Friday, March 27, 2015

Capital versus labor: "No contest"

Photograph by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

John Lanchester in the London Review of Books (The Robots Are Coming):

...Imagine an economy in which the 0.1 per cent own the machines, the rest of the 1 per cent manage their operation, and the 99 per cent either do the remaining scraps of unautomatable work, or are unemployed. That is the world implied by developments in productivity and automation. It is Pikettyworld, in which capital is increasingly triumphant over labour. 

We get a glimpse of it in those quarterly numbers from Apple, about which my robot colleague wrote so evocatively. Apple’s quarter was the most profitable of any company in history: $74.6 billion in turnover, and $18 billion in profit. Tim Cook, the boss of Apple, said that these numbers are ‘hard to comprehend’. He’s right: it’s hard to process the fact that the company sold 34,000 iPhones every hour for three months. Bravo, though we should think about the trends implied in those figures. 

For the sake of argument, say that Apple’s achievement is annualised, so their whole year is as much of an improvement on the one before as that quarter was. That would give them $88.9 billion in profits. 

In 1960, the most profitable company in the world’s biggest economy was General Motors. In today’s money, GM made $7.6 billion that year. It also employed 600,000 people. Today’s most profitable company employs 92,600. So where 600,000 workers would once generate $7.6 billion in profit, now 92,600 generate $89.9 billion, an improvement in profitability per worker of 76.65 times. Remember, this is pure profit for the company’s owners, after all workers have been paid. 

Capital isn’t just winning against labour: there’s no contest. If it were a boxing match, the referee would stop the fight...

Speaking of capitalism, Michael Lewis updates "Flash Boys" in Vanity Fair.

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Bike helmets and safety

The proportion of bike-related head injuries seen in trauma centers increased over time (months) in cities that launched bike-sharing programs.
Danny DeBelius/NPR

The assumptions underlying the recent LA Times editorial on bike helmets make it impossible for it to shed any light on the subject (Require bike helmets? There's not enough safety data):

This much is obvious: Wearing a bicycle helmet is safer than not wearing one. But so far, the evidence is mixed on how much safer it is. A bill in the Legislature to mandate helmets for all bicyclists is based less on evidence of significant benefit than on the mantra that it's worthwhile if even a single life is saved.

Apparently the editorial writer didn't bother to check with State Senator Carol Liu's office on what her mandatory helmet legislation is actually about---preventing injuries, not just fatalities.

The evidence on bike helmets isn't at all "mixed'; it shows overwhelmingly that helmets help prevent injury and death among cyclists (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this).

According to a New York City study (Bicycle Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City, 1996-2005), "Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet," and "Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury."

I think it's very unlikely that the state will pass Liu's legislation, but her proposal at least is based on a recognition of the problem. 

The LA Times editorial:

The intentions behind SB 192, authored by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), are laudable, and many of the objections raised by bicycling enthusiasts are laughable---such as the idea that mandatory helmets would make bicycling appear more dangerous and thus discourage people from trying it.

Actually, that objection by bike zealots isn't "laughable" at all, since there's truth in the claim, though they themselves are clearly in denial about how dangerous riding a bike can be. That's why Nicole Gelinas got a ration of shit when she worried about bikeshare injuries (Bikeshare customers have to bring their own helmets. Since few do, it leads to more head injuries as per the graphic above). 

And that's why Noah Budnick doesn't want to talk about his cycling accident---a solo fall that didn't involve a motor vehicle---that put him in intensive care for nine days. 

They understand on some level that riding a bike is dangerous, and they clearly think the risk is worth it. But if would-be cyclists---and the parents of children---were informed about the real dangers, converts to BikeThink would be a lot fewer. 

Instead, riding a bike is being sold by City Hall and the MTA as a green, win-win deal for everyone: cyclists get a boost in self-esteem by practicing a PC, environmentally benign transportation "mode," and the city gets cost-free help in dealing with traffic congestion.

An earlier post on bike helmets and safety.

The Snell Memorial Foundation

As the above graphic shows, most cycling accidents don't involve motor vehicles. They are "solo falls."

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Where are the white students in SF?

The unsurprising answer: in private schools. Gentrification not only drives up the cost of housing and means more cars on city streets, it leads to white-flight from public schools.



