Sunday, January 09, 2011

The 2010 Bicycle Count Report: bike use is peaking in the city

The recent SF Chronicle story on the "City of San Francisco 2010 Bicycle Count Report" buried the real lead under a headline and an introducton that could have been written by the Bicycle Coalition: "Report finds cycling up 58% in S.F. since '06":

Despite San Francisco's famous hills and a court order that halted the striping of new bike lanes for three years, bicycling has increased 58 percent in the city since 2006, according to new data found in the city's 2010 Bicycle Count Report. The Chronicle obtained the report Thursday. It showed the number of tallied bike trips rose from 5,500 when the first count was taken five years ago to 8,713 this year. The manual count, conducted in August, logged passing bikes at 33 locations and is meant to offer a snapshot of biking trends in San Francisco.

But the most interesting information in the report comes next in the Chronicle's story:

While the number of counted bike trips has increased each of the past four years, this year's increase was significantly smaller, at 3 percent. Last year, the annual increase was 8 percent. In the two years prior, the annual increase was logged at 25 percent and 14 percent. The report noted the slowdown but attributed it to the weather, which was slightly chillier than during past counts.

The past two years have shown dramatically diminishing percentage increases in the count: 2006-2007 (14% increase), 2007-2008 (25% increase), 2008-2009 (8 percent increase), and 2009-2010 (3% increase). The 3% increase meant that only 272 more cyclists were counted this year (8,713) than last year (8,441).

On the weather: "This slight decrease[sic] compared to other years may be a result of the unusually cold weather conditions on the count days" (page 9). The weather isn't a credible excuse for the lower increase, since at each location (pages 21-23) temperatures were 60 degrees or above, a typical August temperature in San Francisco. The counter at 3rd and Islais Creek, for example, described the weather as "Foggy/Very windy/Cold," even though he/she listed the temperature there as 64 degrees! Maybe this intern/counter was from out of town and wore a t-shirt that day, but 64 in August is considered a pretty nice day in San Francisco (I'll spare you the Mark Twain quotation).

Table 2 on page 4 provides "Percentage of Bicycle Trips to Work," comparing SF with California and the US in general. In 2006 1.9% of commuters in SF rode their bikes to work, and in 2009---the last year with results---3.2% city residents were commuting by bike, a not-exactly-whopping increase of 1.3% bike commuters in four years. The increases for bike commuting in California (0.7% to 1.0%) and the rest of the country (0.4% to 0.6%) are barely measurable.

On page 7 there's a table that shows the count for all 35 locations in the 2010 survey; 16 of those locations show a decrease in the number of cyclists counted.

Under "methodology" we have this troubling admission:

Conducting counts at multiple locations on the same day may result in counting the same bicyclists at multiple locations. For example, a bicyclist may pass two or three locations when leaving the downtown core. This cyclist is considered a new count at each location. Since the SFMTA has conducted counts at consistent locations since 2006, this effect is normalized into the overall volume numbers (page 6).

In other words, the city has been over-counting cyclists since 2006, but it's okay because they do it every year, which means that the practice is "normalized."

To its credit, on page 11 the survey takes note of problematic behavior by city cyclists:

As San Francisco continues to move forward with planning and constructing a continuous network of bicycle facilities, the bicycle counts reinforce the need to pay close attention to both sidewalk and wrong-way riding. At almost every count location sidewalk and/or wrong-way riding was observed (page 11).

And an upbeat conclusion:

The four years that San Francisco has been monitoring bicycle ridership without the installation of new bicycle facilities provides us with a robust data set by which to analyze the effects of the variety of network improvements to be made in the near future. With the court injunction against the Bike Plan lifted and new bicycling infrastructure being implemented at a rate higher than ever, future counts offer a unique opportunity for the SFMTA to document the impacts of new bicycle infrastructure on ridership (page 19).

