Beverly Hills: The Most Dangerous Little City in California

To read the Beverly Hills vision statement is to get a sense of the high regard in which civic leaders hold our city. “Beverly Hills offers the highest quality of life achievable,” we are assured. Our “world-class community” is known for “leading edge” thinking and “innovative” government. Those “alluring and distinctive hotels, retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment” make us exceptional. But Beverly Hills is exceptional in another way too: we’re the most dangerous little city in California.

At least the most dangerous small city according to the state’s Office of Traffic Safety. Its collision rankings comparison tool draws on CHP Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) data. The tool was designed with a noble purpose in mind:

The OTS Rankings were developed so that individual cities could compare their city’s traffic safety statistics to those of other cities with similar-sized populations. Cities could use these comparisons to see what areas they may have problems in and which they were doing well in.

So let’s go ahead and see how Beverly Hills ranks as a ‘safe city.’ That’s another of our city’s vision statement bullet points: “Beverly Hills is committed to being the safest city in America.”

A few clicks shows that between 2007 and 2011 Beverly Hills has ranked either 1st or 2nd among comparable cities (under 50,000 population) in the category of ‘total fatal and injury’ collisions. Depending on how you look at it, we’re either riding high among the worst-performing cities with regard to road safety, or we’ve fallen to the bottom of the heap relative to cities that do care about curbing collision injuries.

We’ve put the OTS tables clickable gallery. Scroll down or simply click this table to open a simple animated presentation. Below you’ll see that the most recent (2011) data puts our city’s claims of ‘safest city’ in an unflattering light. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for the methodology).

OTS small-city collision rankings (animated) Pedestrians Have It Really Bad

Breaking it down by collision type, for pedestrian collision injuries we were consistently among the worst three (out of almost one hundred). Always the over-achiever, Beverly Hills took first place dishonors in two of the five years. That puts us near the top one percent of cities that also take little or no care to prevent pedestrian injuries and/or fatalities.

With regard to older pedestrians (65+) we rank marginally better. Beverly Hills only places in the worst five among cities of fewer than 50,000 population. If you’re a senior, remember as you use one of our faded crosswalks or cross a poorly-signed alleys that statistically you’d be safer walking any one of 95 other small California cities.

What about children? We hear civic leaders talk about the welfare of our kids often. We love to see Scouts in Council chambers. But the reality is that we’re not keeping them safe when they cross our streets. Across the 5-year period we typically edge out two-thirds of all other comparable cities when it comes to collision injuries. Except for 2008 when we fell into the bottom (better) half, we tend to nibble at the top quartile of most dangerous cities in which to walk as a kid.

Bicycle Riders Have it Almost as Bad

Those of us who ride a bicycle fare little better than pedestrians. We’re not the #1 most dangerous small city for a bicycle rider, but we’re close to it. From 2007 to 2011 for example, bike-involved collision injuries put us among the top-5 worst cities in each of 3 years of the 5-year period for which we have data. One year (2007) we ‘slipped’ to 6th and in a true outlier we fell to 22nd place (2009). But we’re always in the top quartile of small cities for bike injuries, baby!

We’re also in the top (i.e., worst) quartile for under-15 bike-involved collision injuries, sadly. While we do seem marginally better able to keep children who ride bikes out of the police reports, is it because so relatively few children ride a bicycle in Beverly Hills? Or because those very few children are injured at a disproportionately high rate? We don’t know. Waht we do know is that the #1 reason cited by parents who won’t let their children ride a bicycle in Beverly Hills is that it is unsafe.

What About that ‘Safest City in America’?

It’s one thing to create a bullet point that brags about keeping us safe in Beverly Hills, but it’s another to take the steps to actually make us safe. And where road safety is concerned, our city has simply failed us. All of us: walkers, riders and even drivers.

Keep our poor road safety record in mind when you talk to a member of the City Council or address the Traffic and Parking Commission. Ask why we’re doing such a bad job of keeping our walkers and riders safe. And if you bump into our City Manager, Jeff Kolin, evidently a cyclist, ask him why we’re not asking more from our transportation staffers in the Community Development Department (which is tasked with transportation planning). And ask him why he’s not more sensitive to rider safety needs in particular.

* From the OTS comparison tool methodology: Victim and collision rankings are based on rates of victims killed and injured or fatal and injury collisions per “1,000 daily-vehicle-miles-of-travel” (Caltrans data) and per “1,000 average population” (Department of Finance data) figures. This more accurately ensures proper weighting and comparisons when populations and daily vehicle miles traveled vary.

Summer is a Time to Ride, a Time to Crash

bike jumpMemorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day holidays are the traditional signposts of summer. Each respectively marks a change in the national mood, from optimism at the opening of the season, then the high point of leisure & recreation, and finally that abrupt return to our regular rhythms. But each is a reminder to causal riders and committed cyclists alike that it’s time to get out and ride. These long days and warm nights of summer are made for cycling whether to the grocery or the beach or simply to run that errand in town. But Summer is also the season when America’s favorite pastime is more likely to result in bike-related injuries. Let’s take a look at the trends. Continue reading

Traffic & Parking Commission Regular Meeting

Garage commemorative plaque

A city so proud of parking that we put a plaque on it!

Better Bike dropped in on the Traffic & Parking Commission last week for an update on how the city will promote the upcoming Bike Routes Pilot meetings this month (meeting first next Wednesday and then on April 25th). While we couldn’t stay long enough for the bike update (often it’s pushed to the end of the meeting) we did learn a thing or two about bike collisions: four bicycle injury collisions have been reported in January, with four more following in February, according to Commission Chair Julie Steinberg. That’s too much for our comfort. Continue reading