Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cycling as a speed/thrill activity


Read the comments---all 217 of them---to the online version of the Chronicle's story about bicycle messenger Kirk Janes's fatal accident at Fulton and Steiner. Even I was a little surprised at the number of commenters who mentioned the routinely reckless, scofflaw behavior of many cyclists on city streets, singling out the messengers for special mention.
 
But the story in the Examiner is apparently more accurate, since, according to the police and witnesses, Janes wasn't hit by the truck; he hit the truck after it was already in the intersection.

As a bike messenger, Janes was evidently representative of that reckless breed and presumably understood the dangers involved in his occupation, though apparently he wasn't wearing a helmet at the time of his fatal accident. My condolences to his family and friends. Based on the article in the Chronicle and the comments, it sounds like Janes was a good guy.

Cultivating this rebel image is a political problem for bike advocates in San Francisco. Many of them evidently fancy themselves as rebels and indulge in anti-social conduct on their bikes---flouting traffic laws, flipping off motorists, intimidating pedestrians in crosswalks, etc. These folks see the bike messengers as cool and imitate their style and attitude; even the kind of bags some cyclists carry are part of cultivating that image. Critical Mass---listed on the SF Bicycle Coalition's online calendar (http://www.sfbike.org/?chain)---is what happens when lot of these pseudo-rebels congregate on the last Friday of the month, though I'm told that the bike messengers themselves scornfully call those who participate in Critical Mass as "amateurs" and "massholes."

A cyclist's admiring comment on Janes:

I know that intersection and the direction he was traveling, because I ride it myself sometimes around that time of day. If you scream east on Fulton from Scott (a small summit), run the stop sign at Pierce at full speed, you can catch every green light from Steiner to Franklin at about 40 mph. You have to really haul to make it, and from Scott to Steiner is where you get the most momentum to fly! I'm not saying Janes was flying, but when I'm flying, there's usually somebody else who can fly faster, somebody who thinks they have more experience or bravery, perhaps somebody who flies for a living. RIP Janes. You had a good run, dogg!

This is the kind of thrill-seeking motivation common for mountain bikers---it's the essence of mountain biking, so they can hardly deny it---but not acknowledged as an important aspect of urban cycling by the city's bike advocates. The notion that cycling is an important transportation "mode" is a secondary consideration to these guys. And of course they are almost all guys.

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28 Comments:

At 11:41 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

If the truck was in the intersection illegally (after running a red), the distinction of point of impact isn't really the relevant one...

 
At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

more good news: driving is down!

"The Department of Transportation said Monday it had seen the sharpest monthly drop in driving since it began keeping records. In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March of 2007."

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/05/27/lifestyle.change.irpt/index.html

 
At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your conflation bike messengers, bike advocates, and critical mass is fucking ridiculous.

Most messengers can't stand critical mass.

Most of the bike coalition sees messengers as reckless jerks.

Critical mass is not representative of city cyclists in general, nor of the bike coalition in particular.

Messenger-style shoulder bags do not signify solidarity with bike messengers.

Most messengers think the bike coalition is lame.

Basically you are writing about something you don't know-- and it shows.

 
At 1:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What is it with you bike people and reading? So many of you seem to have rudimentary reading skills. I essentially make the same distinctions you do. Your claim that Critical Mass is not representative of city cyclists is a half-truth at best, since many take part, don't they? Leah Shahum herself had a BikeThink epiphany during her first Critical Mass ride, which is one reason she insists on listing it on the SFBC calendar. Messenger-style shoulder bags are adopted by cyclists that are not messengers, who evidently think the bags are cool. But then the whole bike trip is essentially about style, with bikes an accessory to your lame, PC lifestyle.

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

"If the truck was in the intersection illegally (after running a red), the distinction of point of impact isn't really the relevant one..."

That's a big if, Murph. There's evidence that Janes was speeding down the hill and simply couldn't stop in time to avoid hitting the truck. One commenter on the Chronicle story said the bike looked like a racing bike that didn't have any brakes. It's not at all clear that the truck was running a red light; the driver himself said the light was yellow when he entered the intersection.

