Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Wiggle and the Panhandle

C.W. Nevius's latest column on the Wiggle adds nothing new to the discussion. That cyclists using that route routinely ignore stop signs as they speed to wherever they're in such a hurry to get is not news to anyone who's spent even a few minutes on the Wiggle or anywhere else on city streets. The Wiggle has always been promoted as a flat, quick, and more or less convenient way for cyclists to get to Market Street from this part of the city.

That reckless behavior---mainly about the sheer speed at which many cyclists race through that residential neighborhood---is belatedly getting some attention from city cops and the media. Years ago when I complained about the behavior of cyclists on city streets, commenters accused me of making it up because I was "anti-bike." The reality is that cyclists are a special interest group that's long been coddled by City Hall. Indeed, when traffic policy is made at the MTA, the SFCTA, and the Board of Supervisors, the Bicycle Coalition has in effect occupied City Hall.

Nevius is known for being sensitive to which way the wind is blowing from City Hall. Could it be, in the wake of the recent parking meter fiasco in Dogpatch and Portrero Hill, that even City Hall is beginning to understand that its anti-car policies aren't universally popular in the neighborhoods?

Cyclists are claiming too that the city is delaying installing the Panhandle bike lanes because of neighborhood opposition to removing parking spaces on Oak and Fell Street, but the city claims that the project---designed to make cyclists "comfortable" riding in Panhandle traffic---is still on schedule. Maybe Nevius will devote a column to exploring this issue, since these lanes are being pushed as a crucial link to the Wiggle.

Parking is a big issue in this neighborhood. I count 39 spaces on Fell Street and 51 spaces on Oak Street that will be removed to make those protected bike lanes between Scott and Baker Streets.

Nevius's column is apparently based on schmoozing with people who live on the Wiggle---at least he went out to look at it---and an uncritical reference to the city's recent bicycle count report: "Bike ridership in the city has shot up 71 percent in the last five years, according to a survey[2011 Bicycle Count Report] released by the city's Municipal Transportation Agency in December."

Sounds pretty impressive, until you take a closer look at the numbers. The city uses 2006 as its base year, when it did the first count. All counts are done during commute hours: 4,862 cyclists were counted in 2006, and 8,314 were counted in 2010. That's a substantial gain in absolute numbers to be sure, but in the context of city traffic overall, it's not particulary significant. Masonic Avenue alone handles more than 32,000 vehicles a day, and the Panhandle sees more than 67,000 vehicles a day on Oak and Fell Streets combined.

Look at the percentages: page 6 of the latest report tells us that "SFMTA survey data in 2011 indicate that 3.5% of all trips in San Francisco are made by bicycle, a 75% increase in mode share since 2000 when bicycling was 2% of daily trips." The city seems to be conflating the commuting percentage with the "all trips" percentage. 

The city's latest Transportation Fact Sheet says that in 2000 2.1% of city commuters rode bikes, while in 2010 3.5% did so, a gain of 1.4% in eleven years (not the +1.9% the city erroneously puts in the "change" column). That's a paltry .13% increase a year during a time when the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall were intensively propagandizing city residents with pro-bike and anti-car messages.

And what happened to the 6% of "all trips by bicycle" claimed in the 2010 Bicycle Count Report? Not to mention the "estimated daily number of bicycle trips" of 128,000 in that report (see page 4). The current estimate of "daily bicycle riders in San Francisco" is way down to 75,000.

Nevius cites the death of the pedestrian hit by a cyclist last year:

We don't want to see another incident like the bicyclist who struck a tourist in the crosswalk at Embarcadero and Mission in July. The 68-year-old woman eventually died of her injuries. 

What was just as shocking as the accident: the failure of city reporters to follow-up on why the District Attorney failed to deal with the case until after the November election. The media accepted the D.A.'s story that they didn't get the autopsy from the coroner until shortly before the election. Why not ask the coroner if that was true?

Nevius's two recent columns on the Wiggle got a lot of online comments, many of them critical of the bike people. Morgan Fitzgibbons accuses Nevius of pandering to anti-bike readers with the critical column, but the many comments only demonstrate how the bike people are becoming more of an annoyance on city streets. Fitzgibbons even claims that cyclists in SF are victims of "rampant prejudice"!

One comment compared the civility of cyclists in Basel, Switzerland, to those in SF: "Every bike[in Switzerland] must carry an insurance sticker. But, I am told, if a cyclist hits a pedestrian in a cross walk, nothing will save him/her from severe punishment."

The problem with the bike trip in SF is that it was born with a rebel ethos, with Critical Mass and admiration for bike messengers as "cool" role models. Hence, many young people arrive here to work out their Mommy and Daddy issues and think that it's cool to act out on our streets.

We need to remember that San Francisco is home to 120,000 college students. City politics often seem juvenile to outsiders because, to a large extent, it reflects that demographic.

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