Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who drives on city streets?

Michael Baehr wrote:
I enjoy all your questionnaire responses, and this one is no exception.

To nitpick though, it still boggles the mind that you continue to believe the "vast majority" of tourists to SF drive here. I think the answer is quite the opposite. The vast majority fly here, a large chunk of whom are from Europe, and I never see them in rented cars. Europeans, especially, seem to prefer riding MUNI and...get ready...riding bikes! Yes, all those bikes you see around the more touristy parts of town...with those zipper bags hanging off the handlebars...those are rental bikes ridden by tourists, and not for "speed/thrill" or to make a "political statement." I know, take a deep breath, this must be hard. And what tourist wants to deal with the traffic and the parking and driving in an unfamiliar city with a funny street pattern? Nearly every car I see around here has California plates and is driven by a local. Tourists don't drive here. If that's the crux of your argument, it falls flat on its face.


Rob responds:
"Tourists don't drive here"? Okay, let's review the numbers we have. According to the SF Visitor's Bureau, in a survey of 4.5 million people who stayed in SF hotels, 25.9% engaged "a rental car in San Francisco," which, by my reckoning, is more than 1,730,000 rental cars---rented in SF, that is---on city streets driven by the city's hotel guests alone. All cars rented in California will of course have California license plates. What about the more than 74% of hotel guests polled who didn't rent a car in SF? The figures provided by the Bureau don't break down these numbers to tell us exactly how those people got here, but it's safe to say that many drove their own cars or drove cars they rented elsewhere.

The Visitor's Bureau also tells us which "feeder markets" the city's 15 million annual visitors come from: 12.7% from L.A; 7.7% from San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose; 7% from Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto; 5.7% from New York City; and 3.5% from Washington, D.C. Add up those percentages and you get a good idea where 36.7% of visitors to SF come from, namely, other parts of the US. It's fair to say that most of these folks either drive here or rent a car at the airport after flying in. Yes, you can fly into SF and take a bus from the airport to your hotel, and no doubt many do that, but it's not clear from the numbers how many people do.

Do these people then rent bikes to get around SF? Perhaps some do, but where do you even rent a bike downtown or in the Union Square area? To get to Golden Gate Park from a downtown hotel a more likely means of transport is by car or Muni. (I notice a lot of people from foreign lands on Muni's #5 Fulton line that I often use. Ditto for the Muni lines that go to the Haight-Ashbury.) It's more likely that tourists who want to rent a bike in SF take Muni out to Stanyan Street or other bike shops near Golden Gate Park.

Then there's the population of SF itself to factor in to get an idea of who/what is on city streets: According to the latest numbers from the DMV, there are now 465,905 motor vehicles registered in San Francisco. According to MTA's "San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet" of May, 2008, only 28.5% of city families own no car at all, with an overall average of 1.10 vehicles per household in the city.

On a typical workday in SF, 35,400 vehicles drive into the city over the Golden Gate Bridge (13,100), the Bay Bridge (20,000), on 280 from San Mateo County (6,700), and on US 101 to/from San Mateo County (-4,400).

According to the Fact Sheet, 40.5% of SF residents drive alone to work; another 7.7% carpool to work; 30.3% take public transportation; and another 2.1% drive a motorcycle, take a taxi, or "other" to work; 9.6% of lucky city residents walk to work, and 7.6% work at home.

Tourists drive here, commuters drive here, and city residents drive here, and there are more than 1000 Muni vehicles on city streets.

The percentage of city residents cycling to work in SF as of 2006? 2.3%!

It may actually be true that more tourists ride bikes in SF than do city residents.

Labels:

13 Comments:

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Mona Ponce said...

Rob -

Approximately 25% of people who stayed in an SF hotel rented a car. Ok fine. That compares to essentially 100% of people in other cities (other than New York)

You also have no evidence what-so-ever that these people used the cars to get around SF. They could be renting them with the sole purpose of going up to Napa, then back to SF for the night.

Don't be such a simpleton, little fella...