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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Politics and anti-politics: Orwell and Henry Miller


Too bad that George Orwell and Albert Camus never met---they would have had a lot to talk about---but Orwell and Henry Miller did meet, and the meeting resulted in an interesting exchange. Orwell wrote about the encounter in Inside the Whale:

...I first met Miller at the end of 1936, when I was passing through Paris on my way to Spain. What most intrigued me about him was to find that he felt no interest in the Spanish war whatever. He merely told me in forcible terms that to go to Spain at that moment was the act of an idiot. He could understand anyone going there from purely selfish motives, out of curiosity, for instance, but to mix oneself up in such things from a sense of obligation was sheer stupidity. In any case my Ideas about combating Fascism, defending democracy, etc., etc., were all baloney. Our civilization was destined to be swept away and replaced by something so different that we should scarcely regard it as human — a prospect that did not bother him, he said. And some such outlook is implicit throughout his work. Everywhere there is the sense of the approaching cataclysm, and almost everywhere the implied belief that it doesn't matter.

Miller was wrong about what replaced the world of the 1930s, since the world is still recognizable compared to what it was then. Fascism was defeated internationally, though not in Spain, which had to wait until Franco died. Orwell wrote an important book about his experience in the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia.  

Orwell continues:

But, after all, the war of 1914-18 was only a heightened moment in an almost continuous crisis. At this date it hardly even needs a war to bring home to us the disintegration of our society and the increasing helplessness of all decent people. It is for this reason that I think that the passive, non-co-operative attitude implied in Henry Miller's work is justified. Whether or not it is an expression of what people ought to feel, it probably comes somewhere near to expressing what they do feel. Once again it is the human voice among the bomb-explosions, a friendly American voice, ‘innocent of public-spiritedness’. No sermons, merely the subjective truth.

Orwell was a lot more generous about Miller's view than Miller was about his. From Miller's Paris Review interview:

INTERVIEWER: You knew Orwell in those days too?

MILLER: Orwell I met maybe two or three times on his visits to Paris. I wouldn’t call him a friend, just a passing acquaintance. But I was crazy about his book Down and Out in Paris and London; I think it’s a classic. For me it’s still his best book. Though he was a wonderful chap in his way, Orwell, in the end I thought him stupid. He was like so many English people, an idealist, and, it seemed to me, a foolish idealist. A man of principle, as we say. Men of principle bore me.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t have much use for politics?

MILLER: None whatever. I regard politics as a thoroughly foul, rotten world. We get nowhere through politics. It debases everything.

INTERVIEWER: Even political idealism of Orwell’s sort?

MILLER: Especially that! The idealists in politics lack a sense of reality. And a politician must be a realist above all. These people with ideals and principles, they’re all at sea, in my opinion. One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one. I mean, those are the ones who flourish.

Pretty stupid stuff, but Miller wasn't an intellectual on Orwell's level. He was essentially an artist with a completely different mindset.

More on Orwell and Miller here. Why Orwell writes here.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DMV numbers: 2000 to 2014

DMV vehicle registration for SF County

  Year    Auto    Truck    M/C    Total  
  2000   371786  63556  16539   451881  
  2001   378406  63905  17239   459550  
  2002   380795  62823  18649   462267  
  2003   367570  63353  16662   447585  
  2004   382151  65141  17611   464903  
  2005   373115  62129  17571   452815  
  2006   378576  63438  18136   460150  
  2007   382341  64147  19417   465905  
  2008   379898  61755  20144   461797  
  2009   381737  59751  20339   461827  
  2010   382167  58641  20728   461536  
  2011   380621  56407  21065   458093  
  2012   385442  56694  21697   463833  
  2013   397238  57466  22610   477314  
  2014   403248  55688  22853   481789  

A reader made this chart of the DMV numbers over the years. Interesting to note that trucks have declined but autos and motorcycles/motor bikes have increased significantly.

This is a reality-check when dealing with the city's anti-car movement and those who prefer to think that cars are on the decline in San Francisco.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Hiding from scary ideas: College students "more puerile than their predecessors"


From an essay by Judith Shulevitz in the NY Times (In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas):

...I’m old enough to remember a time when college students objected to providing a platform to certain speakers because they were deemed politically unacceptable. Now students worry whether acts of speech or pieces of writing may put them in emotional peril. Two weeks ago, students at Northwestern University marched to protest an article by Laura Kipnis, a professor in the university’s School of Communication. Professor Kipnis had criticized — O.K., ridiculed — what she called the sexual paranoia pervading campus life. The protesters carried mattresses and demanded that the administration condemn the essay. One student complained that Professor Kipnis was “erasing the very traumatic experience” of victims who spoke out. An organizer of the demonstration said, “we need to be setting aside spaces to talk” about “victim-blaming.” 

Last Wednesday, Northwestern’s president, Morton O. Schapiro, wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal affirming his commitment to academic freedom. But plenty of others at universities are willing to dignify students’ fears, citing threats to their stability as reasons to cancel debates, dis-invite commencement speakers and apologize for so-called mistakes.

...while keeping college-level discussions “safe” may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?

