Thursday, May 10, 2012

The ultimate bike fantasy: 20% by 2020!

Illustration by John Ueland

Steve Jones's front page piece on cycling in SF in this week's Bay Guardian ("20 percent by 2010") merits a respectful reading, not just because he quotes me accurately but because he makes a serious attempt, though unsuccessful, to grapple with the problem City Hall faces if it's going to make its preposterous 20% slogan a reality on the streets of the city:

There's no doubt that San Francisco is one of the best cities in the United States for bicyclists, a place where near universal support in City Hall has translated into regular cycling infrastructure improvements and pro-cyclist legislation. The latest SFMTA traffic survey, released in February, showed that bikes represent about 3.5 percent of vehicle trips, a 71 percent increase in five years. While the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) lauded that gain as "impressive," it would mean a 571 percent increase in the next seven years to meet the 2020 goal...But the city will fail to meet that goal, probably by a significant amount, unless there is a radical change on our roadways.

Yes, the bike trip has "universal support" in City Hall, but support in the neighborhoods and citywide is doubtful.

Jones, the MTA, and the Bicycle Coalition like to cite a 71% increase in cycling, but you have to look at the actual percentages to understand how unimpressive that is. 2.1% of city commuters in 2000 rode bikes to work, and in 2010 it was 3.5%, a gain of only 1.4% in ten years, which is an increase of only .14% per year.

Your math problem for the day: At a .14% increase a year, how many years will it take the city to get to 20 percent?

"What I hope is on the drawing board is infrastructure that will make more people feel safe riding, particularly women," SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman, a regular cyclist, told us.

Cheryl Brinkman is a pro-bike, anti-car MTA board member. Interestingly, city studies show that city women are not too keen on riding bikes, that less than 30% of city cyclists are women. (See pages 10 and 11 of the 2010 count for percentages between 2006 and 2010, and page 12 in the San Francisco Bicycling Study Report, where we learn that "74% of women do not ride a bicycle at all" in SF, and "76% [of all people in SF] earning less than $70,000 per year never bicycle," and "71% of Asians, 83% of African-Americans, and 75% of Hispanics" never bicycle. And page 12 of the 2008 San Francisco State of Cycling Report has even lower numbers.)

The picture above that adorned the online version of Jones's Guardian article suggests otherwise, picturing a woman and a black guy along with whitey. The front page of the hard copy is even more exaggerated, with a black woman on one end and an Asian guy on the other, both cut out of the online picture. 

Riding a bike in SF is mostly about white guys who make pretty good money.

Jones goes to bike guy Jason Henderson for some sound bites:

But to realize the really big gains San Francisco would need to hit 20 percent by 2020 would take more than just steadily increasing the mileage of bike lanes, says Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University geography professor who is writing a book on transportation politics..."If gasoline goes to $10 per gallon, sure, we'll get to 20 percent just because of austerity," Henderson said. But unless energy prices experience that kind of sudden shock, which would idle cars and overwhelm public transit, thus forcing people onto bikes, getting to 20 percent would take smart planning and political will. In fact, it will require the city to stop catering to drivers and accommodating cars.

If gas goes to $10 a gallon, it would cause a national and international catastrophe that would make the bike issue here in Progressive Land of little interest, except to Jones, Henderson, Leah Shahum, and Brinkman, who would be still be pushing their anti-car agenda in the ashes of western civilization.

More from Henderson:

Henderson said city leaders need to show more courage in converting car lanes and street parking spaces into bike lanes, creating bike corridors that parallel those focused on cars or transit, and exempting most bike projects from the detailed environment review that slow their implementation.

"City leaders" are pushing the anti-car bike trip as hard as they can, but, unlike Henderson and Jones, they have to deal with the reality of the space on streets in San Francisco, where it's a zero-sum game. They need five feet to make a bike lane, and most city streets don't have that extra space, which means they have to remove either street parking or traffic lanes to make bike lanes, which naturally will make traffic worse on busy streets. Henderson doesn't mention any particular streets that he thinks should be turned into "bike corridors," because it's easy to pontificate abstractly about the issue without specifics.

