Developer’s Rash Tree-Felling Highlights Hazards for Riders (Editorial)

Courier cover November 27th 2015The Beverly Hills Courier, the perennial champion of anti-Metro hyperbole, has rotated its turret toward toxic contamination on Santa Monica Boulevard parcels 12 & 13. Riders know this land for the chain-link fencing and dense tree cover that casts in deep shadow pavement hazards east of Beverly. Well the shadow is no more: the landowner clear-cut the trees on a Saturday morning. But were the required permits secured? Did the city fail to ensure that soil contamination wasn’t disturbed? The incident raises questions not only about City Hall transparency but rider safety on the corridor too.

The Courier has been all over City Hall like a cheap suit since it broke this story in late November: landowner and developer Lyn Konheim felled 196 trees on two parcels without a necessary Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) permit. It’s not the trees per se; the issue goes beyond arbor ardor to instead implicate some violation of the state’s toxic substance control regulations. You see, the land is contaminated with arsenic and major work would disturb the soil. So, is clear-cutting significant enough to warrant a DTSC permit, or does it fall under that threshold as the tree-cutter claims?

Complicating the issue is that a deputy city manager for Beverly Hills apparently sent the landowner a letter, the Courier reports, in which he asked about clearing the site of trees for boulevard construction purposes. And it seems that when the landowner talked with the city about clearing that land, the city didn’t raise an objection – despite the contamination and the required mitigation measures not being in place. (The work was done in short order on a Saturday morning using a regular city contractor.)

DTSC was brought into the discussion but says it understood that the trees would not be removed but merely trimmed; the landowner says they weren’t removed but only reduced to a stump. The city says that in any case it was the landowners responsibility to get it right with DTSC.

(Finger-pointing all around. Notably the city’s webpage set up after the flare-up shares none of the information that could shed light on how the three parties communicated.)

Local residents don’t see it that way. The City knew full well that the parcels are under the control of DTSC yet it allowed the work to proceed, they say. But as often happens in a crisis, Beverly Hills City Hall communicates in measured statements and careful phrasing as the community seethes. As the Courier put it, “The city is closing ranks.”

Perhaps because the Courier has rapped City Hall every week since its story first appeared. In front-page articles, supplemental sidebars and even a handy ‘toxic timeline’ the paper drove home a question central to any decent conspiracy: What did City Hall know, and when did it know it? It’s the kind of muckraking reportage that rarely surfaces in either of our two weekly papers (except perhaps for the Courier publisher’s favored causes, like Bel Aire over-building or BH foot-dragging on the long-awaited dog park).

To its credit, the Courier’s reportage has kindled a latent dietrologia in Beverly Hills that has managed to organize disparate individual gripes into some kind of dyspeptic community chorus. It’s the vox populi calling for policymakers to be put in the stocks.

We are on board with that! Beverly Hills needs some focused public opprobrium. Rare is the policy change that excites the senses (much less garners public scorn or even earns a wagging finger in our local papers). And it’s worse in the land use arena, where plan-busting projects that stink of some kind of ex-parte arrangement rarely elicit political blowback. And that’s just how the establishment likes it.

In fact every two weeks developers and their lobbyists prostrate themselves before the Planning Commission so that commissioners may bless a height greater than what’s allowed by the code; or to approve setbacks smaller than are required; or to permit new uses for longer hours that would seem to stretch to a breaking point any existing conditional use permit. That’s money in the bank!

In fact, so often do our deciders simply rubber-stamp deviations from the General Plan that Councilmember John Mirisch once memorably asked our principal planner during a City Council session: “Is staff a victim of Stockholm syndrome?” We think that a wonderful analogy: the division charged with regulating development instead allies with its captor, the developers, on their mission to reduce to mediocrity our commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods.

This tree-felling imbroglio, however, has struck a chord with the always-vocal north-side homeowners and the condo-dwellers immediately adjacent to these parcels. They’ve lashed out on the Courier’s letters page against all manner of City Hall sleights. We gladly joined-in with our own laundry list of gripes in a letter published December 11th (from which we’ll excerpt very briefly):

Communication is a two-way street, of course, and we-the-people have to make an effort to keep ourselves informed. But when City Hall makes it such a challenge to participate, the inevitable outcome is declining attendance at city meetings; depressed turnout at the polls; and most dangerous, less attention to the people’s business from outside City Hall.

This poses a threat to City Hall legitimacy over the longer term…. Should popular perception shift from everyday questions about City Hall competence to concerns about policymaker integrity, it will be a long climb back to gain the people’s trust. Or has it already slipped away?

 

 Abdicating the Pubic Trust on Safe Streets

From our perspective, trust in city government has eroded most significantly when it comes to City Hall’s responsibility to keep everyone safe on the road. Indeed our policymakers seem simply unconcerned with riders’ safety. And that’s where parcels 12 and 13 catch our attention.

Landowner Lyn Konheim claimed some concern that the trees in question were structurally deficient, and that imminent injury might occur were a tree branch to fall. And that did in fact occur. So the trees were felled. From Konheim’s letter to the Courier (12/4/15):

Recently, a car traveling eastbound on Santa Monica was hit by a falling tree. Fortunately, the driver was not injured. After that occurred, we hired an arborist who evaluated the trees and concluded that the majority of them needed to come down for safety reasons.

That’s fine for a landowner in a pickle to retroactively rationalize the felling of 196 trees for one fallen tree branch. But where has City Hall been when it comes to evaluating the dangers to riders and motorists from falling trees on Santa Monica Boulevard?

The imminent structural failure of the many trees overhanging that boulevard – which actually stand in the city’s right-of-way just behind the fence, not incidentally – should have triggered alarms for city officials. Where were they? It had to take an errant falling branch to spur action?

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one reflect the dangers of riding Santa Monica Boulevard. Here it is heavily shaded with detail teased out in Photoshop.

This only underscores for us the hazards that we riders face every day on Santa Monica Boulevard. From tire-catching grates and potholes to pavement heaves that wouldn’t look out of place on a ski slope, treacherous conditions make the eastern segment a particularly dangerous ride for those on a bicycle.

Worse, such hazards were long shaded by the heavy tree cover, which definitely obstructed rider visibility. Where the pavement is actually most hazardous, speeding traffic and riders are forced together as the roadway narrows.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Pavement heaves and moguls are obscured by shadow and sometimes camouflaged by debris. The city never sweeps this segment of Santa Monica Boulevard!

None of this has elicited any concern from City Hall or the transportation officials who bear responsibility to maintain streets in a safe condition. Neither Community Development Department director Susan Healy Keene nor Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, has ever taken any action to address our stated concerns about boulevard conditions.

Until, of course, a tree branch fell on a motorist’s vehicle. That limb might have injured or killed a bicycle rider. But whatever. Like street safety generally, City Hall prefers to deal with liability later rather than take a proactive measure sooner in order to reduce the potential harm.

Here’s the thing: if it had been a rider who was killed or injured, City Hall might not be in a pickle at all. Those trees would still be standing. And the Courier would be as reticent as ever to bring up street safety as a problem. And no community posse would be marauding with torches calling for officials’ heads. After all it was only a bicycle rider. Her injury or death simply wouldn’t be worthy of much comment at all.

Celebrating Geography Awareness Week, We Look at Some Bike Maps

Existing and Planned lanes leading to Beverly Hills map

Beverly Hills has no plans to meet most of these proposed and existing bike lanes.

To mark the close of Geography Awareness Week (which began Monday) we’re offering a few maps that highlight the varying commitment of local governments to ensuring safe, multimodal mobility.* Each highlights bike lanes and designated bike routes that we know make riding more safe, but also tend to increase the appeal of cycling as a mode of transportation. Let’s start with Beverly Hills as a reference point.

Under a ‘pilot program‘ a couple of years ago, the city striped class II bicycle lanes along several blocks of North Crescent Drive and a few blocks of Burton Way. The city also installed several blocks of shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) south of Burton. But City Council stopped way short of what bike advocates asked for: instead of the five rider-recommended signed and/or protected routes, staff recommended just one of them – and then added a second one which politically was the easiest lift of them all.

Of course, the pilot, by definition, is a temporary program, so the city allowed the paint to fade on these installed lanes and sharrows. And sometimes it simply installed sharrows incorrectly but took months to rectify it.

Here is our map of the two final routes (note that the city produces no bike routes map on its own).

Pilot routes map illustration

Not quite the citywide bicycle network envisioned in our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan!