Only a few of the students want stronger anti-hate-speech codes. Mostly they ask for things like mandatory training sessions and stricter enforcement of existing rules. Still, it’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago. But those were hardier souls. Now students’ needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals — mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like. This new bureaucracy may be exacerbating students’ “self-infantilization,” as Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, suggested in an essay for Inside Higher Ed.

But why are students so eager to self-infantilize? Their parents should probably share the blame. Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, wrote on Slate last month that although universities cosset students more than they used to, that’s what they have to do, because today’s undergraduates are more puerile than their predecessors. “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” he wrote. But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children”...

...A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”

Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.” In a letter to the editor, the president and the vice president of the University of Chicago French Club, which had sponsored the talk, shot back, saying, “El Rhazoui is an immigrant, a woman, Arab, a human-rights activist who has known exile, and a journalist living in very real fear of death. She was invited to speak precisely because her right to do so is, quite literally, under threat.”

You’d be hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that the student and her defender had burrowed so deep inside their cocoons, were so overcome by their own fragility, that they couldn’t see that it was Ms. El Rhazoui who was in need of a safer space.

Rob's comment: It's not just college students that are increasingly puerile. So is City Hall, the MTA's management, many city progressives, and some local journalists, which they all demonstrated several years ago when Pamela Geller paid for that anti-jihad ad on Muni buses.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sam Harris on Christianity

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Where's the missing bicycle count report? 3

Mayor Lee

Lex sends this:

You can draw the logical conclusion from the missing count---cycling numbers are flat or declining.

The same stunt was pulled in New York City. Every year the Department of Transportation released the cycling numbers with great fanfare at a press conference. Then the rate of increase declined for 3 straight years. Then in 2013 they released the report 5 months late.

You're going to love this. They didn't call a press conference. Instead they just posted the numbers on their website and didn't notify anyone in the media.

It turns out that ridership had actually declined. Since then NYC hasn't released any cycling numbers for 2 years.

You can bet that if ridership had rebounded they'd be calling press conferences left and right.

Here's the NY Times story on the "stealth" release of the last cycling report. It makes for fun reading.

Rob's comment:
Yes, it's suspicious that San Francisco's bicycle count report, usually released in December, is now three months overdue. Maybe the MTA thought no one would ask about it, and they were almost right, since apparently no one in the rest of the city's media did ask about it. 

The city's media pounced uncritically on last year's report, which is what they usually do.

Could the bike revolution in San Francisco be stalled like it has in Portland and Vancouver? What if they build it on Polk Street and Masonic Avenue and no cyclists---or even very few---come? Naturally, the city will restore those streets to their previous configuration, right?

Click on "Bicycle Count Report" below for earlier posts on counting cyclists in San Francisco.

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We're number two!

Click for larger view

But we need to do better!

Thanks to Patheos.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The KCBS interview with Noah Budnick


Leah Shahum's successor as head of the Bicycle Coalition, Noah Budnick, will of course continue aggressively pushing the anti-car agenda of that special interest group. The interview (below) he did on KCBS the other day, with Jane McMillan and Ed Cavagnaro, provides us with a look into the mind of a bike lobbyist.

On Polk Street:

Polk Street being a great example where we came out with a set of safety improvements on one of the most dangerous streets in the city while working with local businesses to make sure that they can still do business.

As I've argued before, it's a lie that Polk Street is more dangerous than any other busy street in the city, let alone "one of the most dangerous streets in the city." Note Budnick's use of "we" in his response, which is appropriate since the Bicycle Coalition is a key partner with the MTA in making "improvements" to streets in San Francisco.

Now that the MTA is apparently no longer issuing its annual Collisions Reports that actually analyzed city streets to determine where/why most accidents happen, it can simply provide accident numbers to justify any and all "improvements" to city streets, especially the creation of bike lanes.

Budnick on the city's Vision Zero map:

One of the things that City Hall has done in the last year, which has been very helpful, is drawn a map of the most dangerous streets in the city, and that’s the place to start. We are in the age of data, and this is data-driven design, whether it’s making streets safer, whether it’s deploying enforcement resources, government figures how to do more with less. For me the starting point is looking at the data, so we know where the most dangerous streets are, and now we can work with the communities that are affected by those danger zones and, with government, come up with plans to make them safer.

Take a look at City Hall's Vision Zero map, and it's not hard find the "high injury" traffic corridors, since every busy street in the city seems to qualify and every city neighborhood is supposedly a "danger zone." That means the city and the Bicycle Coalition can justify creating bike lanes wherever they choose, eliminating traffic lanes and street parking on busy city streets in the process because, you understand, it's all about safety.

