Saturday, May 11, 2013

The 71% lie

Supervisor Breed on Bike to Work Day

Like the Big Lie about the safety of city streets, the Big Lie about the "whopping" increase in cycling in San Francisco continues to be parroted by the local media because reporters and editors are too lazy to read city documents and do a simple analysis. I know I'm probably pissing against the wind on the subject, but let's go over the numbers again.

The Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum of course repeats the falsehood at every opportunity, as she did in a recent Examiner op-ed. That's not surprising, since that's what lobbyists for special interest groups do. Shahum claims there's been "a huge growth in ridership citywide," citing the 71% increase claim that's now routinely repeated by local journalists.

From the Bicycle Coalition's website: "Bicycling is booming in San Francisco. In the last five years, the number of people biking in our city has increased a whopping 71%!"

The LA Times SF correspondent repeats that claim: "Two-wheel travel has grown 71% in the last five years here..."

C.W. Nevius likes to rely on City Hall: "Certain truths are self-evident. Bicycle traffic in the city has increased 71 percent over the last five years, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency." The MTA is a source of "self-evident" truth? This is journalism by press release. A little investigation shows that the MTA is slippery and unreliable when it provides numbers on cycling in the city.

A close look at the numbers shows how insignificant cycling really is in San Francisco---and how equally insignificant the growth in cycling has been, which makes it hard to justify all the anti-car, pro-bike "improvements" the city is now making to neighborhood streets.

That 71% comes from the city's latest Bicycle Count on page 3: "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."

In the same sidebar, the 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."

That's simply false, since the 2% number---actually, 2.1%, according to the Transportation Fact Sheet---is from a "Means of Transportation to Work" chart (page 3), and does not represent all "daily trips" by bike. Note too that that percentage has increased to 3.3% in 2011, a not-so-whopping increase of only 1.2% in eleven years! The city is playing fast-and-loose with these numbers to exaggerate the number of cyclists on city streets to justify all the changes it wants to make on behalf of this fashionable interest group.

In its annual count, the city only counts people on bikes during commute hours one day a year. That count is only of people commuting to work on bikes, not the number of all daily trips by bike.

That percentage is not so "impressive" when you put it in the context of all the traffic in San Francisco, which is what another city report---a Mode Share Survey---does on page 5: Total trips per day by all modes is 2,149,145; bicycle trips per day, 73,071; trips by all other modes 2,076,074,  which is 96.6%, making the percentage of daily bicycle trips 3.4%.

Hence, the city is redesigning our streets to benefit a very small minority against the interests of more than 90% of those who use city streets every day.

And exactly who are these cyclists? A report from the Controller's office a few years ago tells us: "Bicycle usage is highest among white residents, college graduates, those under 30 and those likely to move out of the City" (page 27, emphasis added). And most of these folks are young white men, since less than 30% of cyclists in San Francisco are women.

At any one time, there are around 100,000 college students in San Francisco, which is a partial explanation of the bike fad. In the next Bicycle Count Report by the city, we're told (page 3) that the count will be done in September instead of August, so that all the college students will be back from summer break, and all the groovies will be back from Burning Man, which will inflate the count enough to allow the city and the Bicycle Coalition to again claim "huge" gains in cycling.

Another Controller's report asks city residents "What would help you bike more frequently?" 54.9% answered, "Nothing." That is, almost 55% of city residents will never ride a bike in San Francisco---after more than ten years of anti-car, pro-bike propaganda from City Hall.

The moral of this story: City Hall insists on trying to shove bicycles down our throats---redesigning city streets in the process---in spite of the fact that it's own studies show that cyclists in San Francisco are a small, slowly growing number of mostly young white men.

What's wrong with that picture and that policy?

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