Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Congestion pricing in SF?

It's bracing to read the online comments on the congestion pricing article in this morning's Chronicle. There are so many---and they're still coming in---I don't have time to read them all. At last count, there were 944. The comments are running about 99% negative on the ultimate anti-car measure planned for us here in Progressive Land. Of course Mirkarimi, McGoldrick, and Ammiano like the idea. Can the Murk really think he'll ever be a viable candidate for mayor of SF?

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At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hat's really cool Rob is by making it more and more expensive for cars to block city streets, we'll make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. In case you are a little skeptical, read this. There are excellent references at the end. Plus, think about China which extremely safe streets when they were packed with bicycles - its much more dangerous now that they have cars trying to force their way around.


Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers is the observation that the risk of an individual pedestrian or bicyclist being hit by a motor vehicle decreases as the number of pedestrians or bicyclists increases, respectively. This idea runs counter to what one might expect -- that the more pedestrians and bicyclists there are, the more collisions with motor vehicles will occur. Data show there is not a proportional relationship between these two variables. In fact, the safety in numbers relationship has been observed across a wide range of geographic study areas, from individual intersections to continents, [1] in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.
The Data

A widely cited 2003 paper by public health consultant Peter Jacobsen [1] examined injury rates, pedestrian and/or bicycle volume, and population over time in several different settings, with the following results:

* The likelihood of injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist in 68 California cities decreased as the percent of commuters walking or bicycling increased.
* A study of walking, bicycling, and moped use in 47 Danish towns found that walking was safer where there were more walkers and bicycling/moped use was safer where these modes were higher.
* The number of bicyclist fatalities per distance bicycled in 14 European countries decreased as the distance of bicycling per capita increased.
* In 8 European countries where data were available, the number of bicycling and pedestrian fatalities each decreased as per capita biking and walking trips increased, respectively.
* In Britain, bicycling varied up and down with different factors, such as the Arab Oil Embargo and new traffic speed laws, from 1950 to 1999. Whenever bicycling increased, per capita bicycling fatalities decreased, and the inverse was also true.
* In the Netherlands, where bicycling facilities and traffic law changes from 1980 to 1998 have greatly increased the amount of bicyclists and bicycle mileage, per capita bicycle fatalities have fallen equally dramatically.

Similar to these results, a 2006 study of 247 Oakland, California, intersections found that pedestrian collisions decreased with increasing pedestrian flows, and increased with increasing traffic volume.[2]

What explains the safety in numbers for pedestrians and bicyclists? Traffic engineer and amateur bicycling expert John Forester believes the relationship is a spurious correlation, with no proven cause.[3] But safety experts appear to disagree, and believe that motorists drive more cautiously when there are a larger number of walkers and bicylists in their environment. For example, Dr. Chris Rissel of Sydney University in Australia, stated in a 2008 interview, "It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling. Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists."[4]

Jacobsen cites evidence from three studies that show drivers slow down when they see bicyclists and pedestrians, and speed up when they don't.[1] However, a better understanding of motorist behavior in this regard is needed. Nevertheless, it appears that any safe measures cities can take to make pedestrians and bicyclists more visible to motorists, and to encourage their numbers, will increase their average safety. That said, it is also true that walking and bicycling carry more risk of injury than driving in the U.S. [5] -- perhaps because the current traffic conditions are dangerous, and these dangers discourage higher volumes.



Each source is referred to by the same number every time it is cited. Please keep citation style consistent.

[1] Jacobsen, P. 2003. Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention, 9:205-209.

[2] Geyer, J., Raford, N., Raglund, D., and Pham, T. 2006. The continuing debate about safety in numbers--data from Oakland, CA. Paper UCB-ITS_TSC-RR_2006-3. UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center.

[3] Forester, John. Does increasing the number of cyclists reduce the accident rate? And a similar consideration of Smeed's Law.

[4] Gaffney, D. September 3, 2008. A virtuous cycle: safety in numbers for riders says research. Science Daily (University of New South Wales).

[5] Beck, L., Dellinger, A., and O'Neil, M. 2007. Motor vehicle crash injury rates by mode of travel, United States: Using exposure-based methods to quantify differences. American Journal of Epidemiology, June 21, 2007.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Even assuming all the studies you cite are valid, you fail to mention the potential downside of making it more difficult to move on the streets of SF---the damage to our tourist economy, especially as we slip into a recession; and the potential to make Muni even slower and less appealing, which is a point the many bike commenters to this blog have never addressed, though I make it every chance I get. Many of the cities you cite have efficient, attractive mass transit systems, which SF doesn't have. If you take away a lane on a busy street that also carries a Muni line, you're going to degrade bus service on that street. Safety for cyclists and pedestrians is of course a worthy goal, but it's not the only consideration. Besides, there's some evidence that both cyclists and pedestrians in SF often behave recklessly, leading to their own injury. Anyone who spends a lot of time on city streets, as I do, sees a lot of almost suicidal behavior by both pedestrians and cyclists.

At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you fail to mention the potential downside of making it more difficult to move on the streets of SF---the damage to our tourist economy, especially as we slip into a recession; and the potential to make Muni even slower and less appealing"

I disagree Rob. 1/4 of the pedestrians (8 out of 32) who died on SF streets last year were killed BY MUNI buses. So keeping tourists safe from MUNI will help them in the long run. And if they are trapped downtown they'll spend MORE! they don't drive anyway, or at not if they have any would they find parking to stop anywhere?