MUTCD bicycle signs 2014That is the extent of the city’s bike route network! Just two routes – and neither of them highly trafficked or even a key business district street. The irony is that these improvements made little difference in terms of increased safety for riders.

It gets worse. Beverly Hills has hung no share-the-road or may-use-full-lane sign (right); or created a publicity program to remind motorists to look out for riders; nor has it sponsored a bike safety class (or even created a website) for rider safety education. Perhaps that’s why riders flout stop signs, as our policymakers like to remind us when they turn their back on bike-friendly improvements.

Yet other cities do continue to invest in multimodal mobility, and it  does make a difference: streets feel safer to ride and that leads to greater enthusiasm for cycling. These cities reap the benefits. Let’s have a look!

Santa Monica Takes the Lead

City of Santa Monica offers the most pointed contrast. The city has rolled out bike lanes and sharrows like its multimodal transportation policies depends on them. (It does.) Look at this bike map! Beverly Hills riders can only dream of this kind of citywide network.

Santa Monica bike map illustrationNot only does Santa Monica walk the talk, it codified it too in the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – which actually identifies as a policy goal the generation of no new motor trips in the downtown area. To reach that goal, it has been first out of the gate with a bike station, a 500-bike bike-share program, and of course these miles of bicycle lanes and routes. Bravo!

Culver City

Not all cities can have Santa Monica’s mojo. Our neighbor Culver City is a bit slow out of the blocks like Beverly Hills, and it too didn’t immediately embrace bike lanes. But Culver City is a very different city than either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica in that it hardly revolves around its downtown; instead it serves as a crossroads for key arteries like Culver, Washington, Robertson, Jefferson, and Venice boulevards.

Aside from City of LA’s bicycle lane on the north edge, Culver City is not yet well-served by protected facilities like a bicycle lane. But the map suggests that it is beginning to roll out routes along the corridors.

Culver city bike map (2010)

Culver City’s incipient network will prioritize the key through routes.

With so much pass-through traffic, and now an Expo Line station too, policymakers have gotten the message. Former Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells really got it, and she positioned the city to make positive changes to embrace multimodal mobility. That’s another key difference compared to Beverly Hills. The city adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011.

West Hollywood

City of West Hollywood is not only farther along in its bike planning than Beverly Hills or Culver City, it takes the whole concept of multimodal mobility more seriously. City Council some years back formed a bicycle task force to make recommendations about which corridors to prioritize for facilities. And more recently the city undertook a process to update its new mobility plan. So we’re seeing an elaboration of new bike facilities and the beginning of a true citywide network of protected lanes and designated routes.West Hollywood bike map

Burbank and Glendale

Hard up against the Verdugo Mountains, the cities of Burbank and Glendale are well on their way to creating their own citywide bike route networks. Burbank adopted its Bicycle Master Plan in 2011 and appears to be laying the foundation for a citywide network.

Burbank bike mapBut Glendale got the earlier start. In the mid-2000s the city partnered with the LACBC to undertake their Safe and Healthy Streets Plan (2009). Funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under its PLACE Program (Policies for Livable, Active Communities and Environments) the plan anticipated a city where “residents live safer, healthier lives by walking and riding a bicycle for both transportation and recreation.” (Read the Action Plan for more information.)

The plan puts at its center the complete streets vision of transportation “that meets the needs of all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and people of all ages and abilities,” says the plan. (“As well as motor vehicles.”) That philosophy is borne out by its rapidly-expanding citywide network of bicycle routes.Glendale bike map

Given the challenging topography of the City, Glendale is making rapid strides toward knitting together the whole!

So What Does This Comparison Say About Beverly Hills?

Beverly Hills is dead last in the installation of bicycle facilities and it pulls up the rear when it comes to intent to make our streets safer to ride. That’s because Beverly Hills policymakers continue to grasp at auto-era solutions to our post-auto era problems.

Consider congestion. Today, crosstown boulevards handle nearly 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday; and our major intersections can’t handle the capacity we throw at it (most are level-of-service ‘F’). It strains our streets and will only get worse as more intensive development comes tomorrow.

Consider multimodal opportunities. We’re a compact city for the most part. With excellent transit connections. Of course that suggests we shift more trips to transit and bicycles. Yet policymakers stubbornly resist. Our Bicycle Master Plan dates from 1977 and there is no intent to update it. Our transportation officials are largely unacquainted with the new, multimodal thinking, and staff declined to recommend to City Council that we include bicycle lanes when the city reconstructs Santa Monica Boulevard next year. So we won’t be including them.

Consider the potential of the bike-friendly business district. Our small business task force seemed unfamiliar with the concept of ‘bicycle-friendly business district’ when it issued its findings to City Council. No surprise: our city still demands (now discredited) excessive, code-required off-street parking. We simply prey a developer will come along to dig down deep – in the ground and in the pocket – when building anew so we’d get a few additional parking spaces. Spaces that will never satisfy demand, which only increases with our continuing policies that facilitate reliance on the auto.

Beverly Hills has all of the advantages. Our city of 35,000 is the smallest in population and the second-smallest by land area (after Culver City) among the cities we’ve reviewed here.  Off the hills we’re a compact city, and we are not grappling with a challenging periphery (as does Glendale) or a non-grid center city (like Culver City).

And we’ve got the money: Beverly Hills households have the highest median income of all these cities. Led by our ‘golden’ business triangle, we ring up more retail sales than any other city (fully one-third more than runner-up Santa Monica). If we didn’t dump $5 million every year into marketing, why we could have the gold-standard facilities instead of grubbing a few bucks from clean-air grants for fewer than 30 bicycle racks. We clearly have the resources to invest in multimodal mobility but we simply choose not to make the investment.

*City of Los Angeles is the region’s big gorilla, of course, but here we look at smaller cities (populations under 200,000).

Beverly Hills Signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge. Now What?

MayorChallengeSignUpEarlier this year, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation challenged American localities to make travel safer for bicycle riders and pedestrians. In March he invited US mayors to sign on, and Beverly Hills accepted the challenge back in February. But we’ve heard nothing from City Hall about it since then. Is our city doing anything to meet the Mayors’ Challenge for bike-friendly streets?

Back in 2010, then-Secretary of USDOT Ray LaHood issued a policy statement called Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations to support the creation of “convenient, safe, and context-sensitive facilities” on streets to encourage bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages to get out from behind the wheel. Crucially, the emphasis was placed on ensuring safe access to streets for people of all ages and abilities regardless of mode choice. Here is the policy statement section of the document (in full):

The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

The statement departs from age-old USDOT guidance in one important way: it explicitly references alternatives to the automobile. “Transportation programs and facilities should accommodate…people too young to drive, people who cannot drive, and people who choose not to drive.”

Moreover, it encourages local transportation agencies to “plan, fund, and implement improvements…including linkages to transit” that go beyond “minimum requirements.” In spirit it affirms non-motor transportation as an “integral element” of the transportation system. From a department of transportation perspective, that is practically heresy!

Then the statement concludes:

While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.

The policy was a springboard for the department’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative launched in the fall of 2014. The goal: to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety across the country. The initiative was the centerpiece of the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets in DC in March. Read the executive summary.

Mayors’ Challenge

Just as the Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation reminds local agencies of their responsibility to ensure safe access to roadways, USDOT Secretary Foxx’s ‘Mayors’ Challenge’ prods localities and their local agencies to actually commit to taking concrete (pun intended) steps to make streets safe for walking and cycling. Launched on January 22nd, it is a “call to action.” Localities would undertake one or more of the “challenge activities” organized around some aspect of enhanced multimodal mobility:

  • Employ ‘complete streets’ principles in design
  • Identify barriers to access that make streets less safe
  • Gather and track data on biking and walking
  • Deploy contextual street designs that go beyond minimum standards
  • Create and complete pedestrian and bicycle networks
  • Improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations
  • Educate and enforce proper road use behavior

Secretary Foxx would seem to have his work cut out for him in Beverly Hills with his Mayors’ Challenge!

Beverly Hills: ‘Challenged’ Indeed When It Comes to Safe Streets

Beverly Hills was among the first cluster of localities to sign on to the challenge in February. And oddly we find our city in the company of leading bicycle-friendly places like Davis and San Francisco, as well as bike-friendly tony precincts like Santa Barbara and Menlo Park.

