Nearly 5,000 road users have been injured on Beverly Hills streets in the eleven years that our police has been disclosing monthly traffic data. That’s about ten crash injuries every week – enough for the state’s Office of Traffic Safety to rank our city among the most dangerous small California cities for those who walk, bike and drive. And it is especially dangerous for seniors. This dubious distinction reflects the both city’s lack of multimodal planning and the declining enforcement of traffic laws.
In this post I’ll look at police department crash injury & fatality data for 2017. Last year I assessed the harm from crashes and the declining enforcement separately, so expect a subsequent post to look at enforcement for 2017. Spoiler: the current crash data show that existing trends continue: crash injuries are still at record highs and citations show 11-year lows. Might these trends be related?
The overall state of traveler safety is perhaps best illustrated by the high incidence of pedestrian injury over the past 11 years. Almost 700 pedestrians were injured in crashes and 8 were killed – this in a city of only 5.7 square miles (and half of it is hillside and canyons where few pedestrians roam). The harm is likely concentrated in business districts and our higher-speed corridors like Olympic, Wilshire and Santa Monica.
Indeed three years ago the Los Angeles Times examined Los Angeles County crash data to find that several Beverly Hills intersections were disproportionately dangerous for pedestrians. Even after controlling for traffic volume and traffic speed these ranked among the most dangerous intersections in Los Angeles County. The Times identified a ‘cluster of problematic intersections’ around Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire.
Our police and transportation officials have never released, much less analyzed, geo-located crash data to identify the most problematic areas for pedestrians in Beverly Hills. I’ve never heard this Los Angeles Times study even referenced in any city meeting.
With little attention to the problem, it’s not surprising that our city has made no progress in reducing the number of pedestrian injuries.
Over the period between 2007 and 2017 the number of pedestrian injuries has stayed relatively high. Last year the toll was 59 pedestrians injured; that was only three fewer than the 11-year average (62 injured annually) and down considerably from the 11-year record of 69 pedestrians injured in 2016. As this chart shows, the data may vary year-to-year but the overall trend is flat: there is no progress in reducing the harm.
However the number of pedestrian fatalities has been on the increase. Over the past five years we have seen more annual fatalities and last year two pedestrians were killed in a business district.
|Auto occupant fatalities||1||1||0||0||2||2||1||0|
Pedestrians are injured and sometimes killed while walking in Beverly Hills because traffic law-breakers get a pass from police. Instead police tend to point to pedestrian behavior and focus one-off enforcement efforts (when they happen) on pedestrian activity rather than, say, the more significant hazards for pedestrians: excessive vehicular speed, red-light violations and reckless driving (all prevalent at all hours of the day).
Bicyclists also fare poorly in Beverly Hills. Last year’s crash data show that injuries to bicyclists was up nearly 40% from a decade ago. However the injures are fewer than other categories and the data vary year-to-year. For example, last year’s 32 injured bicyclists was down one-third from the 48 injured in 2014 (which was a peak over the 11-year period). Regardless, this chart of annual bicycle injuries shows a clear upward trend over time.
Bicyclist injuries in absolute numbers have come down in recent years, though, and for 2017 bicyclist injuries ran 8% below the 11-year average. Proportionately speaking, bicyclist crash injuries make up a declining share of all crash injuries, as this chart shows.
Still, bicyclists have represented about 9% of all crash injuries on city streets over the 11-year period despite bicycle riders making up less than 1% of all wheeled travelers. That is an over-representation of NINE TIMES (at least) relative to bicyclists’ numbers on the road. To me the suggested rate of injury shows clearly that Beverly Hills are not designed for safe, multimodal mobility.
If street design is a contributing factor to the elevated representation of bicyclist injuries in Beverly Hills, officials might want to identify the hotspots that show the greatest frequency of crash injuries. For example, where are the most dangerous intersections for riders? That’s a question that City Hall has never asked. For those of us who do ask, the police department provides no geo-location data on bike-involved crashes nor discusses primary or contributing factors.
While we don’t have the data necessary to prioritize a fix, I can say confidently that the city has taken no step to reduce the harm generally. We have few on-street bicycle lanes and zero safety signage that would remind drivers that bicyclists may use the entire right-hand lane in most circumstances.
Auto-occupants suffer the most crash injuries due to the high traffic volume on city streets and the prevalence of aggressive driving. The figures should be no surprise: about 3,500 auto-occupants have been injured over the past 11 years (almost one each day including weekends). Why are the best-protected road users, those who travel in a steel box, so vulnerable?
Because drivers in Beverly Hills ram each other with increasing frequency. Crashes injured an average of 6 auto-occupants each week in 2007 but last year those injuries reached nearly 9 every week. That’s a 35% increase driven by an average annual rise of 5% year-over-year throughout an 11 year period. Indeed the crash data for auto-occupant injuries often shows double-digit gains.
This chart shows the rapid climb in the number of auto-occupant injuries.
Injuries to auto-occupants have so outpaced other injuries that the category now accounts for 75% of total crash injuries and a whopping 87% of all injuries (among autos, bicyclists and motorcyclists) as this chart shows.
Indeed 2017 was a near-record-high for auto-occupant injuries: 422 were injured, just below 2016’s record 430 injuries. Not only are auto-injuries trending up, but the increase is accelerating, as this chart shows, despite a marginal decline last year.
No wonder that the Office of Traffic Safety calls Beverly Hills the most dangerous small city in California for road users! The only category that shows an exceptional decline is hit-and-run crashes. Last year 132 drivers fled the scene compared to a whopping 431 in 2007. That is a 70% decline over the 11-year period as the chart shows.
The decline in hit-and-run crashes is a head-scratcher. Are just so many fewer drivers fleeing the scene? Has the collection of data for these crashes changed? Could it be because our heavy traffic congestion simply prevents a clean getaway? We can’t know because the monthly data snapshot comes with no additional context.
Step One in Harm Reduction: See the Problem!
Beverly Hills Police Department has provided monthly summary crash injury data for the past eleven years. But a tabular data snapshot like the monthly traffic report won’t show context and it cannot reveal trends. It is an exercise in pro forma reporting.
But if we don’t see context we can’t begin to conceptualize the problem (much less formulate policy to address it). Perhaps that’s why our Traffic and Parking Commission could receive these traffic reports every month for eleven years but never ask, not once, Are the trends moving in a positive direction?
More recently, though, commissioners have taken more of an interest in street safety and that is a good thing now that the city is undertaking a complete streets planning process. Indeed participants in public workshop #1 said safety was a top priority and said they were very interested in additional multimodal options.
It is important to understand how policing priorities contribute to the problem of excessive crash injuries, and my next post will look at the precipitous decline in traffic citations over the past eleven years. But I can only infer the correlation between diminished enforcement and the rising number crash injuries because the police department is not likely to help us assess the citation data it provides – much less communicate department enforcement priorities. No city commission exercises oversight of the department or policing priorities, and the department has historically not been interested in sharing.
In summation let me underscore just how many auto-occupant injuries we see and how precipitous has been the recent increase. Here I present again the chart of auto-occupant injuries, but this time I will scale it to be proportional to the two earlier charts showing pedestrian injuries and cyclist injuries. If we aligned these charts to a common baseline we would see the Y-axis (injuries) is comparable across the three charts. That begins to suggest how steep is the climb in auto injuries relative to other injuries. The takeaway? A steel box will hardly protect us on Beverly Hills streets!