Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A cyclist writes to C.W. Nevius



















Dear Mr. Nevius,

Thank you for your latest article in today’s Chronicle about bike riding on Polk Street (S.F. cyclists deserve better, but solutions aren't easy). I especially appreciate your acknowledgement of the price that would be paid by Polk Street businesses if the city were to alter the street to the Bicycle Coalition’s liking.

At the same time I am disappointed by your article’s serving as a tribune for Ms. Shahum’s astonishing statement that, “The No. 1 way that people get hurt riding in the city is getting ‘doored.’” This quote appeared without any editorial correction, skepticism or qualification. It is most deserving of all these.

I would challenge Ms. Shahum to disclose her credible source of data from which she derived the conclusion that she shared with you. I doubt very much that she can provide the facts to support her statement. But I can direct you to an important academic study that credibly refutes it.

The study to which I refer was published in 2012 by UCSF trauma surgeon, Dr. Rochelle Dicker, who studied hospital and police records of more than 2,500 bicyclists who had been treated at San Francisco General Hospital, our city’s primary trauma center. The study has been publicized by the New York Times but has so far been ignored by the mainstream media here in San Francisco, including the Chronicle. Among its relevant findings:

1) The number of cyclist injury accidents is much higher than has been reported by the MTA, which is relying solely upon police reports and disregarding emergency room data.

2) More than 40% of cyclist injury accidents are SOLO CRASHES involving no other vehicle. These accidents are no less severe in their consequences than inter-vehicle accidents and result in 4 times as many inpatient admissions as inter-vehicle accidents.

The second finding above is what calls Ms. Shahum’s statement into question. In order for her statement to be true in the context of these SF General statistics, 72% of bike-car injuries (and more than 42% of all bike injuries) would have to be caused by “dooring.” Not very likely at all.

The NYT article in which the UC study was referred to.

Here's the abstract of the study.

For what it’s worth, I ride bicycles more than 8,000 miles every year on public roads, including my daily 12-mile commute here in San Francisco. I also walk a lot, ride transit and drive my own private automobile which I park in my neighborhood. My experience and that of my cycling friends has taught me how dangerous cycling is in comparison with other popular transit modes and indeed in comparison to most every regular activity engaged in by ordinary urban Americans.

As an experienced cyclist I am troubled by my city’s and the Bicycle Coalition’s active misinformation campaign designed to mislead potential cyclists as to the dangers they will face, half of which, according to the UC and other studies, are solo crashes that cannot be mitigated or prevented by segregated bike lanes. Of course adults like me must be free to make our own choices of risk and reward and by all means it is reasonable for the streetscape to accommodate cyclists in proportion to our numbers and mode share.

But it is irresponsible to promote the undeniable economic, time-efficient and cardiovascular benefits of utility cycling while actively denying, disregarding and misstating the equally undeniable likelihood (I would go so far as to say eventual certainty) of personal injury. The local media are complicit in this propaganda campaign, and I can think of no better journalist to correct this than you, Mr. Nevius.

Best wishes,

Mr. Deane Hartley
Longtime Chronicle Subscriber
San Francisco

P.S. When Ms. Shahum was guiding you through the South Polk district, I’ll wager she was careful to ensure that you were not exposed to how the new south-Polk “contra” lane, while making life easier for a trickle of cyclists on Polk, has resulted in a huge increase in danger to the hundreds of cyclists who ride eastbound on Grove between Van Ness and Polk every day.

Cars used to get their own right-turn lane from eastbound Grove onto Polk, avoiding the dreaded “right hook” of eastbound cyclists by first merging rightward across the bike lane into the right-turn lane. Now, motor traffic is backed up on Grove Street between Van Ness and Polk (due to the newly-created traffic bottleneck on south Polk); the dedicated right-turn lane has been removed. Cyclists in the Grove bike lane are now trapped between parked cars to their right, backed-up cars to their left, and right-hooking (usually gridlocked) cars straight ahead.

No question about it, the MTA and the Coalition have made bike commuting in San Francisco MORE dangerous than it was. Doubt me? I hereby invite you and Ms. Shahum on a survey ride on Grove Street any morning of the business day between 8:00 and 10am. Meet me in front of Davies Hall. We can all practice dog-legging our bikes between the stopped cars on Grove to get past Polk Street to freedom.

