Monday, September 18, 2006

Bikes in SF: The debate goes on

Anonymous wrote:
The CSM article cites the SFBC[San Francisco Bicycle Coalition] as a 6,000 member organization. I thought the numbers were closer to 9,000.

Rob Anderson wrote:
According to their website, they have 5900 members. But in the internet poll that accompanied the recent Rachel Gordon story in the Chronicle ("Cycling Supporters on a Roll..." Aug. 21), only 1800 people responded. The pro-bike responses out-polled those who were critical of the influence of the SFBC 54% to 46%, which, by my reckoning, means only 972 votes for the SFBC, not a very good turnout for an organization that claims thousands of members.

Kai Raouseman wrote:
"only 972 votes" not a good turnout? That's almost 20% for one random article in the paper. As an SFBC member, I can assure you they made no effort to ask their members to vote in that survey. Ironically, you did! Which is the only reason I found out about it. Thanks for that!Message to Dan Woon - bravo on a great article! Don't waste your time justifying yourself to Rob!

Rob Anderson wrote:
The SFBC did in fact alert their email list to the Chronicle poll in an August 21 bulletin that even I received. Anyone who has thought for a minute about polls understands that results are often skewed by the questions asked. As I point out, if the question had been, "Is it okay for the city and the SFBC to take away traffic lanes and street parking in your neighborhood to make bike lanes?" the results would have been less favorable to the SFBC. I gave Dan Wood some soundbites he could have used to better effect, like "Bicycles are only a cut above skateboards as serious transportation 'mode' in San Francisco." I tried to tell him how the SFBC has an improper relationship with our city government. As an advocacy group that endorses Critical Mass, it's improper, for example, for DPT to hotlink to the SFBC on its website. And it was improper for the city to contract with the SFBC, an advocacy group, to do "public outreach" for the Bicycle Plan update. But I didn't point out to Wood---who is based in L.A. and doesn't really know city politics---that getting Chris Daly to endorse something doesn't butter many parsnips in SF, except for the fringe left.

Good on you, Kai, for reading my blog and finding out about the poll. Judging from the comments I get, a lot of my readers are people who disagree with me. The fact that 46% of those polled by the Chronicle actually agreed with me is more remarkable than the SFBC turnout, since I am the only media outlet in the city that has been critical of the SFBC and the Bicycle Plan. It shows not that they read my blog, but that a lot of people aren't buying into the SFBC's fantasy vision of the city's transportation future, i.e., that bikes are ever going to play a serious role as a transit "mode" in San Francisco. If, as I hope, the court orders the city to do an EIR on the Bicycle Plan, that 46% will grow, when people in the neighborhoods learn what the city and the SFBC really have planned for their streets.

Anonymous wrote:
Let's think about this a second; commuter bicycle trips in 2000: 1.9% commuter bicycle trips in 1990: .95% hmmm...percent of traffic that is commuter traffic: around 30-50% SFBC members in 2000: around 3000SFBC members in 2006: around 6000 comments: Bike trips for the commute doubled in ten years. SFBC membership, if we can assume it has some correspondence to people who use bikes in the city, doubled in 6 years. The population of San Francisco has not doubled in that time period, so more people are using bikes. I suggest these numbers indicate a growth trend in bicycle use. It must also be pointed out that there are around 400,000 registered autos in SF. But let's not forget that registering bicycles is not required and if SF is anywhere near the rest of the country in bicycle ownership that means there are 200,000 bicycles in this city.

Rob Anderson wrote:
Your numbers are unconvincing. Since the 2000 Census is the source of the 1.9% number, it's unreliable for two reasons: It's an old number, and the dotcom bust and the 9/11 recession happened shortly thereafter when the city actually lost population. Hence, there really are no reliable numbers. I've been back in SF since 1995, and my impression is that there aren't more cyclists on city streets. Being a member of the SFBC is just another way to get your PC politcal ticket punched here in Progressive Land, not a reliable indication of how many really use bikes as a serious means of transportation. Let's take a closer look at the motor vehicle numbers that you are a little fuzzy about. If you count autos, trucks, and motorcycles/motorbikes, as of Jan. 2006 there were 452,813 motor vehicles registered in SF (373,115 autos, 62,127 trucks, and 17,571 motorcycles/motorbikes). Then you have to add the number of motor vehicles that enter SF on a typical workday, which, according to the SFCTA is 35,400. Add to that the total number of Muni vehicles: 1000. True, bikes aren't registered, and there are no doubt a lot of them in SF. But I suspect that most of them are parked more or less permanently in the laundry room or the basement with the treadmill, alongside cartons full of vegematics and fondue sets.

