Sunday, May 17, 2015

The bicycle count report: A closer look


The decline in the number of cyclists counted in this year's report was seen at locations around the city, which is shown by page seven's "Count Comparison Map." Comparing this year and last year at the same locations, 22 of 47 locations showed a decrease. 25 locations also showed increases, but the numbers were only high enough to achieve a measly 1% increase in the total number of cyclists counted from last year.

When you turn to the "multi-modal" findings---for the first time, the city counted other vehicles and pedestrians---the report shows once again how relatively insignificant cycling is in the city's overall transportation system. 

The report puts motor vehicles in 8 different categories:

The video data collection technology enabled the classification of 8 vehicle categories: private vehicles, motorcycles, taxis, Muni buses, Muni trains, private shuttles, delivery buses, and school buses. These counts enable the quantification of vehicle mode share, defined as the proportion of each of these 8 vehicle classes traveling through each location...(page 8)

Having separate counts for different types of motor vehicles may be information useful to the MTA, but it seems arbitrary to call some motor vehicles "private vehicles," while others are called "official taxis," "private shuttles," "delivery freight," etc. Since these are all motor vehicles on the streets during the count, those distinctions seem irrelevant if you're trying to gauge traffic overall. And those different "vehicle" categories tend to dilute the count of motor vehicle traffic overall when compared to bicycles.

But page 8 provides the overall total for vehicles: 341,310, which presumably includes all categories. There were 140,648 pedestrians counted, and 21,229 cyclists (page 5). Of course there was no way of counting the number of passengers on the Muni buses that were included in the vehicle total, though a pretty good estimate could be made by checking how many people the individual Muni lines typically carry during the day. Future counts may include that information, as we learn on page 9:

Assess opportunities to capture additional trip data, such as gender and age, use of a helmet, and number of people in vehicles; estimating people in vehicles would enable the quantification of person mode share during the survey period.

Masonic Avenue numbers on page 15 for Golden Gate and Masonic are both revealing and raise an important question: there were only 82 cyclists counted, with 641 pedestrians and 6094 motor vehicles of all categories. Does the count represent both North/South and East/West traffic at all the count locations? I assume that it does, since the Masonic/Golden Gate vehicle total is more or less similar to the numbers in the city's Masonic Avenue Redesign Study (page 14).

Even if all 82 of the cyclists counted were traveling North/South on Masonic, that minuscule number highlights how misguided the Masonic Avenue bike project is. The city admits that there are few cyclists now using Masonic in any direction, as the 2011 Redesign Study (page 12) tells us: "The current PM peak volume was counted as 20 bikes per hour at Masonic and Golden Gate Avenue..." 

Nor is there any evidence that there are thousands of cyclists poised to use Masonic riding North/South after those separated bike lanes are installed on Masonic between Geary Blvd. and Fell Street, which is why I call that radical change a faith-based traffic policy. The city just hopes/assumes that there will be enough cyclists using Masonic to justify screwing up traffic for the 44,000 people who now use the street every day: more than 32,000 vehicles and 12,000 passengers on the #43 Muni line. Not to mention taking away 167 street parking spaces in a part of town where parking is in short supply.

Interesting to note too that the Polk Street count of cyclists declined from last year (page 12). Will both the Masonic Avenue bike project and the Polk Street project be dismantled if the number of cyclists using those streets turn out to be small? No, since it's all about making a small minority of cyclists "comfortable" riding on city streets, with the safety lie deployed as the ultimate trump card.

The low bicycle count in this report bodes ill for the city's goal of achieving 8 to 10% of all trips in the city by bicycle by 2018 (page 3 in last year's report), since cycling is now only 3.4%/3.8% of all trips in the city. 

There's no way the city can more than double bike trips in the city in less than three years, let alone achieve the goofy 20% by 2020 dream, but even in the attempt City Hall can screw up traffic for everyone else that now uses city streets.

A reader writes:

Rob,

The bicycle trip count can be misleading. For example a bicyclist might go on Market Street, travel from 5th to 2nd St, and be counted twice.

A bicyclist on Polk St. can be counted three times if they cross Grove, McAllister, and Sutter between 4:30 pm-6:30 pm.

For vehicles and pedestrians MTA averages the count per location, highest, lowest peak volume but doesn't do the same for bicyclists.

Rob's comment:
I suspect also that the city's bike people know exactly when the count happens and turn out to inflate the numbers, given how closely the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall work on the same agenda. 

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21 Comments:

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

I like the green/red map on page 7. With declines in many areas, and statistically irrelevant numbers in others (increase at 19th and Lincoln, but the count also shows that vehicle count is highest there, leading us to conclude that bike mode share is at a minimum there), we see that the western districts depend on cars, even despite all the anti-car measures that have made it more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Maybe our policies shouldn't be one size fits all for districts that are using things other than bicycles.

What is difficult to come to terms with is how these reports are invariable used to justify an increase in focus on the bicycle. If the numbers are low, people say that it's because we haven't made enough bike improvements. If they are high, then it's justification we should make even more to serve the mildly growing minority of commuters. There literally is no data combination that will allow a bike zealot to conclude that we should ease off on bike "improvements" in any given area.

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, like religious fanatics the bike people will keep coming at us. Now that everyone understands how bad traffic is downtown in SF, that won't stop their enablers in City Hall from pushing the already-approved bike projects on Masonic Avenue, Polk Street, and Second Street.

Prediction: Even though City Hall itself is responsible for making a bad traffic problem worse with its anti-car policies, the next big item on the pro-bike, anti-car agenda will be a revival of Congestion Pricing idea, which the head of the SFCTA has spent her career pushing.