Mayors' Challenge cities listWhat do we have in common with them when it comes to mobility? Beverly Hills has not taken any step to make our city more bike-friendly. And frankly our policymakers don’t appear inclined to enact any policy or create any program to support multimodal mobility any time soon.

Indeed we fought tooth-and-nail to keep bicycle lanes off of North Santa Monica Boulevard despite overwhelming support from the public and policy guidance from USDOT (no less) that recommends lanes there. Have a look at the city’s own project renderings for tomorrow’s corridor. You won’t see a bicycle lane or continental crosswalk or any other safe-street facility depicted.

Santa Monica Blvd before and after views (east of Canon Drive)

Before and after views of North Santa Monica Boulevard. After $35 million spent, this corridor will be no more supportive of multimodal mobility than when it was constructed nearly 100 years ago.

The dearth of ‘complete streets’ principles is by design; you won’t find mention of the term in any city document nor will it pass the lips of any official here. (That is, with the notable exception of John Mirisch who, alone on the City Council dais, has consistently supported safe and complete streets.)

Now that former Mayor Lili Bosse signed us up, will we accept the ‘challenge’? We asked transportation planner Martha Eros how our city will proceed on the Mayor’s Challenge. “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements,” she said. We followed up for specifics. “Thank you for your patience,” Martha replied. “I have asked for an update on next steps re. the Mayor’s Challenge and will provide information when received.” There was no follow-up.

This week we made a media inquiry of Beverly Hills City Hall. “Has the city undertaken any of the measures suggested by the challenge?” we asked. “Or taken a step that might reflect the spirit of the challenge, such as addressing the barriers that make streets safe for all road users?” But we received no response.

Clearly the city has not taken the challenge as seriously as have other cities. A search for relevant documents on the city’s website, for example, turned up no documents.

Search returns for Mayor's Challenge on Beverly Hills website

Update: Better Bike received this reply from Public Information Manager Therese Kosterman:

When Councilmember Bosse was mayor, she had a highly successful Walk with the Mayor program that attracted hundreds of participants and highlighted the importance of walking as a part of the complete streets approach to local transportation. In addition the bike share program was approved under her leadership and is still moving forward, even after her term as mayor ended.

We’ll look forward to a complete streets initiative put forth by current mayor Dr. Julian Gold to meet the terms of the challenge.

But Santa Monica Does Take The Challenge Seriously…

Contrast our rhetoric-rich but commitment-phobic approach with that taken by the City of Santa Monica. City Council unanimously supported participation in the Mayors’ Challenge this summer. “We are vitally interested in safe streets,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said. “We want to further to emphasize our commitment to bicycle and pedestrian safety.” Councilmember Pam O’Connor agreed:

We are not backing down from what we want to do with pedestrian & bike safety and multimodal mobility. We need to be aggressive with the goals of vision zero – [that is] no tolerance for any loss of life…and to make our streets work for people of all ages.” – Santa Monica Councilmember Pam O’Connor

It’s fine to talk about embracing the challenge, but tangible action requires resources. Here Santa Monica City Council ponied up by backing Councilmember Gleam Davis’s suggestion for a fully-funded program coordinator. “It’s important that we not only affirm the ideas but make a budgetary commitment in staffing,” she said. And it was done!

The Mayors’ Challenge throws down the gauntlet to participating localities. And some, like Santa Monica, have indeed taken up the challenge. But in other cities, as our own experience suggests, local transportation officials and policymakers too often stand in the way. USDOT Secretary Foxx said as much: “While DOT leads the effort to provide safe and convenient accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, success will ultimately depend on transportation agencies across the country embracing and implementing this policy.” Amen.

Qataris Behaving Badly? Let’s Focus on the Homegrown ‘Sheikhs’

Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari

The infamous Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari as ‘captured’ by Adam Bornstein.

What’s more ridiculous than wasting ink on the now-departed Qatari sheikh who hot-rodded around Beverly Hills this August? The fact that no ink is spilled about everyday reckless driving tolerated by city policymakers and police officials. Forget Mideast sheikhs behaving badly in their Ferraris and such; we’re got a homegrown haute bourgeoisie who feel entitled to spin around at high speeds on quiet residential streets in off-the-shelf sports cars. And they garner nary a glance from the cops. For come sunset, there is no traffic enforcement in Beverly Hills.

When was the last time you read in the local media about reckless driving here in Beverly Hills? You probably never have. And you wouldn’t until, say a Qatari national runs some stops signs in his eye-catching coach. And only then you’ll read about it if it’s captured on video. But get it on tape and you may well hear officials proclaim their “outrage” at such bad behavior. Here’s the new Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti’s statement from his press conference:

The City of Beverly Hills is outraged about recent incidents of reckless driving on our streets. The Police Department has zero tolerance for unsafe driving, which seriously endangers the lives and property of others. Regardless of who you are, who you know or where you are from. The Beverly Hills Police Department has a reputation of applying the law equally. – Dominick Rivetti, BHPD Chief

Now, as far as we recall, this is the first reckless driving press release (let alone a companion standalone press conference) to address the problem.

Yet this department statement packs no fewer than four disingenuous assertions into its first paragraph alone. The first is the “outrage.” Our police department rarely exhibits much concern about reckless driving or the toll taken by crash injuries. Every month, for example, the department dispatches a supervisor to brief the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission on police department performance. But faced with crash figures that won’t decline, everyone seems to collectively shrug. As the numbers are perfunctorily recited there is no outrage nor even a glimmer of curiosity about why crashes happen. Not even the occasional traffic fatality merits “outrage.” It’s business as usual for the commissioners and the cops.

Second, the police department appears to have a very high tolerance indeed for unsafe driving. Stand at any major corner in Beverly Hills and watch as drivers run the red light. It happens at every single change of the traffic signal. We bet that every pedestrian has a story about nearly being struck in a crosswalk as a car (or three)  plow through well after the red.

After a few near-death experiences of our own we communicated to City Council actual “outrage” about the dangers we face as pedestrians. But we never even received a response. Here’s an excerpt:

While walking home with an armful of groceries tonight at 6:10 I was nearly struck by an westbound driver running the red light at the Wilshire-Canon intersection. I was midway across the curb lane at this signalized intersection, having stepped off the north curb well into my green signal. Suddenly a driver passed though and swerved into the #1 lane to avoid me. I’d earlier discussed with councilmember Krasne the hazards at this very intersection after a similar close call. In both cases, it occurred on a weekday at about 6pm and the near-miss margin was about a foot or so. (Read more)

And third, Beverly Hills is all about who you know and where you are from. Read our local newspapers; they’re all about mapping the social networks that prop up the husbanding of privilege by the boldface names in our small town. Moreover, whatever your problem you are more likely to garner officials’ attention if you live north of Santa Monica Boulevard and come to them with a #NorthOfSantaMonica problem.

And last, I don’t think that Beverly Hills Police Department can seriously claim a reputation for an equitable application of the law. While the cops recently took flak for detaining in handcuffs an African-American man for six hours because, as a spokesman said, “he fit the description” of a suspect, things have improved. But Throughout the 1990s the department faced lawsuits over pretext stops of African-American and Latino drivers. One was a state senator; others were lower-profile. To settled one suit the city established a Human Relations Commission to receive complaints. As always, “The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience” as the spokesman says.

Reckless Driving Gets a Pass

It seems like reckless driving and excessive speeding simply get a pass in Beverly Hills. It is viewed by policymakers, police officials and the media alike as akin to the air that we breathe: so ordinary as to demand no particular comment. You won’t find a word about it (or street safety more broadly) in either of our two local weekly papers. It’s as if we simply gave up the fight for safe streets!

For example, when the Traffic and Parking Commission receives each month the most recent crash injury and citation stats from BHPD, no commissioner follows up with a comment on, or question about, the continuing toll taken by crashes. None asks, How are crash injuries trending? Where are we relative to last year? Are we making progress?

Fatalities in Beverly Hills highlighted in a table of crash injuries January to August 2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

This year to date, our small city where 35-mph and 25-mph speed limits is the rule witnessed no fewer than two auto-occupant crash deaths (one each in May and June) and in August a pedestrian lost his life in a fatal hit-and-run on Crescent (just a block from City Hall). But no commissioner has asked what can be done to mitigate the harm of 435 crash injuries or the 146 (!) hit-and-runs logged by police in 2014. Instead this commission (as always) is more focused on parking permits and tour buses.

