ‘dart-and-dash’ into an unmarked crosswalk “at a pretty fast clip,” perhaps while distracted, into the driver’s way;
  • pedestrians who play ‘chicken’ with drivers by crossing a marked crosswalk once the near driver stops, though presumably poses a danger to the other drivers who plow on through;
  • pedestrians who impede drivers trying to turn right at a signaled crosswalk (for some reason called a ‘blind turn’ in the video);
  • pedestrians (like the woman with child, at right) who present a ‘mid-block surprise’ to drivers when they cross a marked crosswalk with the walk signal; and the perennial favorite,
  • pedestrian ‘jaywalkers’ who pop out between parked cars to put themselves at risk.
dangerstoppers video unmarked crosswalk

Pedestrians have right-of-way at every unmarked crosswalk. And many in Beverly Hills like this one are four-way stops!

While we agree with that last admonition (recall the memorable NYC campaign, “cross at the green, not in-between”), the others may be common sense but aren’t reflective of state or local law. For one thing, pedestrians have the right of way at every marked and unmarked crosswalk (left). Moreover, a pedestrian may rightly wear earbuds, or talk into a phone, or even conduct an imaginary orchestra while crossing the street.  Distracted pedestrians present little to anybody but themselves.

But we should focus on driver distractions as vehicles can do great damage.* Witness the vignette in this video wherein the driver plows into the crosswalk even after the pedestrian has entered it (below). Here the ‘blind turn’ is anything but blind; the sightlines are clear. If only the driver took due care.

dangerstoppers video signaled crosswalkAnd then there is the ‘mid-block surprise’ (right). What are we to make of a safety video that shows a pedestrian legally crossing with the green walk sign in a fully signaled mid-block crosswalk… but then it puts responsibility on her to not be a ‘surprise’ to drivers? Drivers have the red light and have to stop.

As for bad advice, this video isn’t the first example of law enforcement putting the thumb on the scale in the drivers’ favor. We saw it in the Blue Ribbon process when BHPD Sgt. Mader ventured that a bike lane for Santa Monica Boulevard would be dangerous (a theory debunked by PD brass); and we experience the presumption of guilt when an officer responds to a bike-involved collision. Though this video effectively puts the responsibility for safe streets on pedestrians for a change.

Dangerstoppers: The Nurse

dangerstoppers video nurse StewartCedars nurse Donovan Stewart offers some common sense suggestions for keeping safe in the city. (Officer Dowling notes that ‘urban environments’ are where 73% of deaths occur, though without defining the term ‘urban.’) There are plenty of distractions, Stewart says, and he dispenses with this helpful homespun tip: “The same as we would say for children: look left and right before crossing the street.” Good advice.

The video elaborates with a few more canards that in certain contexts may well be recommended but in no way conflict with state or local law:

  • “No texting while walking,” it says, though it is fully legal to text and walk (it’s even legal to work a phone by hand while driving a motor vehicle – if not texting);
  • “no crossing streets with earphones/earbuds” the video says, though it is perfectly legal (riders note: only one earbud under state law!);
  • “make eye contact with the driver” for your safety – and perhaps wave our arms to alert any of the 40,000 drivers daily on major boulevards that we need to cross safely?; and our favorite,
  • “when walking at night, wear bright clothing or reflective gear so that a driver can see you….”

What could be next: a pedestrian helmet law?

The Dangerstoppers video is particularly notable for what isn’t addressed. It makes no mention of speed and the dangers it presents in ‘urban environments.’ On that note, we’ve corresponded with the city again recently and yet again about our own local street where drag-racing is the new sport. Though speed is often a contributing factor in crash injuries, our Traffic and Parking Commission has simply never addressed it.

dangerstoppers video pedestrian has the right of wayThe video doesn’t remind drivers that ‘stop’ means stop! We’ve groused to the city about how frequently drivers run red lights on our major thoroughfares (even when automated cameras keep watch). Casual observation shows that many don’t heed stop signs even. Yet the video puts the responsibility solely on the pedestrian. But pedestrians need not stop as we have the right-of-way in every marked crosswalk and at every alley end and even in every unmarked crosswalk.

The video doesn’t note that engineering and design play a role in street safety. From the wide corridors of postwar suburbs (called ‘dangerous by design’ in this report) to local streets like ours, engineering our streets to be ‘complete’ and accessible to all road users makes a difference in safety. Looked at another way, not instituting traffic-calming treatment on residential street is a policy decision. The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute can tell you all about it. (Check out their traffic calming videos.)

Designing for speed street cross section

Courtesy of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.

The Take-Away: Safety is the City’s Job, Not the Pedestrian’s Responsibility

From watching the Beverly Hills video, you’re forgiven for thinking that streets that by design speed the traffic aren’t of your concern. Or that  faded crosswalks that render pedestrians less-visible to drivers (especially at night) are none of your business. Or that you need to wear reflective clothing to be seen, and need to defer to drivers when you have the right of way. That’s because the burden of self-preservation falls to you, the pedestrian.

But just as streets can be engineered to be safe and laws are there to be enforced for pubic health, welfare and safety, we should expect our transportation officials and policymakers to step up and take responsibility – not shoulder it off on pedestrians.

This video closes with Officer Dowling reminding us, “It’s the goal of the Beverly Hills Police Department to make the road safe, and it’s your responsibility to help.” We beg to differ: it’s the responsibility of the police and the city to make our roads safe. That’s a responsibility and not a goal. It’s also the responsibility of all road users (including drivers and riders) to follow the law and take due care when sharing the road. And yes, use common sense when sharing it. If there’s a takeaway from this video it’s that common sense is necessary but not sufficient to keep us whole.

Let’s hope the Health and Safety Commission recognizes the error, and in the next Dangerstoppers video puts responsibility for road safety where it belongs: with officials. Let’s hear from the BHPD about its “strict enforcement” when their own data suggests that enforcement is a sloughed-off responsibility. Let’s ask Traffic and Parking Commission members about what they’re doing to lower the persistent (high) level of collision injuries when they’re not even asking basic questions.

And let’s hear from Susan Healey Keene, Director of the Community Development Department (which has responsibility for transportation planning); and also Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation.

And if we’re looking to improve road-user behavior, let’s start admonishing the road users who bring the harm: drivers in two-ton boxes who fail to recognize their duty of care under the law. A prior Dangerstoppers video addresses distracted driving. That’s fine and good. But there’s much more to do to get drivers to behave properly. Then we can talk about what pedestrians and riders can do to make our streets sharable.

*Federal figures put domestic vehicle collision deaths at 35,000 for 2012, according to the National Transportation Safety Administration.