Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, appointed by President Obama in 2013, is continuing the efforts predecessor Raymond LaHood to make street safety the Department’s priority. “In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured,” Foxx says in a recent post. To reverse the trend he’s announced his Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in conjunction with last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Will Beverly Hills take the challenge?
Recently US DOT has upped its game on street safety. Where the department in the past focused less on health and welfare and more on moving people and freight, in recent years leaders have stressed the human toll taken on our roadways by errant drivers. Specifically, the department has focused on non-motor traveler safety through its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety initiative, as well by issuing safety-focused bulletins, surveys, and advisories.
Just recently, for example, Secretary Foxx noted that in the past decade the number of people killed on our roads has declined by a quarter. In the past five years alone, however, the number killed while walking or riding has increased 15%.
To underscore that disproportionately high representation of cyclists among road injuries and deaths, US DOT has undertaken public education and outreach efforts (like its Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to highlight safety and pointed to deficiencies in the designs of the roads themselves that likely contribute to the problem. To that end, the agency offers evaluation tools to help professionals diagnose built environment.
Secretary Foxx’s “Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” falls squarely into the department’s recent safety efforts and puts it right to executives who help set local priorities for transportation officials. The officials have a professional responsibility to provide for the safety of those who walk and ride a bicycle, but as the challenge suggests, they’ve not always met the charge.
It is all part of the US DOT’s mission, which is to provide Americans with “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.” Now, ranking safety as job #2 may not be our preference, but it is a leap beyond the department’s priorities during the automobile era.
‘Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets’
“As a former mayor, I know that our nation’s mayors with their ground-level view and community-specific resources offer us an effective way to get that done,” Foxx says. “The Challenge will showcase best local practices to improve safety, share tools for local leaders to take action, and promote partnerships to advance pedestrian and bicycle safety.” The initiatives identified in the Secretary’s challenge include:
- Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles in the design of roadways to make streets safe and convenient for all road users;
- Incorporate “on-road bike networks” during routine street resurfacing and deploy safety innovations appropriate to context;
- Revisit and improve safety laws and regulations and collect non-motor traveler data; and,
- Educate road users and enforce against bad behavior.
Let’s look at these ‘challenge’ provisions one-by-one. Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles? Yes we can! In Beverly Hills today, none of our city plans or mobility policy statements includes a reference to ‘complete streets‘ (or even reflects the spirit of the principles). Traffic-calming for example? Outside of the business triangle you won’t find a single complete streets improvement implemented to slow or calm traffic. In fact our policy is to speed traffic through. As for other ‘complete streets’ measures like curb extensions, continental crosswalks, pedestrian refuges and narrowed travel lanes? Beverly Hills uses none of them. Yet these sensible measures moderate traffic flow and reduce the incidence – and severity – of collisions (according to US DOT).
Incorporate “on-road bike networks.” Here we have a golden opportunity with the imminent reconstruction of North Santa Monica Boulevard. That boulevard should be the spine of a future bike route system (it connects schools and parks) but the city has resisted including bicycle lanes (necessary to separate bikes and cars) as part of the massive project. Advocates have put forward a plan, however. As for ‘networks,’ we’re invited by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan to identify and create a network of streets safe for riding. We’ve not updated that plan (though it remains in effect); and we’ve taken no step to think holistically about how two-wheeled travelers can safely access our streets.
Improve local safety laws and collect non-motor traveler data. Yes and yes. Beverly Hills has local ordinances concerning cyclists on the books that are out-of-date. For example, city law requires riders to always ride to the right without acknowledging that conditions may preclude it (hence the state law’s “when practicable” stipulation). And our municipal code makes bike registration mandatory even though such bike licensing laws have been declared unenforceable. Other areas of the code like that governing bike parking need a facelift too.
As for data, the city’s budget says that the Community Development department has the responsibility for annual “traffic engineering studies, speed surveys, traffic volume counts and compile accident data at the City’s 500 intersections and crosswalks.” Does the city do collect that data? No it doesn’t. Our Traffic and Parking Commission does receive a monthly BHPD citation and crash data report, but commissioners ask few questions; staff simply files away those reports. And we wish the city compiled crash data by intersection. We’ve asked BHPD for that kind of data and their system can’t generate such reports.
And that last of the four initiatives – educate and enforce road user behavior – would be welcome here too because there is no safety education. We’ve begged our transportation officials to post a simple safety tips page on the city’s website, but in five years they haven’t done it. (We’ve even offered to compose it gratis but we found no taker in City Hall.) Basic tips to help drivers and riders learn our rights and responsibilities in order to safely share the road would seem to be the minimum envisioned by Foxx’s challenge to Mayors.
As for enforcement, red light cameras are remarkably prolific and consistent generators of citations day-in-and-day-out. Evidently our drivers continue to be regular scofflaws. Yet citations in nearly every category have declined over the years (BHPD says it’s short-staffed). Witness the downward trend in the last few years:
Even within a given year (2013 for example) there is a pronounced slack-off at the beginning and end:
Heck, drivers run red lights all day every day at every intersection in the city. At least write them a ticket!
Let’s Hope Our Mayor Takes the US DOT’s Challenge
In March a new Mayor takes over in Beverly Hills: Dr. Julian Gold will have the helm for a full year. That’s enough time to prod our incoming city manager to do more than simply warm the chair; he or she should be directed to immediately implement the Secretary’s suggestions right away. Maybe then we’ll do something about this shameful lack of progress on reducing collisions (see the chart below). Another mark of distinction is that Beverly Hill’s relatively high incidence of crash injuries keeps us tops among smaller cities in California in the crash injury rate category.
Crash injuries in all categories show remarkable resilience in the face of state and federal safety education programs and law enforcement initiatives. Call it a Beverly Hills achievement!
Either our transportation officials aren’t cognizant of current best street safety practices, or they view it as simply unimportant. So let’s hope that the next Mayor takes the Foxx challenge. We’ll check back in with Mayor Gold after he attends the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets this coming March. What will he proposes in the way of safety policies for Beverly Hills? Our own municipal neighbors take these steps now to make their streets safe; why can’t we do it here?