Friday, May 17, 2013

Riding a bike in the city is not safe

C.W. Nevius revisits the bike issue this morning with a story on the Ride of Silence memorializing the cyclists who have been killed on city streets:

The conflict between bikes and cars on San Francisco streets may never be settled. But for at least one night this week there was a truce. The Ride of Silence was a slow, 12 1/2-mile roll through the city's neighborhoods by 30 local bike riders. It was meant to be a reminder of the unfortunate physics that result when large motor vehicles collide with bikes---cyclists don't have a chance.

Yes, indeed. On average only two or three cyclists die on city streets every year---see page 23 of the latest Collision Report---but fatalities almost always involve a cyclist hit by a car or a truck.

Nevius himself gave up riding his bike downtown earlier this year because he had some close calls and understood that sooner or later he was "GOING DOWN," as he put it at the time.

Devon Warner, one of the organizers, says she was moved to act when her friend Dave Martinez was hit by a truck while commuting to work near Fremont. She says the news report of the fatal accident elicited angry comments about out-of-control bikers. "I just thought, holy hell, he wasn't a road obstruction," Warner said. "He was a decent guy with a wife and teenage kids." 

That's the danger of riding a bike in traffic. Something goes wrong---a driver doesn't see you, is drunk and/or negligent, a cyclist makes a mistake and/or an unsafe move---and it's the cyclist who gets hurt/killed, not the motorist. This is why it's irresponsible of City Hall to encourage people to ride bikes under the assumption that it's simply a win-win deal, a green alternative for all the well-intentioned folks here in Progressive Land. The real dangers of riding a bike are downplayed, and a lot of unskillful, clueless, out-of-condition cyclists are now getting hurt on city streets.

Yet the city is encouraging even children to ride bikes on city streets, which is doubly irresponsible.

Nevius is bemused by the cyclists who are seemingly oblivious to the obvious dangers of riding a bike:

With so many sad stories, you'd think the riders would begin to wonder about urban cycling. But art professor Anthony Ryan, who was hit by a car on the way to work at San Francisco State, says that isn't going to happen. "All implants," he said, tapping his upper row of front teeth. "I landed face first, and my teeth were all over the street. But I haven't quit. I sold my car three years ago. I guess I'm either committed or I should be committed."

That kind of "commitment" does seem nuts to the rest of us---and, though he's reluctant to come out and say it, reading between the lines, it also seems nuts to Nevius. Earlier this month, he wrote about a cyclist who, even though he had been hit by cars several times, still wanted to take his infant son on his bike:

Tim Hickey has been using his bike as his primary transportation for four years, sometimes taking his 20-month-old son, Liam, with him. He's been hit by cars three times and believes protected bike lanes are the only reasonable solution. "My wife would not let me take Liam on Polk," he said. "It's too dangerous."

Hickey apparently sees riding a bike as so important he's willing to risk not only this own well-being but that of his son---and probably his marriage! 

All of which is relevant in San Francisco, where bike ridership has increased 71 percent since 2006, and in the same period, collisions resulting in injuries increased 84 percent. Across the country, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said two years ago that bicycle fatalities were up 8.7 percent. As those totals grow, the Ride of Silence along the bumpy, potholed San Francisco streets made the numbers personal.

Good to see that Nevius is doing some reading for a change. The percentages he cites are from the city's latest Bicycle Count Report, but, as I keep pointing out---evidently in vain---the 71% is not an increase in overall city trips by bicycle but only an increase in the annual count of those commuting by bicycle on the day of the count. Specifically, it's only a percentage increase in bike commuters counted between 2006 and 2011.  

Nevius needs to read the MTA's Mode Share Survey to put that percentage in the context of all trips in the city: cycling is only 3.5%---actually, 3.4%---of all trips made every day in San Francisco by every other means of transportation.

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