 
At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Your claim that Critical Mass is not representative of city cyclists is a half-truth at best, since many take part, don't they?"

Not all white people are racist just because some are members of the KKK.

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The SF Bicycle Coalition lists Critical Mass on its online calendar. As the political organization that represents the interests of the city's cycling community, they should stop listing the event. While they are at it, they should publicly disavow the montly orgy of lawlessness. That would go a long way toward convincing the rest of us that city cyclists don't support Critical Mass.

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Ugh...

I've been loading your blog every day since Kirk Janes died just to see when you would inevitably write about it, and spin his untimely death to make another "point".

You have yet to disappoint, Rob.

I should start a snarky blog about car culture and pontificate every time someone dies in a car crash. Maybe we can share links.

And you still haven't said anything about coffee...

 
At 10:55 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Why don't you at least try to address a single one of the "points" I make? And, incredibly, one point that many cyclists are in denial about: riding a bike can be dangerous; it will never really be a safe way to get around. Another point: many cyclists seem to think that they are rebels and conduct themselves on city streets according to some juvenile ethos that the rest of us find extremely annoying. I take no pleasure in the fact that people on bikes are injured and occasionally killed. What's preposterous is how, after a high-profile death to a cyclist, the SFBC rushes to reassure the public that riding a bike is safe.

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Thank you for doing us all the favor of putting "points" in quotes.

Inevitably, some poor sod actually comes along and rebuts all of your "points", which is the end of the thread until you decide to raise the same nonsense in another post.

You're like a broken record, Rob. You're a troll. It's not worth my time to actually argue with you, because it's a losing battle... you simply don't listen.

Myself and the remaining 5 people who actually read your blog could probably wave statistics in front of your face until we turned blue, and it wouldn't do one bit of difference.

You will continue to spout the ludicrous idea that people in San Francisco ride bicycles, in daily defiance of death, strictly to "make a point". And as long as you spout that idea, you will occasionally get some red-faced bike nut blowing up in your comments page, which I believe is the sole form of validation life still offers you; that, and the legal system begrudging the endless stream of paperwork you and Mary file in a vain attempt to keep San Francisco some idealized 1970s version of itself.

Keep on shining, brave soldier.

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

"Listen" to what? What "statistics" are you referring to? Maybe someone rebutted me somewhere, but it wasn't you, was it? Of course there are a few cyclists who post some numbers in their comments that allegedly show that riding a bike is, contrary to common sense, completely safe, before they change the subject to the wickedness of automobiles.

And of course my blog is about other issues that you ignore, because for you it's all about bikes, right? Never mind the Market/Octavia Plan, UC's appalling housing development on lower Haight Street, the Rincon Hill highrises, and other "progressive" policies that are ruining SF. You are evidently confident that you represent some bold future for San Francisco, when in reality your generation and the moronic progressives on the BOS are ruining this city. While the Planning Dept. and our progressive BOS are busily trashing the city with highrises and awful "Better Neighborhoods" projects, you twits are obsessed with bicycles! Pretty amazing.

 
At 12:26 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Thanks for the invitation to indict you on all your other nonsense.

Your stream of anti-development screeds smacks of NIMBYism, plain and simple. I notice I have heard barely a peep from you about the proposed developments in the eastern neighborhoods... I guess you don't have a problem with building towers in a black neighborhood... just nowhere near you, right?

My home town of Chicago has seen an explosion of development in the last few years. Every time I go back, there appears to be an entirely new neighborhood springing up somewhere or other. This explosion of housing has made it easier for people to live downtown.

People like yourself don't want to share San Francisco with anything else; it's obvious you'd be much happier with a housing shortage, and the concomitant high prices, than the idea of San Francisco densifying and filling up with a few more people who just might not share your values.

As for the UC extension property: even a broken clock is right twice a day. It >is< a travesty how they've avoided taxes on the lot for years and are now flipping it to developers to make a quick buck. The fact that more housing might end up in the neighborhood, however, is only intrinsically bad to the Rob Andersons of the world.

