Intersection Safety Not on the City’s Agenda?

Saint Christopher patron saint of travel
Saint Christopher has been known to grace bicycle bells!

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.

Intersection overview of South Beverly Drive and Olympic (map)
Overview of the South Beverly Drive and Olympic Blvd. intersection. Beverly Drive and Beverwil diverge just north of Olympic.

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).

South Beverly Drive at Olympic ambiguity
It is a free-for-all with no right-hand striping to guide us.

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

South Beverly Drive at Olympic looking south
Wide traffic lanes and buffer allow plenty of room for a southbound bike lane!

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.

Want to comment to the city on our intersections? Email them or consult our city contacts page. Tell ’em what you think of how they protect our safety on our chaotic roads.

2 thoughts on “Intersection Safety Not on the City’s Agenda?

  • May 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Wouldn’t this be the beginning of the solution? No matter how light the traffic(so they have three open lanes to chose from on Sunday on Olympic through town or how bumper to bumper )little Santa Monica on a sat. afternoon) the ladies in Range Rovers and the guys flooring their sports cars out of Raphs on 3rd onto Doheny(not a stereotype, but a repeated experience over several years of weekend riding in & through BH) somehow passed their DMV tests without accepting that bikes have the right to be on the roads. Of course they do not want to wait or slow for a car or a walker either–but when they see a bike way up ahead they will speed onto your tail and/or honk continuously as you hug the parked cars on little Santa Monica to get to your destination there(not choosing it for a pleasure ride;))just to yell that you should be in the bike lane—–by which the mean the sidewalk, because you couldn’t be any farther right in the road w/o riding on top of parked Mercedes.
    I finally made the correlation–the more bikes riding on the sidewalk in any section of town, the more the less the drivers look for/accept sharing the road.

  • May 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for the comment. One would think that creating a separate space for cyclists would solve the problem. From the motorist’s perspective, the cyclist has a place to be. It’s always better on public roads when every road user knows where to be. From the cyclist’s perspective, that dedicated space is defensible space, whether as a practical matter – It’s my space and I’m going to use it – or as a legal one. When a motorist intrudes into the bike lane and, say, causes a collision, there goes his defense. Liability shifts to him presumptively. So I say, Don’t ride on the sidewalk because 1) it is dangerous particularly at crossings; and 2) we have to claim our space on the blacktop if we are ever to secure the dedicated space that should be ours!

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