Next Time it May Be You

The cyclist's view on the road in Beverly Hills

When Traffic & Parking Commission declined to recommend safety improvements for cyclists on Beverly Drive, one of our heavily traveled streets, commissioners argued that cyclists don’t obey the law. They said that sharrows might give cyclists a “false sense of security.” They even said that sharrows might cause drivers to panic. I had this in mind when a careless Cayenne driver broadsided me right on Beverly Drive on Saturday near the Art Fair, even as I was riding legally and prudently and without the harm of sharrows. What does the commission say to that?

It is every cyclist’s nightmare: the roar of the engine catches your attention and you turn to see a huge vehicle bearing right down on you. And it doesn’t stop. What flashes through your mind is that you’ve waited patiently for the green light, you are traveling in the proper lane, and you’re in full compliance with the law. Still no matter how prudently you ride, you see a beast with an impatient driver behind the wheel and she’s stomped on the gas to make a hasty left-hand turn across your path.

I walked away from this broadside collision (never say ‘accident’) without serious injury, which itself is a miracle. But there have been other riders right here in downtown Beverly Hills who haven’t been so lucky. They’ve been mowed down by a careless motorist because they have no refuge in a bike lane anywhere in the city. Or perhaps felled in an intersection because our blacktop offers no guidance to cyclists. Our city allows defenseless cyclists to duke it out with two tons of steel block after block and our elected officials simply don’t care enough to make our streets safer.

Why should they care? According to our Traffic & Parking commissioners (read the recap), when you ride a bike in Beverly Hills you’re not in the motorist majority. To you a majority of our commissioners feel no obligation. You’re not a northside homeowner in whom elected leaders invest disproportionate political influence, for example. And you’re not needing to park a car, which would count you as a constituency to whom parking officials feel particularly obliged and for whom officials can’t possibly spend enough from the public purse to accommodate. Why, if you mattered to our officials at all, our City Council’s small business task force might have thought to mention, just once, the value of your purchasing power, or acknowledge how bike hipsters in other cities make or break commercial submarkets. They didn’t. (Read our take.)

Think about your reward for spending money in our shops, or the benefit of commuting to work here on two wheels: You will find yourself honked at and shouted at because there is not a single sign anywhere in town to remind motorists that you are entitled to the blacktop too. That’s the law. Of course you can’t miss parking-by-permit signs, though, because our Traffic & Parking Commission spends most of its effort on it while expending exactly zero effort on road safety for cyclists.

We feel that the task of the commission should be to ensure that cyclists, like motorists, can travel safely on city streets. We believe that commissioners should emphasize to aggrieved homeowners that roads are for all road users. Indeed our plans say that officials should encourage cycling for daily transportation. Yet putting these concepts together was a stretch for commissioners. They preferred not to speak not from data, studies, or even reflect on public testimony from about forty cyclists to date, but instead to speak from the gut as motorists, their perspective ever-framed by the windshield.

When the Gut Rules…

Because the Traffic & Parking Commission has firsthand knowledge about our mobility challenges here in Beverly Hills, commissioners should know how cycling functions in an urban transportation system. Yet in their May 9th discussion neither safety data nor existing city plans were ever referenced in any meaningful way.

Had they bothered to look, they would see that the outline of a bike route system is already on our books. The city’s Sustainable City Plan suggests that residents to “walk and ride a bicycle whenever possible” and to “organize errands to avoid multiple trips.” The plan also recommended specific steps to get us to think more broadly about mobility, such as urging “implementation of land-use and other strategies that reduce vehicular use and encourage the use of alternate transportation modes.”

That plan, adopted by City Council only three years ago, was bullish on the prospects of cycling. “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available,” it continued, “then people will bicycle more.”

7 thoughts on “Next Time it May Be You

  • May 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Glad you’re okay. Sounds like a bad situation with a mostly happy ending.

    And thanks for spelling out so clearly the auto-centric disconnect from the Traffic and Parking Committee.

  • May 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks, Ted. It was textbook BH motorist (mis)behavior: a driver in a hurry, mashing the gas, without really attending to road conditions. And those conditions can’t be disputed (as they so often are): daylight, clear skies, no visual obstructions, and careful cyclist traveling slowly in accord with the law. All captured on hi-def CCTV. I wish I’d asked about a breathalyzer test.
    And here’s pro tip for riders though BH: our major intersections are all recorded, so if you’re downed you might well have the eye-in-the-sky on your side. And the quality is very good – and kept on record for 6 months, so don’t let the city tell you otherwise.

  • May 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Not five minutes after I was back in the saddle for the first time since Saturday’s broadside, an angry driver in a Grey Hyundai Santa Fe (CA license 6RXJ895) came at me from behind, nearly brushing my leg, and then at the next stop, without a word from me, berated me. I suppose because I was riding on his blacktop. Even though the lane (Canon, north of little Santa Monica) was plenty wide enough. That suggested to me a premeditated effort at intimidation. We can’t stand for this kind of thing anymore.

  • May 24, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Mark, I am so sorry this happened to you! I always wondered if the BH police, who attend so kindly to very minor non-injury related concerns that would be laughed at in other cities, would follow up if given a license number & location. Now I’m wondering if we started to coordinate reports, would that help? Was the driver cited? Was the driver concerned for you? It’s so sad that BH would close off streets for a highly commercial bike race while a block away trying to bike thru BH to a WeHo store on Robertson, I’m having pretty close to your intimidation experience. Has any CA biking group printed up a large attractive version of the law that says bikes have the right to use the lanes & should not be forced off the road(onto the sidewalk? I know there’s a slogan about “give 3” or something but that assumes they already grant you the right to be there.

  • May 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Glad you’re OK. The bike gods smiled on you, and you walked away from what could have been much, much worse.

    Keep riding, and lambasting the City of Beverly Hills! Try to keep the rubber side down..

    Eric W.

  • May 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks for the good wishes! I’ve been riding in SoCal for 10+ years, and before that for some years in NYC, and this was the first time that I’ve been full-on broadsided. But it was textbook SoCal: careless driver stomping the gas to make a hasty left turn (probably frustrated with the sloggy traffic that afternoon – not least because of all the pedestrians for our art fair).
    Here’s the thing: looking at the police report, my report to the officer at the scene (“stomping the gas,” “engine roar”) didn’t make it into the collision narrative. The driver’s lie (“going very, very slowly”) did make it in. The only citation she received was “failure to yield.” This after a broadside impact. Needless to say, I’ll follow up with a sworn statement of my own, and we’ll see about add’l charges.
    I sympathize with you on Robertson – that corridor is very hazardous. It needs a road diet, bike lane, and better-marked crosswalks – to say nothing of bike racks. We have a Council member (Mirisch) interested in Southeast BH improvement, and he’s cognizant of the bike safety issue. So we’ll see.

  • May 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    I know that I can count on you to hold up one end of a big vinyl banner that says, “Beverly Hills Cares About Publicity, Not About Cyclist Safety” at the next Amgen event or whatever. I think we have to be more outfront about promoting the city’s disregard for our safety, which I think you, in fact, already suggested!

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