Anonymous wrote:
B.S.; it's just as likely that a car stays parked in the garage and taken out mostly for weekends. The car owners I know in SF use them precisely for that. If registration numbers are going to indicate daily drivers, then SFBC numbers are surely going to indicate daily bikers, in all fairness. Perhaps the bike does sit next to a Fondue set, but you certainly don't see a 6,000-member organization promoting "Fondue for everyday eating", now do you? So you're not making a fair comparison. The SFBC is a pretty mainstream group, considering the political bent of the city in general; not the lefty badge of courage suggested in your blog. Maybe if it was in Houston or Orange County your "radical" characterization would be palatable. I'm certain you are right about the flood of car traffic coming in from "other areas", but I don't see why people in the city should be discouraged from using bikes just because the suburbanites don't use them. When we fail to provide bike infrastructure, we discourage bike use; it's just that simple. So the 'burb warriors want to drive their car into the city for work? That's great! But they have no right to force their transportation priorities on the residents of this city, a large minority of whom are asking for more bike infrastructure. It's the kind of thing that, if unmanaged, gives us the tragedy of the commons we have at the moment. Rob, let's set some transportation standards. If the number of bicycle commuters is only 1.9%, then let's give them only 1.9% of the city's budget for commuter travel!

p.s. If there are "no reliable numbers" then you should think about refraining from using them in your arguments.

Rob Anderson wrote:
Yes, the SFBC is seen as a "mainstream" group in SF, but my critique points out that the people of SF don't really understand what it stands for politically: The SFBC is as much anti-car as it is pro-bike. Why, for example, did the SFBC oppose the undergound garage in Golden Gate Park? The new garage and remodeled Concourse took 200 parking spaces off the Concourse itself, along with 600 additional parking spaces off park roads. If it isn't anti-car, why on earth would the SFBC oppose that? The SFBC also endorses Critical Mass on its website, a monthly demo that deliberately flouts traffic laws. You can spin the numbers any way you want, but they all show that only a small minority of city residents commute via bicycle. The SFCTA itself---which is pro-bike and actually paid for the Bicycle Plan update---says 1% of city residents commute by bike. The 1.9% number is even less reliable when you consider that the city's population was more than 776,000 in 2000 when the last Census took place. It is now less than 740,000. I was here in 2000, and I don't notice any more bikes on the streets now, though admittedly I'm a biased observer. What "tragedy of the commons" are you talking about? San Francisco has always been a commuter's city, because this is where the jobs are.

Let's not forget the real issue here: the Bicycle Plan that wants to take away traffic lanes and street parking in city neighborhoods to make bicycle lanes. Given the vehicle numbers I cited in my previous response, this would be dumb transportation policy. And, just as important, I don't think it's sustainable politically once city voters figure out what the SFBC and its enablers in city government want to do to streets in their neighborhoods.

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22 Comments:

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bicycle rider needs so little space compared to a car driver it is ridiculous not to make some small concessions for bicyclists.

It is especially ridiculous when you consider the number of people who would use the bike infrastructure (if it were there) instead of the overburdened space made for cars.

Remember that we have had to pave over 30 percent of the city to make room for cars, that vast amounts of space sits for the sole purpose of cars that arent in use (parking spaces). We've dug underground to accomodate them! We've narrowed sidewalks and taken out transit to accomodate them!

If the city puts a bike lane on a road, in many people's minds it's like saying "Go ahead, Bike here." But if there is no support for biking, the city sends the message "This road is not for biking." People respond to that. This is the best way to reduce car traffic in the city.

Let's say another 1% decided to commute by bike. It doesn't sound like much, but in real numbers that's 7,000 less cars on the road, 49,000 less parking spaces that will be needed, many tons of emissions kept out of the air, healthier people, and a more pleasant city overall.

Nobody is happy sitting in their car in a traffic jam. We've paved the city over on the assumption that people only want to drive. That assumption has turned out to be false; people want out of their cars. People enjoy riding bikes. Let's then, at the very least, provide support for what they want, so they have an actual choice about how they want to live.

