Monday, June 18, 2012

The 20% by 2020 fantasy

Ed Reiskin wants to slow down city traffic

Both the NY Times and the LA Times did follow-up articles when the San Francisco District Attorney brought manslaughter charges against the cyclist who killed a 71-year-old pedestrian last March.

The NY Times story had a clunker in the first paragraph:

Despite its hilly topography and hairpin curves, San Francisco has embraced the bicycle. In the last five years, the number of bikes here has jumped 71 percent.

Of course that percentage isn't about the number of bikes in the city but the alleged gain in cycling during that time. The LA Times story did better:

Two-wheel travel has grown 71% in the last five years here, and officials have passed ambitious new goals: 50% of all travel within the city limits should be by something other than a private vehicle by 2018, and 20% should be via bike by 2020.

The reporter got City Hall's party line right, but it was presumably beyond the scope of the story to analyze those numbers. By talking about percentages, City Hall is able to grossly exaggerate the significance of cycling as a transportation "mode" in SF.

When you look at the city's own documents, you can see the reality behind the pro-bike, anti-car hype. Start with the MTA's Transportation Fact Sheet. On page 3 we learn that in the year 2000 2.1% of city commuters rode bikes to work, and in 2010 3.3% of city commuters rode bikes, a gain of 1.2% in ten years. City Hall would tout that as a whopping 60% gain.

But that's only a .12% gain per year over ten years. How can the city get that 3.3% up to 20% by 2020? It's not remotely possible, since that would take a 2% gain every year for the next eight years. The city hasn't been able to achieve a 2% gain in ten years, let alone in a single year, in spite of years of anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition.

The 71% number comes from another city document, the 2011 Bicycle Count Report:

Since 2006 when 4,862 riders were counted, counts have increased an impressive 71% to 8,314 riders (August) and are up 7% since 2010 (page 3).

To put those numbers in their unimpressive context, go to another city document, the MTA's Mode Share Survey of 2011. On page five of the study---conducted by consultants Corey, Canapary and Galanis---we learn that SF, a city with a population of 859,658, has a total of 2,149,145 trips a day by all means of transportation. Of that total, 73,071 are by bicycle, which is only 3.4% of all trips in the city.

For more context, turn back to the Transportation Fact Sheet, where we learn that our Muni system---for most people, the only realistic alternative to driving in the city---has 673,196 boardings on an average workday (page 5).

It's all bullshit. The real questions are, How badly will City Hall screw up our traffic in pursuit of the fanciful 20% goal, and will that be politically sustainable when people are already restive about the steady encroachment of parking meters into their neighborhoods?

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At 1:01 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

While 20% indicates severe hallucinogen use, federal DOT and many state's DOT policy makers are also tripping. The Iron Triangle that existed for defense exists for promoting bicycles, though its more like a square: Industries, lobbies, Universities, and government. Industries who profit from road reconfiguration, fund lobbies of govt. and recruitment. Young bike converts in university go into architecture, urban planning, health policy, govt., and road design/civil engineering degree fields. There they design and conduct "studies" to justify more spending on their causes. From uni, they go to government, industry, and lobbies, where people meander back and forth evangelizing and coercing.

Public policy needs a reality check so that actual needs are met and realistic short, medium, long term future needs are met. Realistically, today, long term is as long as a politician intends to be in an office or a bureaucrat's pension matures. Medium term is how long it takes to get another bike project done and on the cv, and get a bigger job in the next place. The more tax dollars in a project, the better for a career.

The 1960's fantasy that we would all be flying around in the family space ship like George Jetson has sadly diminished to 20% pedaling around. How depressing that some people when dreaming, dream of regressing to the transit of North Korea or 1950's China instead of a brighter future.


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