Rob's comment:
Nevius is another local journalist who relies on press releases from the MTA. In the story referred to above: "A San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency survey found that since 2006 cycling in the city is up 96 percent."

Nevius is referring to the city's annual bicycle count that only counts commuting cyclists once a year, not all "cycling in the city." According to the city's Mode Share Survey, only 3.4% of all daily trips in the city are by bike. The city doesn't like to refer to that number in its press releases because it shows how insignificant cycling is in city traffic overall.

Nevius finishes the story with another obvious falsehood: "As Shahum says, several streets are already on tap for bike improvements. Second Street is already funded and Masonic is already improved."

Of course Masonic Avenue hasn't yet been "improved"---that is, it hasn't been screwed up yet for everyone but cyclists, which City Hall plans to do in spite of significant neighborhood opposition.

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32 Comments:

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Good to see that I am not the only cyclist making note of the increased terror on that block of Grove Street. Disgraceful.

I have wondered for a long time why the Coalition disregards right-hook turns as a safety priority. Now I know why. Its director apparently believes that parked cars are a much greater danger than cars turning through intersections in front of moving cyclists!

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Terror on Grove Street?

I'll believe it when I see it.

I invite you to take me out for a ride, Greg.

 
At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys are such fucking idiots. It's fucking incredible.

 
At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Yo Murph,
If you really need a tour guide to find that block of Grove Street I'll be happy to lead you there as long as you promise to follow at a safe distance, since I'll probably need to engage in some sudden decelerations and turns in order to get through the MTA's newly-created clusterfuck.

Unfortunately I can't take you back in time so you could experience that block the way it used to be as recently as a couple months ago. Traffic moved steadily and smoothly and Grove and Polk were seldom crowded and never backed up. Cyclists could stay in the Grove bike lane and continue pedaling steadily straight across Polk Street with only occasional interference from right-turning cars.

Now it is exactly as the letter-writer describes it. In my experience not only are the drivers now always right-hooking the bike lane, they are stopped in mid-turn and there is no way around them by bike except an extreme zig-zag maneuver.

Maybe for you an intersection becomes LESS terrifying when the incidence of right-hook turns increases? If so please consider the possibility that your views are out of the mainstream.

Or maybe you are just another faith-based religious believer for whom the prophets at the Bike Coalition and the MTA are incapable of ever doing harm to cyclists.

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Could you be more fucking specific?

 
At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure.

1) Rob, how many of the cyclists fatalities in the last, say, 5 years have been solo falls, and what % of total cyclist fatalities in that time period were solo falls?

2) Can you point to studies that have shown bike lanes causing a negative economic impact to merchants with businesses on that street?

3) If you think bike lanes hurt business, can you explain why the existing studies that show bike lanes actually increased sales for business on those streets even when some parking was removed are wrong?

4) Can you or Deane please explain how the new Polk Street bike lane "has resulted in a huge increase in danger to the hundreds of cyclists who ride eastbound on Grove between Van Ness and Polk every day."?

5) That congestion on Grove was present before the Polk Street bike lane was installed.

6) If the Grove car congestion is allegedly so bad, why not remove the parking on the eastbound side of Grove to make more room for right turning cars?

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gregski: to say that there wasn't car traffic on the right turn from Grove onto Polk is a flat lie. There was congestion there, and there is now. The congestion was worsened when the parking was added on that corner in 2013. To fix that MTA should just remove the parking on Grove so that cars can make a right turn without blocking car traffic behind them. Fortunately there's proof to debunk your lie in photos of this intersection before the bike lane was installed. But look no further than Google Maps. Your next comment is going to make some attempt at rebuking this comment, but the truth is, you're just a stubborn idiot. Good luck with your life.

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

1) The post is about emergency-room injuries, not deaths. If your fatality factoids are so important maybe you will kindly furnish them for us and thereby remediate our state of "fucking" idiocy. While you're at it maybe you'll tell Leah Shahum how many fatalities were caused by "dooring". I doubt she'll ever tell us.

2) ???? What does this have to do with the UC study, dooring or with Grove Street?

3) See (2) above.

4) Did you not read the letter? It's explained there.

