Friday, August 24, 2012

The myth of the "huge growth" in cycling in SF



The Bicycle Coalition's propaganda machine never rests. The latest production is a soft-ball interview with Leah Shahum in the Wall Street Journal:
 
The coalition, which receives private and corporate funding in addition to member dues, shepherds the popular "Sunday Streets" program, which closes off car traffic in selected neighborhoods to create a promenade for pedestrians and cyclists.
 
The Bicycle Coalition also gets $50,000 in taxpayers' money every year to pay for Bike to Work Day, along with other city contracts.
 
WSJ: Of which accomplishments are you most proud?
Ms. Shahum: Far and away it's the huge growth in people who are biking, and the growing diversity of people who are bicycling. It's made the city a calmer, more pleasant and liveable place. It's inspiring the number of families with children I see riding, elderly people, people in suits, working-class people.
 
Oddly, the introduction to the interview cites the actual numbers that contradict the "huge growth" claim:
 
Under her watch, the nonprofit organization's membership has grown to about 12,000 from 5,000 in 2005. Meantime, about 3.5% of all trips in the city are made by bike today, compared with 2.1% in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
 
Maybe someone else wrote the introduction, since the interviewer doesn't seem to understand how unimpressive those numbers are. She doesn't challenge Shahum on that, but she includes an additional bit of reality in her intro: "Moreover, San Francisco has a long way to go to achieve the city government's goal of 20% of all trips taking place by bicycle by 2020."
 
Let's go over the numbers again: The 2.1% number actually dates from the year 2000 according to the city's Transportation Fact Sheet, though it supposedly referred only to the percentage of city residents who commuted by bike. Now the 3.5% is cited by the latest Bicycle Count Report as a percentage of all trips made in the city every day. That's quite a bit of backsliding, since the city previously claimed that 6% of all daily trips were by bike (See page 9 in the the 2008 State of Cycling Report and page 4 in the 2010 Bicycle Count Report).

This Mode Share Survey (see page 6, where a 3.4% share of all trips is cited) made for the MTA by a consultant may have forced the city to be more realistic about the share of trips by cyclists.
 
How could we get to City Hall's official goal of 20% of all trips by bike by 2020? From the present 3.5%, cycling would have to increase by more than 2% every year for the next eight years, even though it only increased 1.4% in the ten years since 2002. How likely is it that cycling will increase more every year than in the previous ten years?
 
Not even remotely likely, no matter how badly City Hall screws up city traffic in the next eight years---taking away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes---on behalf of the Bicycle Coalition. 
 
What the 20% by 2020 goal tells us: City Hall has no idea what it's talking about. Shahum can bullshit the media all she wants. That's part of her job description as head of a special interest group. But for City Hall to trumpet that goal to the public shows that our city government is even dumber than we thought.

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2 Comments:

At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Nextransit said...

I think you're missing the bigger picture: The actual number of cyclists will not rise until there's even remote parity with roads.

Put another way, there are around 10 square miles of car-related pavement in San Francisco. This compares to 0.06 square miles of bike-related pavement. Otherwise known as 0.6%, which obviously pales from a ratio standpoint.

But it gets worse: Biking and Walking account for 21% of all trips, and transit accounts for 17%. Cars account for just shy of 62% of all trips, but compared to bikes have 99.4% of all pavement. That's crazy talk.

You can be upset by bikes all you want, but the fact is, even today, biking infrastructure is disproportionately tiny when compared to the number of bikers vs. the car infrastructure compared to drivers.

You're saying the bike coalition's 71% increase over the last decade isn't impressive, but then go on to criticize the coalition's attempts to add more infrastructure. Given the incredibly tiny support biking gets in terms of infrastructure, it's actually pretty amazing. You criticizing "tax payer dollars" at $50,000/year for the bike coalition: perhaps you'd like to also criticize the millions of taxpayer dollars per year spent on road infrastructure for cars that only account for 62% of trips?

 
At 5:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Helquist: I've vowed to not publish any more of your comments until you quit hiding behind anonymity and pseudonyms---not to mention the blizzard of spam you've somehow sent my way---but this comment, while typically dumb, is at least relevant and representative of the few of you cyclists who even try to formulate a thought.

Using percentages vastly exaggerates the number of cyclists in the overall context of SF's traffic. For example, if you count 100 cyclists one year and 200 the next, it would be a 100% increase. Whoopee!

But those percentages are only meaningful if put in the context of the many thousands of daily trips by all other means---cars, buses, motorcycles, walking, etc.

According to a study (SFMTA Mode Share Survey)the MTA commissioned to find out what transportation "mode shares" city residents actually use, there are 2,076,074 daily trips by all the different modes. Of that number, only 73,071 are by bicycle, which is 3.4% of all trips. That's what makes that number unimpressive after more than ten years of pro-bike, anti-car propaganda from the SFBC and City Hall.

The pavement percentage approach is also bogus, since it takes 4 or 5 feet to make a bike lane, which, on most city streets, means that you have to take away either street parking or traffic lanes to make bike lanes.

Taking away street parking and traffic lanes on busy city streets is the sort of "infrastructure" I oppose. Besides, you bike people use the same roads as those wicked motor vehicles, and it's even more important for cyclists for our streets to be in good repair, since potholes can be a serious safety hazard for cyclists.

A good example is the accident you had a few years ago.

The $50,000 a year on Bike to Work Day is only one contract the coalition has with the city. No one publishes the overall money total the SFBC gets via city contracts, but it's surely a lot more than $50,000 a year.

 

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