It's a shame you'll just handily file all of this under "bikethink".

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Your stream of anti-development screeds smacks of NIMBYism, plain and simple. I notice I have heard barely a peep from you about the proposed developments in the eastern neighborhoods... I guess you don't have a problem with building towers in a black neighborhood... just nowhere near you, right?"

I'm not anti-development at all; I simply oppose these large, poorly conceived projects from our Planning Dept. Neither the M/O Plan nor the UC project are anywhere near where I live. I just think they're bad for that area and the city at large. I haven't written about the eastern neighborhoods plans because I'm not familiar with the documents, but my understanding is that Planning wants to apply the same misguided, aggressively pro-development principles there, too.

I live on McAllister between Scott and Divisadero, and there are no stupid, overlarge projects nearby to threaten this area, except for the city's ominous plan to "improve" Divisadero. I in fact supported a housing development on the old Harding Theater site on Diviz, but David Tornheim and other misguided progressives in the neighborhood "saved" the completely undistinguished Harding from demolition, which apparently scuttled the proposed housing. Too bad.

"San Francisco filling up with a few more people"? The Market/Octavia Plan will mean 10,000 more people in that area, including four 40-story highrises at Market/Van Ness. The UC project means 1000 more people in that unfortunate area. It's not only about allowing a greedy, lying UC to take that property out of public use; the project---450 housing units---is just too big.

And, as per the wishes of the Bicycle Coalition, both the UC project and the M/O Plan discourage developers from providing adequate parking spaces for all those new residents. Let them ride bikes! It's a matter of scale. Big projects like this in a relatively small city are a bad idea and will have unintended consequences for the city.

The reigning orthodoxy in city planning circles and on the BOS is that the city can encourage as much population density as it wants and not suffer any negative consequences. Note that both the UC project and the M/O Plan fail to account for the 45,000 cars a day that are already coming through the heart of Hayes Valley on the awful new Octavia Blvd.

Opposing projects like this isn't nimbyism; it's just good sense.

 
At 12:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"450 housing units---is just too big"

Oh Rob, if you're going to be a completely anti-everything NIMBY, would you at least stick to your own backyard and leave my neighborhood alone. I don't care what you think is too big.

The UC thing isn't great, but if you spent time in our neighborhood and didn't just bitch about it being a little slower to drive through, you might have noticed the new park (new art installation's in, check it out) and a thriving neighborhood shopping district, which wasn't bad before, but is now spilling over onto Octavia with new restaurants and shops. The trees have started filling in nicely and development is some new development seems like it's starting to happen.

Have you notice any of that Rob, or are do you just drive through looking at nothing but the cyclists filling yourself with contempt?

 
At 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But then the whole bike trip is essentially about style, with bikes an accessory to your lame, PC lifestyle."

I'm sorry, you've also said bicyclists are like fundamentalist muslim suicide bombers. Which is it? A fashion statement or a political statement?

You're not also saying anything about cyclists that isn't true of noncyclists. People have bought bags they think give them a certain hipster edge, people buy cars that are trendy or to make up for their inferiorities. Somehow it' own when some does this and owns a bike that it bothers you.

Though you judge them all by Crtiical Mass, there is believe it or not a difference of opinion amongst cyclists and you don't find the AIDS/LifeCycle people at critical mass.

 
At 1:51 AM, Anonymous David said...

Mr. Anderson, perhaps San Ramon--not San Francisco--would be a better fit for you. Land use is segregated, buildings taller than two stories are considered monstrosities, bikenuts are nonexistent, and private automobiles, the supreme mode of transport, are in abundance.

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

David: That's just hot air, Dave. Can we assume that you support the four 40-story highrises at Market/Van Ness? That the 45,000 cars coming through the heart of Hayes Valley are good for the quality of life of the neighborhood? I don't mind the bike nuts doing their PC thing on city streets, but I do mind redesigning city streets on behalf of that small minority of political zealots. I'm not going anywhere. I think this is a great city, which I'll continue to defend against people like you who seem determined to destroy it.