Table of cyclist injuries in Beverly Hills 2008-2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)You’ll never hear the Traffic and Parking Commissioner Chair Lester Friedman ask about the 48 injured cyclists who last year filed a police report, or wonder whether the number of cyclist injuries is on the increase. (It is.)

It is not that nobody is talking about it. We’ve appeared before the commission several times to draw attention to the magnitude of the harm. We’ve even aggregated seven years of BHPD data and analyzed the trends because no city staffer ever has. But nobody has come calling for the analysis.

Call it willful disinterest: neither City Hall nor the media seem much interested in this story unless a Qatari is behind the wheel. While cities around Beverly Hills make ‘safe streets’ a rhetorical objective if not a policy pivot, here in Beverly Hills the silence about the harm inflicted by reckless drivers is deafening.

Faded crosswalks at Wilshire and SM Blvd in 2015

It is not only reckless driving that gets a pass. Degraded facilities like these faded crosswalks at Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard only increase the danger for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. This is one of the region’s worst intersections for safety, according to the Los Angles Times. Yet the city is in no hurry to repair it.

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Los Angeles intersectionToday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)

We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.

This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.

Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).

“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.

Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.

Our Reply to Mr. Feldman

To the Editor:

In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.

Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.

We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners  150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.

As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.

And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?

I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.

Hazardous Intersections That Need a Safety Upgrade TODAY

Crossing guard on Wilshire at Santa Monica Blvd

According to BHPD, at this 9th most dangerous intersection in Beverly Hills you take your life into your hands. Better to cross with a crossing guard!

A couple of weeks ago we reported on a genius LA Times interactive called Walking in L.A. that mapped 817 of the “most dangerous” intersections in the county. As we noted with no surprise, several of most dangerous county intersections (and clusters) are right here in Beverly Hills. Despite the long histories of crashes, not one of them has been made more safe. City of Los Angeles several years ago acknowledged the problem, though, with a plan to stripe 53 problematic crossings for high visibility. Three years later, KPCC asks listeners, Are there others in need of a fix?

First, more about the harm. “Los Angeles has a higher rate of car accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists than the rest of the nation,” KPCC says of the crash data. How big is the disparity? Over a seven-year period ending in 2009, pedestrian fatalities accounted for 11% percent of all national traffic fatalities; bicyclists represented another 1.7% (which is disproportionately high given low rates of cycling). But in Los Angeles, according to a study by the University of Michigan, pedestrians accounted for a whopping one-third of traffic fatalities during that period. That’s three times the national rate. And 3% of fatalities were bicyclists, which nearly doubles the national rate.

Why the disproportionately-high fatality rates? Clearly something needs to be done to improve street safety in the metro area. For decades riders’ advocates had complained that negligence by local governments threatened public health. And nearly ten years ago some crafty DIY engineers took it upon themselves to stripe a faux bicycle lane on a Los Angeles River bridge. In the meanwhile the fatalities piled up.

Then something of a fix. Three years ago, Los Angeles identified 53 intersections for a safety upgrade: these selected intersections would be striped with highly-visible ‘continental’ crosswalks. Call it a first step toward the city’s new Vision Zero policy. “No level of fatality on city streets is inevitable or acceptable,” the city says in its program description. “Vision Zero Action Plan is the City’s foundation for ending traffic deaths and injuries on our streets.”

Los Angeles is following the Big Apple’s lead. Under Bloomberg’s transportation chief, Janette Sadik-Kahn, the city’s approach to street safety shifted. For the first time, really, transportation officials mandated planning for all road users…at least in high-profile city precincts like Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The program marks a break for Los Angeles. It was the first acknowledgment that traffic officials needed to take a systematic approach to ensuring street safety, beginning with engineering. Merely widening streets would no longer cut it; the city mandated that for years but in hindsight it only increased traffic speeds and volume.

The humble crosswalk would seem a small fix; low-hanging fruit perhaps. After all, we’re talking about thermoplastic on pavement. But a key federal study shows that crosswalks like the ‘continental’ are more visible to drives at all hours. They make crossing safer for pedestrians.

Now the map. Consider LA’s 53 intersections chosen for ‘continental’ crosswalks the ‘green shoots’ of improved street safety. KPCC’s interactive ‘Dangerous Intersections in Los Angeles‘ maps them:

KPCC Dangerous Intersections interactive map for greater LA

City of Los Angeles intersections identified for crosswalk upgrades.

Of course, 53 intersections is a mere drop in the bucket; they’re spread rather thinly across a city of 460+ square miles. So KPCC invites visitors to add problem intersections to the map. When we first saw it there were a few user-added intersections in Beverly Hills already (including the notorious Wilshire-Santa Monica deathtrap). But these few hardly get at our intersection safety problem. (Where Los Angeles struggled with fatalities, in Beverly Hills the incidence of injury is much more prevalent.)

KPCC Dangerous Intersections interactive map Beverly Hills section

User-added intersections in Beverly Hills haven’t caught up to the real-life hazards!

But there intersections more injurious to health then those few mapped in Beverly Hills, so we’re adding our own to the KPCC map. How did we decide which Beverly Hills intersections warranted the red flag? We turned to the data generated by our own Beverly Hills Police Department. In a review of crashes in the city between January and September (inclusive) in 2014 we see ten of the worst intersections emerge. These showed the highest number of crash calls to BHPD.

BHPD crash data report for Q1-Q3 of 2014

Reported crashes at ten Beverly Hills intersection according to police (page 1 shown). As provided in response to a public information act request, it’s not even machine-readable.

We obtained the data report through an information request when we saw the findings referenced in a brief police statement. We counted the reported crashes and ordered the intersections from worst to not-as-worse.

Intersection Crashes
Wilshire & La Cienega 45
North SM Blvd & Wilshire 34
Olympic & Beverly Dr. 27
Wilshire & Robertson 26
South SM Blvd & Beverly dr. 18
Wilshire & Beverly Dr. 18
North SM blvd & Bedford 17
North SM Blvd & Beverly Dr. 13
South SM Blvd & Wilshire 9
South SM Blvd & Bedford 6

Here’s what every city transportation official should see every time they boot up the office computer. And Traffic and Parking commissioners should receive a map like this along with the BHPD crash injury data every month. But they don’t, of course. So it’s business as usual. To nobody’s surprise, the rate of crashes and injuries fails to decline year after year.

Worst ten Beverly Hills intersections by 2009 crash frequency mapped

If Los Angeles Can Do It…

If Los Angeles can do It, so can Beverly Hills, right? A crosswalk upgrade is just a first step. ‘Vision Zero’ implicates other changes too, like a reduction in the number of travel lanes (aka ‘road diet’) as well ensuring that engineers and law enforcement reduce prevailing traffic speed. It will take a shift in the professional and political culture in order to begin to value street safety in practice – and not just rhetorically.

Sunset and Crescent Heights crosswalks

Witness this sorry intersection at Sunset and Crescent Heights. Safety-wise, the continental striping is all it has going for it!

We aren’t even close to that culture change in Beverly Hills. For example, the baby step of continental crosswalks has not even been undertaken by the city for these problem intersections. (Only the business triangle and civic center have gotten this kind of pedestrian upgrade. The rest of the city’s designated pedestrian zone is still stuck with faded old-style transverse crosswalks.)

And it’s worse for riders. We mix it up with the motor traffic daily, yet the city has never upgraded any intersection for bicyclists. And that’s despite our hounding of City Hall for five years! Do your fellow riders a favor: call City Hall and ask about street safety. Report a problem Beverly Hills intersection. And pin it to the KPCC map!

And remember: never say ‘accident’ when it comes to a crash. Very few are accidents; most involve carelessness or negligence (or worse). Per New York’s Vision Zero policy statement: “The City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents,’ but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed.” Are you listening KPCC?

* Remember that the crash data reflect only a subset of all incidents. And probably a small subset! Drivers may choose to exchange information without a call to police, for example, while riders or walkers, injured or not, may simply choose to go on their way rather than file a report.

Construction Mitigation in Beverly Hills #FAILS Riders

You’re riding westbound on North Santa Monica Boulevard. You’ve made it though the dreaded SM-Wilshire intersection and you’re waiting to pick up the bicycle lane in Century City. You’re in the right-hand lane with a line of cars queued behind you waiting to pass. But you’re in a substandard-width lane up against a solid wall of K-rail to your right and speeding vehicular traffic to the left. You’re desperate for relief but far from the promised land: your own patch of blacktop granted by a bicycle lane. It’s a gantlet with no escape for the remainder of this corridor while you’re in Beverly Hills.