Of course Henderson and the bike zealots think it's a huge imposition that bicycle projects have to have environmental review before they are implemented, even though it was obvious that the city's 500-page Bicycle Plan---eliminating more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 street parking spaces---could, would, and in fact will---have a negative impact on the city's environment, not to mention that implementing it with no environmental review is illegal under state law.

But Jones is explicit about the high-minded motives he and his bike comrades have:

Many city officials and cycling advocates say making big gains means convincing people like Anderson that bicycles are not just a viable transportation option, but an important one to facilitate given global warming, oil wars, public health issues, and traffic congestion that will only worsen as the population increases.

It's very unlikely that Anderson will ever be convinced that bicycles are important enough "to facilitate" by taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy streets in San Francisco to make bike lanes.


Jones and city cyclists aren't just riding bikes; they are fighting global warming and preventing war! Try to remember that next time some punk runs you out of a crosswalk or you're stuck in a Critical Mass demo.

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16 Comments:

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

city studies show that city women are not too keen on riding bikes, that less than 30% of city cyclists are women.

Logical fallacy. Does this mean women are not too keen, or that men are very very keen?

You are worse than Michelle Bachmann.

 
At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Riding a bike in SF is mostly about white guys who also make pretty good money.

No wonder you never took up cycling.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Does this mean women are not too keen, or that men are very very keen?"

There's a growing body of evidence that suggests that I might have to re-examine my position on identity politics. Dudes, I hate to break it to you, but, based on their lack of participation in the great Bike Revolution, it looks like the babes are smarter than we are. It may even be born right into them. That's a tough one to swallow, but, hey, we can still perform some menial tasks, help out around the house, take out the garbage, home repairs, etc. But we're good at sports, right? The Niners are still all guys. (If Hillary starts playing ball, we lose even bigger.)

 
At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If gas goes to $10 a gallon, it would cause a national and international catastrophe.

It's already close to that in places like Switzerland and their doing just fine.

 
At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many city officials and cycling advocates say making big gains means convincing people like Anderson that bicycles are not just a viable transportation option, but an important one to facilitate given global warming, oil wars, public health issues, and traffic congestion that will only worsen as the population increases.

Jones is wrong. There is no need to convince Rob Anderson of anything. All that is needed is to outnumber him. QED.

 
At 8:57 AM, Blogger Nato said...

Women are statistically more risk-averse, and bicycling remains risky.

 
At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pregnancy is risky too, and women are still having babies.

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, but they aren't riding bikes as much as guys, which is the point.

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger Nato said...

I can't think of a single responsible bicycle commuter amongst my friends and associates who hasn't had a sudden, life-threatening incident that resulted in at least a little lost skin, and as long as physical risk like that remains even for bicyclists who follow the rules and ride defensively, I don't see the female ridership reaching statistical parity with the male, which has, as you know, a disproportionate share of risk-taking young men.

Personally, I don't think biking is really that mortally dangerous if one rides carefully, because the maximum speeds you can easily achieve in a typical commute aren't that high. Minor injuries are common, but I really only worry about death and dismemberment, which a sudden move by a taxi driver is less likely to cause. Friday and Saturday nights are sometimes terrifying, since out-of-town drivers are frequently utterly unaware of the possibility of bikers, and not too clear on one-way streets, either.

All that aside, biking in traffic remains much more dangerous than other modes in some respects, and until that changes, young, primarily male risk-takers will remain a disproportionate portion of the cycling population. If Rob has his way, I suppose it will be like that forever.

 
At 12:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Riding a bike in SF or anywhere else is inherently risky. It's not about being killed, though that's always possible. On average only one or two cyclists die on city streets every year. Why adopt a transportation "mode" that is "terrifying"? There is no way SF or any American town or city can ever make riding a bike anything but a risky activity, since most cycling accidents are what the experts call "solo falls" that don't involve motor vehicles.

Even worse, you bike fanatics encourage children to ride in SF with the irresponsible Bike to School Day/Safe Routes to School Day.

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger Nato said...

You post a link purporting to show that bicycle riding is 'inherently risky,' but the source at the link says "Many of these injuries are preventable by following simple safety precautions." That's either terrible logic or dishonest.

"Why adopt a transportation "mode" that is "terrifying"? There is no way SF or any American town or city can ever make riding a bike anything but a risky activity, since most cycling accidents are what the experts call "solo falls" that don't involve motor vehicles."

