Sunday, September 10, 2006

Feedback from a bike guy

This is in response to a comment (in italics below) on a blog item posted last year.

"...before you villify cyclists and imply (or outright say) that they are dangerous, why don't you try riding a bicycle in traffic yourself? Personally, as a cyclist, I find your comments rather insulting (as I'm supposed to clearly) and rather well...stupid is the word. You mention very obviously that cycling in the city is an inherently dangerous activity (and this is true in most cities) the reason it is dangerous is NOT the cyclist."
 
I'm not saying that cyclists are dangerous but that cycling in the city is dangerous. As the item you're responding points out, Bert Hill---an SFBC guy, who has taught cycling safety---says that most cycling accidents are solo falls that have nothing to do with other vehicles. That is, it's the activity itself that is risky, not just the fact that cyclists have to share the streets with cars, trucks, and buses.

"As a mechanic who sees MANY cyclists bringing their bikes for repair after being hit by cars, I have to say that the vast majority of cyclist-car collisions go ureported. For every cyclist who has a police report, I see five who have not called the police. This, obviously, is bad for them, but it is also bad for all cyclists because statistics are skewed due to unreported collisions."
 
Yes, this is what I'm saying: Riding a bike in the city is dangerous. I agree too that there are no reliable statistics on cycling accidents in the city. It sounds like cycling is even more dangerous than I thought.
 
You quote from another of my blog posts: "For generations cyclists and pedestrians have dealt with motor vehicles turning on the same light they use to cross intersections. Why is this particular intersection singled out for special attention? Because the Bicycle Coalition and its fellow travelers in city government are increasingly allowing the safety of cyclists---a tiny minority in SF---to trump all other considerations, including the commonsense notion of easy freeway access for motorists." And your response: "It seems to me sir, that the safety of any citizen of any city should be considered before convenience of any citizen."
 
But my point about that particular piece of SFBC-encouraged folly is that we get the worst of both worlds in that area---inconvenience for thousands of motorists, traffic made worse than it has to be, and virtually no gain in safety for cyclists at that intersection, since the dumb law is regularly being flouted by motorists. In fact, by forcing drivers to take a more circuitous route to get on the freeway, the city is contributing to the traffic problems in the Market/Octavia area, where the appalling new Octavia Blvd., according to DPT, was aleady close to capacity six months after it opened up last year. It's all about a reasonable balance in a city that, according to the DMV, has 452,813 registered motor vehicles, along with 1000 Muni vehicles, and God knows how many people driving into the city from other areas every day. The 2000 Census says that 1.9% of the city's residents commute by bike, though the SFCTA puts that figure at 1%. So the number one priority of the city should be ensuring the maximum safety for cyclists? Only a bike nut can think that's good transportation policy.
 
"If the automobile was not the dominant feature of the roadway, you'd see changes in all of those demographics." And if pigs had wings, they might be able to fly. As the figures I cite above show, automobiles---and trucks, buses, and motorcycles---are in fact "dominant" on the streets of this and every other city in the country. The bike zealot "vision" is one that denies that central reality of life on the streets of San Francisco. It's a question of what's real and what's not.
 
"I also wish to make mention of your specific mention of cyclists 'intimidating pedestrians out of crosswalks'...I have to say that this is EXACTLY what a cyclist feels when in traffic. Just as pedestrians have every right to be in the crosswalk and not be intimidated, so also do cyclists have the right to ride their bicycles on the street without fear of death. Furthermore, as a frequent pedestrian, I have to say that cars are FAR more threatening than cyclists."
 
Of course they are. That's my point. You have the legal "right" to ride a bike on city streets, but it's a right that's best left unexercised due to the safety issues discussed above. Yes, there's a kind of Darwinian pecking order on the streets: Cars intimidate cyclists, and cyclists in turn intimidate pedestrians. Neither behavior is justifiable.
 
"If your anti-car crusade ends up making traffic worse for cars, it will also make traffic worse for Muni---the main means of transportation of thousands of city residents---not to mention making traffic worse for emergency vehicles." I have to say, having been a participant of a number of Critical Mass rides when an emergency vehicle needed to pass through, what happens is truly amazing. Bicycles, when in use, require a bit of space for rider comfort and safety. When a cyclist is alterted to the fact that an emergency vehicle needs to get through, they simply pick up their bike and MAKE ROOM! It's really astounding to watch a street suddenly clear before a firetruck or ambulance.
 
I cited the emergency vehicle issue not in the context of Critical Mass but of the city's implementation of the Bicycle Plan, which will remove traffic lanes on city streets to make bike lanes. If this is done on an already busy street, it will make traffic worse not only for cars but also for Muni buses and emergency vehicles.
 
