Beverly Hills Bike Route Pilot Program

Beverly Hills Pilot Bike Route Program

Crescent Drive sharrow

Pilot Program Class II bicycle lane on North Crescent Drive.

Bike planning has come late to Beverly Hills. Forty years have passed since cycing took hold of the public imagination in the 1970s. In 1973, for example, more bicycles were sold than ever before. About five years later, Beverly Hills authored its own Bicycle Master Plan.* And there it sat on the shelf for another 35 years.

About four years ago, the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission formed an ad-hoc committee to update that old plan. But we’ve seen no progress on a new bike plan, and those 25 bicycle racks that transportation staff has been talking about for a couple of years have yet to materialize on city sidewalks. Heck, our city can’t even be bothered to post an online ‘ride safe’ and ‘drive safe’ tips webpage. How difficult is that?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The one program to which policymakers can point is the ‘Pilot’ bike route program. It is out city’s first initiative to plan for cycling. In all, the program provides a few segments of Class II bicycle lanes and a few blocks of share-the-road ‘sharrow’ markings. With these improvements, city leaders can say that Beverly Hills recognizes cycling as a legitimate means of transportation.

But is it enough? While we welcome the city’s initiative (indeed we’ve been calling for improvements since early 2010) our concerns are several. Most important among them is that the Pilot improvements are simply not relevant to today’s riders. Where they have been installed few tend to ride. But the most trafficked corridors were excluded.

Time Runs Out for Bike Improvements

Perhaps the most problematic aspect is that the Pilot program effectively stops the clock on any other improvements. There have been no bicycle lanes installed since; no signs hang the only road sign hanging from a city post is on the Pilot-established Crescent bike lane; and not a single intersection has been upgraded with best-practice striping to assist cyclists in navigating clearly hazardous conditions.

Indeed the clock has stopped: Public Works Department for its part recently closed out its only active cycling infrastructure item on the projects list. And a recent Traffic and Parking Commission work plan status report includes an item titled ‘Citywide Bike Plan Update,’ which refers to no action on the 1977 plan but does say “bicycle planning efforts are now focused on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Are the Pilot measures really the total of the city’s investment in safe cycling? A work plan discussion back in February clarified:

As a first step toward a Citywide Bike Plan, after recommendations from the Traffic & Parking Commission, the City Council directed staff to move forward with bicycle routes on Burton Way and Crescent Drive.

So much for safe cycling across the rest of the city! The Pilot measures weren’t derived from our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan (Crescent wasn’t identified in its citywide route network) so the plan and the Pilot are unrelated. But what about that next step toward a real citywide bike plan?

What Do Our Plans Say?

Smart Mobility Call to Action 2012Let’s take a look at the Pilot program itself and the city policies behind it before we focus on the process and particulars.

Our city plans acknowledge that multimodal mobility must be an answer to our mobility challenges. According to California DOT’s Smart Mobility Call to Action, the aim should be to “create communities where walking, bicycling, and transit use are common choices” through appropriate development and mobility policies. Smart Mobility, an accompanying fact sheet says, “responds to the transportation needs of the State’s people and businesses, addresses climate change, advances social equity and environmental justice, supports economic and community development, and reduces per capita vehicles miles traveled.”

Indeed our city plans say as much: our Sustainable City Plan, for example, calls on residents to walk or ride a bicycle wherever possible in order to reduce auto congestion and emissions. In accord with Smart Mobility principles, our goal is to “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community” in part through energy-efficient land use policies but also by “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourag[ing] alternative forms of travel.”

The Circulation Element of the General Plan is on board with that prescription too. It says we should provide travelers with “realistic options” to driving if we are to discourage additional vehicle miles traveled. Sensible enough, right? To that end, the element says, we should be “improving bicycle or pedestrian travel routes” in order to encourage travelers to make better transportation choices. Indeed the Circulation Element in its call for “a greater emphasis” on walking, bicycle riding, and transit says that amendments were adopted in the General Plan (in 2010) to facilitate it. Have we seen any “greater emphasis” on walking, riding or transit in Beverly Hills?

How Does the Pilot Program Comport with Our Bicycle Master Plan?

Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan of Bikeways map (1976)

Proposed bicycle network (circa 1977)

The Beverly Hills Bicycle Master Plan was authored back at the height of the bike renaissance in 1977. Yet it remains on the books and for good reason: the plan recommended that a 22-mile citywide network of bicycle lanes (right) be developed in order to connect parks and schools with our city’s residential neighborhoods. According to the Bicycle Master Plan, “bikeway facilities would serve the interests of both children and adults, so that the system could serve as alternative transportation to parks, schools, shopping areas, etc.”

