Friday, February 14, 2014

An open letter to Sean Pyles

Photo by Matthew Woodson

Sean Pyles moved here from Chicago last August. He apparently believed all the pro-bike propaganda from the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall. He writes about his disillusionment in San Francisco magazine (I've Gotten into Two Bicycle Accidents Since I Moved Here). I try to disabuse him of any illusions about riding a bike in the city:


You make the mistake of buying the Bicycle Coalition/City Hall PR flim-flam versus the reality on the streets of this city. Take the 96% increase in cycling claim by the Bicycle Coalition: that's only an increase in the number of cyclists counted during commute hours for the city's annual bicycle count, not a count of overall trips by bike in San Francisco. You have to do a little digging to find out what's real and what's not. According to the city's own Mode Share Survey of 2011 (see page 5), cyclists are only 3.4% of all trips made in the city.

See also the city's annual Transportation Fact Sheet (see page 3), which tells us that 2.1% of city residents commuted by bike in 2000, and 3.3% commuted by bike in 2011, an increase of 1.2% in 11 years. Playing the percentage game, the Bicycle Coalition would trumpet that as a 64% increase, but you can see that it's not very impressive overall.

City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition can't be trusted to provide you and other would-be cyclists with the facts. Another example: the suppression of any coverage of that UC study that found that the city has been systematically under-counting cycling accidents in the city for years. You haven't heard about that study from the city's media, because they have studiously ignored it, though the NY Times wrote about it last October. 

They have to ignore it, since it shows that riding a bike in San Francisco is a lot more dangerous than they've been telling the public, which would undermine City Hall's pro-bike traffic policies that soft-pedal, so to speak, the dangers of cycling. City Hall sees getting more people on bikes---even children---as a cheap way of dealing with traffic congestion, a green, win-win deal for everyone. The UC study on City Hall's radically flawed method of counting traffic accidents puts the lie to that irresponsible policy.

Reading the full report with the actual numbers, by my calculation the city failed to count 1,377 injury accidents to cyclists treated at SF General Hospital between 2000 and 2009. They did that because they've been relying only on police accident reports and ignoring many accidents treated at SF General, the primary trauma center in the city.

In short, you've been snookered by the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall into believing their propaganda about cycling in San Francisco. My blog is one of the few places where you can find a reality-based discussion of that and other traffic issues in the city.


Rob Anderson

Thanks to Streetsblog for the link.

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At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Kind of an abstract little pep talk, Anon. My view: riding a bike in San Francisco---or anywhere else, for that matter---is an intrinsically risky way to get around.

City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition are irresponsible in encouraging people to ride bikes in the city that without informing people about the dangers. But of course when you start informing people of the real dangers, they will tend to not do it. That's why a lot of bike advocates are uncomfortable discussing the helmet issue; the implication is that riding a bike can be dangerous, which is what they only reluctantly acknowledge.

The Centers for Disease Control has this to say about the risks of cycling:

"While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles do.In 2010 in the U.S., almost 800 bicyclists were killed and there were an estimated 515,000 emergency department visits due to bicycle-related injuries.Data from 2005 show fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries to bicyclists resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $5 billion."

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent point, Rob, but even more important is to stop encouraging the "walking" fad. Walking is extremely dangerous - far more dangerous, in absolute terms, than bicycling:

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 70,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 8 minutes.1 Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.2

At 6:43 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Quoting absolute injury totals over a period of time reveals nothing about the relative danger of a mode of transportation. That's only the numerator of the appropriate metric. Where's the denominator? Appropriate denominators would be passenger-miles traveled, or, when comparing inner-city modes, number of trips.

Automobile and air-flight metrics usually include this context but bicycling and walking metrics seldom do.

As a high-mileage cyclist who is acquainted with many other cyclists I can give you this personal metric: Every one of us crashes multiple times per decade. Half the cyclists I know have broken bones or teeth in bicycle accidents with 5-figure medical bills a consequence.

As a regular transit rider who is acquainted with many lifelong transit riders I can say that none of us has ever suffered any personal injury from riding buses, trains and streetcars.

The words "safety" and "bicycling" do not belong in the same sentence together.

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Half the cyclists I know have broken bones or teeth in bicycle accidents with 5-figure medical bills a consequence.

Interesting. You - and most of your friends you ride with are getting into accidents. I'm happy that your crash happy bunch has sero-sorted into a tiny little circle of mayhem while the rest of us pedal happily along.

Sean Pyle - and you - need to learn to ride your bike. Anyone who puts their wheel into the train tracks - I am happy they are on a bike because they are just inherently clumsy and unaware of their surroundings, putting them into a car would be mayhem

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Hey, anonymous, now that you're done condescending about your superior bicycle skills would you please tell us how much you and your accident-free friends ride per year?

My circle rides between 4,000 and 8,000 miles per year and crashes occur about 3 times per decade. About 1 crash every 27,000 miles for the highest-mileage among us. Have you even ridden that far in your entire life?

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strava or it didn't happen.


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