The city conducted its first count in 2006, the year the injunction began. Hence, there's been little new bicycle "infrastructure" in the intervening years, the time of the greatest increase in cyclists. That is, the bike fad may have already peaked, even here in Progressive Land. My suspicion has always been that riding a bike in San Francisco has nothing to do with bike lanes or other "improvements."

The city is only now beginning to implement the radical Bicycle Plan on the streets of the city, taking away more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 street parking spaces to make bike lanes that, while screwing up traffic and delaying a number of Muni lines, may be used by a small and even diminishing number of cyclists.

The bicycle count report is here.

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35 Comments:

At 8:48 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Cycling is increasing. Driving is decreasing, city and nationwide, by more than cycling is increasing. The actual conclusion is not bright for anyone - cyclist or not.

There are less people commuting to work by any form - cycling/transit/walking/driving - due to the recession and jobless recovery.

Your analysis skips this salient point - cycling commuting growning by *any* percentage at a time when people are losing jobs in great numbers is pretty damn impressive.

Certainly we can factor in that people who have a job but are afraid of losing it might be pinching their pennies, and cycling is cheaper than even MUNI. Personally I think this is behavior to be lauded - less money spent on transport is more money spent on our local economy.

Very straightforward data supporting my initial paragraph - Caltrain's overall ridership is down since 2008 but ridership in the bike cars is up. Caveat - this excludes Sept/Oct 2010 where Caltrain's ridership was through the roof in all compartments thanks to the Giants.

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Lex said...

That's an interesting post Rob, especially because it exactly parallels the cycling numbers from New York City.

Cycling increased by 32% in 2008 (coinciding with the appointment of a rabid cyclist as transportation commissioner.)

The rate of increase slowed to 26% in 2009 and then declined to 13% in 2010.

Keep in mind that the *actual* number of cyclists (17,500) is trivial when compared to the total number of commuters (3.7 million.)

There are only so many people who are willing to commute by bicycle. All the bike lanes in the world can't change that.

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-context=st&-qr_name=ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0801&-ds_name=ACS_2009_1YR_G00_&-CONTEXT=st&-tree_id=308&-redoLog=false&-geo_id=16000US3651000&-format=&-_lang=en

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"There are only so many people who are willing to commute by bicycle. All the bike lanes in the world can't change that."

Agreed. What the bike lanes will primarily achieve in SF is screw up traffic for everyone else. Even if we accept that 6% of all trips in SF are made by bike, that still leaves 94% of trips by other "modes." According to the latest city report the post is based on, only 3.2% of commuters get to work by bike.

The same report has a graph and a chart (page 5) showing national commuting trends by percentage change. "Drove Alone" increased by 13.8% between 2007 and 2009, and "Carpool" increased by 24.9% during that time. Commuting by bike also increased by 45.7%, but, as you point out, that percentage gain actually represents small numbers overall.

As I pointed out in a post last year, according to the DMV, there are 10,000 more motor vehicles registered in SF now than there were in 2000.

Even though the bike revolution has apparently peaked nationally and locally, City Hall is determined to redesign our streets on behalf of that small minority.

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

For the convenience of our readers here's a link to the New York ACS commuting numbers.

And a link to the San Francisco numbers.

I notice that the 3% of bicycle commuters listed is actually lower than the 3.2% that the latest SF count report claims, which puffs up the bicycle commute. The latest San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet gets it right.

 
At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Philip said...

3% commuting by bicycle.

That's just not workable in a city the size of San Francisco.

Clearly substantial changes to city streets and transportation policy are still required to support cycling at levels which compliment transit and private motor vehicles ensuring a more effective city-wide transportation system.

 
At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can the world afford 2 billion cars?

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Good question, but this post is about the City of San Francisco 2010 Bicycle Count Report. You want to change the subject to cars because---let me guess---you're a cyclist.

Here's some other good questions about sustainable transportation: with every transportation system in the state in the red, can we afford high-speed rail? When our Muni system is chronically short of money, can we afford the Central Subway boondoggle?

