Thursday, April 27, 2017

A city cyclist on Vision Zero

Examiner photo

Letter to the editor in the SF Examiner:


SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin proclaims that “each [San Francisco traffic fatality] is preventable” as though this is somehow self-evident simply because he proclaims it. It is no such thing.

As SFPD Cmdr. Mikail Ali discovered in his detailed analysis of 2013 and 2014 street fatalities, the majority of fatalities are due to “really, really bad behavior” on the part of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Anyone who cycles and walks in San Francisco every day, as I do, will be as confounded as I am at the notion that red-light-running, inattentive jaywalking and failures to yield at crosswalks can be prevented by “Vision Zero,” which is a slogan pretending to be a panacea.

Reiskin cites “data analysis” as the basis for ever more expensive and intrusive mismanagement of our traffic flow. Yet despite having more than 5,000 employees at his service, the SFMTA has been slow to publish its annual collisions reports so we citizens can review the data ourselves.

The latest canard is “speeding,” something we all know is nearly impossible to do on tight, congested inner-city streets. Yet it will be cited as justification for massive new camera surveillance. I’m sure the vendors of the speeding cameras are pleased by Reiskin’s endorsement of their solution to a nonexistent problem, as well as Uber and Lyft, who smile upon his efforts to divert our attention away from the true current scourge: distracted ride-hail drivers.

Deane Hartley
San Francisco

Rob's comment:

Good letter. An updated number: as of 2015, the SFMTA had 6,263 employees.

A few months ago I wrote about the city's delay in releasing its annual Collisions Report

The disingenuous explanation for the delay in the report itself:

Since the previous 2010-2011 Collisions Report published in 2012, production of this report was delayed due to problems validating data during the transition to a new reporting system that relies on local data rather than state data. 

Until 2012, the SFMTA received collision data through the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records Systems (SWITRS), which is maintained by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 20008 requires that local governments send their police collision reports to the State...However, there has traditionally been a one- to two-year lag for an annual set of data to be considered official by the CHP. 

Since 2013, collision data has instead been reported directly by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and validated by the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the SFMTA...(page 3).

What happened in 2012 to prompt the city to "transition to a new reporting system"? That's when the University of California published a study (Since it's behind a paywall, I transcribed it here) showing that the city's SWITRS-based reporting system overlooked more than 1,300 serious cycling accidents between 2000 and 2009. Turns out that the city was relying too much on police reports and failing to count many accidents treated at SF General Hospital, the city's primary trauma center.

What makes it so galling is that the city actually knew about the problem way back in 2004, since it was noted in the Bicycle Plan the city tried to illegally implement without any environmental review. There was also an earlier UC study showing that the city had the same problem in reporting pedestrian accidents.

Equally galling is how the local media ignore this issue, except for yours truly at the beyond the pale District 5 Diary. Still waiting for the Chronicle, the Examiner, SF Weekly, and SF Streetsblog to even mention it. The NY Times found the story newsworthy, which is how I learned about it. Their readers also found it interesting, since there were 428 comments.

The implication: we not only have to submit to being constantly lectured on the city's fatuous Vision Zero bullshit; we're also supposed to continue to believe the fantasy that bicycles are a safe and sensible transportation "mode"---even for children---that justifies redesigning city streets to satisfy that small special interest group.

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How to electrify Caltrain

Russ Cohen

by Gary Patton

Caltrain has long wanted to “electrify” its system. This has some benefits but downsides, too, like ugly, industrial-style catenaries up and down the Peninsula and cutting down thousands of trees.

Still, the official position, with broad public support, is that electrification would be positive. The Mercury has even claimed our economy “needs Caltrain electrification,” asserting that electrification is required for our prosperity.

To finance electrification, the costs for which are now estimated at about $2 billion, Caltrain has looked everywhere. It looked, for instance, to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for a $647 million grant. It also looked to the state’s High‑Speed Rail Authority for a $750 million contribution.

Just after the Trump Administration took office, the FTA indicated it would not fund Caltrain electrification at this time. Great consternation ensued. The Mercury News editorialized, Gov. Jerry Brown and business leaders went to Washington, and state and federal Democratic politicians howled.

The agony has been the more because Caltrain signed binding construction contracts based on their speculation that FTA funding would come through. This decision was made on Dec. 1, 2016. The Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail urged Caltrain not to speculate, and not to enter into those contracts. Its warnings were ignored.

Caltrain thought the “fix was in.” The grant was sent to Congress by Carolyn Flowers, then the Acting Director of the FTA. Within two weeks after signing off on it, Flowers took a job with AECOM, an engineering firm that works for Caltrain on the very same electrification project that Flowers had approved.

All Republican Party members of Congress from California asked the FTA to delay the grant. Was that “politics” or a concern about good policy? Likely the latter.

Their concern was with the direct connection between the electrification project and the state’s poorly-managed high‑speed rail project. Any claim that these are separate projects is without foundation. Don’t forget that $750 million grant from the high‑speed rail program.

As currently proposed, Caltrain electrification is inexorably tied to high-speed rail, and the worst part is what the state High-Speed Rail Authority would get for its $750 million. It would get an ownership interest in the Caltrain right of way, and that means the state’s high‑speed rail project would constrain local commuter capacity.

Caltrain would forfeit the ability to add up to four commuter trains per hour in each direction during peak hours. This capacity would be used for high-speed rail service, doing nothing to eliminate traffic gridlock. Were this project to go forward with the high-speed rail connection, Caltrain’s long-term capacity for commuters would be compromised, so the very purpose of electrification would be lost.

In 2013, talking about the California High‑Speed Rail Project, a Mercury News editorial said, “It’s time to put an end to this fraud.” More than three years later, this fraudulent project just keeps coming, and its latest victim is the Caltrain electrification project.

Given that High-Speed Rail would have stolen away most of the anticipated benefits for local commuters, the FTA’s action in withholding the grant is a blessing in disguise. 

There are less expensive electrification options, not requiring overhead catenaries, and there are lighter, lower-cost modern diesel alternatives, too (so-called Tier 4 trains, just approved for commuter service). These alternatives can do what everyone on the Peninsula wants for Caltrain at a much lower cost. 

Instead of being outraged at the FTA action, we should be relieved. Caltrain just dodged a bullet.

Gary A. Patton grew up in Palo Alto, was a Santa Cruz County Supervisor for 20 years and is an environmental attorney representing the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail based on the Peninsula. He wrote this for The Mercury News.


Thanks to The Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, the best source of information and analysis on this dumb project.

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Trump's tax plan and economic growth

Mother Jones

Kevin Drum on Trump's tax plan:

I don't see a problem with that. Do you? Yes? That's probably because you don't believe in the power of the white American worker. That's why you lefties lost the election. 

Perhaps you sense that I'm taking this less than seriously. Guilty as charged. But if Trump himself doesn't take his plans seriously, why should I?

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