At 8:58 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

The problem I have with this is that the roads that have had traffic lanes removed from them for bike lanes - about which many people claimed the sky would fall - are flowing smoothly today. Valencia primary amongst them - the primary problem on Valencia is that drivers see the words "BIKE LANE" and translate that to "DOUBLE PARK HERE" and pedestrians translate it to "TAXI FLAG SPOT". Fortunately we cyclists are used to being shat upon and we deal with it.

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I disagree Rob. 1/4 of the pedestrians (8 out of 32) who died on SF streets last year were killed BY MUNI buses. So keeping tourists safe from MUNI will help them in the long run. And if they are trapped downtown they'll spend MORE! they don't drive anyway, or at not if they have any would they find parking to stop anywhere?"

The question is, Why were those pedestrians killed by Muni buses? Did they wander out into the street against the light? Were they wearing an IPod and didn't hear the approaching vehicle? In the Rachel Gordon article the post was based on, the head of Muni cites the Ipod problem as a new wrinkle endangering pedestrians. And I see cyclists wearing earphones, too. One of the main points Gordon was making is that there are more people on the streets---on foot and on bikes--- and they are not all behaving safely, to put it mildly.

According to the Visitors Bureau, more than a million visitors to SF hotels rent cars every year. Why should they have to leave them parked in the hotel garage because our streets are too difficult to move around on? Just dumb. And these same tourists need to be able to ride Muni to different parts of the city. I see them all the time on the #5 Fulton on their way to Ocean Beach or Golden Gate Park.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Shawn Allen said...

You know, it's not unreasonable to assume that tourists might just not rent cars here. I did that once before I moved here (about 10 years ago), and it was a total nightmare. San Francisco is not a fun city to drive in, and I can only imagine that most tourists coming here might have a much better time if they never got in a car to begin with. That's certainly the case in cities such as New York, London, and just about every major city in mainland Europe and, well, the rest of the developed world.

Either way, there's no conclusion to be drawn by correlating the number of people who stay in hotels with the number that rent cars. Taxi cabs are a much more efficient means of moving people around short distances, and the city's generally much more enjoyable on foot or by bike. Keeping them on the sidewalks and helping them avoid the madness of trying to find parking also gives them more time to patronize those street-side business you're so passionate about.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

San Francisco is not a hard city to drive in at all, once you have an understanding of how it's laid out and the major streets. The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau published some numbers on car rentals last year. In a survey of 4.5 million people who stayed in city hotels in 2005, they figured that 25.8% of these people rented cars while in SF, which is 1,125,000 cars rented by hotel guests alone. Many other visitors/tourists drive to the city in their own cars, since there were more than 15 million visitors to SF that year.

Let's do a recap of some numbers: According to the DMV, there are 465,150 motor vehicles registered in SF. There are more than 1,000 Muni vehicles on our streets. There are more than 1300 taxis in SF. 35,000 people drive into SF every weekday to work. Then there are the 1,125,000 rented cars by hotel guests alone every year, which doesn't include all the tourists who drive into the city every year. People drive in SF a lot. Note, for example, that now that the Academy of Sciences is open, the 800-space garage under the Concourse is usually full on weekends and holidays. Those who can't get into the full garage are parking in the 3,000 other parking spaces in Golden Gate Park and in the contiguous neighborhoods.

You can speculate all you want, but your conclusions require some kind of factual basis to make them convincing.

At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Shawn Allen said...

You missed my point entirely, Rob. What I'm saying is that you can't necessarily assume that less people will come to San Francisco just because it's harder for them to park a car here. Most New York tourists don't even bother renting cars because they know that driving there is a nightmare. But they've got both an excellent subway system and an overabundance of taxis, which make driving completely unnecessary. I think that if we want to compete for tourist dollars with cities like New York we should be facilitating cheaper, simpler, and more sustainable transit in our city; not contributing further to the congestion and degradation of our streets by encouraging people to drive.

We keep talking around MUNI, and it's certainly worth mentioning here. Don't you agree that if our buses ran more frequently and reliably that there'd be less of a need for tourists to rent cars in the first place? Most of the touristy stuff is well within walking and biking distance of the major hotels. The N line takes people straight to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach from downtown. BART and the ferries are a great way to travel around the bay. And your concession that San Francisco isn't a hard place to drive "once you have an understanding of how it's laid out and the major streets" is kind of silly. Downtown is riddled with one-way streets, and Market is notoriously difficult for tourists to navigate. Figuring out how to get around the city quickly and efficiently is something that takes most people quite some time.

We have the opportunity to shape external perceptions of the city by pursuing policies that encourage certain types of behavior. Promoting more efficient and environmentally friendly transit sends a signal to the rest of the world that we're a forward-thinking city which shares the rest of the world's concerns and values. Given our country's economic woes and the weakness of the dollar abroad, it makes a lot more sense for us to be courting international tourists for whom it's often cheaper to travel to San Francisco than it is for most Americans. Improving MUNI service and the safety of bike transit also makes our city generally more accessible to people who might not be able to afford renting and parking a car here.

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there some reason San Francisco has two transit agencies? Does the County Transportation Authority manage cars and SFMTA manage transit? Seems like waste two have two transit agencies in one city.


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