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.

In this post I’ll look at police department crash injury & fatality data for 2017. Last year I assessed the harm from crashes and the declining enforcement separately, so expect a subsequent post to look at enforcement for 2017. Spoiler: the current crash data show that existing trends continue: crash injuries are still at record highs and citations show 11-year lows. Might these trends be related?

Pedestrians

The overall state of traveler safety is perhaps best illustrated by the high incidence of pedestrian injury over the past 11 years. Almost 700 pedestrians were injured in crashes and 8 were killed – this in a city of only 5.7 square miles (and half of it is hillside and canyons where few pedestrians roam). The harm is likely concentrated in business districts and our higher-speed corridors like Olympic, Wilshire and Santa Monica.

Indeed three years ago the Los Angeles Times examined Los Angeles County crash data to find that several Beverly Hills intersections were disproportionately dangerous for pedestrians. Even after controlling for traffic volume and traffic speed these ranked among the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles County. The Times identified a ‘cluster of problematic intersections’ around Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire.

LA Times 2015 analysis map BH detail

In 2015 this Los Angeles Times study of crash injuries did Beverly Hills a service: showing where our disproportionately unsafe intersections are located. City Hall has taken no action to improve any of them.

Our police and transportation officials have never released, much less analyzed, geo-located crash data to identify the most problematic areas for pedestrians in Beverly Hills. I’ve never heard this Los Angeles Times study even referenced in any city meeting.

With little attention to the problem, it’s not surprising that our city has made no progress in reducing the number of pedestrian injuries.

Over the period between 2007 and 2017 the number of pedestrian injuries has stayed relatively high. Last year the toll was 59 pedestrians injured; that was only three fewer than the 11-year average (62 injured annually) and down considerably from the 11-year record of 69 pedestrians injured in 2016. As this chart shows, the data may vary year-to-year but the overall trend is flat: there is no progress in reducing the harm.

Pedestrian collision injuries 2007-2017

Pedestrian collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

However the number of pedestrian fatalities has been on the increase. Over the past five years we have seen more annual fatalities and last year two pedestrians were killed in a business district.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Pedestrian fatalities 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 2
Bicyclist fatalities 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Auto occupant fatalities 1 1 0 0 2 2 1 0

Pedestrians are injured and sometimes killed while walking in Beverly Hills because traffic law-breakers get a pass from police. Instead police tend to point to pedestrian behavior and focus one-off enforcement efforts (when they happen) on pedestrian activity rather than, say, the more significant hazards for pedestrians: excessive vehicular speed, red-light violations and reckless driving (all prevalent at all hours of the day).

Bicyclists

Bicyclists also fare poorly in Beverly Hills. Last year’s crash data show that injuries to bicyclists was up nearly 40% from a decade ago. However the injures are fewer than other categories and the data vary year-to-year. For example, last year’s 32 injured bicyclists was down one-third from the 48 injured in 2014 (which was a peak over the 11-year period). Regardless, this chart of annual bicycle injuries shows a clear upward trend over time.

Bicyclist collision injuries 2007-2017

Bicyclist collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

Bicyclist injuries in absolute numbers have come down in recent years, though, and for 2017 bicyclist injuries ran 8% below the 11-year average.  Proportionately speaking, bicyclist crash injuries make up a declining share of all crash injuries, as this chart shows.

Bicyclist collision injuries proportional 2007-2017

Bicyclist collision injuries as a proportion of all injuries for the period 2007-2017.

Still, bicyclists have represented about 9% of all crash injuries on city streets over the 11-year period despite bicycle riders making up less than 1% of all wheeled travelers. That is an over-representation of NINE TIMES (at least) relative to bicyclists’ numbers on the road. To me the suggested rate of injury shows clearly that Beverly Hills are not designed for safe, multimodal mobility.

If street design is a contributing factor to the elevated representation of bicyclist injuries in Beverly Hills, officials might want to identify the hotspots that show the greatest frequency of crash injuries. For example, where are the most dangerous intersections for riders? That’s a question that City Hall has never asked. For those of us who do ask, the police department provides no geo-location data on bike-involved crashes nor discusses primary or contributing factors.

While we don’t have the data necessary to prioritize a fix, I can say confidently that the city has taken no step to reduce the harm generally. We have few on-street bicycle lanes and zero safety signage that would remind drivers that bicyclists may use the entire right-hand lane in most circumstances.

Auto-Occupants

Auto-occupants suffer the most crash injuries due to the high traffic volume on city streets and the prevalence of aggressive driving. The figures should be no surprise: about 3,500 auto-occupants have been injured over the past 11 years (almost one each day including weekends). Why are the best-protected road users, those who  travel in a steel box, so vulnerable?

Because drivers in Beverly Hills ram each other with increasing frequency. Crashes injured an average of 6 auto-occupants each week in 2007 but last year those injuries reached nearly 9 every week. That’s a 35% increase driven by an average annual rise of 5% year-over-year throughout an 11 year period. Indeed the crash data for auto-occupant injuries often shows double-digit gains.