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi rob,

the SFMTA has now posted their mode share market research study as well. Even less biking than previously thought

http://sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports/2015/Travel%20Decision%20Survey%202014%20Summary%20Report_Accessible_0.pdf

 
At 6:23 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

The funniest answer on the SFMTA phone survey is the top answer to the question on bike use in the last 12 months (#22): "I didn't ride a bike and didn't want to." Explains the 2% mode share for cycling compared to self-selected surveys favored by advocates.

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Here's a more succinct link to the Travel Decisions Survey 2014. More on this tomorrow.

 
At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Gregski said...

Page 18 of Travel Decisions Survey is a head scratcher.

The narrative says 31% of respondents rode a bike at least a few times a month but when I add up the four answers that would logically constitute "at least a few times a month" it comes to only 23%.

A few times a month: 12%
Ride regularly: 4%
Ride a few times a week: 4%
Commute by bike: 3%

Based on my reading of the questionnaire respondents were required to choose a single answer that best represented his or her cycling choices over the past 12 months. Based on my habits I could have chosen either ride regularly or commute by bike. If I worked at home half the time I could have also answered yes to a few times per week.

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

Car counts are misleading too. A car can circle the block 15 times looking for parking and be counted 15 times. a cyclist never has to circle looking for parking :)

 
At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rkeezy - can you point to any single change to bike infrastructure in the western districts that has had an actual detrimental impact on car usage out there? If you do - you're lying.

 
At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think traffic downtown is bad because of bikes? Do you see what's down there? It's cars. Tons of tons of cars. Talk about a fanatic. You won't blame the very thing that's causing the congestion, not to mention injury and death.

 
At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes since we've already established that Masonic is perfectly safe, we need more bikers to drive through in order to justify a bike lanes. Just as we waited for cars to trudge through ravines, rivers, dirt roads and forests before we built car infrastructure.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"You think traffic downtown is bad because of bikes? Do you see what's down there? It's cars. Tons of tons of cars. Talk about a fanatic. You won't blame the very thing that's causing the congestion, not to mention injury and death."

There's no evidence of more "injury and death" from all that traffic, which is the result of the booming economy, aggravated by a lot of construction downtown.

What I object to is making it worse by building housing units with no parking spaces and "improvements" with Bicycle Plan projects like on Second Street:

"In order to achieve a complete street along the corridor, the travel lanes along Second Street would generally be reduced from two in each direction to one in each direction to implement bicycle facilities, consistent with the prior Bicycle Plan proposals..."

 
At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you want more parking spaces downtown so more cars are going to be congesting the city streets. AT no point will this exacerbate the traffic issue? You're not that dense, are you? Sure pick the low hanging fruit of bike lanes. Have you ever thought that parking takes up a much needed traffic lane?

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blah blah blah - everything is congesting car traffic, except for cars. Dumbass.

 
At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"Have you ever thought that parking takes up a much needed traffic lane? "

Good point. Let's discuss. If curbside parking space were available for moving traffic it could indeed relieve congestion. But only if vehicles avoid illegally stopping at curbside and if garage (or off-street) parking space is made available nearby so cars seeking parking don't circulate repeatedly.

The city could build (or permit) new parking garages and lots and it could convert parking zones into travel lanes but instead it often just replaces a full travel lane with an over-wide bike lane (examples: Valencia and Folsom Streets). Make sense to you? No, me neither.

Also, be careful what you wish for. Parked cars enhance the sidewalk experience for pedestrians by forming a barrier between them and moving traffic. If all curbside parking was converted to travel lanes the pedestrian anxienty level would soar.

 
At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the city definitely needs more public parking garages. i would be happy to forgo street parking if there were garages to park in. this would also releive congestion from people circling looking for parking

 
At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where's the data that supports your theory that existing parking lots are utilized? Guess we'll have to wait for this report www.sfcta.org/parkingstudy

 
At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gregski I would love to know where you get this idea about parking enhancing the pedestrian experience. Are you talking about parking at the corners of crosswalks too that "enhance" the experience between a pedestrian about to cross the street and a motorist taking a right turn?

 
At 9:49 AM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Anonymous, pedestrian distance from a travel lane is a measure of pedestrian comfort in national road standards. More distance, more comfort. More traffic in that closest lane, less comfort. So, more traffic lanes, each with less traffic and a parking lane will feel safer to pedestrians walking along sidewalks. Squeeze that same volume of traffic right next to pedestrians on fewer lanes with no parking lane buffer, and they will feel less comfortable. There are similar definitions of comfort for cyclists based on distance from motor vehicles and the volumes of them.

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"Gregski I would love to know where you get this idea about parking enhancing the pedestrian experience."

Really? You would love it? OK, I will take you at your word. The first place I got the idea was from Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" in which she cited several symbiotic benefits of cars and cities including the "safety buffer" effect for people on sidewalks next to motorways. The second place I got it was from my experience as a pedestrian in European cities (London in particular) in which motor traffic on many streets whizzed just a few feet from my knees on arterial streets with sidewalks but no curbside parking. I found it quite anxiety-provoking.

Fortunately Mark Kaepplein has addressed (with seriousness and respect that I would not have mustered) your doofus question about parking in crosswalks so I don't have to.

 
At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, you're a hateful fucking tool. Old, too. Happily, your life will end long before you can ever push your anti-bike fascism on people who just want to ride their bikes.

 
At 12:10 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You have it backwards: It's City Hall that's trying---with limited success---to push bikes on the people of San Francisco.

 

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