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Hi Rob... I'm afraid I don't agree with some of your statements in this post. As far as the feeder markets go, surely you aren't suggesting that most, or even many, of the visitors from NYC and DC drive to San Francisco? I'll certainly grant you Sacramento, but I'd be surprised if even half of the tourists from LA drove the 7-8 hours up here (then again, it is LA). Likewise, with BART being fairly reliable, if not beloved, I'd guess that a large number of greater Bay Area residents take public transit when visiting the city.

Regardless, though, once they arrive there's no real data, as far as I can tell, on how they actually get around the city. I see plenty of tourists on the F line when I take MUNI into work myself, and frankly you'd have to be nuts to try to drive to Fisherman's Wharf during tourist season.

I also think it's quite likely that many tourists don't stay in the downtown / Union Square area. At any rate, which the majority of bike rental shops in SF are around Fisherman's Wharf, rather than near GGP (a quick Google maps search will confirm this).

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Who's being a simpleton, Mona? There's really no information on exactly how the other 74% of those surveyed got to their hotels or whether they rented a car when they got there. There are a lot of cars on city streets every day, which is the point. Michael wants to believe that tourists mostly ride bikes in SF, but there's scant evidence for that notion.

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Tim: There are more hotel rooms near Fisherman's Wharf than near Union Square? And more bike shops? Like to see some evidence on that claim. On where our tourists come from: Michael was suggesting that they are from overseas, and I was just pointing out that a lot come from the US and parts of California. Of course many of them fly to SF. Yes, of course many tourists ride Muni; so do I, because I think it's a pretty good system, and I don't own a car. Again, Michael's point was that most tourists ride bikes and don't drive around the city; there's no evidence of that at all. There's a lot of cars on our streets, including those owned by city residents. The new 800-space garage in Golden Gate Park is doing a brisk trade, as are other garages and parking lots all over the city. It's safe to say that many of these cars are driven by tourists. Is that a controversial statement?

 
At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Well, regarding the bike rental shops, this isn't a comprehensive survey or anything, but take a gander at this google maps search. Anecdotally, I can tell you that almost all of the tourists on bikes I've seen over the past two months have been riding ones from Blazing Saddles in Fisherman's Wharf, though that might just be confirmation bias on my part.

I would venture to say that most tourists don't exclusively use a bike to get around. However, there are scads of them who at least take a day-trip on a bike; hanging around Chrissy Fields or Sausalito on a warm day will easily convince you of this fact. And because European cities tend to have much better bicycle infrastructure than US ones, Europeans are accustomed to urban biking, and I don't think it's at all unreasonable to assume that many of the ones who rent bikes in order to go on day trips in parks will also use their bikes to travel throughout the city. This seems to me to be evidence in favor of improving San Francisco's bike infrastructure, not against it.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Rob, thank you for taking the time to analyze and respond to my comment. Regretfully, you've got what I said quite wrong, and your response adds little to the debate.

My point was not that most tourists ride bikes.

You have misquoted me and formed some sort of absurd strawman from it. Most of any group in San Francisco does not ride bikes, but if you're going to continue to insist against infrastructural accommodation for cyclists in San Francisco on behalf of tourists, it's worth noting that many tourists do, in fact, ride bikes, so you'd be affecting them too!

Also, your continued insistence that most of the tourists drive falls flat on its face. You clearly spent quite some time looking up the statistics to prove your point (my comment was several days ago), and you freely admit they prove nothing. If only 25% rent a car, your conclusion must be that the other 75% rented a car or drove, too; it's just that it didn't get picked up in the statistics! It's simply not possible, according to your worldview, that most tourists in SF don't drive.

This is what you do, Rob; you speak from some position of authority, acting as if you know everything; then when push comes to shove and it's time to look at some actual numbers, you either claim the numbers are fudged, inaccurate, or the result of some conspiracy; for example, your response to the MTA's study showing more bikes than cars on Market Street during morning rush hour is that the SFBC organized cyclists to show up and inflate numbers... who are these cyclists with no jobs and no life? Is there some shadow army of people with bikes ready to show up whenever it's measuring time? Why didn't I get the memo? Surely, I'm a big enough bike nut!