 
At 1:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

How many people would use bicycle lanes if they are built is entirely speculative, since the city doesn't really know how many people are commuting by bike now. But we do have an idea how many cars, trucks, and buses already use city streets. Hence, taking away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes is bad policy if the proper environmental and traffic studies aren't done first. (There are some streets where bike lanes make sense, like Valencia; it's flat and no street parking was lost in making the bike lanes.) Since 452,813 people in SF have already chosen to own motor vehicles, and, according to the SF County Transportation Authority, another 130,000 residents use Muni to get to work, the city has to deal with the these realities, not your utopian notion that, if there were more bike lanes, people would abandon their cars and ride bikes.

Actually, I'm not against bike lanes or bicycle safety. What the litigation against the city's Bicycle Plan is about is whether they have done the proper environmental review of the Plan before they adopted it and began implementing it. In my opinion, they clearly haven't, and the court is likely to order them to do an EIR on the whole Bicycle Plan. Then we can all know exactly what the city and the SFBC want to do to our neighborhood streets.

 
At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't think people want bikes, I have two words for you: critical mass.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

And I have one word for you: bullshit.

But seriously, Anon: Could you provide some evidence for your claim? In what way does Critical Mass reflect a popular groundswell for bikes? I can plausibly argue that Critical Mass actually harms the bike cause in SF by annoying people stuck in traffic.

 
At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that going from 50 participants to thousands qualifies as "groundswell".

I would say that when the cops tell you that people like critical mass it qualifies for "popular".

CM starts in SF and 15 years later has spread to 300 cities around the world. I'd say that's pretty significant.

CM hasn't helped the "bike cause"? After the police riot of '97 SFBC membership doubled. That is helping the bike cause. CM gets bikes on the street. That is perhaps the BEST way to help the bike cause.

Before CM the needs of bicyclists were all but invisible. After CM legislators and politicians had a new contingency to deal with and CM's popular expression led to better conditions for bicyclists.

CM evokes a world where the dominating role of the automobile has been suspended. I wouldn't underestimate this.

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your interpretation of the positive effects of Critical Mass is tainted by your bias. How many of the participants even live in SF? One cop saying something positive might be good for your political self-estemm, but it does not a "groundswell" make. The fact that the infantile Critical Mass demo has spread to other cities only shows that there's a lot of infantile cyclists in the country, which isn't surprising. The bike movement in SF isn't driven by Critical Mass---though the SFBC uses it as a recruiting tool---but by the SFBC's in-the-trenches political work in SF. You can "evoke" all the utopias you want, but the auto still dominates city streets and will for the forseeable future, which is the reality that the city needs to take into account, not the juvenile antics of young folks still working out their Mommy and Daddy issues on city streets every month.

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep throwing this 1.9% number around, citing the 2000 Census (and even got the fools at the Chronicle to print it), but how is it derived? Because there's no question on the Census that measures what you purport it to mean.

And yes, the 2000 Census was taken during a bubble economy, and things have certainly changed, but that fact alone is not data. What things look like to you is not data either.

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's actually rather generous of me to cite the 1.9% number, since it's the highest number you bike folks have. The SF County Transit Authority says only 1% of city residents commute via bicycle. It's the Bicycle Plan itself that cites this number as being in the 2000 Census. Anyhow, that's my point about these numbers: 1.9% is the highest reliable number available for you bike nuts to cite, and it's pretty squishy given the significant economic and demographic changes since 2000. Of course I understand my impressions of what's happening on city streets is strictly anecdotal evidence, but other commenters keep insisting that their anecdotal evidence is somehow better than mine.

In short, we don't really know how many people are using bikes as transportation in the city right now. Hence, redesigning city streets---removing traffic lanes and street parking, in particular---to make bike lanes without some serious traffic and environmental study is pure folly. That's my point in a nutshell.

 
At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you're not trying to get an environmental review; that is nothing but a pretext you have used.

It's a frivolous lawsuit brought on to throw a wrench in the gears of the bike coalition's work.

 
At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is infantile about critical mass?

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"No, you're not trying to get an environmental review; that is nothing but a pretext you have used.It's a frivolous lawsuit brought on to throw a wrench in the gears of the bike coalition's work."

If the lawsuit is "frivolous," why did Judge Warren issue an injunction? And, for that matter, why didn't Judge Busch---who, like Warren, is a no-nonsense guy---just throw the whole thing out last Tuesday? Because the suit raises serious legal questions about how the city has proceeded in passing and implementing the Bicycle Plan. The SFBC's "work" is the same as the city's in this instance and thus legally dubious. You can challenge my motives all you want, but all that proves is your ignorance of the real issues involved in this litigation.