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Here's some other good questions about sustainable transportation: with every transportation system in the state in the red, can we afford high-speed rail?"

Answers itself - we can't afford to *not* have HSR.

Locally HSR will bring efficiencies to Caltrain that will make it more viable and sustainable. While HSR is expensive, the long term costs of the train line are less than the added costs those passengers put on US-101, I-5, SFO, and LAX.

 
At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The HORROR!!!

And I think Anon was right to put the link to too many cars in the world on this thread. It fits with the topic of promoting bike/Muni use.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Actually, the "topic" of this post is the city's annual bicycle count, about which you folks have nothing to say.

"While HSR is expensive, the long term costs of the train line are less than the added costs those passengers put on US-101, I-5, SFO, and LAX."

Simply untrue. Evidence please?

 
At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we gave you evidence you'd blanket dispute it anyway, so it's better to stick to Hyperbole.

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, I'm disputing only on the facts. Look at the numbers on HSR. It's just a poor way to spend scarce transportation dollars based on the relatively small number of people it will carry. Flying will still be cheaper and faster between SF and LA. In an urban area like the Bay Area, buses are much cheaper both to buy and to maintain.

 
At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

flying will not be cheaper for much longer. expansion of SFO and LAX will be prohibitively expensive. adding lanes to 101 will only induce more traffic.

and traffic counts and number of cars/bikes all fit together. you are the only you continually says SF is adding registered cars.

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

This post was based on my analysis of the city's 2010 Bicycle Count Report, which is available on the MTA website and which you show no signs of having read. I've linked the ACS site where you can see the latest commute numbers for San Francisco, which you also ignore.

The numbers on motor vehicles registered in SF are from the DMV, which I've been tracking on this blog for years.

Here's the link to the DMV site where those numbers are posted every year.

 
At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HSR Viability

But you are always right and everyone else is always wrong.

 
At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analysis is so flawed I really can't believe you actually read the report.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Can I have some specifics on where I went wrong?

 
At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that we (as a civilization) may also have hit peak travel. If auto vehicle miles traveled levels off—or even if it grows less quickly than it has historically—and population continues to increase, you can bet that other modes of transportation will need to step in to make up for people's need to get from one place to the other. Bikes may not be growing leaps and bounds ahead of cars as the primary choice for most people, but it would be stupid to assume that their growth in popularity will level off—especially given the spatial constraints of cities like San Francisco.

If streets are, as you're so fond of saying, a "zero-sum game", then as San Francisco grows—and, consequently, driving becomes less and less viable, its citizens will be forced to use other means. Better to get out ahead of those needs than leave everyone to fend for themselves, methinks.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Thanks for the Big Thoughts on transporation, but as the numbers I've provided in earlier comments show, there are actually just as many people driving even in SF as there have always been. In fact there are more motor vehicles registered now in SF than there were 10 years ago.

That kind of mobility is not only a huge factor in most people's lives in the city but our economy also depends on it.

The only major change is the transition now underway to hybrid and electric engines.

Other "modes" you refer to shouldn't include high-speed rail because we simply can't afford a system that costs so much yet moves a relatively small number of people. I understand that the bike people think any kind of rail system is good because it doesn't involve cars, but, assuming that the money available to invest in transit is limited, high-speed rail is the worst possible investment.

Instead of throwing money at that white elephant, the Obama administration should be giving cities money to maintain and improve existing bus systems---for electric and hybrid buses that don't require diesel fuel, for example.

By the way, here's a link to the city's 2010 Bicycle Count,which is the topic of this post.

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link for you

The generation that favored cars is dying off. The one that is replacing them is choosing to abandon cars. No matter how you try to fudge the numbers - your conclusion is wrong.

And my source is funded by Mr. Fox himself...

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You can only believe that by ignoring the facts, which I've linked for you in this post.