2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Auto occupants 39% -30% 6% 13% 30% 15% -2%

This chart shows the rapid climb in the number of auto-occupant injuries.

Auto-occupant collision injuries 2007-2017

Auto-occupant collision injuries in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

Injuries to auto-occupants have so outpaced other injuries that the category now accounts for 75% of total crash injuries and a whopping 87% of all injuries (among autos, bicyclists and motorcyclists) as this chart shows.

Collision injuries proportionally by mode 2007-2017

Collision injuries in Beverly Hills are shown proportionally by mode (excluding motorcycle riders) for the period 2007-2017.

Indeed 2017 was a near-record-high for auto-occupant injuries: 422 were injured, just below 2016’s record 430 injuries. Not only are auto-injuries trending up, but the increase is accelerating, as this chart shows, despite a marginal decline last year.

Collision injuries for three modes 2007-2017

Collision injuries in Beverly Hills for three modes for the period 2007-2017. Chart by Mark Elliot.

No wonder that the Office of Traffic Safety calls Beverly Hills the most dangerous small city in California for road users! The only category that shows an exceptional decline is hit-and-run crashes. Last year 132 drivers fled the scene compared to a whopping 431 in 2007. That is a 70% decline over the 11-year period as the chart shows.

Hit-and-run collisions 2007-2017

Hit-and-run collisions in Beverly Hills for the period 2007-2017.

The decline in hit-and-run crashes is a head-scratcher. Are just so many fewer drivers fleeing the scene? Has the collection of data for these crashes changed? Could it be because our heavy traffic congestion simply prevents a clean getaway? We can’t know because the monthly data snapshot comes with no additional context.

Step One in Harm Reduction: See the Problem!

BHPD monthly traffic report exampleBeverly Hills Police Department has provided monthly summary crash injury data for the past eleven years. But a tabular data snapshot like the monthly traffic report won’t show context and it cannot reveal trends. It is an exercise in pro forma reporting.

But if we don’t see context we can’t begin to conceptualize the problem (much less formulate policy to address it). Perhaps that’s why our Traffic and Parking Commission could receive these traffic reports every month for eleven years but never ask, not once, Are the trends moving in a positive direction?

More recently, though, commissioners have taken more of an interest in street safety and that is a good thing now that the city is undertaking a complete streets planning process. Indeed participants in public workshop #1 said safety was a top priority and said they were very interested in additional multimodal options.

It is important to understand how policing priorities contribute to the problem of excessive crash injuries, and my next post will look at the precipitous decline in traffic citations over the past eleven years. But I can only infer the correlation between diminished enforcement and the rising number crash injuries because the police department is not likely to help us assess the citation data it provides – much less communicate department enforcement priorities. No city commission exercises oversight of the department or policing priorities, and the department has historically not been interested in sharing.

In summation let me underscore just how many auto-occupant injuries we see and how precipitous has been the recent increase. Here I present again the chart of auto-occupant injuries, but this time I will scale it to be proportional to the two earlier charts showing pedestrian injuries and  cyclist injuries. If we aligned these charts to a common baseline we would see the Y-axis (injuries) is comparable across the three charts. That begins to suggest how steep is the climb in auto injuries relative to other injuries. The takeaway? A steel box will hardly protect us on Beverly Hills streets!

Please download 11 years of monthly BHPD traffic data or see my summary table for an overview of the figures.

Auto-occupant collision injuries i2007-2017 rescaled

Auto-occupant collision injuries in Beverly Hills 2007-2017 re-scaled for parity with the bicyclist and pedestrian injury charts.

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?

Collision Injuries Reach Record-Highs in Beverly Hills in 2016

The holiday season always makes me mindful of the year drawing to a close. It has produced some noteworthy developments, including the involuntary retirement of incumbent councilmember (and bicycle lanes opponent) Nancy Krasne. And the succeeding multimodal-friendly City Counci approved high-visibility bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. Some things don’t improve however: our streets are still hazardous to travelers. Here I look back at last full year of traffic data (2016) to suggest the trends that suggest our city has much more work to do to get us safer streets. Continue reading

Beverly Hills Intersections May be Hazardous to Your Health

Crossing guard on Wilshire at Santa Monica Blvd

The most dangerous intersection for pedestrians in Beverly Hills requires the assistance of a crossing guard with a sign to remind drivers of the law.

To our list of distinguishing features Beverly Hills policymakers can now add another: our intersections rank among LA County’s most dangerous. At least according to a detailed mapping of state injury data by the Los Angeles Times. It mapped intersections where pedestrians were more likely to be injured or killed and found those proximate to the business triangle, and particularly along Santa Monica Boulevard, most dangerous. We hardly need empirical evidence: here you know you’re taking your life into your hands! Continue reading

Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too

strava logoReader Brent Bigler recently forwarded our way a Strava heatmap that shows the frequency of rides through Beverly Hills. Riders use Strava’s mobile app to track rides and training performance. And the data collected by the app in the aggregate is extremely useful to riders and planners alike. Let’s take a closer look at the heatmap and talk with Strava’s data jockey to learn more about what the data mean. Continue reading