Of all the places where cyclists and motorists come into conflict, surely intersections are among the most dangerous places where we cross paths. Why wouldn’t they be? Every intersection in Beverly Hills is engineered to maximize vehicular throughput. Cyclists get no facilities or signage simply because the city isn’t obligated to provide it under the law. We have crosswalks because we must provide a crossing opportunity for pedestrians. We’re working for change, but in the meantime take your St. Christopher totem for safety (you’ll need it) and grasp for another article of faith as we describe how Beverly Hills overlooks every opportunity to make our streets safer.
When we’re traveling through Beverly Hills intersections like the one at Olympic & South Beverly, don’t we need the heavens on our side? This intersection, like so many in our city, is bereft of the sound engineering practices that we see in other cities: bike lanes, bike boxes, safety signage and even dedicated signaling – measures that guide us through safely amid motor traffic.
When the city recently repaved South Beverly, for example, we hoped for at least some new paint to make this intersection hospitable to cyclists. We first became aware of the problems with the intersection when a cyclist told us his story of being felled by a motorist at this intersection due to ambiguity in pavement markings. He reported that Beverly Drive veers left as it diverges from Beverwill, which continues straight. But the pavement markings are not clear about which is the direction that continues, and which is the veer-off. It matters because (as he found) a passing motorist can evidently believe that the road continues straight and may try to pass on the left – in the same lane – just as the cyclist continues south on Beverly Drive, moving with the striped lane to the left. With no right-hand marking to guide the cyclist or the motorist, the ‘Y’ just yawns wide enough for every driver or cyclist to make his or her own interpretation (see below).
Now, if you’re in a vehicle, you’re OK because you practically own the lane. You’ll go where you want to go. If you’re a cyclist, however, you’re at the mercy of the motorist.
The state offers clear guidance for a situation like this. According too the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (chapter 9):
Class III Bikeways (Bike Route) are shared routes and do not require pavement markings. In some instances, a 4 inch white edge stripe separating the traffic lanes from the shoulder can be helpful in providing for safer shared use. This practice is particularly applicable on rural highways and on major arterials in urban areas where there is no vehicle parking.
While this isn’t marked as a shared route (like with sharrows), it is clearly in practice a shared route yet there is no right-hand marking to indicate to motorists or cyclists where is the lane.
When this issue was brought to the city’s attention, one would think that officials might want to address it forthwith. And why shouldn’t transportation address it? It is their job! This excerpt from the 2010-11 fiscal year adopted budget makes it clear in a section subtitled Street Maintenance Program Goals:
Transportation Planning and Traffic Engineering aims to investigate, analyze, recommend, design, and implement transportation system enhancements and regional transportation initiatives in order to respond to mobility and safety concerns.
The budget assigns staff hours totaling 5,868 to the task, which includes:
ensur[ing] the safe and efficient flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic by installing, maintaining, and repairing road markings, lines, traffic advisory messages, and other informational messages including banners and regulatory signs.
Note the emphasis on vehicular and pedestrian traffic. There’s a class of road user not mentioned there: cyclists. We shouldn’t need a state law (Complete Streets) to require local governments to strip appropriately for us. Somewhere in our $4.5 million street services budget there is funds available for a few extra lane stripes?
Olympic & South Beverly: Another Missed Opportunity
Evidently not. Back in February, when we received an announcement from the city that South Beverly Drive would be repaved, Better Bike kicked into action. We asked why, when City Council would be reviewing the corridor as part of the Bike Route Pilot in April, would work proceed on this candidate corridor just a couple of months before? Since the corridor appeared to be in tip-top shape, why not simply wait until Council decides on new striping or some other innovative treatment to make our two-wheeled trip down this key commercial boulevard safer?
We asked and they answered: We’ll stripe it just like it’s always been striped (t preserve the original hazard it seems). The city knows the hazard; it has come up in Traffic & Parking Commission meetings as a safety issue and Transportation acknowledged that it needed improvement. Not anytime soon, was the message to the commissioners back then.
Transportation Department #FAIL
The mystery is, why not address these problems before they cause more injury? There appears to be sufficient room in this intersection to stripe a bike lane through it. (Lanes need only be about 10 feet and a bike lane 5 feet.) Why not apply highly-visible striping that alerts drivers to the presence of cyclists? Why not use appropriate signage (“watch for cyclists”)?
It is the department’s mission, after all, but as with every other intersection in Beverly Hills, the cyclist suffers an uneasy bargain: he bears nearly all of the risk while the motorist shoulders only the cost of liability insurance. And none of the pain & suffering.
Where Beverly Hills Transportation won’t even try to keep us safe, maybe St. Christopher, patron saint of travel, will step up. Grasp his icon as you pedal through the city, praying not to get rear-ended, broadsided, or taken down simply because a motorist might be in a hurry to pass.