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do! I drive my bike on city streets. And out of 900 or so miles of them, are there even 40 miles that have bike lanes?

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"This is what you do, Rob; you speak from some position of authority, acting as if you know everything; then when push comes to shove and it's time to look at some actual numbers, you either claim the numbers are fudged, inaccurate, or the result of some conspiracy; for example, your response to the MTA's study showing more bikes than cars on Market Street during morning rush hour is that the SFBC organized cyclists to show up and inflate numbers...who are these cyclists with no jobs and no life? Is there some shadow army of people with bikes ready to show up whenever it's measuring time? Why didn't I get the memo? Surely, I'm a big enough bike nut."

This is what you and other bike people do, Michael---make statements based on no facts at all. I admitted in my post that the numbers aren't there telling us exactly how tourists get around in the city. You say, "I never see them[tourists] in rented cars" and "tourists don't drive here," statements that are silly and of course unverifiable, since any car rented in SF is going to have California license plates.

Instead of discussing the numbers I cite from the best sources we have on traffic in the city---from the Visitor's Bureau, MTA's Fact Sheet, and the DMV---you go back to the MTA's count, as if my suspicion of collaboration between the SFBC and city government is implausible. There didn't have to be a memo. MTA's report on the count itself tells us that it does it every August. We're supposed to believe that the day of the count is a big secret?

 
At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The source Mike cited is more current than what you based your post on Rob. From your response and reviewing he SFCVB information, it seems pretty clear you've cherry picked only the information that suits your point of view.

A couple other facts from the SFCVB you seem to have missed:

- Hotels rooms in San Francisco: 33,372
- Approximately 20,000 of these rooms are within walking distance of the Moscone Center.

Primary reason for visit (% of all hotel guests):
39.7% Leisure
35.3% Convention
22.1% Transient business
2.9% Other


Over 1/3 of visitors are here for conventions and 2/3 of the hotel rooms are within walking distance of Moscone Center. Meanwhile BART has had a 65% growth in ridership in and out of SFO since the extension opened, well below their original (wildly inflated) projections, but still it's 10,000 weekday riders. I didn't find figures for OAK.

I don't think "it's safe to say that many drove their own cars or drove cars they rented elsewhere." Occam's Razor tells us it's much more likely the majority of this third of visitors is taking BART, taxies or shuttles from the airports to their hotels and then walking to and from Moscone Center rather then renting cars to drive back and fourth between the two.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Rob, I also doubt the SFMTA study of Market Street. Maybe there has been an even more dramatic change since it was taken, but watching traffic in the morning, cars do not appear to be eve 40% of the traffic.

Friday morning, seeing bikes flooding across 8th street, I stopped and counted the vehicles which passed through during the next cycling: 23 bikes, 1 car (an exterminator truck, not a private car even) 2 motor-scooters, 1 streetcar, 1 bus.

Observation suggests the study was not inflated, and could be repeated with similar results any time. I'm sure Rob will have some reason the SFBC was behind what I saw and it wasn't just people riding their bikes to work on a hot friday.

 
At 9:19 PM, OpenID slightly-less-random said...

Rob, you are proving to be a valuable resource in planning my bicycle activity. Because riding my bike every day isn't enough, I want the MTA to notice too! I'll make a point of riding down Market street during their next survey. Let's see just how far out of whack we can really get those guys!

Seriously, though; do check out the rush hour traffic on Market, any morning between 8:15 and 8:30. I love riding Market at that time, the feeling of camaraderie is wonderful.

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I love riding Market at that time, the feeling of camaraderie is wonderful."

That's because you're a lemming and wouldn't ride your bike if no one else did.

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you often point out, cyclists are a small minority compared to car drivers. If cyclists are lemmings, drivers must be mindless bee drones.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home