Cycling safety in Denmark---and San Francisco
The interview Streetsblog does with Supervisor Kim raises important questions about Vision Zero and the future of cycling in San Francisco.
Streetsblog asks "How do we get SFPD to focus precious resources on stopping deadly activities?" Kim's answer: "Speed was a factor in the case of the two recent fatalities. This is something the board has been asking for since 2014."
One of those fatal accidents involved someone running a red light, and the other cyclist was killed by someone speeding recklessly through Golden Gate Park in a stolen car. How could either of these deaths been prevented by a traffic cop, even if one was on the spot?
Does the city need more traffic cops? If so Kim and the Board of Supervisors should vote to give the SFPD more money for more cops.
Streetsblog asks about getting more "street improvements" implemented quicker. Kim's response:
I agree with you, that seems like something we should be able to do. Regardless, two years after we called for Vision Zero we should have some protected bike lanes. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to fight for these bike lanes and see cars driving on them. I was so excited to get the Golden Gate bike lane, but it’s just not designed in a way to prevent conflicts. I’m frustrated now that we’re a little too dependent on these temporary pilots that are meant to be a band-aid, and we’re not building protected bike lanes. We have to put in better infrastructure.
Specifically which city streets are suitable for "protected bike lanes"?
The city is planning to install separated bike lanes on Masonic Avenue based on a phony safety claim, but Kim and other bike advocates need to tell us exactly where else that can/should be done.
The problem: most city streets simply don't have the space to make that a practical idea. You have to either eliminate a traffic lane or street parking on already busy streets to make separated bike lanes. The city is eliminating street parking to make the Masonic Avenue bike lanes, and there's a lot of opposition to that.
Creating "parking protected" bike lanes has the same problem: the limited space on city streets.
Kim is asked about Copenhagen:
It’s not that Copenhagen is European or more liberal. In the 1980s, their cities were also dominated by cars. Copenhagen was clogged with cars and people were angry about it. But they made the shift.
But Copenhagen struggles with traffic safety, even after it installs cycle tracks:
The construction of cycle tracks has resulted in a slight drop in the total number of accidents and injuries in the road sections between junctions[intersections] of 10% and 4% respectively. At junctions on the other hand the number of accidents and injuries has risen significantly, by 18%. A decline in road safety at junctions has undoubtedly taken place after the construction of cycle tracks. If the figures for the road sections is combined with those of the junctions, an increase of 9-10% in accidents and injuries has taken place (Road Safety and Perceived Risk of Cycling Facilities in Copenhagen, page 2).
But in Denmark overall, 33 cyclists were killed as recently as 2013, and "70% of the accidents involving cyclists are single-cyclist accidents," also known as "solo falls."
Recall that the two fatalities on Masonic Avenue---a cyclist and a pedestrian---both happened in intersections, which the proposed cycle tracks could not have prevented. And both were killed by drunk drivers.
Kim praises South Korea's approach to traffic safety:
They have pedestrian safety teams. Whenever anyone gets hit, they take it seriously and look at the intersection. It shows you what’s possible when you’re willing to put the resources in. And their enforcement is amazing. They have cameras all over the city.
The city used to do some of that with the MTA's Collision Report, but they've stopped doing it for reasons that are unclear. Surely they have enough manpower---5,745 employees---to analyze every injury accident on city streets and figure out what can be done to make our streets safer.
"Automatic Speed Enforcement" by traffic cameras is discussed. It's a promising technology, but there are political obstacles. See this Streetsblog story and the comments for the problems with that approach in California.
The city's underlying assumption on creating separated bike lanes: that if they build them enough people will use them to justify making traffic worse for everyone else. That's certainly true with the separated bike lanes planned for Masonic, since the city has no idea if enough cyclists will use them to justify increasing congestion for the other 32,000 vehicles that use the street every day.
That's even more problematic now, since the last bicycle count showed that cycling commuters actually decreased by 7%.
Is it a good idea to redesign city streets for a small, shrinking minority, especially when there are more cars than ever registered in a gentrifying San Francisco?