Monday, November 17, 2008

The dangerous streets of San Francisco

It's not clear on what Rachel Gordon is basing her Chronicle article last Saturday on traffic safety in SF (Spike in S.F. traffic deaths, injuries). She writes as if she has an MTA Collision Report for 2007, which may be the case, but the report hasn't yet been posted on MTA's website.

In any event, traffic injuries in SF are apparently way up from 2006. In part this may be an unintended consequence of city policy that encourages people to get out of their cars:

City officials caution that the grim statistics don't necessarily mean that the streets are more dangerous. Instead, they say, there appear to be more people walking and riding their bikes. Last year, vehicles hit and killed 32 pedestrians---an increase of more than 50 percent from the year before, according to data compiled by state and local authorities. Eight of the deaths involved Muni vehicles, double the number from 2006. Nearly 800 other pedestrians suffered nonfatal injuries last year. In two dozen of those incidents, the walkers collided with bicyclists, not cars. In the same period, the number of reported collisions that injured bicyclists spiked to 451, a jump of 31 percent. There was one fatal collision involving a cyclist. (emphasis added)

People drive recklessly, both in cars and on bikes. Pedestrians are often heedless and distracted: "An increase in distracted people using cell phones and iPods has not improved safety, [Nathaniel] Ford said."

In both its citywide collision report---which counts all accidents involving cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians---and its separate collision report for cylists, the city fails to define its terms. Since most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that don't involve other vehicles, are those accidents also included in the city's "collision" totals? The problem with failing to make this distinction is that it encourages the city's bike people to jump to the unwarranted conclusion that cyclists are being systematically mowed down by motor vehicles, thus feeding their self-pity and sense of victimhood.

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