Comment from argh rats to this post:

So, I'd imagine you've had a bit of feedback from this sort of thing, and I know that really, that's part of (the main part?) of the point. I have to say, however, that before you villify cyclists and imply (or outright say) that they are dangerous, why don't you try riding a bicycle in traffic yourself? Personally, as a cyclist, I find your comments rather insulting (as I'm supposed to clearly) and rather well....stupid is the word. You mention very obviously that cycling in the city is an inherently dangerous activity (and this is true in most cities) the reason it is dangerous is NOT the cyclist. Yes, statistically, the single-vehicle crash may be the most common, but there are two factors I think you should also consider.

1. As a mechanic who sees MANY cyclists bringing their bikes for repair after being hit by cars, I have to say that the vast majority of cyclist-car collisions go ureported. For every cyclist who has a police report, I see five who have not called the police. This, obviously, is bad for them, but it is also bad for all cyclists because statistics are skewed due to unreported collisions.

2. Many "solo-falls" happen because a cyclist is trying to avoid a collision with another vehicle (generally an automobile). Yes, cyclists do indeed demonize car drivers, but having been threatened by more drivers than I know how to count and struck by two, I have to say, there is sufficient cause for complaint on behalf of the cyclist. I've seen you say elsewhere on this blog "Right. After all, why should the Department of Parking & Traffic want to allow freeway traffic easy access to the freeway? This is absurd on its face. For generations cyclists and pedestrians have dealt with motor vehicles turning on the same light they use to cross intersections. Why is this particular intersection singled out for special attention? Because the Bicycle Coalition and its fellow travelers in city government are increasingly allowing the safety of cyclists---a tiny minority in SF---to trump all other considerations, including the commonsense notion of easy freeway access for motorists."

It seems to me sir, that the safety of any citizen of any city should be considered before convenience of any citizen. I ask you to consider the situation reversed, with yourself in your automobile and someone with a similar attitude towards smaller vehicles driving a large truck. Why don't we try an experiment? That is to say, why don't we try one besides you riding a bicycle in traffic. Let's see what the statistics look like if every time you list a bicycle statistic, you list the corresponding automobile statistic, just for comparisons sake. I understand the desire to get where you are going in a quick, easy, efficient manner, I don't disagree that issues on all sides should be looked at before legislation that affects everyone is instituted, but I do disagree that the convenience of the many should come at the cost of the safety of the few. Furthermore, one of the primary reasons there are so few cyclists is the danger you mention, and the article you quote mentions, which comes from multi-thousand-pound vehicles. I will, once again, take the liberty of a quote from elsewhere on this blog. "But for the rest of us---the elderly, the very young, the handicapped, the sensible---it will never be an option." Cyclists as a group, are just as diverse as car drivers are, if not more so, be it in attitude, race, gender, class, intellect, age, education, any standard you wish to judge people by, but first and foremost, cyclists are people, just as drivers are, and one reason that the specific groups of people (with the exception of "the sensible" which is immature and deliberately inflammatory) aren't part of the cycling community (for the most part, all of those groups are represented within the cycling community) is that there are LARGE, DANGEROUS BEASTS that they have to share the road with. If the automobile was not the dominant feature of the roadway, you'd see changes in all of those demographics. It is very possible for virtually anyone to be transported by human power, even if they are incapable of doing it themselves on a bicycle. I also wish to make mention of your specific mention of cyclists "intimidating pedestrians out of crosswalks (McHugh doesn't mention this, but it has happened to everyone who walks a lot in the city)". I have to say that this is EXACTLY what a cyclist feels when in traffic. Just as pedestrians have every right to be in the crosswalk and not be intimidated, so also do cyclists have the right to ride their bicycles on the street without fear of death. Furthermore, as a frequent pedestrian, I have to say that cars are FAR more threatening than cyclists. I also would like to address a comment you made regarding your vision of a car-free future "If your anti-car crusade ends up making traffic worse for cars, it will also make traffic worse for Muni---the main means of transportation of thousands of city residents---not to mention making traffic worse for emergency vehicles." I have to say, having been a participant of a number of Critical Mass rides when an emergency vehicle needed to pass through, what happens is truly amazing. Bicycles, when in use, require a bit of space for rider comfort and safety. When a cyclist is alterted to the fact that an emergency vehicle needs to get through, they simply pick up their bike and MAKE ROOM! It's really astounding to watch a street suddenly clear before a firetruck or ambulance. If the same number of persons were in automobiles on the same road, the emergency vehicle would be stuck there for a considerably longer amount of time attempting to weave around the cars which are unable to move out of the way because of the other cars around them. The vision you seem to have is a mix of mostly bicycles with some cars and emergency vehicles, whereas the vision we have is of bicycles, and, for the amount of time they remain necessary, emergency vehicles.

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