The kind of network that would connect schools and parks with key destinations is a great place to begin a conversation about bike planning (as we noted), yet neither the Traffic and Parking Commission nor the City Council ever reviewed our Bicycle Master Plan prior during Pilot program development and discussion. Nor were the Sustainability Plan nor the General Plan’s circulation element ever invoked. Collision injury data from the BHPD received no consideration, for example, and the valuable input provided by a score of experienced cyclists went entirely unheeded.

The Pilot program simply doesn’t begin to meet the vision. Sharrows on the busiest section of Crescent and bicycle lanes for a few less-busy segments of Crescent and on Burton Way appear to be a one-off effort that was intended (in our opinion) to deflect calls for bike-friendly improvements. It simply stopped the clock on next steps. Is this any way to plan for multimodal mobility?

What Did the Pilot Program Provide?

Bike Route Pilot program map

Candidate Pilot routes…

In November of 2011, Transportation officials presented to advocates a feasibility study of possible routes with four candidates: the east/west corridors of Carmelita and Charleville and the north/south corridors of Beverly and Crescent Drive. All were recommended by cyclists and bike advocates who participated in the Pilot meetings with staff.

After those meetings concluded, transportation staff then added a fifth route – Burton Way – before scheduling two Traffic and Parking public hearings for input. Burton way is low-hanging fruit: it’s already plenty wide to ride even without lanes; installing them was an easy add-on.

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

…But the routes actually approved by Council.

Public opinion was split during these hearings, but cyclists came out overwhelmingly in favor of all of the candidates (the more the better). Northside homeowners, however, feared that bicycle lanes (or ‘routes,’ or ‘paths’ – the terminology was used interchangeably) would harm property values. With some public input in hand, transportation staff took it to Council with the commission’s misguided recommendation.

When City Council City Council gave the nod to the Pilot program in mid-2012, though, only two route segments survived the discussion: Burton Way and Crescent Drive (at right). And only limited segments of each were slated for improvements. In fact, the Council declined to make any improvements whatsoever south of Wilshire. Only three segments of Crescent north of Santa Monica would be eligible for bicycle lanes; a few blocks between Santa Monica and Wilshire would get ‘sharrows’; and then a few segments of lanes on Burton. A mixed bag and none likely to much affect cyclists. Where did the process go wrong?

The Pilot Process: Problematic from Beginning to (Possible) End

Where did the Pilot program planning go wrong? Let us count the ways!

Reductive route selection. In early 2010, the Traffic & Parking Commission formed an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update committee to revise that old Bicycle Master Plan. The committee of three met with cycling advocates from mid-2011 to March of 2012 to solicit suggestions for candidate routes and to field suggestions for bike-friendly improvements.

Proposed Pilot bike routes map

The proposed Pilot routes (in red) before whittling down by the commission and City Council

In the public meeting the full commission voted to recommend only on three routes to City Council (leaving the busiest routes, Charleville and Beverly, off the table). Subsequently, City Council approved the ‘pilot’ program but narrowed the three candidate routes down to only Crescent Drive and Burton Way. Few of our many ideas made it into the final program.

For more background on the process, please refer to our Better Bike recaps of meetings with cycling advocates:

Only a few treatment options were considered. With feasibility study in hand, options were limited by client constraints. Improvements could not impact street parking (contrary to the Bicycle Master Plan, which identified parking removal as an option) and consultant Fehr & Peers recommended lanes only for wider streets. Less-wide streets were considered suitable only for sharrows (shared-lane markings).

And no innovations like road diets, bike boxes, bicycle boulevards, bike signals that we see in other cities were considered for Beverly Hills (View the city’s introduction presentation, the engineers’ presentation from Fehr & Peers and that firm’s feasibility study diagrams for more information on treatment options.

Ancillary measures not part of the Pilot program. Our city can do much to make cycling convenient in Beverly Hills. Bicycle racks for example would indicate to cyclists that they’re welcome in Beverly Hills. Indeed getting people to ride to shops and work would  alleviate our congestion problem (as our plans recommend). But while the city has discussed installing racks as long as two years ago, we only finalized a rack design last March, and took delivery this October, but haven’t installed a single one of them as of early November.