Budnick on planning projects:

...in San Francisco I’m really committed to that kind of education because it’s hard to take plans from planners that are often very technical and then help people understand how that affects them in their daily life.

Nonsense. The people in Polk Gulch have no problem understanding what the MTA and Budnick's organization are doing to Polk Street: They're taking away a lot of street parking to make separated bike lanes to benefit cyclists against the interests of people in the neighborhood and the many small businesses on the street.

Budnick is asked where specifically in the city it makes sense to install separated bike lanes:

So there are different degrees, and you’re right it does depend on the type of street, so there is design flexibility, you know, depending on how big the street is...Where you do have the width to work with, and I’ve seen this particularly South of Market, where you have these really wide one-way streets, there is plenty of room to take the parking and move it away from the curb about eight feet and then put the bike lane in there. So if you imagine it, you have your sidewalk and then you have your bike lane and then you have the parking that separates the bike lane from the moving traffic. World over this has been shown to be a very strong and safe design.

Budnick of course doesn't name any specific streets. Not included in his riff is this reality: the only way you can do what he's advocating here is by eliminating a traffic lane on that street.

I mean, traffic is not a zero-sum game. Transportation demand is elastic. It’s like any economic phenomenon. So if you build roads, people are going to drive. If you build busways, people will take the bus. If you build bikeways, people will ride bikes. So again it comes back to looking at how we can think holistically about a transportation system that gives people choices in how they get around.

Street design is in fact "a zero-sum game" in San Francisco. The only way you can create protected bike lanes here is by eliminating either street parking or traffic lanes on busy city streets. That's what the city is going to do on Polk Street (and on Masonic Avenue, by the way).

More nonsense about Polk Street:

I think, for example, what we’re going to see on Polk Street as the new bike lanes and safety improvements go in is that traffic will actually reduce, which will be a great thing for that neighborhood for all the great shops along Polk, and their business is going to thrive because right now 85% of the shoppers on Polk Street get there by foot, by bike, and by transit.

Of course people will drive less on Polk Street after this "improvement." If you can't park on the street to visit a small business or a restaurant, why would you drive there at all? The last is a reference to The Polk Street Intercept Survey done by the MTA. The survey found that 4.9% of those interviewed visited Polk Street by bicycle and 15.1% arrived in a car, which means that you should take away street parking to make a bike lane to benefit the 4.9%!

Budnick on his mom and cycling:

I often use my mom as my model cyclist, because when I lived in New York she would come there a couple of times a year, she would go on these big bike rides. She would have no problem going on a bike ride where there were a few thousand people around her, like the Tour de Brooklyn, one of the most popular rides we would do. And the day before the ride I would say, “Hey mom, let’s go ride up to the park,” she would say, “You’re crazy,” right? Here’s somebody who enjoys biking, goes out of her way to do it, but under normal circumstance wouldn’t ride a bike.

Budnick should listen to his mom, especially after the accident he had on his bike back in 2005:

On Tuesday, March 29, T.A.'s[Transportation Alternatives] Projects Director, Noah Budnick, struck a deep pothole and crashed as he bicycled in Brooklyn near the exit of the Manhattan Bridge bike path. Noah was transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he remained in intensive care for nine days. On April 13, Noah was airlifted to Boston where he is now undergoing rehabilitation for the head injuries he sustained in the crash.

You have to have something akin to a strong religious belief system to get back on a bike after an accident like that. Budnick doesn't like to talk about it because it makes riding a bike seem dangerous and discourages potential converts:

When we talk about bicycling, the conversation comes around to crashes too often. I’m trying to promote this activity, get more people to do it, so the last thing I want to do is tell them about a scary experience I had doing it.

That's why even wearing a helmet when cycling is controversial in San Francisco; it implies realistically that riding a bike can be dangerous.

For the same reason you won't catch Budnick talking about that UC report that found that the city failed to count more than 1,300 serious cycling injury accidents between 2000 and 2009. The NY Times wrote about it back in 2013, but this city's media still hasn't even mentioned it.

Like Leah Shahum, Budnick wants even children to ride bikes in San Francisco:

In San Francisco we talk a lot about streets that are safe enough for kids to ride bikes, so I think that’s also a great way to think about this. As a parent, what are the conditions where you would feel comfortable riding with your child taking him to school on your bike, and it’s really about these protected bike lanes that’s going to enable that.

Budnick likes having Critical Mass around so he can play the Good Cop to their Bad Cop:

I think I’ve been in San Francisco long enough this time to be here during Critical Mass, but I didn’t even notice it. I’m sure the drivers that were swamped by it did notice it, and I’m sure they were very annoyed. You know, it’s going to happen. San Francisco has a beautiful history of progressive politics and political protest, and here is one that is still alive and well...I think in my experience having kind of a left flank can be helpful and can be frustrating.