Santa Monica Blvd at Hilton construction: no mitigation for riders!

Santa Monica Blvd during construction: the gantlet that offers no refuge for riders!

This is a dangerous situation for anyone who chooses to ride a bicycle across the Westside. But especially so for less-experienced riders. It shouldn’t exist because there is a  toolbox full of traffic safety mitigation measures that can be deployed to protect bicycle riders in this very situation. These include ‘may take full lane’ signage; detour routes; temporary lanes or paths.

None of these find a place in City of Beverly Hills. Indeed the city has taken no action to make passage safe for riders while this major  Waldorf Hotel project is underway. Not only will these conditions endure for the remainder of construction; they will be the norm through 2017 once the city begins to reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard.

Yet the cyclist-specific mitigation measures in temporary traffic control (TTC) zones are there for the taking. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices should be the first place our transportation officials turn for help. Why doesn’t the city stipulate such measures to make multimodal access safe? Because no law requires Beverly Hills to mandate those measures. In this city, riders are an afterthought. And the insult added to the inevitable injuries is that our own city plans call for encouraging, not discouraging, people to ride a bicycle.

The State’s Commitment to Safe, Multimodal Access

The state’s department of transportation is actually sensitive to such concerns. Caltrans has internalized ‘complete streets’ principles* since at least 2009 and includes them safety in state roadways planning and construction guidance. Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 (newly revised) calls on both state and local agencies to ensure our safety “beginning early in system planning and continuing through project delivery and maintenance and operations.” The deputy directive continues:

Caltrans views all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in California and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system…. The intent of this directive is to ensure that travelers of all ages and abilities can move safely and efficiently along and across a network of ‘complete streets.’ – Deputy Directive DD-64-R2 *

In the directive, the agency reminds local agencies that they “have the duty to provide for the safety and mobility needs of all” and goes on to outline specific responsibilities:

  • …establish processes to identify and address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users early and continuously throughout planning and project development activities;
  • …ensure regular maintenance and operations activities meet the safety and mobility needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in construction and maintenance work zones…;
  • Implement current design standards that meet the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users in design, construction and maintenance work zones….; and
  • Provide guidance on project design, operation, and maintenance of work zones to safely accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.

The Federal Government’s Commitment

The federal highway association is also quite clear on its own responsibility to make streets safe during construction. “Bicyclists and pedestrians, including those with disabilities, should be provided with access and reasonably safe passage through the TTC zone,” the FHWA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices says (in section 6B Fundamental Principles of Temporary Traffic Control). The standard according to FHWA:

The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel…through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. – FHWA

To that end, FHWA too urges specific measures for temporary traffic control zones. The objective? To guide “in a clear and positive manner” we riders as we approach, and traverse, construction zones. Here are some of the recommended measures:

  • A travel route that replicates the most desirable characteristics of a wide paved shoulder or bikeway through or around the TTC zone is desirable for bicyclists.
  • If the TTC zone interrupts the continuity of an existing bikeway system, signs directing bicyclists through or around the zone and back to the bikeway is desirable.
  • Unless a separate bike path through or around the TTC zone is provided, adequate roadway lane width to allow bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side through or around the TTC zone is desirable. (6D.101CA Bicycle Considerations)
  • When the roadway width is inadequate for allowing bicyclists and motor vehicles to travel side by side, warning signs should be used to advise motorists of the presence of bicyclists in the travel way lanes
  • The use of highly-visible florescent green signage is allowed in temporary traffic control zones.

The MUTCD reminds the officials who manage construction zones: “The most important duty of these individuals should be to check that all TTC devices of the project are consistent with the TTC plan and are effective for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and workers.”

But Beverly Hills Drops the Ball on Safety for Riders

Despite the state and federal departments of transportation guidance, our city routinely #FAILS riders because our transportation officials turn away from their responsibilities.

That includes the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission, which enjoys a remit to “act as an advisory agency to the council in all matters which relate to parking and traffic.” Not so for traffic mitigation for multimodal users! We recently reminded the Traffic and Parking Commission about the toolbox of available mitigation measures, but our commissioners seemed unconcerned. Over several meetings they discussed Santa Monica Boulevard mitigation and yet didn’t acknowledge the need for rider safety.

For a taste of how staff regard riders’ needs, simply scroll down to the exchange with Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation.

Frying Pan into the Fire!

Santa Monica Boulevard riders are about to go from the frying pan into the fire! For if you think negotiating this corridor with substandard-width lanes and potholes and sewer grates is a hassle today, just wait until construction vehicles begin to use the eastbound #2 lane to access a new project staging area on the now-vacant T-1 zone properties at 9900 North Santa Monica Boulevard (southwest of Wilshire & Santa Monica). Here it is on a map:

9900 Wilshire Boulevard T1 zone map

Space for nearly 100 construction vehicles accessed via three SM Blvd curb cuts and not one safety sign for riders to be seen!

Beverly Hills just amended regulations to allow at that location access for staging and construction “without limitation,” including the “parking of delivery and heavy construction vehicles.” And for a period of five years no less. So expect to share the right-hand eastbound lane with heavy-haulers and the up to 91 construction-related vehicles that can use the lot at any one time. Helpfully, “easy ingress and egress” is provided via the same right-hand lane that riders share with trucks, buses and about 50,000 vehicles every day.

The obvious question: How would the city ensure that these construction-related vehicles don’t increase the danger to riders? Turns out it was a question never asked. The benefits to the city were clearly spelled out: less disruption of the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s parking and overall operations; improved construction efficiency; and minimized visibility of construction worker activity around the immediate work area. To our reading that’s a substantial benefit (including cost-savings) to the developer.

What’s in it for rider safety? Nothing. You see it was up to Community Development Department director Susan Healy-Keene to attach appropriate ‘conditions’ to the Development Plan Review permit. But there is none: “buffers and landscaping” will insulate the area from adverse impacts. And while pedestrian concerns are accommodated, there is not a single mention of how this heavy traffic will affect those who ride a bicycle. But that’s no oversight: the agreement discusses landscaping, lighting, portable restrooms and even a prohibition on food trucks. Riders come away empty handed.

But in Beverly Hills one always wants to hold out hope! The final condition of the 9900 Wilshire Development Plan Review document states:

The Director of Community Development reserves the power and right to impose additional conditions and/or restrictions upon this approval if the Director of Community Development or his/her designee determines that the site is being operated in a manner that causes a traffic, safety, noise, dust, light, or any other impact that interferes with the quiet enjoyment of nearby properties and that the existing conditions of approval are inadequate to halt the interference. – Development Plan Review condition #17

We’ll hold our breath. Healy-Keene has proven herself to be no friend of multimodal transportation. Her Community Development Department worked against bicycle lanes for Santa Monica and has shown no concern for an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. So we’re not surprised that the development plan review process here didn’t take into account our needs.

Playing Rope-a-Dope With Safety Advocates?

It’s difficult to square the federal and state policy guidance with the near-total abdication of responsibility for rider safety along this corridor and elsewhere in the city. Surely someone has stepped up to ask why we can’t do better. Behold the following exchange that unfolded over nearly six months about making this corridor safe during construction.

Since January we repeatedly brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, the dangerous situation adjacent to the Waldorf project. But he’s given us the runaround time and again. Back in January we first inquired.

I anticipate that Council gave the OK to the text amendment for the 9900 Wilshire T-zone. On that assumption, I’m wondering if your department has any plan to facilitate safe bike travel across Santa Monica Boulevard eastbound for the duration of the construction period. This is a particular concern given the routing of truck traffic as described in the staff report… [yet] there is no mention of cyclists who today use North SM as a crosstown route. There are three curb cuts proposed for NSM and both ingress and egress is planned to/from that corridor. — To Aaron via email on January 7, 2015

To that we did suggest as an option detouring riders from North Santa Monica to the southern roadway (as mentioned in FHWA guidance) provided the right-hand lane on that other corridor is designated as an alternate route and marked with sharrows and/or appropriate signage. Aaron’s response:

I will follow up with the project’s traffic engineer (they contracted with Fehr & Peers). We have discussed signage for bicyclists and that using South SM Blvd. is the best solution. — Aaron in reply on January 9, 2015

Seeing no change, we followed up three weeks later.