5) My experience is that the Grove-to-Polk right turn zone was much more smooth-flowing before the MTA's recent stretscape revisions. Traffic always moved when the light was green. I ride through there almost every business-day morning. What did you used to experience there when you rode through it every morning for years? How did it compare with the way it is now?

6) Why are you asking Rob? Why don't you ask the MTA? If they do remove parking (reserved for City Hall big shots, by the way) that will be seen as an acknowledgement that they screwed up the street and had to re-fix it.

 
At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, bike nuts hijack taxpayers' money for bike path that no one will actually ever ride on:

http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_25859548/smart-train-and-bikeway-winners-regional-agency-hands

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Rob, how many of the cyclists fatalities in the last, say, 5 years have been solo falls, and what % of total cyclist fatalities in that time period were solo falls?"

We can't possibly know that because, as the UC study found, the city's method of counting cycling accidents is radically flawed. But even before that study, the city's Collisions Report didn't distinguish between solo falls and those involving other vehicles. If and when the city releases its long overdue Collisions Report, these issues may be clarified.

"If you think bike lanes hurt business, can you explain why the existing studies that show bike lanes actually increased sales for business on those streets even when some parking was removed are wrong?"

Which "studies" are you referring to? On Valencia Street? No street parking was removed to make those bike lanes, just a traffic lane. Small storefront businesses rely on street parking for customer parking, as do local residents with cars.

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Since you don't seem to be familiar with the city's reports on accidents, here are links to the last Bicycle Collision Report and the Collisions Report for all accidents on city streets.

See pages 20-23 of the Bicycle Collision Report for numbers and categories of cycling accidents. See pages 21-26 of the Collisions Report for numbers and categories of cycling accidents.

Up-to-date versions of both these reports are long overdue, presumably because the city is trying to fix the way it counts cycling accidents.

But the UC study also raises questions about the way the city counts auto and pedestrian accidents. If it has been relying on police reports and under-counting cycling accidents treated at SF General, is it doing the same with other types of accidents?

 
At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to dodge all of the questions guys. Heroic work.

 
At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually some smart people have the stats and it turns out 0% of cyclists were killed by solo falls and 100% of cyclists were killed in collisions with drivers of cars and trucks.

 
At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Statewide in CA since 2004, only 1.3% of cyclist fatalities were solo falls. 98.7% were killed by cars or trucks.

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Yo Anon, My, aren't you the profile in courage? Well, if I were going to accuse a man of lying and pitifully try to prove my point with straw men I guess I would post anonymously too. Oh, and the name-calling is very becoming of you.

Google maps currently shows the intersection as of November of last year. One can clearly see a right-turn zone 3 car-lengths long in front of the Public Health Building where the curb is painted red.

The new status quo is accurately depicted in this DPW blueprint of the recently-completed streetscape revisions. It clearly shows that the right-turn zone is replaced by a bulb-out.

http://sfdpw.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=3822

Nobody has claimed "there wasn't any traffic" at that right turn. Sheesh. In my experience traffic always moved there when the light was green so I did't consider it congested.

One contributor to the current increase in congestion hasn't been previously noted: The right-turn lane from southbound Polk onto westbound Hayes is obstructed by construction barriers (Another bulb-out under construction? God help us.) which means that right-turning cars are now blocking one of Polk's two through lanes. If this dedicated turn lane is re-opened the congestion at Grove and Polk might resolve itself and the City Hall big shots can keep their parking places on Grove.

But the right-hook turns from Grove will continue.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Actually some smart people have the stats and it turns out 0% of cyclists were killed by solo falls and 100% of cyclists were killed in collisions with drivers of cars and trucks."

Can you tell us who these "smart people" are? No, I didn't think so. The numbers in SF are still unknown, since the city is still grappling with the situation revealed by that UC study.

Besides, safety for cyclists is not only about fatalities, of which there are few in SF. It's about serious injuries, as described in that UC study:

"Injuries from bicycle crashes are not only potentially life altering or deadly for individuals but are also costly. In an analysis of the medical and social consequences of bicycle injury, it was shown that hospitalized bicyclists experienced issues including persistent disability, cognitive and behavioral changes, and permanent work disability."

 
At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, have a link? Would be good as it would completely invalidate Rob's blame-the-victim strategy.

 
At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy so much to respond to. Thanks for the comments Gregski and RA!

First, Gregski (nice name).