The Pilot program improvements may be temporary.. A ‘pilot’ program by definition is one from which we hope to learn, and the initiative should teach us what works and what doesn’t. Accordingly, City Council stipulated a 12-month review for these improvements. Staff conducted bicycle counts (before) and will review updated counts during the twelve (12) month Pilot period. That is, City Council may request that the Traffic & Parking Commission receive public input at the end or before of the twelve (12) month Pilot period. It could end even before the 12-month period and the new lanes removed.

The Pilot improvements may not tell us much. The pilot improvements are limited to short sections where cyclists don’t necessarily ride today. Even with before/after counts, how much are we likely to learn much after the 12 months passes? It’s something else to roll out an ambitious program and then see how it’s affected rates of cycling or traffic flow.

How You Can Help

Members of our cycling community should encourage our City Council to accelerate bike-friendly planning and improvements. Drop them an email or pick up the phone (310-285-1013). Let our City Manager know that you care about cycling by sending an email to Jeff Kolin (or just call him at 310-285-1012). Have a question about the ‘pilot’ or about the bicycle racks programs? Contact Martha Eros, Planner (at transportation@beverlyhills.org) and let Better Bike know what you find out.

*FYI: In January of 2010, City Council re-adopted the existing (1977) Bike Master Plan as part of the city’s required General Plan update. While every other element of our city’s guiding document was updated in a lengthy process, this plan was simply tucked into an appendix without review. It references long-outdated data and includes maps that are not legible. Again, is this any way to plan for mobility?

Recent Posts

Traffic Citations Reach Record Lows in Beverly Hills in 2016

In my last post I charted police department collision injury data to show the extent to which collision injuries continue to mount in Beverly Hills. From 2008 (when the department made data available) though last year, police report that 3,805 people have been injured on city streets in collisions. Most concerning, the data show that the most protected travelers, auto occupants, suffered record-high injuries – so many that it pushed the overall injury totals to record highs too. In this post I crunch police data for citations to show that enforcement of traffic laws has withered on the vine.

All Major Traffic Enforcement Trends Show a Steep Decline Since 2008

For your consideration here are the enforcement trends from 2008 through 2016. I plugged nine years of Beverly Hills Police Department data (download the reports) into a spreadsheet and generated some charts to visualize the trends. When 2017 data becomes available in February I will follow up with a year-end analysis of that data too.

The number of overall signed citations has plummeted since 2008. Last year officers issued half as many citations for speed, stop-sign, signal, pedestrian and cell-phone violations than they did in 2008. Indeed they issued the fewest tickets for those offenses in total during 2016 than at any time since the police began to report the data to the Traffic and Parking Commission. This chart makes it clear.

Chart: Signed citations by category 2008-2016All citation categories are clearly trending downward. Cell phone citations in particular show a marked decline since BHPD began ticketing in 2009 after the state imposed a ban the year prior.

Chart: Cell phone citations 2009-2016I presume that as grants for targeted cell phone enforcement diminished so did the department’s efforts. That’s often the way it works: grants fund enforcement campaigns but, once the money runs out, so does the enforcement.  The result: inconsistent enforcement priorities and, as we see, very few citations for cell phone use in recent years. (See note #1 below.)

From the peak year (2011) the number of cell phone citations issued annually decreased by about 85%. In recent years the number of citations decreased by about 20% on average every year even from relatively low levels. The takeaway: where officers had once written nearly 100 tickets each day, today they write only 12 or so on any given day. Yet diminished interest in enforcement coincides with what seems to be an increased prevalence of handheld phone use (my anecdotal observation finds).

Moreover, the drop in citations comes as US DOT has issued warnings about injuries and fatalities that result from distracted driving. The overall trend downward is set to continue into 2017: year-to-date data (though October) show that citations are down  another 15% from last year.

Red-Light Runners Can Violate the Law With Impunity

Citations for cell phone violations is among the most steep and consistent declines among all categories. Yet one one key traffic enforcement category rivals it: the collapse in citations for running red lights. Between 2008 and 2016 citations for running a red light dropped by a whopping 83%. Eighty-three percent!

Chart: Signal Violations 2008-2016So steep has been the decline that citations in the category dropped by half from 2011 to 2012 and then again by half the following year. To put that in perspective, officers in 2008 issued five red-light tickets every day but last year such citations averaged not even a single ticket per day despite the outrageous prevalence of drivers running red lights.