 
At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This thing is all about motives.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"This thing is all about motives."

No it isn't. I assume your motives are good, that you think you are arguing on behalf of the public interest. Why can't you make the same assumption about mine? And it's convenient for you to believe that my motives are impure, because that will allow you to dismiss my argument, to which, by the way, you still haven't responded.

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger Aaron said...

Chronicle polls are used for entertainment purposes. Stop pretending they have some kind of meaning. They are easy to manipulate. They are used to get you to come back to the website and read more.
Neither side in a debate should point to them as having some kind of meaning or pretending that the result represent the will of the electorate.

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Aaron:

The Chronicle polls are not the same as a real opinion poll of voters in SF, but, at the very least, they suggest that the SFBC's support in the city may not be as universal as they and their facilitators at City Hall seem to think.

 
At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a thought on the bike debate:

It seems to me that in a city with so much turnover, people moving into it from other places and leaving after a little while, there may be a difference between the kind of city the shorter term residents need and the kind the longer term do.

I think that (perhaps) in the case of the bike debate, this plays out so that suburban-type values and the values of people only residing for a short time reflect the cars vs. bikes thing.

People who are moving away in a couple of years do not have a direct interest in things that will make the city more liveable in any long-term way. They may just want to get their money and bail when they get a new job (or whatever).

Or they may see the city as some kind of spectacle, especially if they haven't been here long, and not something that they are actually involved in shaping with the decisions they make.

In this way I think some particularly urban sorts of movements, decisions, and ideals get watered down.

There are areas of SF that are being rapidly suburbanized. This kind of development is based on the use of cars as transport. As long as we develop these kinds of projects, people are going to have a stake in keeping car infrastructure.

If we plan differently, or begin with different assumptions, we see that if you plan around something other than automobile transportation as your starting point, you get a different kind of development where cars are all but unecessary.

That has a direct effect on people's transportation choices and habits of living.

So it is essentially a planning and design issue, NOT a transportation one.

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1% number is too low, because you pulled it out of your ass. 1.9% number is too low, because of the design of the Census. David Binder polls have consistently shown the number to be closer to 5%.

The SFBC did not oppose the concourse garage. It took no position.

If you're going to spend your life in your basement blogging voluminously, you might want to take the time to get a fact straight now and then.

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I pulled the 1% number out of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's Countywide Transportation Plan, which is available at their 100 Van Ness office. The David Binder poll cited in the Bicycle Plan was a poll only of registered voters, which even the Plan admits skews the results somewhat. And Binder tends to ask pro-bike questions, like "Do you want more bicycle lanes in SF?" He should also ask this question: "Do you want traffic lanes and street parking eliminated in your neighborhood to make bike lanes?" You may have a point about the SFBC not officially opposing Prop. J, but only recently Leah Shahum co-authored an op-ed in the Chronicle (May 9, 2006)with Warren Hellman that had this opening: "One of us leads a grassroots group that fought against building an 800-car garage in Golden Gate Park years ago...the other led the successful effort to build the garage..." Why would she say that if the SFBC didn't oppose the garage?

 
At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bicycle lanes ARE traffic lanes.

 
At 12:53 PM, Anonymous nathan said...

I know that writing this is futile. People who have small minds require big cars to make them feel like real people. When your mind is so closed that you consider the idea of bicycles as nothing more than toys, then you sadly lack the ability to think outside of your big steel death machine.

I only hope that those people who insist on fattening themselves up with their lazy, unpatriotic attempts at keeping Americans from staying healthy will follow their Republican overlords into the backdrop of our society.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There are small minds, and then there are minds devoid of relevant information. I don't in fact own a car and haven't for more than 20 years. Your contempt for your fellow Americans is typical of you bike twits. I'm a Democrat, by the way, as is Judge Busch who issued the decision against the city, which was obviously flouting the law in the way they were pushing the Bicycle Plan through the system.

 
At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, I have been living here since 1981 and have been a bicyclist the entire time. I can tell you, bike riding is way up in the last 10 years. I don't need statistics to prove this to me. There's a lot more company on our city streets. Sorry if you are missing out on it. Are you unable to ride, or just don't like it?
Devon (crabulux)

 

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