Sunday, January 30, 2011

Commenting on the bike people

Whenever the Chronicle runs a story about the city's bike people, the online comments are often more interesting than the article itself. The comments discussed here are from last month's article on the city's annual count of bike commuters.

Even for me, the most striking thing is the number of negative comments about the bike people, some of which the Chronicle evidently found too hateful to publish. Instead we get these notices: "This comment has violated our Terms and Conditions, and has been removed," or "This comment was left by a user who has been blocked by our staff." Other commenters note this antagonism: "Bring on the bike hate," and "Wow. Some genuine hatred for cyclists here. Really sad."

Years ago, when I started writing on this subject and noted the bad behavior of so many cyclists I witnessed on city streets, I was accused of making it up, though anyone who spends any time on city streets knew I wasn't. Even the Grand Jury took note of the phenomenon in a report last year. 

Bad behavior by a substantial minority of cyclists is a serious PR problem for the city's bike movement. Critical Mass is another. What's remarkable is how the agenda of the Bicycle Coalition to redesign city streets on behalf of an unpopular minority keeps moving forward regardless. If the people of San Francisco ever get a chance to actually vote on the issue, I suspect the city's bike people and their enablers in City Hall will get rebuffed, which is why they'll make sure that such a vote never happens.

But there are always a lot of critical comments that don't qualify as hate speech:

"In other news, 90% of these bicyclists are hipsters, ride fixies, have taken over the Mission, and think they are better than you."

"Out of 815,000 residents? One percent is not a very good number given the resources poured into bike lanes or the absolute congestion hell created on the arteries used by buses near 4th and Townsend...A bus trip that used to take 20 minutes now takes 30 minutes (50% more) since they removed a vehicle lane on Townsend in the past year. A single bus carries how many people (70) at rush hour, times 2 trips a day, times 5 days a week, times 50 weeks a year divided by 60 minutes an hour? That's 5,833 person-hours (or 243 days) wasted by people on a single bus on a single run, all so a minuscule fraction of people can have their own lane. San Francisco fascism and its flawed logic shown for what it is, pandering to special interest groups instead of the public's needs."

"The San Francisco Ministry of Propaganda, through its trusty spokesperson Rachel Gordon, has decreed that biking is up 58% in 4 years. Of course, she doesn't provide us with the methodology of the 'study,' which would reveal that, like so much else in the People's Republic of SF, the results were preordained before the study was conducted. Onward comrades!"

This is unfair to Gordon, since her piece wasn't intended as a thorough analysis of the whole report, and she does mention the report's methodology. (For a more thorough critical analysis, see my post on the study.) When city reports are discussed in news articles, it would be helpful if the reporter linked the report itself for those interested in doing their own analysis.

Here's the most interesting comment on the thread:

Stop complaining about the cost of painting bike lanes. Here's the real theft:
Top 10 2009 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agncy
$354,761 Nathaniel P Ford General Manager-Metropolitan Transit Authority
$209,347 Debra A Johnson Deputy Director II - Municipal Transportation Ag
$208,089 Sonali Bose Deputy Director II - Municipal Transportation Ag
$185,807 Alice Kwong Manager VI - Municipal Transportation Agency
$176,415 Elena W Chiong Manager VIII - Municipal Transportation Agency
$174,203 Gina C Tomlinson Deputy Director I - Municipal Transportation Age
$173,506 Ronald P Bell Is Engineer - Principal
$171,944 Baqir Hussain Is Engineer - Principal
$169,801 Virginia M Harmon Manager VII - Municipal Transportation Agency
$167,113 Ashish Patel Manager VIII - Municipal Transportation Agency
$199,099 Average
Does NOT include: Vacation, Medical, Dental, free parking or Pension for life.

Last November's Prop. G passed by city voters was only about Muni drivers. We need another proposition to deal with the inflated salaries of MTA administrators.

The commenter included a link where he/she supposedly got the information, but it doesn't work. It was followed up by this comment:

Soon, the only people driving cars in SF will be the SFMTA Board of directors...everything SF does is anti-car. Which has caused a 500% increase in the incivility of the city. Being a jerk on your bike up 100%. "The manual count, conducted in August, logged passing bikes at 33 locations and is meant to offer a snapshot of biking trends in San Francisco." Is also non-scientific, subject to gaming, and known in advance by the various pro-bike groups so they make a point of upping their numbers. There are NOT more bikes on the streets of San Francisco now than there were when the couriers were at their heyday. Not following the law of the road by bikers up by 98%. Arrogance from bike coalition leadership off the dial. Can we start looking into ways to have the riders pay some of the costs for the bike lanes? Also, it would be nice if the SFPD started ticketing riders that ride on sidewalks and disobey the laws. I really don't think that bike riders should continue to be a privileged class.

Some valid points here: I've always suspected that many of the city's bike people know in advance exactly when the count takes place, which would tend to inflate the numbers. After all, the Bicycle Coalition functions as a quasi-city agency and contracts with the city to put on events like the annual Bike to Work Day. Of course they know when the count happens. But there do seem to be more cyclists on city streets than, say, five years ago, though, as the report itself admits, it's impossible to get exact numbers.

To its credit, the report does mention that many cyclists routinely ride on sidewalks and the wrong way on one-way streets.

The money for bike-related "improvements" on city streets comes from the Prop. K sales tax city voters okayed years ago.

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