Here’s a guy doing everything right as he makes his way through the Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard intersection. He’s traveling like a vehicular cyclist should: in the traffic lane with the flow and not on the sidewalk. He’s waited patiently for the green light. And he’s wearing his helmet. City of Beverly Hills Transportation and California DOT can’t ask anything more of him. But there’s a lot more he can ask of these agencies.
Truth is, there’s a lot that officials can do for this poor soul and other cyclists like him because they haven’t done anything at all for us. Nearly 100,000 vehicles cross this intersection on an average weekday and we’ve got so much as a pavement stripe to guide any of it. This intersection fails by any measure because it’s patently unsafe. And it’s especially unsafe to mix modes. Add two of Metro’s heaviest bus lines and it’s a catastrophe.
Public agencies have a responsibility to safeguard this cyclist’s welfare just as they regulate traffic devices, control intersections, and cap speeds according to conditions. For this gentleman negotiating the scrum of fast-moving motor traffic, though, he’s on his own in one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles.
When did this become OK?
We observed the intersection of Wilshire & Santa Monica boulevards for six hours one week for the LACBC’s 2011 bike count, and we can attest to the truly chaotic nature of this intersection. Even Beverly Hills Transportation recognizes it as a failure: it receives an ‘F’ on the level-of-service (LOS) scale, a measure of demand and capacity. Officials have thrown their hands up like there’s not any more that they can do.
But there exists much tat they can do to make this dangerous intersection more safe. There is no bike lane or any kind of pavement marking to offer guidance to motorists or cyclists. We could put some paint down. This cyclist like many others sprints ahead of traffic to try to buy a few extra moments of safety before motorists accelerate. The city could create a bike box as a sanctuary.
Most of all, the city could do something about the dual right-turn-optional lanes on Santa Monica heading Westbound. These are hazardous wherever they exist because they inject additional uncertainty into the situation: motorists can either continue straight or turn right. So it is at this intersection: the cyclist must decide whether to keep to the right even if he needs to proceed straight; or to find a place to the left of the two turning lanes and hope that motorists to his right won’t pinch him if they proceed straight ahead.
That is a choice that a cyclists should never have to face, yet such dual right-turn-optional lanes are a common sight at our most heavily-trafficked intersections. Consider that the cyclist who properly keeps to the left of the turn lanes might well face an angry motorist who continues straight. “What the heck is this guy doing in the middle of the road? Damn biker!”
Cyclists who hug the right curb, alternately, risk getting cut off by turning traffic. And that’s particularly dangerous at this intersection because motorists are in a big hurry and don’t every time come to a full stop – or even look to the right as they turn. They’re checking for oncoming left-side traffic. They’re not checking for cyclists. And why should they? Our transportation agencies offer them no cue.
So, there is no winning for cyclists at this kind of intersection for the cyclist. During the bike count, we saw a couple of riders westbound on Santa Monica who had to circle back after they realized their mistake by hugging the curb. They took a ‘mulligan’ and did it over at the cost of time, convenience, and of course safety. Thankfully they weren’t struck.
Where is the Help for Cyclists?
California has adopted the Complete Streets Act of 2008 [fact sheet] mandating that local jurisdictions adjust their plans to accommodate all road users – walkers, cyclists, and motorists alike. And Caltrans has stepped up with Caltrans Deputy Directive 64 policy guidance for local governments. But the Beverly Hills Transportation division has been utterly silent on Complete Streets. It seems like the Traffic & Parking Commission hasn’t addressed the policy, at least according to Commission meeting minutes over the last two years.
Consequently, a federal and state policy that mandates access for all road users is reflected in no Beverly Hills policies or plans; appropriate improvements show up on no intersection or road; and the topic never comes up in reconstructing Sunset Boulevard intersections, say, or Santa Monica Boulevard. Both are in process and neither makes mention of Complete Streets fully three years after California adopted the principles.
We don’t have to look far to learn how to accommodate multiple travel modes. Long Beach, San Francisco, and foremost, Davis, California, have applied complete streets principles and laid down bike lanes. Yet these innovations have been applied nowhere in Beverly Hills, not least to one of the most dangerous intersections we have: Wilshire @ Santa Monica.
Beverly Hills takes care of motorists; but our poor cyclists making his way across this intersection is indeed on his own. Why don’t we think about approaching this problem much like disability advocates have approached non-ADA compliant situations: with a lawsuit that brings change. Surely an intersection that’s programmed for injury and death should confer some liability on the officials that fail to improve it?