Sunday, May 04, 2008


"Thanks for speaking up!"
Hello Robert Anderson:

I saw your name in 4/30 SF Chronicle's article on the "Fell Street bicycle plan OKd." I, too, am fed up with the automotive hostility in this city and the almighty influence of bicycles. I'd like to help put a stop to this. Most of us do not drive for pleasure cruising--we have errands and work to do that require a car. I'm 58, do home tutoring, and cannot do this on a bicycle and cannot carry a trunkload of school texts and supplies on the bus or bike. Yet the bicyclists do not think about this nor do the city politicians and planners. How can I help? I appreciate your efforts VERY MUCH. Thanks for speaking up!


"I don't understand"

From reading your blog it seems that you think it irresponsible for me to ride my bike and teach my son to ride a bike. That if I teach him proper rules have him always ride with a helmet. Have him ride only on designated bike paths with no cars i am being a bad parent for teaching him a inherently dangerous thing. I don't understand. My son and I use the multi use path in the panhandle to access the park. We never ride our bike across the intersection, we always walk and only when we have the right of way yet three times in the last few months we have almost goten hit by someone taking that turn with no regard for the cross walk or who did not see Julian walking even though he was wearing a neon vest a flashing light had his bike has a flag. It is for this reason i believe we need to change the traffic light at Fell St. If I understand your argument correctly the fault lies with me for even teaching him that using his bicycle is too dangerous a activity?

If we go by this argument going out of my house is a inherently dangerous thing. What I don't understand in reading your blog is why it is so venomous. I think you obviously are a intelligent man. I support some of your stands on certain issues but it appears by your argument that you should call child protective services on me. Please explain your objection to changing what I think is a dangerous intersection adjacent to a park and recreational area to be more safe. I would understand this argument even if i did not agree if it was not adjacent to the park.

FYI I own both a car, and a bike and use MUNI whenever I can so I am not a "nut" by your standard. I am open to your ideas but please show me why I shouldn't consider you a "nut" for opposing what i think is a change that could make my experience with my city and my family safer and more enjoyable.

Thanks in advance,
Robert Birnbach

Most bike accidents don't involve other vehicles

Obviously you are trying to be responsible. My point is that cycling has inherent dangers no matter how careful and responsible you are, whether you are an adult or a child. Regardless of what the city now does at that intersection, it's inherently dangerous, given the speed of the Fell Street traffic. This is true of many intersections in the city. You can do everything right as a cyclist and still get hit by a car, a bus, or a truck that doesn't see you. Hence, I think it's dangerous and irresponsible of the city to encourage children to ride bikes to school. And it's shockingly irresponsible for cyclists to haul their children around on those little canvas trailers. And please consider this: even the SFBC's own safety expert, Bert Hill, tells us that most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that have nothing to do with other vehicles. Leah Shahum, executive director of the SFBC, tells us that the condition of city streets is also a great danger to cyclists. What's "nutty" is disregarding these realities and insisting that the city redesign city streets on the assumption that cycling in the city can ever really be made safe enough to be adopted by a significant number of people.

Speaking of Masonic and Fell, the city is now considering taking away a traffic lane and/or street parking on Masonic to create bike lanes. Given the volume and speed of the traffic on Masonic, I think this is completely nutty. No one with any sense would even want to ride a bike on Masonic Avenue.

Rob Anderson

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At 11:00 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

1) I have done tutoring and chosen to travel by bike (in summer) and public transit (in winter, when my city salts the roads). I had no trouble carrying the supplies I needed. Given that you can fit at least ten kilos and a hundred litres of cargo in the panniers of most bicycles, I suspect most tutors can carry what they need on a bike, bus, or combination of the two. For those in exceptional circumstances, allow me to point out that getting the majority who do not need to drive onto bicycles or into busses would free up road space and gas for the minority who really need cars.

2) Rob, you can talk about the "inherent dangers" of cycling until the cows come home; the actual traffic (and other) fatality statistics contradict you. The very low number of cycling deaths, less than 2% of the road death total, simply doesn't bear out your claim that cycling poses any significant danger above driving or walking (according to statistics from the US government, about eight times as many pedestrians as cyclists die on the roads).

We know that inactivity and diet accounts for at least a quarter of all premature deaths. Your own numbers show that, when done with proper safety gear, cycling offers one of the safest forms of physical activity. The hard numbers, the health and safety statistics, strongly support the conclusion that Mr. Birnbach has acted in his son's best interests by teaching him to ride a bicycle safely.

You can, of course, continue to insist that despite the statistics, cycling presents "inherent dangers". Without the facts to back you up, however, you will not make a persuasive case.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

who died and made you nanny?

The city encourages and supports all sorts of irresponsible behavior. You'd save a lot more lives crusading for San Francisco to enable prohibition. Drinking leads to alcoholism, liver disease, pancreatic cancer. Drinking is a de facto component of Drinking and Driving - which makes drinking a component of danger not only to the individual but also those around him. Bars and Liquor stores use up valuable real estate that could be put to other uses.