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I'm sorry, you've also said bicyclists are like fundamentalist muslim suicide bombers. Which is it? A fashion statement or a political statement?"

I't's both. What I clearly said is that both cyclists and suicide bombers are politically motivated. People do some amazingly stupid things because of fashion and politics. Cycling and all its accessories is just the latest with-it political fashion in SF.

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"The UC thing isn't great, but if you spent time in our neighborhood and didn't just bitch about it being a little slower to drive through, you might have noticed the new park...and a thriving neighborhood shopping district, which wasn't bad before, but is now spilling over onto Octavia with new restaurants and shops. The trees have started filling in nicely...Have you noticed any of that Rob, or are do you just drive through looking at nothing but the cyclists filling yourself with contempt?"

I don't have a car, so I don't often drive anywhere. Usually I ride Muni or walk through the area. Your reference apparently is to the daily gridlock on Octavia Blvd. created by the traffic---45,000 cars a day---that used to go over the neighborhood on the Central Freeway. The trees are growing on the median between all that traffic? This is the John King approach to planning: make a planning mistake and then try to cover it up with trees and bushes. I've noticed that the so-called thriving shopping district has a lot of turnover in the shops on Hayes Street, as one boutique and/or restaurant after another goes belly-up.

Your reference to cyclists is cryptic, but recall that the SF Bicycle Coalition thinks that Octavia Blvd. is swell, even though it's surely more dangerous for cyclists with all that former freeway traffic. In fact, the most dangerous intersection in the city is now at Fell/Octavia.

The traffic is bad in Hayes Valley now, and it will get a lot worse as the city allows 1000 more residents on the UC extension site and 10,000 more in the area with the Market/Octavia Plan. This is not only bad for that area but also for the city in general. The Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan is based on the lie---which you apparently accept---that it deals with a discrete neighborhood. Instead, it covers a wide area that affects the heart of San Francisco.

 
At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that means bike messengers carry stuff around just for appearance or politics and the pay doesn't enter into it at all.

Since Rob automatically rejects any cyclist who uses their bike to get somewhere, we must also reject any driver who uses their car to get somewhere as well. What that leaves us with are only people who drive cars for fashion or politics.

Would you please end your non-sense and have a serious discussion Rob. There really are people who use their bikes and their cars to get from Point A to Point B.

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You bike nuts react with angry comments to my posts on the bike fantasy, but you don't read them very carefully. Yes, of course there are a number of people in the city who used bicycles as their primary means of transportation. They are obviously a small minority, and the numbers---even with the celebrated 15% increase in cyclists---are small. And I maintain further that most of those cyclists are politically motivated to take up cycling in the city, since it's clearly not a safe, sensible way to get around. And it never will be for enough people to make it sensible to design city streets with cycling in mind. I don't "reject" the idea of cycling in the city; I just don't think it will ever be adopted by a large percentage of the population.

What the post your commenting on is about is the influence of fashion and politics on city cyclists. If you really want a "serious discussion," you have to start with what I've actually written, not straw men of your own manufacture.

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Of course there are a few cyclists who post some numbers in their comments that allegedly show that riding a bike is, contrary to common sense, completely safe, before they change the subject to the wickedness of automobiles.

I also post references indicating that cyclists make up one in about fifty road fatalities, and about one in thirty serious injuries. These figures accord pretty well with fatality and injury rates from other jurisdictions, and they suggest that without a lot more analysis, and information I don't believe anyone has posted, you cannot come to any conclusion, based on "common sense" or otherwise, on whether cycling presents more of a danger than driving.

As an aside, using the words "common sense" to refer to a belief for which you lack empirical evidence does nothing to validate that belief.

And I invite you to post any comments I have made on this blog or elsewhere, in which I refer to cars as "evil".

As for the case for bicycles as sensible transportation, I have posted many links to documents that cite the health benefits of cycling. We can't know whether cycling offers a safer mode of transportation per kilometer, but we can say with considerable certainty that cycling, on average, extends the lives of those who do it, and improves their quality of life.