The KCBS interview:

Question: You’ve jumped right in. You’ve already been to the Board of Supervisors about the Polk Street bike lane issue. Tell us about the difference between advocating through city government in New York and advocating through San Francisco city government.

Answer: The two cities have very different forms of government, so I’m learning my way around San Francisco by doing. Polk Street was a great experience and a great way to be thrown into the pool on that. In New York it’s a strong mayor system of government. The mayor appoints the transportation commissioner, and the commissioner and the mayor make a lot of decisions. There’s a lot of community input in New York, but it’s different from San Francisco, where there’s a commission form of government and public hearings on projects, so the public participation is much closer in to the decision-making here. Which is great because San Francisco, like New York, is a city of beautiful neighborhoods and very unique places so to be able to have that level of public engagement I think really helps to improve projects. Polk Street being a great example where we came out with a set of safety improvements on one of the most dangerous streets in the city while working with local businesses to make sure that they can still do business.

We’ll look at Polk Street in detail in a minute, but first of all your general overview of transportation in San Francisco, where it really works, where it needs vast improvement.

This is a great city for riding a bike. It’s March and I rode down to the studio today on my bike. The drought notwithstanding, the weather is perfect for riding year around. I think that having a mix of transportation modes will make San Francisco a really great livable city. So making the network of bike lanes complete, interconnected, and safe, adding bikeshare into that mix, having your choice. Sometimes you do need to drive, so that all those people choosing to ride[bikes] frees up parking spaces for people who have to drive, it makes deliveries easier. What makes cities great is you have choices and transportation is the same way.

People who are concerned about transportation in the city and wonder about bike lane expansion, making bike lanes safer, connecting them all, wonder, well, I don’t bike, how would that affect me if I’m driving a car or on transit? 

That’s a great question and something that in Europe we did a lot of education around, and in San Francisco I’m really committed to that kind of education because it’s hard to take plans from planners that are often very technical and then help people understand how that affects them in their daily life. One of the ways I think about it from a driver’s perspective is that bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, they help better organize traffic and that keeps everybody out of each other’s way and out of harm’s way. I think that’s very important. So it improves cyclists’ safety and keeps bike riders in a bike lane where they are going to be safe, they are going to be predictable, drivers know where they are going to be and also drivers have their space on the road, too. So that from a driver’s perspective thinking about, you know, having the roads better organized as more and more people ride bikes is going to be a benefit that they’ll see.

Hearing you describe it that way might make all parties feel a little bit better because there is this tension and there is chaos on the streets on the part of bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians and there are some very dangerous areas here. I want to ask about the overall goal of the SF Bike Coalition, where San Francisco is on 100 miles of connected bikeways, and where the most dangerous spots are where there is not this organization.

Good question, Jane. The city has a few dozen miles of bike lanes right now, and we need to go beyond the number of bike lanes. It’s important but we need to think of it as a network of interconnected bikeways. That’s what the Bicycle Coalition means when it talks about this 100 mile goal, that it’s not just anywhere in the city but it’s a growing network, so people can actually make trips from a to b. One of the things that City Hall has done in the last year, which has been very helpful, is drawn a map of the most dangerous streets in the city, and that’s the place to start. We are in the age of data, and this is data-driven design, whether it’s making streets safer, whether it’s deploying enforcement resources, government figures how to do more with less. For me the starting point is looking at the data, so we know where the most dangerous streets are, and now we can work with the communities that are affected by those danger zones and, with government, come up with plans to make them safer.

Give us some of those toughest spots.

Essentially the Tenderloin, when you look at the map, is criss-crossed with red, and that’s an area where Supervisor Jane Kim has really stood up, and the MTA is putting in bulb-outs at the corners, which are pedestrian improvements that make the sidewalk wider at the corners. So what that does is gives pedestrians a shorter crossing distance, which is great, especially for seniors and for kids who walk a little bit slower, they don’t have as far to go. It makes them more visible, and it also slows down drivers so that they can’t whip around turns really fast and cut people off. And that’s also great for bike riders, too, because most collisions happen at intersections, so anything to improve intersection safety is going to help pedestrians obviously, but from a bike rider’s point of view will be a safety improvement as well.

Where there are bike lanes, there are what you would call good bike lanes and bad bike lanes. The ideal would be, I guess, physically protected bike lanes, correct? We have some of those. Tell us about that whole dynamic---dedicated bike lanes, protected bike lanes, and the future of them.