Arguably the reason why we have high-and-rising collision injuries overall is because we see lax enforcement of traffic laws. But divers who run red lights – especially when speed is excessive – present a clear-and-present danger to all road users. But they seem to be injuring other drivers more than ever as my chart of auto-occupant injuries shows.

Chart: Auto-occupant injuries 2008-2016It seems clear that these trends are connected: fewer signal violators nabbed probably means more injurious collisions at signaled intersections where speeds are greater. And that means more injuries among our best-protected road users. That should trouble both our police and our Traffic and Parking commissioners but they appear untroubled.

Patrol Officers Issue Fewer Citations

Both patrol officers and traffic division officers write tickets. As I understand it, the traffic division is charged with enforcement of the traffic laws while the patrol division is simply out on patrol looking for law-breakers. What I don’t understand is why patrol officers are finding fewer traffic law-breakers than ever before.

This chart shows the annual tally of citations issued by patrol officers (exclusive of traffic division citations) since 2008. The overall tally has fallen by 55% between 2008 and 2016.

Chart: Signed patrol and traffic citations 2008-2016Not only did officers on patrol last year issue fewer than half the tickets they did in 2008; the year-over-year declines can be quite steep too. Last year patrol officers wrote one-third fewer tickets than they did in 2015, for example, which amounts to just six tickets a day for any offense. So in a city of 40,000 people that swells to more than double that on any weekday our officers can find only six violations? How many of those were issued for signal violations? Probably zero.

The chart not only shows the absolute decline in patrol tickets; it also shows clearly the relative decline: that is, the proportion of patrol-issued citations out of all signed citations. Patrol citations is a shrinking proportion.

What is the impact of so few patrol citations? I expect that drivers can brazenly run red lights without the fear of getting pulled over. Even when a black-and-white police cruiser sits waiting at the same stoplight these drivers are rarely if ever pulled over. (Indeed several times I have watched as drivers blow through a red signal but the police cruiser right there in front of me at the scene gives no chase.) What’s more, not once in 15 years here have I seen a driver ever pulled over for running a red light. The slight chance that it might happen looks ever more slight today.

Traffic Division Numbers are  Up

Here is the good news: the traffic division has issued more citations in recent years than a few years ago, but it’s not translating into higher numbers across enforcement categories. It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about the traffic division numbers, though. There are citations for violations outside of the categories broken out in the BHPD monthly report; indeed the monthly tally for traffic division citations adds up to many more than are broken out across the major traffic offenses like signal, pedestrian, speed, and right-of-way violations.

Despite the late increase in traffic division enforcement, I can’t recall targeted campaign to catch those who run red lights. Not to say it hasn’t happened, but I don’t recall a press release announcing one, and I’ve never seen such a campaign in action. Not even on South Beverly! The area is a designated pedestrian district yet crosswalks there feel very hazardous. (And they are! This year a pedestrian lost his or her life there.)

The question is why we don’t we more targeted enforcement campaigns. Or do they exist and we simply don’t know they’re happening? Occasionally we see them, as we did after a Rexford Drive resident complained to the Courier about right-of-way violations near Beverly Vista. Soon after, there were motor cops on the; corner looking for violators.

But what about red-light stings at intersections where the most serious injuries probably occur? We just don’t see the targeted enforcement for that violation.

Instead our police department outsources red-light enforcement to automated cameras. Easy! This year red light cameras are on track to issue a near-record number of citations at the relatively few intersections where they do operate. Last year our robocops issued eighty-two times as many signal violation tickets as did human officers. (Read more about red light cameras in note #2 below.)

What about that the later surge in traffic division citations? Years 2015 and 2016? I think there’s a story there. For years BHPD offered various excuses for lax traffic enforcement: officers were injured or out sick; the ranks were depleted by retirements; officers were on diplomatic duty; and tough hiring standards allowed few officer candidates to make the cut. All were dubious but maybe there is merit to them. Perhaps putting those challenges behind has allowed the department to get back to work and hopefully the numbers will continue to rise. But be that as it may, the overall trend is clear: in 2016 the traffic division’s officers issued just one-third as many tickets as they did in 2008. And year-to-date data suggest that 2017 will show another decline.

I welcome any insight as to why signed citations vary so much year-to-year when law-breaking does not take a breather.

Fewer Hit-and-Runs is the Only Real Bright Spot

I want to close my analysis of Beverly Hills Police Department data on a positive note: hit-and-run collisions are on a clear downward trend. Here the trend is going in the proper direction!

