Saturday, January 08, 2011

City streets are getting safer

This morning's Chronicle has another scare story on death and injury on SF's streets: "S.F.'s dubious No. 1---traffic deaths." But putting this story in context---using the figures in the city's annual collision reports---it's clear that city streets have actually been getting safer over time.

From the Chronicle's story:

An analysis of 2009 traffic accident statistics by the state Office of Traffic Safety shows San Francisco has more deaths and injuries caused by vehicular collisions than any other California city with a population of 250,000 or more when calculated by the number of miles driven. When the calculation is done on a population basis, San Francisco is seventh of the 13 cities. San Francisco also ranks first in the number of victims killed or hurt in accidents involving pedestrians, bicycles or motorcycles---and that distinction is true in rankings by miles driven or by population.

That seems alarming until you look at traffic deaths in SF since 1915 and learn that there's been a steady reduction in fatalities. From an average of over 100 deaths per year in the 1940s---the worst year was 1945 when there were 156 people killed on city streets---and in the 1960s, the number has declined to 35 in 2008. Over the ten years from 1999-2008, there was on average 44 traffic deaths a year on city streets (pages 5-7, "New York City's Pedestrian Safety Study and San Francisco Data," October 21, 2010).

In San Francisco a higher percentage of fatal collisions are pedestrian-related compared with other major American cities...Most of the variability in the annual fatality total in the past decade has come from the pedestrian total, not from changes to the vehicular fatal collision total (which have been in the range of 13 to 16 annually). Bicycle fatal collisions had remained in the range of one to two a year until three fatal crashes were reported in 2008. After 2004 annual fatal collision totals below 30 have started being more common, a possible indication of an improving trend.

Still sounds pretty dangerous for city pedestrians, until you consider that a lot more people walk in SF than in other cities. On page 11 of the report, there's a chart showing that, when you calculate "Pedestrian Injury Collisions per Walk Trips to Work in California Cities with more than 250,000 Population," only Anaheim is safer than SF for pedestrians (Only L.A. has more "annual work walk trips" than SF, which has 10,491,404): "Central cities like San Francisco can be much more active during the day, so using population figures from the U.S. Census can underestimate actual levels of traffic and pedestrian activity." There are simply a lot more people walking on our streets than in other cities.

As the latest "San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet" of November, 2010, tells us, the estimated population of SF of 818,163 swells to 945,480 during the day, with thousands of non-residents commuting into SF. During a typical workday, there's also an increase of 35,400 vehicles on the streets of the city, and SF itself has 9,936 registered vehicles per square mile.

After New York City, San Francisco is the most densely populated city in the country:

The only consolidated city-county in California, it encompasses a land area on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula, giving it a density of 17,323 people/mi² (6,688.4 people/km²). It is the most densely settled large city (population greater than 200,000) in the state of California and the second-most densely populated large city in the United States.

Despite this population density and the number of motor vehicles in the city, San Francisco is safer than---wait for it---Copenhagen! And only a little more dangerous than that other paradise for cyclists, Amsterdam!

The city continues to struggle with the Muni system, but we should give City Hall credit for steadily making our streets safer for everyone over the years in spite of the number of people using city streets.

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At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Tuscon's are not. A Rob Anderson inspired lunatic just shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, known bike-nut who biked to work at the Capitol Building from her DC apartment.

He was heard shouting "COMPLETE EIR MY ASS"

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That's a bit of a stretch, Anon. Unlikely that this nut-with-a-gun ever heard of me or that bikes had anything to do with his murderous rampage. You're the only one who's pointed out that Giffords is a cyclist, assuming that's even true. It's all about bikes, right?

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...’re-pulling-for-you-gabby-giffords/

You're probably celebrating Limbaugh style along with your pal Sarah Palin.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Let's run through this one more time: I'm an Obama Democrat, though I disagree with the way his administration is throwing money at the high-speed rail boondoggle. Giffords, a "moderate" Democrat, is close to my thinking on most issues. Her bike-riding is a minor issue at most, and it obviously had nothing to do with why she was shot by that deranged young man.

There's nothing about this incident for anyone to celebrate.

Interesting to note that, according to the news accounts, Giffords opposed gun control laws and actually owned the same kind of gun that the nut shot her with. On the other hand, five years ago I supported Chris Daly's ordinance that banned handguns in SF, one of the few issues I agreed with Daly about. (It was later overturned by the courts.) Daly, by the way, is also a member of the Democratic Party, the Big Tent party.

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's nothing about this incident for anyone to celebrate. - hear hear.

Of course, if she had been run over while riding her bike, then we could celebrate. Especially if she wasn't wearing a helmet as seen in that Streetsblog photo.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I never want anyone to get hurt, let alone killed, whether on a bike or off. Riding a bike is risky enough that I think it's irresponsible of City Hall to encourage anyone to ride a bike, especially children, with a helmet or without.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never want anyone to get hurt, let alone killed, whether on a bike or off.

Then why rail against improvements to prevent them from getting hurt?

Cry Rob a River, cry him a river

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You people don't read anything, and then you make dumb comments under the impression that you're being clever or cute. Along with bicycles, being stupid is all the rage.

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You see stupid as not agreeing with you. Most of us are out there living the streets every day while you sit around in your sweatpants looking down your nose at people on the internet.

I worry for your health with all the vile you spew - it has to have a negative impact.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What I see as stupid is a comment like this from someone who knows nothing about me. I don't own a car, so I'm out on the streets walking and/or riding Muni every day. It's also stupid that none of the comments have anything to do with the subject of the post, which is based on a Chronicle story that I link and a city study that's available through the MTA's website.

Reading Streetsblog is not enough, since it only tells you folks what you want to hear. If you're serious about public policy, you have to read stuff you don't agree with. I read Streetsblog and Bike Nopa every day, and sometimes they are useful, but at the very least I learn what the anti-car people are thinking on a daily basis.


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