It’s been really exciting. I’ve worked in bicycle advocacy for over 15 years, so to see the development of the design and how it’s improved in the U.S. has been a great stride that has happened in this country. And it’s also very exciting to work with the staff both in the New York City DOT and at the San Francisco MTA, to see the people who work on these really learning and are very smart as they’ve improved design. I often use my mom as my model cyclist, because when I lived in New York she would come there a couple of times a year, she would go on these big bike rides. She would have no problem going on a bike ride where there were a few thousand people around her, like the Tour de Brooklyn, one of the most popular rides we would do. And the day before the ride I would say, “Hey mom, let’s go ride up to the park,” she would say, “You’re crazy,” right? Here’s somebody who enjoys biking, goes out of her way to do it, but under normal circumstance wouldn’t ride a bike. So that’s where protected bike lanes come in, where you have this physical protection between the bike riders and the moving traffic. In San Francisco we talk a lot about streets that are safe enough for kids to ride bikes, so I think that’s also a great way to think about this. As a parent, what are the conditions where you would feel comfortable riding with your child taking him to school on your bike, and it’s really about these protected bike lanes that’s going to enable that.

Could you describe what you mean by protected bike lanes? You don’t mean little plastic cones separating traffic from the bike lane. Are you talking about parking perhaps separating it? How would that work? Is that practical on all the places where you want major bike lanes, and again how would that affect people who are driving and parking?

So there are different degrees, and you’re right it does depend on the type of street, so there is design flexibility, you know, depending on how big the street is. On a few streets in San Francisco, you will see those plastic posts that do separate the bike lanes from the moving traffic, and I think that’s a nice first step, or it’s a good step where the street doesn’t have a lot of width. Where you do have the width to work with, and I’ve seen this particularly South of Market, where you have these really wide one-way streets, there is plenty of room to take the parking and move it away from the curb about eight feet and then put the bike lane in there. So if you imagine it, you have your sidewalk and then you have your bike lane and then you have the parking that separates the bike lane from the moving traffic. World over this has been shown to be a very strong and safe design.

We see that in Golden Gate Park, and it’s confusing to a lot of people. How much education needs to take place to make sure it’s safe?

Education goes hand in glove with all this work. Golden Gate Park was the first parking protected bike lane in the city, so there’s a big learning curve there. It’s also I think the only parking protected bike lane right now in the city, so it’s kind of an anomaly, so there needs to be extra education that goes along with that. But as we saw in New York, as these designs become more common, people get used to it and people adjust to it, both bike riders and drivers and, importantly, I think the businesses along these streets. In New York we did a lot of work with businesses to make sure that they would still have delivery access when the new designs went in. That’s very important to me.

In the beginning, we talked about the differences in working with city hall in New York versus San Francisco. As you mentioned, there are some similarities---another world-class city, lovely neighborhoods. But the geography of San Francisco is very different---the winding streets, the hills, and certainly in New York---Manhattan, especially---there’s a premium on space, but I don’t think anyone can beat the premium on space here in San Francisco right now. So folks are trying to visualize where we could possibly put bike lanes without reducing vehicle access.

I think the important way to look at this and to think about it is thinking about access and mobility. We’re not talking about moving the most number of cars or the most number of bikes; we’re talking about moving the most number of people. So in the 21st Century city, what we’re seeing across the country is government, communities, advocates having to retrofit the cities that were designed in a 1950s, interstate highway mindset, where they were designed for one mode only, which is for cars, to the exclusion of practically everything else. And so it’s been great to develop this new idea where we’re talking about how can we safely move the most number of people in a city. And so that comes back to providing choice for how people move around, and San Francisco has a robust transit system, which is great. You know the first few weeks I was here before I had my bicycles delivered I was riding the bus everywhere, and it was a great way to get a sense of the city. And sometimes you do need to drive, so it’s a matter of looking at where people are living, where they are traveling to on a regular basis and then giving them various options that are cost-effective and time-competitive to get there.

There still remains though the space issue, so where is your organization in maybe acknowledging that certain streets and certain areas are not going to be able to accommodate bike lanes, versus where our city planners[are] acknowledging that some streets may need to be redesigned and retrofitted for the choices you’re talking about.

I mean, traffic is not a zero-sum game. Transportation demand is elastic. It’s like any economic phenomenon. So if you build roads, people are going to drive. If you build busways, people will take the bus. If you build bikeways, people will ride bikes. So again it comes back to looking at how we can think holistically about a transportation system that gives people choices in how they get around. I think, for example, what we’re going to see on Polk Street as the new bike lanes and safety improvements go in is that traffic will actually reduce, which will be a great thing for that neighborhood for all the great shops along Polk, and their business is going to thrive because right now 85% of the shoppers on Polk Street get there by foot, by bike, and by transit.

