Civility Coming to Beverly Hills Streets?

Embrace Civility posterRide a mile in Beverly Hills and you’ll know that civility on the blacktop is in short supply. Look beyond April’s attempted murder on a cyclist, for example, and you’ll see everyday interactions between road users that degrade our quality-of-life and put the lie to the civic ideal. Without armor, though, the cyclist is particularly vulnerable to road rage and motorists who don’t take due care. Now from our Human Relations Commission comes a proposal to extend its ’embrace civility’ initiative to the streets. Sure we need to show our better selves on our most significant and extensive public spaces. But will a promoted initiative do anything at all to make streets safer?

You know, it really baits the cynic in us. What is the prospect for this civility initiative to make streets safe? After all, the law is pregnant with regulations that govern conduct on the roadways. And the sanctions really bite: run a stop sign (on a bike or in a car) and you’re looking at a $240 ticket; run a red light and the fine approaches $500. And forget about court: the process itself is probably the best disincentive to breaking the law. It’s like jury duty with a big fine at the end.

What could an ’embrace civility’ initiative achieve if cops with ticket books backed by steep sanctions can’t effect a downward trend in law-breaking?

signal violations chart for 2012Indeed existing sanctions hardly help us control our inner lawbreaker. Beverly Hills recorded nearly 14,000 automated citations from our red light cameras last year. Live officers wrote another nearly 3,000 moving violations last year, though written citations seemed to decline through the year (at right).

From January through April of 2013, red light cameras found another 6,000 lawbreakers. Live officers have been off of their game, however: the automated traffic cops cited fifty times the number of light-runners than did live officers.

The ’embrace civility’ initiative, though, is entirely voluntary and without sanction. Nor is there any accountability for demonstrated incivility. Can it affect bad driver behavior? Because the number of red light tickets remains remarkably consistent month-to-month (even as  as shown above) we view red light tickets as an accurate benchmark of vehicular law-breaking in Beverly Hills and may one day provide an answer to that question.

For now, though, we do have a carrot to dangle before motorists. The city annually bestows a civility award for exhibiting “positive human relations in all aspects of community life.” While we had a winner in June of 2012, none has been announced yet for 2013. Going forward, the candidate field will be expanded to include road users too if the Human Relations Commission succeeds in winning support for that change. (Read the staff report for more info.)

Strange to think that the embrace civility effort has touched every corner of civic life in Beverly Hills except the streets…where one could argue that it is most urgently needed.

Taking the Proposal on the Road

The Human Relations Commission has been bringing their proposal to commissions across the city, starting with Rec & Parks in April, Health & Safety earlier in May, and next up: the Traffic and Parking Commission this week.

Commission Chair Ilona Sherman and commissioner Tom Pease noted to Rec & Parks commissioners last April that road rage has been reported near our schools as parents on at least one occasion have come to blows after one cut the infamous car-queue line. A resulting district-wide police alert was sent to parents, which put a fine point on the problem for the Human Relations Commission. They are re-introducing the civility proposal (and civility award) with an expanded focus to include road users as a means to “create a greater awareness for being civil” in Beverly Hills.

How would that work? “Taking the pledge, you would display the badge in the back of your car as a constant reminder that you are a resident of Beverly Hills and do drive civilly,” Commissioner Pease said. “It’s a ceremonial idea… a checkbox on the website [then] download it and print it out.” He added, “Eventually we want to roll it out stickers for bikes and bike helmets too.”

The commissioners reacted with uncertainty. How would one sign up? What would the badge mean without an accompanying oath to be a more civil community member? Where would it go on the car? Little was mentioned about ped or cyclist concerns, though; the focus was on affixing the badge.

Next Chair Sherman and commission member Barbara Linder took it to the Health and Safety Commission in May for more feedback. “Would you be willing in a personal sense to put this shield on your car, and if so, where are you willing to put stickers?” asked Ms. Sherman, probing for general feedback. Commissioners then debated where and how to affix the badge but glossed over questions of program effectiveness.

But one Health and Safety commissioner did raise a worthy issue. “Will there be a time to look at traffic and pedestrian safety?” Well, we wonder too: collisions accounted for four hundred injuries on average every year for the five years ending in 2012. What to do about that kind of incivility? Would designating streets as a new space for civil behavior be enough to stem the carnage?

“We could pair this with an education program reminding them about safety,” the Health and Safety commissioner added. Regarding the dangers on the streets, she said, “These are issues that we see every day in our city.”

Aside: We couldn’t agree more. Our Traffic and Parking Commission hardly looks at the collision injury figures reported to commissioners every month by the Police. And commissioners ask few questions about how to make streets safe for all road users. Even though two commissioners sit on an ad-hoc Bike Plan Update Committee, cyclist safety is simply not on the Commission’s agenda.

Chair Sherman replied that there wasn’t a formal education component to the program; it is just an awareness-raising campaign. But she did note that making the city more bike-friendly might warrant education later. As for the civility initiative, “Also we’re moving into so much more  consideration of bicycle paths and bicycle racks,” she said. “So it’s really coming out at a good time.”

Our Take

It is never too late to promote civility. But will expanding the ’embrace civility’ initiative to include road users reduce the frequency of injury collisions in Beverly Hills, say? Or lead to a reduction in red-light running? We’ll eventually have figures against which to benchmark program success. Time will tell.

In the meantime, what to do about our less-than-civil streets? The flaunting of speed limits or vehicular intimidation, for example? With so little commission action to address the real safety issues on our streets, we’ll have to hope for the best.

On second thought, maybe raising awareness is enough. Go ahead – download the flyer and share it with a motorist you know. And while you’re at it, go ahead and download the nomination form. Nominate a friendly motorist you know or go ahead and put your own hat in the ring as a courteous, law-abiding street-sharing cyclist. You certainly deserve some kind of award If you’re a friendly motorist or a law-abiding cyclist in Beverly Hills.