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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