That’s what you say. They say we’re really worried about our business on Polk Street. So let’s talk about Polk Street. First of all, how do you respond to those business people who say there’s no parking, people are not going to come down here, I’m worried I’m going to lose my business.

The week before the MTA’s hearing on Polk Street I went for a walk on Polk Street, almost the entire length, with Supervisor Christensen and three business leaders from Polk Street, and it was really great and helpful for me to hear their first-hand experience and their concerns. You can take this with a few grains, but what they said to me was we know that most of our customers don’t drive. What we are really concerned about is deliveries. I said I hear you on that. That’s absolutely key, and we want to work with you to figure out how to make deliveries work and have safety. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good on Polk Street.

The MTA vote was seen by many as a compromise between the two. Can you tell us where it stands now, what’s going to happen, and what you hope might happen down the road.

So the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was really hoping for the MTA to come with a plan that went all the way on Polk Street from McAllister to Viejo[sic], and the plan that they approved only goes from McAllister to Pine Street.

You’re talking about protected bike lanes or dedicated bike lanes?

It’ll be a mix of protected and dedicated bike lanes, depending on the street. It’s a very smart design, and it really shows the huge tool box that the MTA has to tailor the design to streets as the street changes, as the topography changes. I think they’re very creative and smart in how they did it. We just would’ve liked to see the design go for more blocks because Polk is such a key connector in the bike network. The design that did get approved is on the most dangerous part of Polk Street, so we’re very happy about that because it’s going to bring really important safety improvements for bike riders and for pedestrians.

You think it will be extended at some point?

That’s our goal, and the plus side of the MTA vote was that during the board discussion they adopted an amendment asking for MTA staff to come back a year after the improvements are put in with some data to take a look. So they’ve been mandated to bring some before and after data and have a number of analysis of what’s going on on Polk Street.

You mentioned deliveries. Let’s talk about double parking and how the Bike Coalition is working with the city. It’s a dangerous situation. It’s frustrating to anybody trying to move through, whether they’re on foot, on a bike, or in a car, but it’s an absolute necessity for commerce.

You know, double parking makes things dangerous for bike riders when people double-park in bike lanes, you have to swerve out into traffic. For pedestrians it’s very dangerous because it blocks sightlines and requires pedestrians then to actually stand in the roadbed if they want to cross the street and see what’s coming. It’s hard for drivers too to see around double-parked cars. It’s not good for anybody. Double parking is really a symptom of poorly-managed curb space and bad curb policies, right? The curbs are underpriced, so people just put their cars at the curb, even if they’re paying a meter, and they just feed the meter all day long because, you know, if you’re lucky enough to get a space at the curb it’s much less expensive than parking in a garage. And what does that mean? It means that the guys that have to make deliveries are double parking. So I think that, you know, when we do look at safety improvements it is very important to look at the curb regulations on those streets and clean it up. And there’s a lot you can do with a curb, because not only do you have the three dimensional space of the curb, but you can also think about how the use changes throughout the day. In the morning, you might ban metered parking and just make it available for deliveries, and then in the evening and the daytime, when there are customers coming in, you make that available for metered parking and you set the meter rates at a level where the people come, they do their business, and then they go, and then it opens up the space for someone else to come and do some more shopping.

This is a taxi city, there are a lot of tourists in and out, but also with the increase in Uber and Lyft and these modes of transportation we’re seeing a lot more car traffic in San Francisco looking for an addresses---stopping, starting, pulling up. Has the Bicycle Coalition weighed in on the Uber-Lyft increase in San Francisco?

We’re looking at it, we haven’t in any formal way. Our top priority in looking at the on-demand livery services is safety. Coming from New York, the taxi industry in New York is probably the most heavily regulated industry in the city. The New York City taxi commission does great work on ensuring drivers are safe. As an advocate there, we pushed them to do more. San Francisco does not have something like that, and so with the increase in Uber and Lyft we feel that safety should be the top priority.

You mentioned your stroll down Polk Street with some merchants who are concerned. What can the members of your coalition do to improve that relationship, not only with merchants, but with car drivers.

We had a member event a couple of weeks ago, and one of the points I tried to make to the audience there was that we should not be on opposite sides on issues with local merchants. And if you look at the people who embrace cycling, the love they have for this city, they all shop at local merchants, they love local business. That’s just part of what makes a city great, that city neighborhoods have these great local characteristics. And one simple thing I said to San Francisco Bicycle Coalition supporters is that when you go into a business, have your bike helmet under your arm, let them know you rode your bike there, just kind of throw it in, just kind of connect those dots for the merchants because they hear that, they’re thinking about their business, they’re thinking about making payroll and getting the next delivery on time. They’re not really thinking about coming and going, so be a little obvious.

