Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who drives on city streets?

Michael Baehr wrote:
I enjoy all your questionnaire responses, and this one is no exception.

To nitpick though, it still boggles the mind that you continue to believe the "vast majority" of tourists to SF drive here. I think the answer is quite the opposite. The vast majority fly here, a large chunk of whom are from Europe, and I never see them in rented cars. Europeans, especially, seem to prefer riding MUNI and...get ready...riding bikes! Yes, all those bikes you see around the more touristy parts of town...with those zipper bags hanging off the handlebars...those are rental bikes ridden by tourists, and not for "speed/thrill" or to make a "political statement." I know, take a deep breath, this must be hard. And what tourist wants to deal with the traffic and the parking and driving in an unfamiliar city with a funny street pattern? Nearly every car I see around here has California plates and is driven by a local. Tourists don't drive here. If that's the crux of your argument, it falls flat on its face.

Rob responds:
"Tourists don't drive here"? Okay, let's review the numbers we have. According to the SF Visitor's Bureau, in a survey of 4.5 million people who stayed in SF hotels, 25.9% engaged "a rental car in San Francisco," which, by my reckoning, is more than 1,730,000 rental cars---rented in SF, that is---on city streets driven by the city's hotel guests alone. All cars rented in California will of course have California license plates. What about the more than 74% of hotel guests polled who didn't rent a car in SF? The figures provided by the Bureau don't break down these numbers to tell us exactly how those people got here, but it's safe to say that many drove their own cars or drove cars they rented elsewhere.

The Visitor's Bureau also tells us which "feeder markets" the city's 15 million annual visitors come from: 12.7% from L.A; 7.7% from San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose; 7% from Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto; 5.7% from New York City; and 3.5% from Washington, D.C. Add up those percentages and you get a good idea where 36.7% of visitors to SF come from, namely, other parts of the US. It's fair to say that most of these folks either drive here or rent a car at the airport after flying in. Yes, you can fly into SF and take a bus from the airport to your hotel, and no doubt many do that, but it's not clear from the numbers how many people do.

Do these people then rent bikes to get around SF? Perhaps some do, but where do you even rent a bike downtown or in the Union Square area? To get to Golden Gate Park from a downtown hotel a more likely means of transport is by car or Muni. (I notice a lot of people from foreign lands on Muni's #5 Fulton line that I often use. Ditto for the Muni lines that go to the Haight-Ashbury.) It's more likely that tourists who want to rent a bike in SF take Muni out to Stanyan Street or other bike shops near Golden Gate Park.

Then there's the population of SF itself to factor in to get an idea of who/what is on city streets: According to the latest numbers from the DMV, there are now 465,905 motor vehicles registered in San Francisco. According to MTA's "San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet" of May, 2008, only 28.5% of city families own no car at all, with an overall average of 1.10 vehicles per household in the city.

On a typical workday in SF, 35,400 vehicles drive into the city over the Golden Gate Bridge (13,100), the Bay Bridge (20,000), on 280 from San Mateo County (6,700), and on US 101 to/from San Mateo County (-4,400).

According to the Fact Sheet, 40.5% of SF residents drive alone to work; another 7.7% carpool to work; 30.3% take public transportation; and another 2.1% drive a motorcycle, take a taxi, or "other" to work; 9.6% of lucky city residents walk to work, and 7.6% work at home.

Tourists drive here, commuters drive here, and city residents drive here, and there are more than 1000 Muni vehicles on city streets.

The percentage of city residents cycling to work in SF as of 2006? 2.3%!

It may actually be true that more tourists ride bikes in SF than do city residents.

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