Can I follow up with you on this T-zone safety issue to find out what arrangements the city will put in place for cyclists? — To Aaron via email on January 29, 2015

From Aaron in response:

Yes, of course. Fehr & Peers is making the arrangements (they were retained by the developer). We’re waiting to hear back from them. I just inquired about the status. — Aaron in reply on January 29, 2015

Dropping the ball, we then picked it up some months later:

Re: traffic mitigation measures for cyclists now that construction at SM/Wilshire has started, it’s more dangerous than ever for riders. And the restriped intersection (the striped triangle WB) affords no place for riders to queue. Perhaps the city cam [sic] post appropriate safety signage (“may use full lane” is MUTCD approved) on NSM in both directions – as LA did in Century city EB during construction there. — To Aaron via email [date N/A]

He replied:

I’m following up on the status of signage impacts related to the current construction project. — Aaron in reply on June 2, 2015

We asked to clarify:

Do you mean adding signage to the passage between Wilshire & Moreno on NSM? Signage and sharrows might be appropriate and perhaps beginning east of the intersection with appropriate markings through it. It’s a key regional corridor; the more conspicuous the guidance the better. — To Aaron via email on June 6, 2015

Always a prompt responder, Aaron then replied:

I will follow up with development services about the signage for the Waldorf Astoria construction. I recall Fehr & Peers recommended signage that would advise cyclists using alternative routes for construction, with the primary option being South Santa Monica for the section between Wilshire and Moreno. — Aaron in reply on June 8, 2015

We followed up to note that there are measures available besides hanging a sign:

Both the Hilton [now Waldorf] and the SMB projects suggest the same safety concerns and indeed are likely to present very similar (if not the same) mitigation challenges. Beyond signage, there are measures like sharrows and even temporary segregated bike lanes that should be in the toolbox. From the riders’ perspective, the absolute worst thing is being thrown into with angry drivers on streets without protections or refuge. — To Aaron via email on June 8, 2015

For good measure we added, “It probably goes without saying that the more folks we can encourage into the saddle – like our plans recommend – the less congestion we have to accommodate. Has there been any discussion of messaging to that effect? Isn’t it an opportune time to get people on a bicycle?” But we heard nothing back.

We then followed up a couple of weeks later (approaching six months after we first raised the traffic mitigation issue):

Re: Hilton mitigation, you had mentioned signage and possibly an alt route for the Hilton construction. As I mentioned to TPC in my correspondence, there are a number of measures that can be taken beyond simply directing riders to an alternate route. What would the next steps be, and when might they be taken? — To Aaron via email on June 24, 2015

He replied:

Our building department is evaluating your suggestions for bicycles during construction of the Waldorf. We’re also checking on applicable signage. Am hoping to get an update within the next couple of weeks. — Aaron in reply on June 25, 2015

Sensing we’re getting nowhere with the promised ‘update’ that never arrives, we focused in on the problem:

As far as I’m aware today cyclists have full access to the SM Blvd construction corridor west of Wilshire. Yet there is no shoulder, and the right lane in either direction adjacent to the Hilton property is of substandard width. You suggest it remain without signage to alert motorists to the lawful presence of cyclists for a few more weeks? Why can’t the appropriate signage be posted *today* on this key regional corridor? — To Aaron via email on June 26, 2015

No response came back. We followed up.

Just so this doesn’t slip from the to-do list, I hope you’ll hear back from Fehr & Peers shortly about mitigation measures to make SM Blvd / Hilton transit safe for riders for the duration of construction. I had a look back at my emails and see we’ve been discussing this problem (for cyclists) since January – coming up on six months – and asking F&P was the next step then. Can you give me an idea of when you might have something to share — To Aaron via email on July 1, 2015

After than it’s just crickets until we try again. We call that approach to safety problem-solving ‘rope-a-dope.’

What Does This Portend for North Santa Monica Reconstruction?

We’ve asked time and again how the city and its consultants would mitigate the safety impacts arising from construction-related detours, lane closings and narrowed lanes on the reconstruction project but again came away empty-handed. (We brought it to the attention of City Council as recently as yesterday.)

Then just last month came this statement from Aaron Kunz:

For the NSMB reconstruction project we have instructed the consultant team to include mitigation/signage for cyclists in the traffic mitigation plan. Right now we’re working on the requirements that will be included in the construction bidding process and a public outreach program. — Aaron in reply on June 2

Well we’ll see if that ever comes to fruition. You can be we’ll be on hand to raise the issue in community meetings about mitigation, but we can’t force our officials to meet their safety responsibilities. Nevertheless we’ll be following up. And following up. And following up.

*The Complete Street according to Caltrans: “A transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists appropriate to the function and context of the facility.”

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!

You know it by the seat of your pants so to speak: you’re in a losing battling with motorists when you ride a bicycle across North Santa Monica Boulevard at Wilshire. It’s one of the worst intersections in Beverly Hills. That it’s a gantlet for riders is no accident, however; that’s by design. The intent here is to maximize the throughput of vehicles. And despite that effort, this juncture retains its LOS grade of ‘F.’ It cannot accommodate traffic demand given its vehicular capacity. In fact, our city steadfastly refuses to re-stripe this intersection to facilitate safe passage for those on a bicycle. You can see here the poor rider has no guidance through a nightmare:

no pavement markings at Santa Monica Blvd at Wilshire

Only road warriors should cross the Wilshire – North Santa Monica Boulevard intersection. It’s designed to fail all users, but the most experienced at least have a fighting chance.

As a pedestrian, too, you know you’ve entered the danger zone because simply crossing either North or South Santa Monica at Wilshire begs the assistance of a crossing guard. That’s because because no crossing here has been improved. The highly-visible ‘continental’ style crosswalks used in other cities simply find no home here.

Wilshire-Santa Monica intersections unimproved

Intersections in need of an upgrade! Wilshire – Santa Monica just begs for highly-visible ‘continental’ style crosswalks like our neighbors in Los Angeles and West Hollywood enjoy.

The city’s failure to improve these intersections for both riders and walkers despite clearly dangerous conditions is evidence enough of official disregard and indeed negligence. yet the legacy of harm here has never been addressed by the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission. Every month commissioners receive the tally of rider, pedestrian and auto-involved collision injuries in the city. But seldom do they ask a question like, “Where are these crash injuries happening exactly, and what can we do to prevent them?” Instead the commission busies itself with parking districts and valets.

Should officials want actual empirical data, though, they can just turn to the LA Times, which has examined crash data as part of its focus on street safety. Contrast that with the reticence of the two Beverly Hills newspapers (the Weekly and the Courier) which hasn’t the gumption evidently to touch a topic like street safety (despite our entreaties).

The Analysis

The Times analysis looked beyond the top-line numbers (total reported collisions per intersection) to identify intersections that are not only dangerous in absolute numbers of crashes but disproportionately dangerous for pedestrians relative to intersections across the county. The Times called these “statistically dangerous” because they emerged in the analysis as outliers.

The analysis began with crossings where more than ten pedestrian-involved collisions occurred over the eleven-year period (583 in total). That was an indication of frequency. Then the analysis identified intersections where pedestrians were involved at a disproportionately-high rate. For example, the Times found 309 intersections with just three incidents but all of them involved pedestrians. That suggested conditions particularly unsafe for walkers (if not for motorists). And of course the analysis looked for fatalities as an indication of extreme danger: the places where a pedestrian if hit was more likely to be mortally injured.

The Times then mapped those 817 “statistically dangerous” intersections (out of 25,821 total that registered a crash in LA County). “More than 15% of all pedestrians accidents occurred at or near these locations” over the eleven year period examined, says the Times.

But the analysis went further to include intersections with at least one pedestrian-involved collision. While not of high frequency, when mapped these could suggest problem corridors or danger hotspots.

Then the “statistically dangerous” intersections were layered atop a heatmap that illustrated the degree to which intersections departed from the mean in terms of overall hazard. So the map shows specific outlier intersections; danger hotspots; and then problematic corridor segments and clusters that should warrant attention from policymakers and transportation planners.

What did the LA Times find? To nobody’s surprise, perhaps, Beverly Hills is distinguished by the Times analysis of local collision data as home to no fewer than six of the 817 “problematic intersections” County-wide. (These outliers themselves constitute just one-third of one percent of all intersections that counted at least one crash during the study period, and Beverly Hills is home to six of them!)LA Times analysis spreadsheet

Beverly Hills: The Problematic Intersection Outlier

LA Times dangerous intersections map: Wilshire at South Santa Monica

Faded crosswalks throughout the city only add to the pedestrian’s safety concerns.