The only reason it's ever terrifying is because of cars that behave like I don't exist. My only two really scary falls since I moved to San Francisco were both in Sunnyvale and caused by cars suddenly trying to occupy my space. In neither case did I actually collide with the car, of course, so perhaps those are solo falls, but there's nothing inherent about that. I have had one injury fall due to a pothole, but it wasn't that scary. Really scary is when it's Friday evening on Polk street and a car takes a sharp left through a red from Turk onto Polk's left-most lane, not realizing 1) that it's a two-way and 2) that there's a bicyclist with a green trying to go through the intersection. A 25mph crash for a car is nothing, but it's pretty scary for a bicyclist. Or the time I was on El Camino Real down in Millbrae and a dude at a stop-sign on a side-street thought it was totally hilarious to have his Porche lurch forward just as I was passing, since if he had hit me he would have thrown me out into El Camino's 45mph traffic sideways. These don't seem inherent to me at all, and Monday through Thursday I rarely feel in danger because San Francisco drivers are really pretty good.

No doubt there are lots of scary solo crashes not caused by cars - indeed I'm aware of two amongst my acquaintances. In both cases, the bicyclist was a young person riding recklessly and in one case not using proper safety gear. I've given fellow bicyclists a hard time about it from time to time, though in a pretty limited way since I figure it's everyone's right to kill themselves as long as they don't endanger others in the process.

So, what I want is a city in which both bicyclists and motorists are respectful and safe. Clearly this makes me a fanatic. And training kids the safest way to bicycle on city streets? Clearly irresponsible.

And as long as you have your way, Rob, cycling for transportation will be dangerous because 1) the danger-loving will be the ones who cycle, 2) motorists won't know how to deal with bikes and 3) nothing will be arranged to allow for safe cycling. I don't think I am the fanatic, here.

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"You post a link purporting to show that bicycle riding is 'inherently risky,' but the source at the link says 'Many of these injuries are preventable by following simple safety precautions.' That's either terrible logic or dishonest."

You're a good representative of the mentality of SF's bike people. Even something obviously prudent like wearing a helmet is controversial among cyclists here, where some see it as a capitalist plot to sell helmets!

City cyclists are responsible for 50% of their own injury accidents according to the February 2010 Bicycle Collision Report. But, as per the party line, you insist that cars are the primary cause of accidents to cyclists, which is simply untrue.

Bike experts themselves affirm that solo falls that have nothing to do with other vehicles are the main source of injury to cyclists: Bert Hill (45% of bike accidents are solo falls, only 18% involve other vehicles); John Forester agrees that 50% of cycling accidents are caused by cyclists, and he puts the car/cyclist collision percentage at 10%; Robert Hurst puts that percentage at 15%.

"So, what I want is a city in which both bicyclists and motorists are respectful and safe. Clearly this makes me a fanatic. And training kids the safest way to bicycle on city streets?Clearly irresponsible."

When I was a kid, boxing was a much more popular sport then it is now. But as the reality of the head injury risk in the sport became increasingly obvious---the "punch drunk" syndrome---boxing has steadily declined in popularity. Muhammed Ali's dramatic decline in particular demonstrated the brutal reality of the sport. Now football is under a spotlight for the same reason.

Cycling should be next, especially without a helmet. Riding a bike has long been a symbolic childhood activity, but it's increasingly clear that it can result in serious head injuries to children. It only takes a simple fall off a bike to inflict a serious head injury to a child, which is why I think it's irresponsible of the city to encourage children to ride bikes.

I think the city should make cycling as safe as possible, but I also think that cycling is inherently dangerous and not just because of sharing the streets with motor vehicles.

I particularly object to redesigning city streets to benefit your small minority to the deteriment of the large majority that drives, walks, or takes public transportation.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Nato said...

""You post a link purporting to show that bicycle riding is 'inherently risky,' but the source at the link says 'Many of these injuries are preventable by following simple safety precautions.' That's either terrible logic or dishonest."

You're a good representative of the mentality of SF's bike people. Even something obviously prudent like wearing a helmet is controversial among cyclists here, where some see it as a capitalist plot to sell helmets!"