 
At 3:59 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Take a look at the comments to the WSJ article. This one is typical:

"Yes, people in their 20s want to live in the city, go to bars, listen to concerts, etc. That was largely true of our parents, too. But once the rubber hits the road and our generation starts having children (and especially when those kids reach school age),I don’t think you’ll see any difference. My co-workers a little bit older are already moving to Jersey and Westchester, and only but the most absurdly hirsute and plaid-beclad hipsters of our generation would ever want their kids to attend PS 248 or whatever in Bushwick."

 
At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cuz ya know - America is abandoning traditional ballot box democracy and just going by Internet comments.

 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What "ballot box" are you referring to?

 
At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one where you vote for a representative in a sanctioned election and those representatives produce and vote on laws.

Not the one where we count SFGate comments and say "Most commenters on SFGate said blah - so clearly that is the will of the people"

Nonetheless, the WSJ article got picked up by said SFGate - and a quote from a local realtor is thus...


That said, I think it's fantastic there is movement away from large, obnoxious homes, into places suited for actual living, and the fact (you sitting down?) walking and public transportation of all things are getting the nod over the super-sized Hummer of yesteryear is the best thing that could happen to this country since independence (although Starbucks just introduced the "Trente"to go and turn downsizing on its head).

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

But the link isn't to anything about elections. It's only to a WSJ article that references a poll by the National Association of Home Builders. The poll itself is not published or linked. We still have no evidence to back up the assertions in the WSJ article, and the comments seem just as valid as the article itself.

 
At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob Anderson has changed the topic to:

"Take a look at the comments to the "WSJ article. This one is typical:"

Comments on the internet are worth the paper they are written on.

Including this one. Your comments? You should pay us to suffer such drivel.

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Look, moron, the original "topic" here is the city's annual bicycle count, about which you apparently have nothing to say. The subject was then changed in a comment that linked us to a WSJ article that references a study that we can't evaluate because it isn't linked. That makes the comments to the article just as valid as the article itself, which provides no evidence for anything.

 
At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Big Thoughts said...

And what even qualifies you to evaluate a study about which you have no specific knowledge other than a strong opinion against its conclusions?

You're great at talking circles around "bike nuts", but that's where your knowledge ends. There's a tide of information washing over the status quo of over-subsidized automotive transportation at the necessary expense of everything else—human health, the environment, and even market efficiency. I suggest you move to higher ground.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What study are you talking about? There is no study linked to the WSJ article. If you mean the Bicycle Count Report---which I linked for you---it's written in American English, supposedly our common language. I read it carefully and came to some conclusions, which I back up with some block quotes and page numbers. You can read it, too, Big Thinker. It's only 35 pages.

 
At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. You draw a line from a reduction in the increase of bike riding - it's still increasing but not by as much - as "Peak Cycling". But similar stats on Oil Production do not equate to "Peak Oil".

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, your confusion is evident. The "peaking" of cycling in SF refers to human behavior, while "peak oil" refers to the eventual depletion of petroleum resources.

 
At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your ability to analyze anything is nothing but suspect. The whole world looks at Lance Armstrong, sees that he has done copious amounts of performance enhancing drugs during his career, and draws a line from putting harmful chemicals into his body to his testicular cancer.

You on the other hand decide he got cancer because of sitting on his bike seat.

That thing halfway down your arm? It's called an "elbow". Not an "asshole"

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I have yet to see an analysis of this report by any of you bike people. Why is that? Why don't you provide my readers with a better analysis? To ask the question is to answer it.

Lance Armstrong spends hours a day on his bicycle and comes down with testicular cancer. A coincidence? Maybe.

But there's evidence that spending too much time on your bike can affect your sexual organs, as a NY Times article told us more than five years ago.

It's not far-fetched to assume that it could cause other problems, especially, as you suggest, you're also taking drugs.

 
At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once the hipsters get jobs and turn 40 the cycling use in this city will slow to a crawl.

 

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