The analysis identifies a Wilshire – Santa Monica cluster of intersections as among the most dangerous in the County, with the Wilshire – South Santa Monica crossing in particular as one most dangerous for pedestrians. At this crossing, one-third of all collisions involved a pedestrian. That’s in the top half of all problematic intersections according to the Times analysis.

(More incredibly, in one-fifth of the total crashes here, the culprit hit-and-run. Keep in mind that this is no rural road; Beverly Hills congestion ensures that someone fleeing the crime might not get far. Still they run.)

Why is this intersection so “problematic” for pedestrians? Perhaps the perennially-faded crosswalk markings here (at right) contribute to the safety problem. The city will go years without repainting the markings and for some unknown reason won’t use thermoplastic for enhanced durability.

LA-Times-ped-injury-heatmap-Wilshire-SMFurther down the South Santa Monica corridor is the city’s third most dangerous intersection. At Bedford nearly half of all collisions involved a pedestrian. The LA Times analysis ranks this one in the top quintile (20%) of outlier intersections for its overall hazard.

The North Santa Monica corridor emerges as a problematic corridor in the analysis too. And it is not just the Wilshire intersection (at right), which, like the adjacent South Santa Monica crossing, is also poorly-marked. (Nearly one-quarter of all collisions here involved a pedestrian.)

No, this intersection is part of a problem corridor according to the Times analysis. Farther east, between Bedford and Canon, where tourists tread, the data show a string of lower-frequency but “statistically dangerous” crossings (per the analysis) that create a kind of linear cluster of harm-causing intersections.

What Should City Officials Take From This Analysis?

The prevalence of problematic intersections throughout the city should be instructive for Beverly Hills officials: fix these crossings before more walkers and cyclists get hurt. Yet the city, armed with the same data – the data generated by our own police department it’s worth pointing out – has taken no action. In fact, North Santa Monica Boulevard is in the exact condition in which we received it ten years ago from state control (along with a pot of millions in fix-it funds we never spent).

If you think the city disregards the safety of cyclists, consider how they’re putting in danger the many tourists who cross between the business triangle and Beverly Gardens Park to have their picture made with the famous sign.

AKA Hotel proximate collisions map

When the AKA hotel announced its own bike-sharing amenity for guests, we had a feeling it was smack in the center of a cluster of bike-involved collisions. So we mapped it!

And looking ahead to bike-share operating in Beverly Hills by the end of the year, we will also see many two-wheeled tourists attempting to navigate these same dangerous crossings. We mapped past reported bike injury collisions for a one-year period a couple of years ago when one of our hotels inaugurated its own bike-share amenity. The findings weren’t good!

So no wonder City Council is concerned with city liability: if you don’t fix street hazards, just be sure you’re insulated from the harm generated by them. That seems to be the prevailing view in City Hall.

Most frustrating is the way the city puts in harm’s way a defenseless pedestrian. Consider the city’s designated ‘pedestrian-oriented area.’ The LA Times map shows that three “statistically dangerous” intersections (Brighton Way at both Beverly Drive and Bedford, and Roxbury Drive and Wilshire) lay within the pedestrian area. Add in the three other danger hotspots (near Wilshire & Beverly Drive) and you have a cluster of probable harm.

LA Times analysis pedestrian with district map overlaidThe city will get right on this, right? Our transportation planner has probably already looked at locations where collisions most often occur and focused remedial attention on the hazards. Wrong. The city will likely take no significant step to address these issues. We know one well-intentioned stakeholder who has begged the city to address the intersection at Beverly Drive & Olympic for two decades because of a high incidence of car crashes there. But there’s been no indication from City Hall that the city will ever reconfigure it. Two decades and no action!

Former Mayor Lili Bosse recently signed-on our city to the US DOT’s Mayor’s Challenge to improve street safety. Does that augur some positive action? We’re not optimistic: when we asked what the city might do to meet the challenge, we received this anodyne boilerplate: “Transportation Planning will work closely with our Policy & Management team to clarify and identify future goals and strategies for citywide improvements.”

I know I’ll rest easier knowing that City Hall is doing all it can to make streets safe for walkers and riders!

Is a Mandatory Bike Helmet Law the Answer?

State Senator Carol LiuState Senator Carol Liu recently introduced a bill that would require every bike rider regardless of age to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Though a well-intentioned safety measure, SB 192 and its helmet mandate has spurred a backlash among some riders and several established statewide bike advocacy organizations. Why the opposition? Why not mandate helmets for adults?

On first look, helmets can only increase safety by wrapping the noggin in plastic. So it might seem like a common-sense safety measure to require riders to wear them. Accordingly, SB 192, if it became law, would “require every person, regardless of age, to wear a bicycle helmet when operating a bicycle… [and] require a person engaged in these activities in the darkness to wear retroreflective high-visibility safety apparel….”

Proponents argue that if all riders wear a helmet, we could reduce the too-high incidence of bike-related crash fatalities that can surpass 150 (statewide) on a particularly bad year. Of course, even one crash fatality is too high, we believe, but is a mandatory helmet law the means to getting to vision zero? After all, if children benefit from head protection (as required under existing law) shouldn’t adults benefit too?

Of course it’s not that straightforward. In fact, the California Bicycle Coalition says that this bill “sends the wrong message about bicycling” and the mandatory use of helmets would “discourage bicycling.” The bill, they note, makes it a ‘crime’ to violate the provisions. Is it appropriate to criminalize helmet-less riding when so much more threatening driver misbehavior goes unpunished every day? From their call to action:

There are proven ways to make our streets safer while encouraging bicycling — reducing speed limits on key streets, building protected bike lanes and bike paths, and educating motorists and bicyclists on how to drive or ride safely, to name a few. A mandatory helmet law is not one of them.

It’s not helmets per se that has advocates so exercised, as many riders already wear them. Nor is it the proposed $25 fine that goes with the misdemeanor citation. That’s a relative pittance compared to running a stop sign, say, which many riders despite the possible penalty of $300 (or much more with court costs) and license points. Even the bill’s nighttime reflective clothing requirement isn’t a deal-breaker as many riders already take measures to increase their visibility. (Reminder: state law requires a headlight and side reflectors.)

No, behind the opposition to this bill is concern that other crash factors are far more important to rider safety than a plastic helmet. For example. speed kills, we’re told by law enforcement. In any collision, the chance for injury and death actually outpaces the increase in vehicular speed. So nobody should be surprised that on wide streets that are seemingly designed for vehicular speeding, riders do die with much greater frequency than they do in areas (like Beverly Hills) where congestion, say, might keep a lid on speed. Those wide streets are dangerous by design, according to a report by that name from Transportation for America, and that there is an opportunity for lawmakers to take the initiative.

Reduced speed limits for motor vehicles increase bicycling in two ways: by increasing the speed of bicycling relative to the speed of driving, and by increasing the safety of bicycling. Most studies, though not all, show an increase in bicycling with lower automobile speed limits. per purcher infra programs paper

Then there’s the paucity of safe bike-friendly improvements. Here in Beverly Hills, despite our congestion and relatively high crash injury rate, only two streets boast a bicycle lane that separates riders from motor traffic: Burton Way and North Crescent. And each includes just a few blocks of lanes. We’ve got some sharrows on Crescent too, but riders lived with poorly-placed sharrows there that guided us right into the scrum of fast-moving motor traffic. (It took us six months of prodding to get the city to fix it.)

Bicycle lanes and even safety signage could really address the threat of harm on our most congested crosstown corridors. And for years we’ve pressed our city to take such a step. But the opposition to bicycle lanes suggests the challenge of realizing a more bike-friendly Beverly Hills. One of our busiest corridors, North Santa Monica Boulevard, for example, is a transit corridor and designated truck route; it carries about 50,000 vehicles daily. Yet both policymakers and staff opposed lanes there. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps Beverly Hills one of the more dangerous small cities in California for riders. (Recently we gained some traction in the North Santa Monica lanes campaign, however.)

For advocates smarting over policymaker inaction, the notion that riders should have to protect themselves from dangerous streets with a plastic helmet is pretty galling. And then there’s the argument made by bill proponents that helmet use is effective in reducing crash fatalities. Hogwash!

Are Helmets the Answer?