But "we the people" have decided that humans can make their own choices regarding personal risk, and we will enforce against behavior that puts others at risk. The political clout of the "Bike People" did not come because they won the "political clout lottery". It's because the improvments for cycling has the support of the populace, otherwise we'd be throwing the bums out.

Think I'm wrong? Run for supervisor. Oh wait, you did that. Try running and WINNING.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

John: You talk about fatalities, when it's injury that's the most common risk to cyclists. I'm sure Marcia appreciates your little pep talk about how much can be carried on a bike. I suspect, however, that not many Americans want to live like a fucking Third World peasant by piling a lot of shit on a bicycle just to do errands that can be done much easier and quicker in a car. Again, this is the United States of American, not some fly-blown, chickenshit Third World country where people have to do all kinds of tasks as if they lived in the 19th Century. The only reason you do that is because you are a crackpot bike guy.

Murph's comment is stupid in a different way. Does the city encourage drinking and driving? Of course not. Children are particularly vulnerable to the influence of their teachers/elders, which makes the city's encouraging them to ride bikes to school particularly irresponsible. And then there's that foundation of tort law, negligence. As soon as the first kid going to school on a bike gets run down by a car/truck/Muni bus, there will be litigation that the city will lose, since they negligently encouraged that unsafe behavior in the first place.

The political support of cyclists is uncertain in SF. Yes, the SFBC likes to cite a telephone poll of 400 people by David Binder that says there's all kinds of support for cycling. On the other hand, the SFBC has lost on a number of ballot measures in recent years: the underground garage in Golden Gate Park; the Healthy Saturdays bullshit; and the hike in parking fees that was rejected by more than 2-1 a few years ago. One reason the overall political support for cyclists is questionable is because many of them behave like buttholes on city streets---running through stop signs, intimidating pedestrians in crosswalks, riding on sidewalks, etc. And then there's Critical Mass, the monthly PR debacle for the bike people, wherein they actually seem to think they are oh so cute as they disrupt traffic on the last Friday of every month.

At 11:28 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Injuries: OK, Rob, let's do injuries. This table from Canada gives serious injuries to pedestrians, drivers, passengers, and cyclists by percentage. Note that drivers and passengers make up by far the largest number of injuries, followed by pedestrians, followed, at a distant third, by cyclists. Even when you compare the immediate risk of transportation modes, the argument against cycling rests on improbable assumptions. When you add in the health benefits of cycling, the argument against bicycles on the rounds of danger actually looks rather ludicrous.

Statistically, it appears from the evidence we have that the benefits of cycling far outweigh any on the (minimal) risks. It therefore makes sense to conclude that teaching kids to bike will, on average, increase both the length and the quality of their lives. Any responsible parent, therefore, has a good reason to teach their children to ride safely, and to work for changes that will make cycling even safer for them.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

In your desperation to prove---to yourself, not to anyone else---that riding a bike is safe, you overlooked this paragraph from the same website:
"Traumatic head injuries were sustained during sports and recreational activities in 28% of children and youth admitted to hospital for traumatic injury, and 8% of adults.Cycling is one of the leading causes of sports and recreation–related head injury.Of the 4,605 cycling injury hospitalizations in 2003–2004,18% were due to head injuries. The highest proportion of hospitalizations due to cycling-related head injuries was seen in children and youth (60%)."
Any potential "health benefits" of cycling have to be balanced against the risks involved.

And don't forget the damage you can do to your sex life by cycling. An article in the NY Times several years ago talked about this danger, which involved prolonged pressure on the perenium damaging the blood flow to the sex organs. I of course wrote a blog item on it at the time:

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

In case you can't find the post on cycling and erectile dysfunction, here's a quotation from the article, along with the title, author, and date of publication:

"Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom ('Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life,' Sandra Blakeslee, Oct. 4, 2005, NY Times)."

At 12:05 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, I don't know what you mean by "the same web site" in this context. The site I linked to does not contain a page with the statement you quote. Please provide a link to the web page containing the statement you quote.

However, on head injuries, I can supply a solid study indicating that simply wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 63%, a figure which (given the other sources you yourself have posted from time to time) brings cycling into line with other forms of physical activity. Several studies confirm these results; helmets work.

Please note that putting quotes around the words health benefits when referring to the health benefits of cycling will not substitute for an argument. Only actual evidence, backed up if possible by statistics and published studies, will do that. Given the enormous weight of published evidence indicating the health benefits of cycling, I doubt such articles exist, but feel free to look for some.

As for the problem you cite with bike seats, the article you cite seems a bit overblown. Certainly, if you sit on a street or hybrid bike, you'll sit on the same part of your anatomy that you'd sit on in a chair. Any cyclist seriously worried about pressure from a saddle can easily switch to a recumbent bicycle, which even the most concerned urologists admit do not pose a problem. See this article for more details.


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