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

John: You of course find your statistical arguments convincing, but only the like-minded will agree. As you concede, the only way they could be validated is if we really knew how many miles cylclists travel as compared to motorists. You may pretend to such knowledge, but I've never seen it. My common sense argument is much more convincing: If something goes wrong while riding a bike, it's the cyclist gets hurt, whether it involves another vehicle or not. You are entitled to your religion, but you can't expect the rest of us to embrace it.

 
At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Darien N'Gollo said...

Oh the simplicity!

If this guy (the rider) jumped the light and bashed the truck, then it's his fault. post!

If the pickup ran a red, then it's the pickup's fault. post!

Since we don't know exactly what happened, it's asinine to cane anyone involved, and even more asinine to cane cyclists in general. Doing so would just invite people to can all the little trash kids in San Jose, or the sunset who race souped up Hondas and periodically kill each other with them. What's the horse here?

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, perhaps you'd find my argument more convincing if you hadn't left half of it out.

I said, and have maintained consistently, that we do not have the necessary information to determine whether any given person could complete any given trip more safely on a bicycle or in a car, although I will say for the record that if only safety determined the choice of transport mode, almost all Americans would give up the car in favour of bus and rail transport.

However, we do have a huge volume of data and documentation that indicates the health benefits of cycling far outweigh any hazards, and that, on average, a person increases the length and improves the quality of their life when they make the choice to use a bicycle.

That conclusion does not rest on any so-called religious belief, though my own experience more than bears it out; my conclusion rests on facts and a huge volume of documentation, some of which I have linked in this web log.

In closing, I would like to point out two things. First, you cannot know, and certainly cannot prove, anything about my motives in posting this information, or whether or not it convinces oter people. Thus, your claims about what I want or whether or not I convince others have no validity. Second, the very presence of this web log, the way you have had to resort to the courts to delay the San Francisco bike plan, suggests that facts and logic of the sort I provide have in fact convinced a great many people; otherwise, the bike plan simply would not exist.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"...the very presence of this web log, the way you have had to resort to the courts to delay the San Francisco bike plan, suggests that facts and logic of the sort I provide have in fact convinced a great many people; otherwise, the bike plan simply would not exist."

We were able to "delay" the Bicycle Plan because we clearly had both the facts and the law---and logic---on our side. Before the litigation, the city was trying to slip the Bicycle Plan through the process with minimal publicity and of course no environmental review. Yes, the Bicycle Plan exists because there's a constituency for it in SF. There's a real question, however, how large and/or solid that political support is, given the fact that the bike people have suffered some notable losses at the ballot box in recent years. On the one hand, the SF Bicycle Coalition's membership continues to grow, while on the other the city's bike people as individuals continue to alienate people with their behavior on city streets. The big test will come when the city finishes the EIR, gets the injunction lifted, and begins to implement its "improvements" on particular streets in the city, like Masonic, Second Street, and Fifth Street.

My view is that support for bicycles is wide but shallow, and will depend on how the city and the bicycle community conducts itself in completing the citywide bicycle network.

One aspect of their political vulnerability is that they are as much---if not more---anti-car as they are pro-bike. They want to reduce car use in the city by making it as difficult and as expensive as possible to drive in SF. The danger in that path is that it could cause a political backlash if it is perceived---correctly, I think---as making driving in the city unnecessarily difficult and traffic unnecessarily worse in a city rapidly gentrifying---well-off people tend to have cars---and creating more problems moving through the streets for Muni.

 
At 6:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And I maintain further that most of those cyclists are politically motivated to take up cycling in the city, since it's clearly not a safe, sensible way to get around."

And paying $4.50 a gallon to get around town is sensible?

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's sensible if you have the money in a city that is rapidly gentrifying, thanks to, among other things, SF progressives who are pushing a housing policy that encourages the construction of market-rate and luxury housing. The thing about gentry is that they like to have cars.

 

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