Gregski: "The post is about emergency-room injuries, not deaths."

Yeah, tell that to the mothers of Dylan Mitchell, Amelie Le Moulac, Diana Sullivan, Nancy Ho, and Robert Yegge.

Gregski: "If your fatality factoids are so important maybe you will kindly furnish them for us"

Google it. The data is there, you (and Rob) apparently have yet to find it.

Gregski again, on Grove's right turn to Polk being gridlocked because of the new bike lane. You know, you're right. The new bike lane does cause gridlock. Just look at this photo:

https://www.google.com/maps/@37.778425,-122.418796,3a,75y,77.89h,80.66t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sLKWGhwp8AR_xzU91hpORCQ!2e0!6m1!1e1

Oh, whoops, that was from November 2013, before the bike lane was installed. Oops. You're right though Gregski, the bike lane really did add quite the congestion. Good luck with that.

Now, Rob. You are adorable. You said:

"We can't possibly know that because, as the UC study found, the city's method of counting cycling accidents is radically flawed".

Actually, Rob, we know *exactly* how many cyclists have been killed in SF in the last 5 years. Again, Google it and you'll see. You know how many of those were solo falls? Zero. You know how many were killed by cars and trucks? See for yourself and please report back. That number is accurate. Yeah, I think it's a horrible number, too.

And Rob, again:

"Besides, safety for cyclists is not only about fatalities, of which there are few in SF."

Yeah, like I told Gregski, tell that to the mothers of Dylan Mitchell, Amelie Le Moulac, Diana Sullivan, Nancy Ho, and Robert Yegge and all the other cyclists who were killed in SF. No surprise that you both don't have wives or children. Funny how you're both lonely males. Coincidence?

And for Rob and Gregski, if you don't mind, what are the names of all of the cyclists killed in solo falls in SF? Just asking.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Actually, Rob, we know *exactly* how many cyclists have been killed in SF in the last 5 years. Again, Google it and you'll see. You know how many of those were solo falls? Zero. You know how many were killed by cars and trucks? See for yourself and please report back. That number is accurate. Yeah, I think it's a horrible number, too."

Much stupidity here. Your confidence in what Google shows can only be maintained if you continue to ignore the implications of the UC study, which, like every bike nut in the city, you of course will continue to do. Your Google search only provides the deaths reported in the media. Given the grossly negligent way the city has been counting cycling accidents, how can you be sure this list is accurate? It may be longer than you think.

Death to city cyclists is relatively rare, which is why it's easier to keep that score than of injuries to cyclists.

Between 2000 and 2009---probably long before that, but the UC study only covered those years---the city has relied on police reports to count injury accidents to cyclists, ignoring many accident victims treated at SF General.

No one is claiming that "solo falls"---or what the UC study calls "cyclist-only" accidents---cause a lot of fatalities. But the study found that those were the type of accidents most under-counted and that they were just as serious as accidents involving motor vehicles:

"In our comparison of AVB[auto-versus-bicyclist] and CO[cyclist-only] injuries, we found that CO injuries four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital after presentation in the emergency department. Despite this increased likelihood of admission, our data indicated that length of hospital stay, hospital disposition, and the Mean Injury Severity Scores were not different among AVB injury patients and CO injury patients."

The takeaway for me---though I didn't need the UC study to understand this, since I've been saying it for years---is that riding a bike in San Francisco is a lot more dangerous than City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition have assumed in their ten-year propaganda campaign for cycling and against motor vehicles.

City Hall sees getting more people on bikes as a cheap way to mitigate traffic congestion. Until now they've been selling it as a green, win-win deal for everyone. Bikes don't pollute and it's exercise for the cyclists. Both the city and the Coalition have been irresponsible in this campaign. People coming to the city---especially young people---are eager to be cool and with-it, which makes bikes a required accessory for many. But they are provided no realistic idea of the dangers involved.

The dangers are downplayed---even wearing helmets is controversial in San Francisco!---and the hip, green factor is emphasized.
The city and the SFBC are even encouraging children to ride bikes in the city!

This is not just a San Francisco issue. From the Centers for Disease Control:

"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."

Riding a bike in San Francisco---and anywhere, for that matter---is a dangerous thing to do. Don't do it---or only do it with a realistic sense of the danger involved.

 
At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Well, I guess congestion is in the eye of the beholder.

