The holiday season always makes me mindful of the year drawing to a close. It has produced some noteworthy developments, including the involuntary retirement of incumbent councilmember (and bicycle lanes opponent) Nancy Krasne. And the succeeding multimodal-friendly City Council approved high-visibility bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. Some things don’t improve however: our streets are still hazardous to travelers. Here I look back at last full year of traffic data (2016) to suggest the trends that suggest our city has much more work to do to get us safer streets.
As Collision Injuries Pile Up, Little Official Attention
Every month the Beverly Hills Police Department provides a report to our Traffic and Parking Commission. The Traffic and Parking Commission is an advisory agency to City Council “in all matters which relate to parking and traffic.” The Municipal Code assigns the commission two important functions: 1) Advise and counsel with the transportation or engineering official and the police chief as to ways and means to improve general traffic conditions; and 2) prepare and coordinate a comprehensive long range plan relating to transportation and traffic. (City of Beverly Hills Municipal Code § 2-2-702: Jurisdiction And Functions)
Traffic and Parking commissioners receive a police department monthly traffic report that includes collision injuries, fatalities, and enforcement citation data – data from which I’ve generated these charts. The commissioner should use the report to question the department about enforcement priorities but generally they don’t ask too many questions. Instead the Commission tends to focus on other tasks (like parking permits) and less on general traffic conditions including safety.
For its part, the department treats the monthly traffic report as a pro-forma exercise, like a formality on the 1st Thursday of every month. Indeed the ritual is so familiar to all participants that it unfolds without any surprises whatsoever. The department provides no context or analysis for the data; instead it hands the commissioners a matrix of figures in a PDF format that precludes additional analysis in Excel for example.
I’ve taken nine years of monthly data and plugged it into a spreadsheet to analyze trends, calculate year-over-year changes and chart the trends. And those trends are disappointing; they are nearly all going in the wrong direction. Injuries are up, enforcement is down. But puzzling the larger picture out of the monthly reports presents a challenge for the interested commissioners. Read the reports for yourself.Then have a look at my next post about enforcement trends!
Collision Injuries Continue to Rise
A total of 3,805 collision injuries have been reported to police in the nine years since the Beverly Hills Police Department began to provide data to the Traffic and Parking Commission. (See note #1.) In that time, 15 road users have been killed on Beverly Hills streets. One-third of them were pedestrians. Had commission oversight and department enforcement been effective, we would see injuries decrease and the cumulative total bend towards a flatter curve instead of the steep climb we see here.
Last year (2016) more people were injured in collisions than any year since BHPD began reporting data to the Traffic and Parking Commission. Each week on average 11 road users reported a collision-related injury last year – up 40% from nine years earlier.
And this year (2017) the city is on track to surpass last year’s record and continue our 5-year uninterrupted surge in crash injuries. Pedestrians get no break this year either: the city has notched two pedestrian deaths so far (one in a crosswalk in our designated ‘pedestrian district’). In fact, all of the negative trends that I identify here have continued into 2017 if year-to-date data is any indication.
Auto-Occupant Injuries Drive the Injury Totals Higher
Ironically the travelers who are most protected — those traveling n a vehicle — are actually beginning to fare the worst. Of all injury categories, it is auto-occupants who show the greatest percentage increase (as well as the highest numbers). Since 2008 the number of injured has increased by 60%. Injured auto-occupants are pushing overall collision injury rates to new highs for Beverly Hills.
The recent climb in auto-occupant injuries that culminated in last year’s peak comes as all other road injury categories show a modest increase or remain flat (like motorcyclist injuries). Some even show a slight decline.
We can’t know from the limited data provided by police why auto-occupant injuries are up so much.Is it the result of more traffic volume? Seems doubtful: we’re not seeing as great a rise in volume as we see in auto injuries (year-over-year increases of 20% for the past three yeas). Or is it the result of insurance fraud, as councilmember Les Friedman once suggested? That’s doubtful too: insurance fraud certainly isn’t rising so fast as the number of reported injuries.
More likely it’s because BHPD has reduced traffic enforcement year after year and slashed the number of citations for all offenses but especially signal violations – the most dangerous violation aside from speeding. (More on that in my next post.)
Cyclists Get a Break
Cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users. We know that from the data: riders are fewer than 1% of all wheeled travelers but last year in Beverly Hills riders accounted for almost 10% of all collision injuries reported to police. (No record is kept on riders that choose not to report or simply limped home.)
With the caveat that rider injuries are relatively fewer than other categories of injury and also are highly variable month-to-month and year-to-year, we can see that the BHPD data suggest a modest decline in the last few years. Last year 6% fewer riders were injured than in 2008 – which is progress but it’s not clear why it has declined or whether it will continue to decline.
Will the good news continue? This year rider injuries are on track to exceed the total reported in 2016. If November and December of 2017 are consistent with that trend, this year’s rider injuries should total 15% more than last year. Not surprisingly, fear of injury is the #1 reason cited by Beverly Hills residents who would ride but not to ride.
Pedestrians Fare Worse
Pedestrian injuries, like auto-occupant injuries, have been on the increase since 2012. Indeed pedestrian injuries have reached all-time highs last year. But pedestrians have always had a tough time crossing Beverly Hills streets. Annual injury tallies frequently bump up near last year’s record highs while years 2011 and 2012 seem to be the anomalies.
Pedestrians are also dying more often on Beverly Hills streets. In the past Beverly Hills went several years at a stretch with no pedestrian fatalities. (Congestion tends to depress prevailing traffic speeds, and we know that speed kills.) More recently, though, we are seeing an uptick in; pedestrian deaths. Two were killed in 2015 (a record for deaths in a single year) and this year, already, we count two pedestrian deaths. One occurred in a crosswalk in our designated ‘pedestrian zone’ – something that should alarm officials but simply has not.
The steady march upward of collision injuries from 2008 through the present day should be cause for alarm in City Hall. Yet enforcement not only has lagged the mounting injury toll it actually tanked. My follow-up post charts enforcement data and shows how a decrease in signal violations neatly parallels the rise in auto-occupant injuries.
Every cop will tell you there is a straight line from lax enforcement to increasing lawlessness. But no member of our Traffic and Parking Commission asks BHPD about the possible correlation between the decline in ticketing and the department’s documented increase in injuries. Look over nine years of monthly traffic reports and watch a few Traffic and Parking Commission meetings. Do you sense any urgency among city officials about the dangers our streets present to drivers, walkers and riders? I don’t.
Note #1: When asked for pre-2008 data, BHPD said it has not compiled that data. It’s not clear that such data was never provided to the commission in the years prior to 2008, but the department says it is not available so I cannot include it in this analysis.