Your response is a complete non-sequitur. You say that biking is "inherently dangerous" and link to a study that merely shows only that biking without "simple safety precautions" is dangerous. My whole point is to say that bicycling is not *inherently* dangerous and that it can be fairly safe, especially with respect to the really dangerous crashes.

You say that my mindset is representative of SF bike people (I hope so), but that conflicts directly with your assertion that helmets are controversial amongst cyclists here. Either I'm representative and there's no real controversy about whether you should wear a helmet (of course you should!), or there is controversy, and I'm not representative. Pick one.

(point-by-point response continued below)

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Nato said...

"City cyclists are responsible for 50% of their own injury accidents according to the February 2010 Bicycle Collision Report. But, as per the party line, you insist that cars are the primary cause of accidents to cyclists, which is simply untrue."

It's untrue that I've asserted that cars are the primary cause of accidents to cyclists. I mentioned a pothole crash as an example of a solo injury accident so I could point out that it wasn't scary. I also mentioned scary accidents that had nothing to do with cars but which owed to recklessness. Again, the whole point was to say that severest dangers of riding are not inherent; they are primarily the result of unsafe riding or driving. Though I have done unsafe things on my bike, I certainly don't do so intentionally, so *my* personal experience with really dangerous situations mostly have to do with cars.

"Bike experts themselves affirm [blah blah blah stats]"

And what would the percentages look like if we excluded the stats of reckless bikers? In your link on helmets it mentions that 90% of fatal head injury crashes were from cyclists not wearing helmets. In my morning commute, no more than 10% are not wearing helmets. Wider statistics imply half of cyclists are not wearing helmets (I wonder where all these people are, because outside of a critical mass ride the helmeted always outnumber the unhelmeted, in my observation. Perhaps the unhelmeted hordes are disproportionately outside the City) The point here is to show that those solo injury numbers could be shrunken dramatically though "following simple safety precautions." it wouldn't help as much with the car impact numbers, but even there it would probably cut them in half. Since I and most of the fellow commuters on my route are already taking those simple safety precautions, however, our personal risk of serious injury and death tends to come from cars. I was specifically calling out drivers unaware of cyclists, since the ordinary weekday drivers in the City seem really quite good. It all comes back to my thesis that cycling doesn't have to be all that dangerous.

""So, what I want is a city in which both bicyclists and motorists are respectful and safe. Clearly this makes me a fanatic. And training kids the safest way to bicycle on city streets?Clearly irresponsible."

...Cycling should be next [to be examined for head-injury risk], especially without a helmet. Riding a bike has long been a symbolic childhood activity, but it's increasingly clear that it can result in serious head injuries to children. It only takes a simple fall off a bike to inflict a serious head injury to a child, which is why I think it's irresponsible of the city to encourage children to ride bikes."

It's already illegal for minors to ride without helmets (as it should be). Considering how light kids are, I think the chances of a child getting a serious head injury while wearing a helmet is significantly smaller than for an adult. Further, wouldn't training kids on how to ride a bicycle safely would also tend to decrease rather than increase injury crashes amongst young cyclists? Or do you think that by failing to train kids that kids will be kept from cycling?

"I think the city should make cycling as safe as possible, but I also think that cycling is inherently dangerous and not just because of sharing the streets with motor vehicles. "

You have made no case for cycling actually being *inherently* dangerous, so I feel I can ignore this sentence.

"I particularly object to redesigning city streets to benefit your small minority to the deteriment of the large majority that drives, walks, or takes public transportation."

So, what if 3.5% of the streets are redesigned for the 3.5% of commuters? Would that be fair?

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Nato said...

As a side note, I would dispute your 3.5% figure. Specifically, 3.5% use bicycles for the greatest length of their commute, not 3.5% use bicycles at all. Each commuter is only counted for the mode that covers the greatest distance. Thus, I am a train rider, not a cyclist. That applies to several thousand Caltrain bicycle riders, plus some number of BART riders and even (I assume) a few bus riders. My estimates are that this only adds a few percent (I haven't been able to find relevant stats anywhere, except ancient stats from 2000.)

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My readers can see what you wrote above. Like a lot of your two-wheeled comrades, you seem oddly uninformed for a bike fanatic. The lates Bicycle Count Report (page 3) tells us that 3.5% of all trips in SF are made by bicycle.

See also the current Transportation Fact Sheet, page 4.

 

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