What about relationships with pedestrians and car drivers who unfairly look at a few bad apples and say that bike riders are reckless, they blow through stops, they speed, they don’t care about anything else. How do you fix that image?

I appreciate that you point out that it’s just a few bad apples. People always remember the near-miss and the jerk that cut them off, but they don’t think about the people that stop and that’s the majority of cyclists that I’ve seen, you know, riding down Market Street, just hordes of bike riders for the most part well-behaved. We do need to do better, though, and the Bike Coalition is really committed to raising awareness among our members and bike riders about the need for safety, if nothing else, to not harm others on the street. But in terms of public relations, too, it’s important to lead by example, and, you know, to behave in ways that are exemplary.

How important is it for bicyclists, your general member, to stop at every stop sign, not just the lights because you know that happens a lot. The enforcement of the law is much more lax for cyclists than for motorists. 

Yeah, you know, we ask all bike riders to adhere to traffic laws in the city. This comes back to what I was talking about at the top of the segment about we’re retrofitting our cities, and so it’s frustrating for bike riders because we have streets that are designed for cars, and that means that a lot of stop signs, especially going up the hills in San Francisco, and so there’s a lot of balancing needs that need to be met. So working with the MTA and working with communities, making them aware of bike riders’ needs hopefully we can come up with street designs that result in better bike behavior. That’s what I’ve seen in New York is that when you make designs that are encompassing all the modes on the street, everybody gains in recognizing that biking is a legitimate, officially recognized form of transportation in the city then behavior and safety improve.

I know that Critical Mass is not an event that is spawned by your organization, but as long as we’re talking about perception is that something, as new head of the Bicycle Coalition in San Francisco, do you see that as being helpful anymore? Talking about raising the ire! What do you think?

Answer: Well, I haven’t been here long enough to…

Oh, come on!

[laughs] I’ve been here long enough to dodge that. [stammers] As a student of movement politics, it’s really interesting to look at the history of the bike movement and where Critical Mass started, where it came out of and the way it catalyzed bike advocacy in the 90s. I think I’ve been in San Francisco long enough this time to be here during Critical Mass, but I didn’t even notice it. I’m sure the drivers that were swamped by it did notice it, and I’m sure they were very annoyed. You know, it’s going to happen. San Francisco has a beautiful history of progressive politics and political protest, and here is one that is still alive and well.

But is it helpful even to your cause at this point? If your message, as the new director of this very vocal and powerful advocacy organization, is it helpful for you to have this conflict once a month?

I don’t know. I think in my experience having kind of a left flank can be helpful and can be frustrating. I’m going to see how this plays out as I put a few more weeks and months under my belt at the Bike Coalition.

Bikeshare: Is it catching on in San Francisco? What needs to happen to make it a real viable alternative for everybody?

It’s been piloted here in San Francisco, and I think this city is perfect for bikeshare in a lot of ways. It’s a city of neighborhoods, the downtown area where there are people at work and doing business all day, it’s very flat and very easy to peddle. What needs to happen is we need a density of stations. Right now the system is very hard to use because it’s hard to know where you can get a bike and where you can drop it off. Ideally, bikeshare systems work where you don’t have to give it a second thought. If you are walking out of your office and, say, heading to a meeting, you can glance around and see within sight distance a bikeshare kiosk, and then you’ll ride to where you’re going and you’ll know that within two blocks or so there will be a place where you can return, so it doesn’t take a lot of planning or technical expertise to use the system. There’s tremendous demand for bikeshare from the people I’ve talked to around San Francisco so far, and what needs to happen is it just needs to get amped up.

Does it need to be subsidized to work? 

New York City has the only completely privately funded bikeshare system in the country, so New York has shown there is a workable business model. The other systems across the country which have also been successful have used public funds. There are federal monies that are available to invest in bikeshare. I think San Francisco will have a mix of that, of public funds, probably federal dollars, and private funds. From a business perspective, this is a great market for bikeshare. I think smart companies are going to look at bikeshare here and are going to want to be associated with it.

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More motor vehicles registered in SF than ever


According to the DMV, there are more motor vehicles registered in San Francisco than ever. For 2014: 403,246 autos, 55,688 trucks, 22,853 motorcycles/motor bikes for a total of 481,787 (I always subtract the trailers).

Back in 2000 there were 451,879 registered motor vehicles in the city.

The anti-car folks are in denial about this reality. From Streetsblog last year:

The stats show that car ownership is declining[in SF] almost as fast as the population is growing. The data don’t distinguish which specific housing units have cars, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of all the new condo buildings going up are car-free. But the broader effect is reverberating throughout the city — whether car-free residents are moving in where car-owning residents previously lived, or residents are selling their cars.

See this also.

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