Your photo shows only a handful of motor vehicles approaching the intersection from the west, including a Scion xB making a right turn onto Polk about 3 feet from the curb. It shows no traffic at all on eastbound Grove between Polk and Larkin to prevent the 3 cars in the leftmost lane from proceeding smoothly, non-stop and straight across Polk. The middle lane on eastbound Grove is completely unoccupied, providing plenty of room for a cyclist to roll past the Scion along its driver side. Indeed, your photo evokes the intersection exactly as I recall it.

So, what's your point? Is this photo supposed to indicate congestion? Doesn't look congested to me at all. Seriously, I am confused. You seem to be supporting Mr. Hartley's and my description of how it used to be.

And you can try all you like to change the subject and disregard the thousands of non-fatal bike casualties in San Francisco and what they might have to teach us about danger and risk. I consider ALL the mayhem to be relevant and I appreciate very much Rob's efforts to bring attention thereto.

Finally let me note (since you won't bother to do so) that one of the cyclists you cite collided while engaged in an illegal left turn (I witnessed the crash site shortly afterwards), another was riding at speed on a 30mph through street (Oak) with no bike lane or sharrows, two blocks parallel to Page Street, a comparatively serene street with stop signs and sharrows.

The other three were killed by RIGHT-HOOK TURNS - exactly the hazard that has increased in frequency at Grove and Polk thanks to the city's new bulb-outs. That intersection now exactly resembles the corner where Ms. LeMoulac met her end. (Interestingly, that corner on Folsom has since been re-striped to provide a dedicated right-turn lane; no more right-hooks).

Thank you for all the evidence in support of Rob's and my posts.

 
At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it more dangerous to ride a bike in San Francisco than Amsterdam and Copenhagen?

 
At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What alternative form of transportation do you suggest for SF that's as cheap as biking and faster than public transit?

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

Your Google search only provides the deaths reported in the media. Given the grossly negligent way the city has been counting cycling accidents, how can you be sure this list is accurate? It may be longer than you think.

No - it's not.

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

Gregski said...

Yo Anon, My, aren't you the profile in courage? Well, if I were going to accuse a man of lying and pitifully try to prove my point with straw men I guess I would post anonymously too. Oh, and the name-calling is very becoming of you.

Gregski is just polish for "anonymous"

 
At 9:34 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"What alternative form of transportation do you suggest for SF that's as cheap as biking and faster than public transit?"

There is none. I walk when the destination is reasonably close, but Muni is the only real alternative to driving for most people in San Francisco. Biking is cheap, but it's too dangerous.

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Why is it more dangerous to ride a bike in San Francisco than Amsterdam and Copenhagen?"

I give up. You tell me.

 
At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"What alternative form of transportation do you suggest for SF that's as cheap as biking and faster than public transit?"

The UC study's facts strongly suggest that utility cycling isn't as cheap as it often looks. When calculating the overall cost to ride bicycles it is necessary and appropriate to factor in the costs of treating all the injuries. No doubt some of this cost, especially at a public facility like SF General, is borne by the public treasury as unreimbursed care. The rest is borne by individuals and their private insurance. And, yes, the healcare-cost-reduction benefits of regular exercise need to be factored in too.

Have any of you anonymous economists out there completed a serious and thorough accounting of the social costs of utility cycling on a per-trip basis? I haven't yet but I think it would be useful.

I wonder how long it will take for the commenters here to respond to this post with some non-sequitors about the social costs of cars. Changing the subject seems to be a lot of people's idea of effective debating on this site.

 
At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When calculating the overall cost to ride bicycles it is necessary and appropriate to factor in the costs of treating all the injuries. No doubt some of this cost, especially at a public facility like SF General, is borne by the public treasury as unreimbursed care.

Are you factoring in all the injuries caused by motor vehicles? No.

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The important thing to keep in mind here is not money, but safety. Still waiting for the MTA to issue its latest Collision Report to tell us with some accuracy how safe/unsafe our streets really are.

 
At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Looks like it took 11 hours and 27 minutes. Longer than I expected.

 
At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More people have been killed by cars than homocides in SF in 2014 and yet you still aren't sure why biking is dangerous.

 
At 1:38 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Apples and oranges. I understand why riding a bike is dangerous. Do you?

 

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