Helmet laws were first adopted in the United States by state and local governments in 1987; today 21 states require young riders to wear a helmet (typically children under age 16). But there is no existing model for Senator Liu’s legislation: according to the Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report (2014), published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, no state yet has adopted an adult helmet law.

With no law in place, we can’t compare before & after adoption fatality rates through a study of the data. But we can look to other places to see how they minimize fatalities. For example, European countries show much lower injury and fatality rates. Yet helmets are rarely used there at all. “In the Netherlands, with the safest cycling of any country, less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets,” say John Pucher and Ralph Buehler in Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from Europe (2008). The solution in those places appears to be streets engineered for user safety.

Even worse, Pucher and Buehler say, mandatory helmets may work against our policy objective: safer cycling.

The Dutch cycling experts and planners interviewed for this article adamantly oppose laws to require the use of helmets, claiming that helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable and less fashionable. They also mention the possibility that helmets would make cycling more dangerous by giving cyclists a false sense of safety and thus encouraging riskier riding behaviour. – Pucher & Buehler

Another study offers some support for that proposition. “Where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact,” says Piet de Jong in The Health Impact of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws (2012). “In jurisdiction where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer.”

Whether or not academic studies find merit in helmets, does local data support Senator Liu’s argument for mandatory helmet use? Thankfully a Beverly Hills rider looked at the state data. Yet he saw no correlation between bare-headed riding and the likelihood of dying. And not only is there no evident correlation; there is considerable noise in the state data as about one-fifth of all bike-involved fatality crash reports don’t even record whether a helmet was worn (or not).

We looked at that data and see considerable variability in rider fatalities from one year to the next too – variation that can’t be correlated with helmet use. For example, the year 2006 saw a ten-year-high of 155 rider fatalities; just three years later in 2009 the number dropped to a ten-year low of 107 fatalities. But those years the proportion of riders who donned a lid remained constant (just above one-fifth). Why did so many more die in 2009 despite the consistent use of helmets?

Moreover, look at the trends in helmet use among crash victims in California: they’re moving in a positive direction. The number of fatal crash victims not wearing a helmet is on the decline while the number of victims wearing a helmet is on the increase. Does this suggest that helmets are necessarily working to prevent fatalities? Or in light of the upward trend in helmet use, that we need a law to mandate it?

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Trends show that non-helmeted victims in California are fewer while helmet use by crash victims is on the rise. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Now take a look at the proportion of those killed while not wearing a helmet: it too is one the decline.

Chart of Californa crash victims (helmeted versus non-helmeted)

Ratio of non-helmeted to helmeted victims in California crashes from 2001 to 2012. Chart from data generated from the SWITRS database by Brent Bigler.

Indeed in 2012, the most recent year for which fatal crash data is available, more than one-third of those killed wore a helmet. That’s well in excess of decade’s average of 21% and suggests that we don’t need a law to compel helmet use. Perhaps an outreach campaign can increase the proportion to much more than one-third to appease the pro-helmet folks.

Looking again at the numbers, to what extent is the helmet working to prevent crash fatalities among riders? That same year of 2012 saw a record number (49) of California riders killed while wearing a helmet. And despite an upward trend in helmet use, the state recorded a record number of fatalities (146) that year, which is considerably higher than the 20% decade’s average.

If riders appear to reach more often for a helmet than they used to, but wearing a helmet seems not to attenuate the number of fatalities, is there sufficient correlation to support a mandatory helmet law? For us to support it we’d like to see a much stronger correlation between bare heads and fatalities in crashes.

Advocates seize on the weak support of the state’s data. “Whatever comes of Senator Liu’s legistration,” says local rider Brent Bigler, we should make sure that incomplete data don’t lead to bad statistics used to justify bad policy enshrined in unhelpful laws.” We agree!

We can focus our attention on other contributing collision factors, however, like speeding. Consider that we’re not taking the necessary steps to ensure that we’re keeping riders safe, as has European nations. According to the Alliance’s Benchmarking Report, California dedicates only 2.4% of federal transportation money to bicycling and walking infrastructure projects. That put us near the middle of the pack among US states. Can’t we do more to create safer streets before we explore a mandatory helmet law?

Federal dollars for bicycling and walking via Alliance (2014)

Reprinted from Bicycling and Walking in the United States Benchmarking Report, published by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

The Gall!

Michelin Man helmeted

If Senator Liu has her way, under state laws all riders will one day dress like the Michelin Man for our own safety.

One aspect of the helmet policy debate that really galls bike safety advocates is the hypocrisy of legislators who are charged with making our streets safe. While they are quick to prescribe one or another obligation for riders (like mandatory helmets or rider licensing or liability insurance), they generally fail to take action.

Now Senator Liu in the past has been a supporter of safe streets policies. Perhaps she can move a bill that would create a standalone statewide bicycle master plan (as 13 states already have).

In looking at the helmet issue, the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee agreed that policymakers should first focus on other opportunity areas, such as rolling out bicycle-friendly infrastructure (like bike lanes) to separate non-motor from motor traffic, among other measures.

While we wait for legislation that will make streets safer for riders, each of us can do ourselves a favor by at least knowing the rules of the road and educating ourselves in safe-riding practices. We recommend the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Bicycling Skills Workshop series. It’s free for LACBC members ($35 for the general public) so join as a member and RSVP here! The next one is focused on women and will be held on March 14th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at LACBC Headquarters, 1st floor Edison Room – 634 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. A mandatory helmet law might not keep you from becoming a statistic, but riding with skill most likely will.

File Under ‘Crap Facilities’: Dangerous Crescent Dr. Sharrows [Updated]

Crescent Drive sharrows thumbnail

City of Beverly Hills was warned many months ago about this improper placement of sharrows on Crescent Drive: As explicated in this graphic, these sharrows guide northbound Crescent riders into the left-hand lane, which allows motor traffic to pass on the right. After the South Santa Monica intersection, however, riders are then guided back to the right-hand lane which requires a merge back into faster-flowing traffic. This remains an eye-catching road engineering #FAIL six months after we notified the city about it. [Update: After yet another round of emails, the city finally fixed this in late February (see the image at bottom) but without so much as a thanks to the citizens’ brigade for repeatedly reminding transportation officials of their … Continue reading

Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logo

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 … Continue reading

LA Councilman’s Hostility Toward Complete Streets Sounds Familiar

Cedillo's diagonal parking

Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods can seem a long way from Beverly Hills, but a scrum over bicycle lanes there suggests that we have at least one thing in common: elected officials standing in the way of a worthy safe-streets effort. Our City Council may block bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. In Highland Park, LA councilman Gil Cedillo is tanking a plan to make Figueroa (that community’s main street) ‘complete.’ Where we differ: silence greets our Council’s opposition; in NELA Cedillo has stirred a revolt among bike advocates. The Highland Park story may sound familiar to those of us who advocate for bicycle lanes on tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills: much-needed improvements that would make a street safe … Continue reading

Jerry Brown: No Friend to Vulnerable Road Users

Governor Jerry Brown has again proven his administration to be no friend to bike riders. He’s just vetoed four bills that would have increased accountability for those who perpetrate hits-and-run. And he’s stricken a bill that would provide added protection to “vulnerable road users” like bicycle riders (Mark Levine’s A.B. 2398). Recall that not long ago, Brown vetoed safe passing bills not once but twice (before signing the third – a victory we can only chalk up to the California Bicycle Coalition‘s persistence). Is this a governor who really cares about road safety? Here’s the roundup of the recent vetoed bills as helpfully summarized by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) in their recent email blast. Four would have … Continue reading

Gran Fondo Italia Comes to Beverly Hills on 9/28

Gran Fondo Italia BH logo

The Gran Fondo Italia ride, an annual for-profit ‘packaged’ bike ride & marketing extravaganza, comes back to Beverly Hills with city sponsorship this September 28th. It’s the only kind of ride our city appreciates: hospitality dollars roll in while City Hall basks in ersatz Euro-gloss. Fittingly, premium riders will enjoy a dinner at the Montage Hotel and a Tuscan wine ‘goody bag.’ But those linen tablecloths and Tuscan wines won’t streets any safer for the everyday riders. If you’re concerned about safe streets in Beverly Hills, this Gran Fondo is as relevant to your commute as if it actually happened in Italy.  The Laguna Beach-based organizers behind the Fondo promise “a strong ‘Italian feeling’ with Italian sponsors, Italian foods, and … Continue reading