Monday, January 19, 2015

Traffic fatalities/injuries in SF and Vision Zero

Dear Rob,

Happy New Year to you. I pray this note finds you in good health and eager to keep blogging in 2015.

I came upon this article in the Chron’s web page. Funny, I don’t recall seeing it in the print edition. In some ways it’s the most extraordinary reporting I’ve seen from what passes for MSM here. Statistics and anecdotes which tell the story of how gross misbehavior by traffic participants in all modes is the cause of most of the fatalities that occurred in 2013.

Of course the article finishes with blather from the usual airheads about how streetscape improvements (“Vision Zero”) are going to make a difference. After reading the aforementioned accounts of meth-, inattention- and testosterone-fueled fatal idiocy it’s really a non-sequitur to talk about reducing speed limits and improving sight lines.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“The mayor’s not into blaming people, but he wants people to have more of a consciousness on the city streets,” she [mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey] said.

I hold nothing against consciousness but, really, wouldn’t we spare ourselves a lot of effort and money if the mayor were more “into” blaming people WHEN PEOPLE ARE TO BLAME instead of blaming asphalt and road paint when they play no role in accidents.

Regards,
Deane Hartley


Rob's comment:

The Chron story was probably in the print edition, but there's so much bullshit in the Chronicle it's hard to keep track. The Examiner had a similar story about traffic fatalities early this month that also included some MTA numbers on injury accidents. Yes, at least the Chronicle story acknowledges that the behavior of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists is the most significant cause of accidents on our streets.

The Chronicle story is based on information on fatalities from the SF Police Department, while the Examiner story cites both the SFPD and the SFMTA, which apparently provided the injury accident numbers. Fatalities are of course a lot easier to count than injury accidents.

The Examiner story included these numbers that we're seeing for the first time from the SFPD:

Fatal injury collisions of all types numbered 28 in 2014 and 2013, according to the Police Department's Dec. 3 third-quarter traffic enforcement and collision data report. Severe-injury collision numbers dropped from 171 in 2013 to 144 in 2014, a 16 percent decrease. The total number of injury collisions also decreased from 2,703 in 2013 to 2,285 in 2014, a 15 percent change, according to the police report. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, injury collisions involving motor vehicles and pedestrians fell 11 percent compared with 2013, and those involving bicyclists dropped 16 percent. The 21 pedestrian fatalities in 2013 were the highest since 24 in 2007, prompting city officials and street-safety advocates to push for adoption and implementation of a Vision Zero policy to eliminate fatalities by 2024.

The problem here, as I've pointed out over the past two years, is that the public can't be assured that the city has corrected its method of counting accidents to account for the widely ignored UC study that showed that the city has been radically under-counting serious cycling accidents for more than ten years. There's an earlier UC study that found the city has the same problem counting pedestrian accidents.

Can we assume that the SFPD is now also counting all the injury accidents treated at SF General Hospital, the city's primary trauma center? Maybe, but it would surely clarify matters if the MTA and City Hall made an explicit statement about that to reassure the public, since the problem has been unofficially recognized here and here.

The SF Weekly had a story in early 2014 on how the SFPD is supposedly revising its method of counting accidents in the city, but, like every other media outlet in The City That Knows How, the Weekly has been ignoring the UC study, which means the "humble" reporter failed to ask the cops any probing questions about the issue, like why are they adopting a new method, and how does it differ from the old one?

The numbers in both the Chronicle and the Examiner stories used to appear every year in the MTA's Collisions Report, but the last edition of that was issued way back in August, 2012, four months before the UC study floated that turd in the city's punch bowl. Now the public is getting numbers from both the SFPD and the SFMTA. What's the problem? The city is apparently reluctant to admit how grossly incompetent it has been in counting accidents on city streets, which means that we really don't know how safe/unsafe our streets are. (The count problem was known to the city way back in 2004, since it was acknowledged in the version of the Bicycle Plan that we litigated about.)

And then there's the implication of the UC study on cycling accidents that only District 5 Diary in the local media has been willing to acknowledge: that riding a bike in San Francisco is a lot more dangerous than City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us, since more than 1,300 cycling injury accidents between 2000 and 2009 weren't counted by the city. Acknowledging that reality is difficult for the city, since redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority of cyclists has been an important City Hall policy for more than ten years.

That's why the MTA hasn't issued a Collisions Report since 2012.

The Vision Zero slogan is backed up with hyped-up rhetoric from people like the new leader of the SF Bicycle Coalition:

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

Even allowing for the fact that he was talking to Streetsblog, this is hyperbole. My dictionary says that the definition of "accident" includes "lack of intention." The notion that the city---or any jurisdiction governed by human beings---can completely eliminate death and injury on its streets is ridiculous.

But the Bicycle Coalition and Walk San Francisco must continue to encourage the public to think that there's an ongoing safety emergency on city streets to further their agenda, which involves punishing everyone who drives in the city---to them "death machines" are the main problem, after all---and pushing the city to create more bike lanes by eliminating parking and traffic lanes on busy city streets and thereby making it harder and more expensive to drive in the city.

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