Chart: Hits-and-run 2008-2016Hopefully 2015 was an anomaly and we will see the decline continue, from last year’s  27% drop from the year prior to this year’s anticipated further drop of 15%. Where a hit-and-run once occurred every day on average in 2008, today we’re seeing three per week. Better!

But how can police drive down that number even more? That’s not so clear. For one thing, we simply see too many collisions in Beverly Hills. We don’t even know how many because injury data doesn’t capture non-injury collisions (of course). So the tally of total collisions is unknown as is the magnitude of the problem. Not surprisingly, if we don’t have the data then we can’t see what fraction of collisions found perpetrators running off afterward.

In light of the limited data and the nature of the crime, perhaps the best strategy is a campaign to emphasize our individual responsibility to other road users and to society as a whole. The hitch: many people who pass through Beverly Hills are not residents. I’d wager that those who do flee a collision most likely don’t live here. Anyway, the challenge is not only to reach them but to persuade them.

My Recommendations

The Traffic and Parking commission and the Beverly Hills Police Department must coordinate on a response. Traffic and Parking Commission is the only oversight body we have when it comes to traffic. It must be a part of the solution. And the department must step up in more than a symbolic way: we need officials to coordinate on a plan or program to reduce collisions, injuries and deaths on Beverly Hills streets.

The monthly traffic report should provide context and analysis. Interested commissioners want to see trends rather than struggle to find patterns in a matrix of monthly figures. Generating at-a-glance charts for key indicators is a no-brainer!

Put a trained transportation planner or staff analyst on the job. Let officers collect the data but somebody outside the department should work it. The commissioners will be able to more readily engage with the analyst if she is staff-side. Save the higher-level coordination for the monthly report or perhaps regular meetings between Traffic and Parking liaisons and police brass.

Ensure that any officer who delivers the monthly traffic report is able to answer questions. Can the department representative say something substantive about injury totals and trends? Where are the collision hotspots? Today we hear BHPD answer about department operations but there no context of insight provided to go with the monthly report’s data.

Identify data categories that would help our understanding but that are not currently included in the report. We can start with total collision figures and collision locations. These should be systematically reported. Unlike other departments, Beverly Hills publishes no crime or crash data for public consumption (aside from the occasional management report that never reaches residents). A public-facing department would be a positive change.

We all need to be comfortable talking about numbers. Law enforcement is data-drive; if the commission (and the public) are to keep an eye on it we need basic numeracy. Comfort with numbers is necessary to understand trends, distinguish patterns from anomalies, and, most important, frame pertinent questions for the department.

The city needs the department at the table. It’s one thing to crunch the data and talk anecdotally in commission about problems. We need law enforcement solutions. But we’ve heard too many pro-forma monthly reports that wastes everybody’s time. If the department can make a priority of coordinating with the commission on real traffic problems, then we would be getting somewhere.

Lastly, this commission should be cognizant of its capacity, and responsibility, to oversee general traffic conditions. To date that has largely been mission deferred. We have as well-equipped a commission as ever and a new Chair is coming in January. Let’s call it a new start!

In sum I’m cautiously optimistic that things will change. Our commissioners are asking more questions than before and the monthly traffic report format may evolve into something more useful. All to the good. If my charts and the elementary analysis behind them suggest the opportunities for action, then my effort to generate them will have been worth it.


Notes

Note #1. Cell phone citations appeared in 2009 the year after California banned the use of handheld cell phones. Over the first three years, the department issued nearly 3,000 tickets every year for the violation. That was more than for any other other violation. Soon, though, BHPD enforcement priorities evidently shifted. Ever since, the data show, there was a marked and persistent decline in law enforcement interest. The drop is representative of a continuing overall decline in traffic enforcement under the new Police Chief (at least as represented by citations) who took office in March of 2016.

Note #2. The decline in red-light citations (and the diminished enforcement priority it reflects) is only half of the story. The other is the city’s growing use of automated red-light cameras to catch scofflaws. After a brief hiatus in 2015, when Beverly Hills transitioned from a corrupt vendor to our current automated camera vendor, Xerox, today automated red-light camera citations are back on the upswing: year-to-date data for 2017 show the total may surpass twenty thousand (!) which is a 7-year high. If so many drivers choose to run a red light where they are guaranteed to get a ticket, how might they drive at intersections without any camera?

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